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Ukraine: will Putin back down?

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Message Jean-Luc Basle

The United States and Russia are at it again. This time it's over Ukraine. During the Cold War three major incidents occurred: the Berlin blockade in 1948, the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban crisis in 1962. Each time, faced with nuclear annihilation the Soviet Union backed down. The United States may feel reasonably confident that this time Putin will back down as his predecessors did. But will he?

Phrasing the issue this way doesn't do it justice. The terms of the deal are not the same today. In the past, backing down did not threaten the USSR's world standing or survival. Remember, in October 1957, Sputnik was the first satellite ever launched, and in April 1961, Gagarin was the first man orbiting around the earth. Backing down then simply meant the Soviets were recognizing their error. Backing down this time takes on a new meaning. Russia will lose its standing in the world and become the Empire's "vassal", in Brzezinski's parlance.* Its natural resources will be looted. Putin's popularity will collapse pushing him out of power. An unappealing prospect. Refusing to back down, however, offers an even worst scenario since it would mean nuclear annihilation. Putin is caught between a rock and a hard place. What will he decide?

Much has been said about Obama's red line in Syria. Nothing has ever been said about Putin's red lines in Ukraine. Yet, they are quite explicit: "NATO out of Ukraine. Crimea as part of Russia. No US troops anywhere near Russia's borders. Full protection for the Russian cultural identity of Southern and Eastern Ukraine."** Will his demands be met? Might the West back down this time?

*"The Grand Chessboard", 1993.

**"NATO is desperate for war", Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, Aug. 8, 2014.

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Former Vice President Citigroup New York (retired) Columbia University -- Business School Princeton University -- Woodrow Wilson School

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