Putin is not a genius. He doesn't have to be.
The US and Europe tried to use economic warfare to take Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence. They tried to outbid Russia for Ukraine loyalty with European Economic Union membership, and an accompanying military allegiance as well. That suited those in western Ukraine, however, the East is a different story. The Europeans and Americans wanted to fight this war on the only field they could win it - the economic one. The Russians went through the tools of diplomacy, and found a different one - the military one. It's really that simple. This isn't rocket science.
Despite two decades of nauseating chest pounding, the Americans never won the Cold War. The Russians and Chinese simply decided a game of chicken with then US president Ronald Reagan wasn't worth it. They switched to economic warfare instead. Russia being the resource and technology warehouse, and China being the industrial and manufacturing warehouse. Now, today, Russia's national debt is a puny 7% of GDP, and China is set to become the number one economy in the world. That didn't happen by accident. It's also no coincidence that, despite their new "economic societies", their geopolitical goals have not changed. They just used a different horse to get there.
Yes, it's not the Russians and Chinese that don't get it. Frankly, it's the West. We've spent two decades building world trade that has almost singularly benefited Russia and Asia, and racked up massive debt for the Western World. And debt matters. Take the example of Henry the Eight, King of England. His banning of the Catholic Church, and creation of the Church of England, funneled massive wealth into England (that would otherwise have gone to Rome) and Elizabeth I used that wealth to expand the Empire. As did successive others. Dollars and debt affect nations, empires and war.
So, bringing it back to Ukraine, the Russians weren't prepared to see their military buffer zone change sides. It's a matter of national interest. It always has been for Russia, and for the West not to see that before they tried to outbid Russia for Ukraine's allegiance is almost unbelievable. So Russia set off massive military exercises and poured troops of one kind or another into the Crimea. They didn't do just that though. They took air force bases with their expensive Russian built fighters stuck on the ground in Russian hands. They scuttled a massive old battleship at the mouth of the Ukrainian naval base stranding seven of Ukraine's warships. These are big ticket items. After all, Ukraine owes Russia about $2 billion for natural gas used, but not paid for.
They did it all without firing a shot. Putin has arranged for a referendum to be held in Crimea in less than two weeks, and his parliament is pushing through a bill defining requirements for ex-states that want to become part of Russia. All the while thumbing his nose at the West, and leaving his options open to do the same to Eastern Ukraine.
The West's response is correspondingly without any teeth at all. Send a ship into the Black Sea. Send a few fighters to the Baltic States. Issue declaration after declaration. Threaten sanctions. The fact is, there are many western based corporations with big investments in Russia, not the least of which are American and British oil companies. So Russia has the mutual destruction button ready to push - the economic one that is. China and Russia have the same capability militarily against the West, and the West vs. them. There is no advantage to any party, except Russia has the military force ready to go into Europe. That is a fact. It also has the capacity to destroy the European economy over night by shutting off the taps to natural gas. Many people say that Russia would not do that, because it would suffer as well. However, people that say that are looking at the equation the wrong way.
Take China for instance. When the 2008 economic meltdown occurred, China laid off 250 million people and shipped them from the cities back to their rural communities. No revolution. No protest. No problem. The Russians are the same and have proved it in the past. They sacrificed 25 million dead in the second world war and, far more than any other ally, they bled the German army white - without which the Second world War would have in all likelihood ended differently. So, instead of viewing Russia, and for that matter China, as if they were American modeled economies and societies, the West needs to truly understand how bad its's been beaten at its own game, and what position that leaves us. My take - we are reaping today what we have sown.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)