Obama And Putin Are Trapped In A Macho Game Of “Chicken” And The Whole World Could Pay The Price

obama-putin

The U.S. government and the Russian government have both been forced into positions where neither one of them can afford to back down.  If Barack Obama backs down, he will be greatly criticized for being “weak” and for having been beaten by Vladimir Putin once again.  If Putin backs down, he will be greatly criticized for being “weak” and for abandoning the Russians that live in Crimea.  In essence, Obama and Putin find themselves trapped in a macho game of “chicken” and critics on both sides stand ready to pounce on the one who backs down.  But this is not just an innocent game of “chicken” from a fifties movie.  This is the real deal, and if nobody backs down the entire world will pay the price.

Leaving aside who is to blame for a moment, it is really frightening to think that we may be approaching the tensest moment in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cuban missile crisis.

There has been much talk about Obama’s “red lines”, but the truth is that Crimea (and in particular the naval base at Sevastopol) is a “red line” for Russia.

There is nothing that Obama could ever do that could force the Russians out of Sevastopol.  They will never, ever willingly give up that naval base.

So what in the world does Obama expect to accomplish by imposing sanctions on Russia?  By treaty, Russia is allowed to have 25,000 troops in Crimea and Russia has not sent troops into the rest of Ukraine.

Economic sanctions are not going to cause Putin to back down.  Instead, they will just cause the Russians to retaliate.

In a letter that he sent to Congress this week, Obama claimed that the Ukrainian crisis is an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Language like that is going to make it even more difficult for Obama to back down.

On Thursday, Obama announced “visa restrictions” on “those Russians and Ukrainians responsible for the Russian move into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula”, and a House panel passed a “symbolic resolution” that condemned Russia for its “occupation” of Crimea.

But those moves are fairly meaningless.  Leaders from both political parties are now pushing for very strong economic sanctions against Russia, and there does not appear to be many members of Congress that intend to stand in the way.

If the U.S. does hit Russia with harsh economic sanctions, what is going to happen?

Is Russia going to back down?

No way.

So let’s just play out the coming moves like a game of chess for a moment…

-The U.S. slaps economic sanctions on Russia.

-Russia seizes the assets of U.S. companies that are doing business in Russia.

-The U.S. seizes Russian assets.

-The Russians refuse to pay their debts to U.S. banks.

-The U.S. government hits Russia with even stronger sanctions.

-Russia starts dumping U.S. debt and encourages other nations to start doing the same.

-The U.S. gets Europe to also hit Russia with economic sanctions.

-Russia cuts off the natural gas to Europe.  Russia supplies more than half the natural gas to a bunch of countries in Europe.

-The United States moves troops into western Ukraine.

-Russia starts selling oil for gold or for Russian rubles and encourages other nations to start abandoning the U.S. dollar in international trade.

Of course the order of many of these moves could ultimately turn out to be different, but I think that you can see the nightmare that this game of “chicken” could turn out to be.

And what would be the final result?

Nothing would be resolved, but the global economy would greatly suffer.

What makes all of this even more complicated is that about 60 percent of the people living in Crimea are actually ethnic Russians, and a majority of the population appears to want to leave Ukraine and be reunited with Russia.  The following comes from a Reuters article

Crimea’s parliament voted to join Russia on Thursday and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum on the decision in 10 days’ time in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.

The sudden acceleration of moves to bring Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and has effectively been seized by Russian forces, formally under Moscow’s rule came as European Union leaders held an emergency summit groping for ways to pressure Russia to back down and accept mediation.

The Obama administration is calling the upcoming referendum “illegal” and says that it will not respect the will of the Crimean people no matter how the vote turns out.

But the people of Crimea are very serious about this, and of course they never would be pushing for reunification with Russia if they had not gotten approval from Putin…

The decision, which diplomats said could not have been made without Putin’s approval, raised the stakes in the most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War.

The vice premier of Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, said a referendum on the status would take place on March 16. All state property would be “nationalized”, the Russian ruble adopted and Ukrainian troops treated as occupiers and forced to surrender or leave, he said.