The price of access to faux-royal bodies

In their cynicism about Putin, western diplomats are making the Ukrainian crisis worse, according to Mary Dejevsky.

Can one be “too cynical” in assessing Vladimir Putin? When I started this blog twelve yeas ago, I avoided too much cynicism and ended up with wishful thinking. There comes frequently a temptation, according to Pushkin and Pasternak, “to look at things without fear in the hope of glory and goodness” but there are times when cold-headed despair is the most natural response to the shattering of illusions.

Mary Dejevsky is a highly experienced journalist, no doubt, but note that she is a “a member of the Valdai Group, invited since 2004 to meet Russian leaders each autumn.”

Access. Some journalists (and stock analysts) would pay any price – some pay by leaving all standards at the door – for access to a highly-placed VIP. Some would go to bat for Satan himself to be allowed a standing spot in his sulfurous ambit. The VIP of this story, VVP, is hardly a Byronian fiend, rather a petty one in the Screwtape-Wormwood mold, yet he is not without his toadpiping acolytes.


  1. Call me unconstructive, but I must admit my cynicism about Dejevsky and her article is boundless:

    “Any notion that Moscow might genuinely want peace in Ukraine, and be willing to compromise to achieve that, is excluded from the calculation.”

    This reminds me of Clausewitz’s observation that “the conqueror is always a lover of peace; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.”

    Putin may want peace but he wants Debaltseve, Mariupol and even Kharkiv first. That plus the destruction of NATO, the acceptance that the entire ex-USSR is permanently Moscow’s to do with as it pleases, and recognition that Russia is a superpower on the same footing as the USA. Once the West shows him “respect” and hands him all these things on a plate, he might whip out the acoustic guitar and give us a few verses of “Kumbaya”.

    Meanwhile, I wish Western diplomats would stop their “Three Wise Monkeys” routine. Putin has been offered enough “off-ramps”. It should be obvious by now he’s not going to take them. Time to get real.

    • Exactly as Clausewitz observed, Putin wants peace so he can quietly push the demarcation line further towards Kiev. I don’t think he expected so much resistance from Ukraine. The Ukrainian army and the volunteer battalions are dominated by people from the Center, South and the East (there are even fighters from Donbass). Putin probably thought half the soldiers would simply refuse to fight. Surely he could not anticipate that the toughest volunteer battalions would be Russian-speaking. No wonder actually, because if non-Western Ukraine is culturally close to Russia, one should expect them to be about as “tough” on invaders as Russians are in Putin’s stereotypical world. And it’s Russia, not NATO or Ukraine, that’s the aggressor in this case.

      There is a school of thought that claims Putin needs psychotherapy in the form of symbolic gestures of respect so he could retreat while being touted as the victor. I have doubts about that and I’m leaning towards a “kind word and a gun” approach. It seems that even some Europeans and Britons who realize what Putin is up to are afraid of Ukraine getting armed by NATO. “It’s those crazy Americans. They wouldn’t care if Europe went up in nuclear flames.” That sort of thinking.

  2. “There is a school of thought that claims Putin needs psychotherapy in the form of symbolic gestures of respect so he could retreat while being touted as the victor.”

    That’s the school that thought that Putin would be content with the symbolic and strategic prize of Crimea. He wasn’t. Putin won’t stop when he’s winning and he can’t stop when he’s losing.

    Not arming the Ukrainian government won’t bring peace because Putin will keep “arming the rebels” and they’ll keep ignoring all the Minsks you can throw at them. Cf. not arming the Spanish Republic, the Bosnian government etc.

    This still has a 1930s feel to it: Putin is somewhere between Mussolini and Hitler – with nukes. Letting Mussolini “save face” by invading Ethiopia, or Hitler by annexing Austria didn’t work out too well in the long run.

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