WWVD? Part I

In this Halloween Season, I’ve been reading the scariest book I’ve bought in retirement:  Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, which is more a psychological profile than a biography of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  (I thoroughly recommend it to foreign policy junkies; it makes quite a pairing with Mary Trump’s psychological profile of President Trump, Too Much and Never Enough.)  [Note:  the latest edition of Mr. Putin was published over a year before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency.]  Some excerpts:

“If Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it, and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal….Vladimir Putin is a fighter and a survivalist.  He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win….Putin’s tactics at home and abroad are geared toward gaining advantage against his opponents. [Emphasis in Original].”

On Mr. Putin’s handling of the Russian oligarchs:  “There must be some kind of hook to guarantee loyalty, even with [those] that seem most closely linked to [Mr. Putin]….The role of money in this system is important but commonly misunderstood….[I]t is not money that guarantees loyalty …. Instead, it is the fact that the money derives from activity that is or could be found to be illegal.  Participants in the system are not bought off in the classic sense of that term.  Instead, they are compromised; they are made vulnerable to threats.  Enforcement … is achieved … by implicit threats …. Loyalty is ensured through blackmail. … [T]he risk of loss is more important than any reward.  And, as in the most effective blackmail schemes, it is not the threat of loss of money or property that frightens most people.  It is loss of reputation, loss of one’s standing in the eyes of family, friends, and peers – loss of one’s identity [Emphasis in Original].”

“Viktor Yanukovych [who became Ukraine President in 2010, and fled to Russia for refuge in 2014] seemed much more interested in running Ukraine as a ‘family business’ than dealing with the business of economic and political reform. … From Putin’s perspective, the Ukrainian president’s well-documented venality was a major vulnerability that Putin could use to his benefit.  It provided leverage.  Yanukovych was similar to the foreign targets Putin and his KGB colleagues had set up … in the 1970s and 1980s.  His greed and transgressions opened him up to reputational risk at home and abroad.  They also made him relatively easy to buy off.  Putin did just that — … encouraging Russian companies to place lucrative offers with industries closely connected to the Ukrainian president and his family.”

Feel free to substitute any name for “Viktor Yanukovych” you consider appropriate.  To be fair:  in Rage, Bob Woodward reported:  “As [Director of National Intelligence, Dan] Coats had access to the most sensitive intelligence … He suspected the worst but found nothing that would show [Donald] Trump was indeed in Putin’s pocket.”

Back to Mr. Putin:

“[Into 2013] in Ukraine, Putin thought he had the situation under control with the venal and vulnerable Viktor Yanukovych in place.  But he had bet on the wrong horse.  Yanukovych could be blackmailed, but he couldn’t keep control of Ukraine.  Once it became clear that Yanukovych had [what Mr. Putin described as] ‘no political future’ … Putin had to make sure that his backup plans were in place.  Annexing Crimea and setting the rest of Ukraine on fire were contingency operations.  They were prepared in advance, ready to be used if needed – but only if needed.”

“As a consequence of his [KGB] Case Officer identity, Mr. Putin cannot simply abandon an ‘asset.’”

The Mueller Report makes clear that when Russia began its meddling in the 2016 election, its primary goal was to sow discord among the American people; it shifted its efforts to a more aggressive support of then-Candidate Donald Trump when it appeared that he actually had a chance to win.  Now that Mr. Trump is in power, Russia’s current effort is undoubtedly heavily focused upon spreading disinformation and attempting to hack American electoral systems to keep him there.  However, one point Hill and Gaddy drive home repeatedly is that Mr. Putin is a contingency planner:

“The notion that Putin is an opportunist, at best an improviser, but not a strategist, is at best a misread. …  Putin knows that unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy.  The key to dealing with the unexpected is to anticipate that there always will be setbacks.  This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them [Emphasis in Original].”

It seems not unreasonable to assume that in addition to doing whatever he can to secure Mr. Trump’s re-election, Mr. Putin has carefully considered what steps his agencies will take in the event that Mr. Trump loses.  Some of his potential avenues in Part II.

2 thoughts on “WWVD? Part I

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