Putin’s Playing Chess; We’re Playing Poker

Are we moving, inexorably, into a new Cold War?

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Peter Muhly - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Peter Muhly – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is probing and testing in his new-cold-war initiatives. He has annexed Crimea, kidnapped an Estonian counter-intelligence agent, and in a unique expression of chutzpah, challenged America’s right to investigate and prosecute FIFA. And Mr. Putin said that Russia would increase its deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. None of this is good news.

The West has responded—at times intelligently, and occasionally muscularly. Just last week the European Union foreign ministers agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia through January, 2016. And NATO has created a “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” along with a broader force of 40,000 troops. The former is designed to react within days to a threat by Russia; and the latter is being bolstered the stationing of heavy equipment in six NATO countries bordering Russia. Much of this equipment, which includes tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and self-propelled howitzers, is being supplied by the United States.

Watching these events unfold, we can’t help wonder if we’re playing poker while Mr. Putin is playing chess.

The real question is: are we moving, inexorably, into a new Cold War? And what should we do about what is happening?

“No one wants to stumble back into the Cold War,” said Admiral James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and now the Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in an exclusive statement to the Observer. “NATO should be doing four things in regard to Russia and Ukraine: Reassuring the NATO allies in the east — the Baltics and Poland especially — by additional exercises, rotational forces, and pre-positioning military equipment. We should also continue to use the sanctions to pressurize the Russian economy. Additionally, we need to rally international legal opinion concerning the clear violation of international law following the invasion and annexation of Crimea. Finally, we need to keep open channels of dialog with Russia to achieve a diplomatic solution.”

At first glance, it appears that we are following Admiral Stavridis’ recommendations. Unfortunately, the Administration – with the help of Senator Richard Shelby (R. Alabama) Chairman of Senate Banking Committee –also seems to be undercutting its own strategy. America is spending hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing rocket engines from Russia. The engines are used for the vast majority of America’s national security space launches, and are a remnant of a deal crafted with Russia during friendlier, post-Cold War times.

Watching these events unfold, we can’t help wonder if we’re playing poker while Mr. Putin is playing chess.

Putin’s Playing Chess; We’re Playing Poker