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The fact that the United States misplayed its hand in Ukraine should not make us think Vladimir Putin is a good guy, or that Russia is a victim in this game. Chess is a game where mistakes are costly, but easily made. No matter how careful you think you are, how good a player you think you are, poor moves beckon everywhere, and your opponent will take advantage of them.

The U. S. misplayed its effort to bring Ukraine into western Europe’s orbit. Consequently, Ukraine lost Crimea and its eastern provinces to Russia. The country is still engaged in civil war. If the United States had not meddled in the country, Russia would not have had reason to meddle either. A balance of interests existed before events in Kiev’s Maidan square forced Ukraine’s president to decamp to Russia. Russia has won all rounds of play since, and the advantage remains with Putin.

Maidan square.

The United States did not predict such poor outcomes when a violent change of government stemmed from events in Maidan square in February 2014. Failure to predict civil war and loss of Crimea demonstrates Washington’s mistakes, inattention, impatience and poor execution. The U. S. did not even realize it risked such a big loss when it undertook its intervention.

Yet critics of U. S. foreign policy, in their zeal to blame Washington for all bad outcomes, occasionally defend or even exonerate Putin’s actions in Ukraine. This perspective seems extraordinary to me. When Donald Trump praises Vladimir Putin for his strong leadership, does anyone think Trump is on the right track? When people portray Putin as a target of CIA meddling in Ukraine, does he become a blessed fellow because the CIA and State Department engage in their usual incompetent adventures?

Vladimir Putin.

No, he does not. Putin was a ruthless opponent before we sallied into Ukraine’s politics, and he remains one now. His effectiveness in showing the United States what happens when you blunder in the game of international politics, especially when you blunder in Eastern Europe, does not make Putin a sympathetic character. The anti-Washington left in the United States need not feel sorry for him, or suggest that his actions are justified in light of the wrongs we have committed against him. When I make a mistake in a chess game, and lose a piece as a result, no observer suggests that the player who took advantage of my mistake should have let me win.

Related links

Article that considers Putin’s position:


Update on the situation in Ukraine published New Year’s Eve, 2015:


Two authors have written a fair amount of critical material about Ukraine:

Paul Craig Roberts

David L. Griscom

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