When Putin blinked

The Russian president got a lot wrong in Ukraine.

By: New York Times Written by Thomas L. Friedman | Updated: May 30, 2014 8:04 am
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a US naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War:  “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.” The crisis in Ukraine never threatened a Cold War-like nuclear armageddon, but it may be the first case of post-post-Cold War brinkmanship, pitting the 21st century versus the 19th. It pits a Chinese/ Russian worldview that says we can take advantage of 21st-century globalisation whenever we want to enrich ourselves and we can behave like 19th-century powers whenever we want to take a bite out of a neighbour — versus a view that says, no, sorry, the world of the 21st century is not just interconnected but interdependent and either you play by those rules or you pay a huge price.

In the end, it was Putinism versus Obamaism, and I’d like to be the first on my block to declare that the “other fellow” — Putin — “just blinked”. In fact, I’d like to say more: Putin got pretty much everything wrong in Ukraine. He thought the world was still shaped by “spheres of influence” dictated from the top down, when Ukraine was all about the emergence of “people of influence” — The Square People, organised from the bottom up and eager to join their own sphere: the world of liberty and free markets represented by the EU.

Putin underestimated Ukrainian patriotism; even many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine did not like pro-Putin thugs trying to force them to join Russia. And, most of all, Putin underestimated the impact of Western economic sanctions. The world turned out to be more interdependent, and Russia more exposed to that interdependence, than Putin thought. So he blinked. The first flutter was pulling back his troops from Ukraine’s border and letting the election proceed. Because Putin’s aggression in Crimea has spurred Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, Putin rushed to Beijing to conclude a natural gas supply deal with China. The price China extracted is secret and experts “suspect Putin dropped the price of gas significantly for China in a desperate manoeuvre to ensure a steady cash flow for Gazprom in the face of sinking revenue and Western sanctions,” The Washington Post reported. Let’s add it up: Putin’s seizure of Crimea has weakened the Russian economy, led to China getting a bargain gas deal, revived Nato, spurred Europe to start ending its addiction to Russian gas and begun a debate across Europe about increasing defence spending. Nice work, Vladimir. That’s why I say the country Putin threatens most today is Russia.

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    Jawed Akram
    May 30, 2014 at 9:02 pm
    Its not like as you have sufficed yourself in praising US interdependency,imposed sanctions that would curtail Russia economic growth and hegemony of Obama,in particular. Even Merkel has dissenting views of EU which goes against Putin's riposte against Ukraine crisis as Germany heavily dependent upon Russia's gas and energy exports. He did exactly what a patriot do to save his/her homeland. Crimea, gifted to Ukraine in 1956 by the,then Army chief on a condition Crimea would remain autonomous self functionary. Crucial myth behind the annexation was to procure safely Naval base in Sevastopol where its historic and beleguered Black sea fleet lies. Similar acts has had been too orchestrated by the US to save and instil new bases around tie world. I have a suggestion for you. Gather some guts and write something productive of Intifada and brutalities meted out to palestinians,Afghanis et al. Btw, West must be ready to witness the regeneration of USSR. A boisterous event to feign by.
    Reply
    1. V
      Vitor Leur
      May 30, 2014 at 2:13 am
      Who is the author of this nonsense article?
      Reply
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        jimbojamesiv
        May 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm
        You're blinded by your war-mongerism and wrong about everything.
        Reply
        1. L
          lazerbenabba
          May 29, 2014 at 10:16 pm
          Whenever you have an "Aparatchik" brought up and evolved into the service of a dictatorship, that individual is permanently scarred with the belief that "Might is Right", ignoring the basic fact that it is only so when backed up with a belief in the rightness of the cause, not just opportunism.The opinion piece so correctly identifies the very real and obvious mistake made in his delusion of resurrecting the USSR in his imagination.Putin succeeded in Georgia and up to now in the Crimea but I believe that he has now got a bad case of indigestion.
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            m m
            May 29, 2014 at 7:19 pm
            Obamaexpress article.
            Reply
            1. N
              NarendraVKumar
              May 30, 2014 at 11:07 pm
              As you know too well world is flat. Flatness implies a small tilt can be a major tectonic change. No! Putin did not blink. He stood witness to hypocrisy and double deals. He showed how pretenders behave given a little pep. You know what I mean...
              Reply
              1. S
                sacchadesi
                May 30, 2014 at 1:18 pm
                British came as traders too singing songs about free trade and in the name of the same free trade made every one else their slaves. Wolf in sheep's clothes. What makes Mr Friedman think only west is capable of that and when east does it its the worst of all crimes?
                Reply
                1. S
                  sanju sanju
                  May 30, 2014 at 4:28 am
                  putin is awesome.....and u can suk my balls got
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    S.Suchindranath
                    May 30, 2014 at 8:53 am
                    Thomas Friedman, like most American Walter Mittys is moulded by patriotism and educated by celluloid fiction. He doesn't know much. The US moves from war to war in a state of serendipity prompted by fortuity, resources taken from the macred natives and a psyche maged by Hollywood that wins every war that the US ever lost. The US is a Polyphemes going on Sindbad with Oily Islam playing and effective "Old Man of the Sea". A deconstruction of Obama's speech to West Point gives the game away. It is as absurd to ume that the Obama-Kerry regime has a "foreign policy" as it is to ume that the US ever had. The US walked into one war after another serendipitously or for reasons totally unrelated to the weal of American citizens or for the good of the "World". Like Obama at West Point, it attributed its fortuity and the enormous natural resources pered from the displaced American Natives to its sagacity and noble intentions. As a result, America is festooned with unintended consequences, notably the furthering of the Islamic agenda, rather than any noble "leadership" or choice of "leadership style". It is good that Obama says that the US will not go into wars without a clear perspective, international sanction, partners and legal propriety. In this, he breaks with the "foreign policy" of the Clinton-Albright regime that bombed Belgrade for 84 days to give Islam its first ethnically cleansed enclave in Europe since 1489 and with the George W Bush- Cheney- Colin Powell - Don Rumsfeld-Tony Blair regime that invaded Iraq on the back of the "West's" rage over 9/11, some blurred photographs projected on the UN wall and against law and the will of the International Community to deflect attention from stan and Saudi Arabia which is where the 9/11 terrorists originated from, albeit, they had their base (Al Qaeda) in their hapless emirate of Afghanistan which is where the CIA trained and armed Islamic Terror and left behind messy loose ends as is its wont everywhere and will now repeat in Afghanistan-stan when the US cuts and runs. The Tweedle Bush - Tweedle Blair regime knocked out the sole secular (if socialist and Baathist) counterpoises (Iraq and Syria) to the emerging Islamic Caliphates (Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia) that had been engineered by players of the "Great Game" on behalf of a receding empire post World War II. But Obama's caution in war mongering is not a matter of choice. This is making a virtue out of a vice because, while the Tweedle Bush - Tweedle Blair genocide in Iraq enriched many individuals, and particularly the cronies of the regime, it rendered the US too war weary, confused, and resource strapped for further wars at the present juncture of History. Islam is immune to US pressure and probably pay rolls too many opinion and decision makers in the "West" for chances to be taken with Islamic oil. As for Russian gas, it is a problem for Europe, and while Russia solidifies its relationship with China, the US has a market in Europe to sell its Fracking Gas at enormously higher costs than the Russian dispensation rendering Europe's fealty tenuous and hard to keep. Obama-Kerry cannot claim a "foreign policy" any more than the preceding White Hice (Houses). This regime is moving with the traffic and blustering about in a fair imitation of Hollywood that turns every US defeat into victory to mage the psyche and war readiness of the American people and bring recruits to West Point. But they lack the fortuity and the resources that earlier regimes have enjo to pretend to similar "success". Napoleon wanted lucky generals and the american unwashed want lucky Presidents. Ukraine is a clic example. Bereft of intelligence, the "West: simply continued the momentum of animus towards Russia and a suion of Russia inherited from the Cold War and fed it into a psyche honed by Hollywood, m, Mc Carthy and Edgar Hoover rather than any erudition or intelligence polished with the untested umption that Russia was a "permanently" vanquished foe. Boldly, the "West" continued its East ward conquest through NATO and the EU under a threatened (technically unfeasible) missile shield disregarding all protests and appeals to reason. Obama is right that NATO was thus strengthened. But this was a self fulfilling prophecy. This aggit hit steel at Crimea which is vital to Russia's strategic interests. That Europe, NATO and the US were surprised and indignant at Russia's reaction shows how lacking they are in intelligence, foreign policy and sensitivity. That the "West" continued to exercise the "ghost limb" of their subsuted intelligence with respect to Eastern Ukraine long after Putin had announced that that he was not going beyond Ukraine (before Crimea acceded to Russia) and that Obama actually claimed credit for having stemmed a non existent Russian tide with "sanctions" underscores that the "West" has neither intelligence nor foreign policy The unintended consequence of the White Hice not having intellgience or feorign policy over decades is that the the US has conjured the World into four quadrants i.e. Wesia, Russchinia and Insignificanti to the benefit of Islamia. Very messy for a US that does not have the fortuity, the aen and the resources to walk in through the swing doors with six guns blazing as the great unwashed america would like. For now. I could go on and expand in infinite detail.
                    Reply
                    1. V
                      Vikram K
                      May 30, 2014 at 3:40 am
                      Hey Tom Friedman in IE after a long time .. I like him. I also believe he is a good friend of India
                      Reply
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                        Virat
                        May 30, 2014 at 10:48 am
                        When 'establishment intellectual' writer Friedman has to get down to calling names - "pro-Putin thugs" - in his article , then you know Putin probably got to them a bit more than they would care to admit. But the author continues to provide the best arguments for the west even while ignoring the very valid Russian view of their country being under seige by the west. As if the western influence coming to Russian doorstep brings some inherent 'good' with it which should be taken for granted. Hence the use of words like Russian thugs etc. and complete arrogance about taking over Ukraine through 'AAP party style' tactics. Yes - AAP anarchic model works in smaller potion countries like Ukraine, Syria, etc.
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                          Virat
                          May 30, 2014 at 7:38 pm
                          looks like Russians have got to Tom Friedman. I have never seen this guy call names (pro russian thugs).
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