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Has Vlad played a Blinder?

Russian forces in Crimea

Russian forces in Crimea

Was the Russian takeover of Crimea daring RED opportunism that took advantage of ethnic tensions in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea exacerbated by the new Kiev government’s apparent willingness to discriminate against ethnic Russians…? Or was it 2nd Tier-level strategic thinking that had been working towards this potential outcome, while balancing a whole load of other issues, and was ready to move when the time was right…?

Last Summer I speculated Putin a 2nd Tier Thinker? and was rebuffed by some complex thinkers who saw Vladimir Putin more as a ‘wily’ RED-driven opportunist who seized his moment. Yet it has stayed with me just how tactical and strategic Putin was. He rescued Barrack Obama from the corner he had painted himself into with his ‘red line’ announcements about Syria and became the hero of the Summer by levering Bashir al-Assad into agreeing to give up his chemical weapons. Yet Putin’s solution allowed Russia’s client, Assad, to continue his brutal and ruthless war with conventional weapons. Syria only makes the headlines occasionally these days but the daily slaughter grinds relentlessly on.

The West remains directionless and indecisive about Syria but increasingly less inclined to support the rebels as they become increasingly more dominated by jihadists. They might deplore the wanton barbarism and huge ‘collateral damage’ of Assad’s campaign but they fear violent Islamism even more. If not for Russian arms and intelligence – and Iran sending in Hezbollah to fight alongside the Syrian Army – Syria might now be run by Sunni extremists.

While the West gave non-lethal ‘soft’ support to the first waves of rebels in the name of Democracy, it could be argued that Putin, with big picture thinking, anticipated the Arab Spring revolutions turning sour and saw reason to keep on supporting Assad. Putin’s detractors accuse him of backing Assad solely to protect Russia’s interests in the Middle East and in particular its naval base at Tartus. Putin would be a very poor leader if he didn’t look after his own country’s interests primarily…but, to do that well, he also needs to ‘read’ various world scenarios. And it looks like he’s read the Middle East and the Arab Spring revolutions much better than the West’s leaders have.

In all the hoo-hah over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and speculation about potential Russian moves on Eastern Ukraine, a large amount of material has been generated in newspapers and magazines and on the internet in an attempt to understand this man who has apparently trashed years of cooperation with the West and brought the world to the verge of a new Cold War.

Many of these commentators tend to make 2 mistakes:-

  1.  They attempt to categorise Putin as a certain type of person and/or look for key events in his past which have shaped him to be who he is today.
  2.  They do not link Putin’s attitudes and behaviours to his circumstances (situational) – rather they look for some flaw or inadequacy in his character which leads him to think and do as he does (dispositional).

In relation to these kinds of issues, many Gravesian enthusiasts often make 2 errors as well:-

  1. They assume that a certain set of life conditions will always predicate a certain fixed and predictable vMEME response or vMEME harmonic in response.
  2. They assume that 2nd Tier thinking is always benevolent – especially if it’s TURQUOISE thinking.

Before we go on to discuss the Ukraine crisis in depth, let’s explore the sociopsycholigical theory issues I’ve raised in relation to Putin.

Theoretical considerations
As discussed in vMEME Stacks, relatively minor changes in the ‘life conditions’ being experienced by an individual or a group or organisation may lead to a readjustment of the vMEME stack, with some vMEMES dominating in some contexts and other vMEMES in other contexts. Moreover, as the life conditions in one context shift, so should the vMEME stack in a healthy psychological response – and this can happen quite rapidly.

Thus, it is entirely possible that Vladimir Putin does access 2nd Tier thinking in certain situations but, according to whatever life conditions he is experiencing, often seems to be dominated by other vMEMES.

So it may be he accessed 2nd Tier thinking in his manipulation of both Obama and Assad last Summer, approaches the running of his own country largely as a RED-driven dictator and views the scattering of ethnic Russians in the breakaway countries from the collapsed Soviet Union from the PURPLE/BLUE vMEME harmonic’s perspective of Russian nationalism. His ORANGE may see strategic advantage in certain geopolitical moves.

A number of Gravesian enthusiasts, especially many of those who consider themselves affiliated to the Integral schools of thought, tend to see accessing TURQUOISE thinking as being similar to some form of Buddhist state of enlightenment.

However, there is nothing in the writings of Clare W Graves – or, for that matter, Abraham Maslow or Jane Loevinger – which indicates that 2nd Tier thinking has to be altruistic or beneficent.

Maslow (1971) provides arguably the most complete description of the 8th thinking system – see Transcendence – and it might be implied from such descriptions that having that level of insight and connectedness would lead to beneficent attitudes and behaviour. Indeed, you would think such holistic thinking would predicate beneficence. But nowhere do any of the researchers discussed consider it automatic. It must also be remembered that, 40+ years after Maslow, we still actually know very little about the 8th system simply because so few people seem to be able to access it on a consistent basis.

One of the things Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) attribute to TURQUOISE is the reluctant willingness to sacrifice some for the good of all. So it may be TURQUOISE can appear quite ruthless.  Also, despite the meta-view it has of the world, TURQUOISE cannot help but filter that worldview through the schemas the selfplex has formed throughout the individual’s history. While the very term ‘Transcendence’ encapsulates getting beyond what we have been, what we have been still influences the process of transcendence. None of us exist independent of our history and while a ‘transcender’ (to use Maslow’s term) may be able to become free of the emotional bag & baggage of their history, they will still have had different experiences and, therefore, formed different schemas to another transcender. Transcenders, according to Maslow, recognise other transcenders and, according to both Maslow and Graves (1971/2002), are open to learning from each other – to developing mutual connectedness. However, if Putin does approach international relations from a 2nd Tier perspective – and that is a definite if – one might ask how many other transcenders does he mix with on the international stage? The answer is probably: very few, if any. So, it is not impossible that Putin uses 2nd Tier thinking but that 2nd Tier thinking is still jaundiced by the schematic worldview his experiences have given him

Thus, Putin may be willing to sacrifice some for what he perceives to be the good of all from the schemas he has developed from his experiences.

The new Ukrainian government’s readiness to discriminate against ethnic Russians by the removal of Russian as the country’s official second language may have been a gift to Putin’s RED opportunism in the guise of PURPLE/BLUE protection of ethnic Russians…but, as BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson (2014b) has pointed out, the Russian takeover of Crimea demonstrated meticulous planning and the ability to read and prepare for a number of potential responses from the Ukrainian military. Astonishingly, considering the amount of hardware the Russians came in with, only one Ukrainian soldier was killed. The amount of control exercised by their officers and the discipline displayed by the Russian soldiers was truly impressive.

The context
Lee Ross (1977) developed the concept of the fundamental attribution error to point out the mistake of assigning the causes of behaviour to purely dispositional factors when there may well be situational factors which contribute to the behaviour. A small number of analysts have tried to see the Ukrainian revolution from what might be Putin’s perspective of the circumstances in which he finds himself – of the life conditions he is experiencing. For example, Fiona Hill from the Washington-based Brookings Institution (reported by Sebastian Fischer) states: “…he has had enough of all the actions we have allegedly taken against him and Russia. He sees Western attempts to keep Russia down and to ignore red lines he has set: about NATO expansion some years ago, about the EU and Ukraine now…. For Putin this is not about Ukraine. This is about a fight with us. He basically believes that it comes down to whether we understand his message about how far we go and about whether we can find some kind of accommodation here. And until we get that message he’s going to be holding Ukraine hostage.”

Putin himself seemed genuinely aggrieved in his 18 March speech on Crimea when he said: “Our Western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle, ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organisations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.

“This happened in Yugoslavia; we remember 1999 very well. It was hard to believe, even seeing it with my own eyes, that at the end of the 20th Century, one of Europe’s capitals, Belgrade, was under missile attack for several weeks, and then came the real intervention. Was there a UN Security Council resolution on this matter, allowing for these actions? Nothing of the sort. And then, they hit Afghanistan, Iraq, and frankly violated the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, when instead of imposing the so-called no-fly zone over it, they started bombing it too.”

There’s a lot of talk –  eg: Jonathan Marcus (2014a) on BBC News – about Russia having violated the way the more powerful nations do business since the end of the Cold War  – ie: by diplomacy and economic cooperation rather than by force .

But Putin’s apparent disdain for the conventional G8-style approach needs to be read in light of what Russian has seen as the West – and the United States in particular – repeatedly manipulating international law to its own objectives (Libya) or simply ignoring it when it couldn’t be manipulated (Iraq).

With the Ukraine again we have seen the West championing a ‘democratic’ revolution and getting itself in an almighty fix as the ‘revolution’ veers off the tracks and towards a dangerous precipice. Only somewhat belatedly has the new Ukranian government taken action against the ultra-nationalist and openly anti-Putin Right Sector while the short-lived contemplation of banning Russian as an official language of the Ukraine was a gift to Russian separatists not just in Crimea but elsewhere throughout Eastern Ukraine.

Western strategists should have seen the ethnic faultlines along which Ukraine could so easily divide. From the struggles for colonial independence, through ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and Basque separatism, through the Rawandan genocide and the Yugoslav and Chechnyan wars, to the Ukraine – to name but a small handful of bitter conflicts – PURPLE tribalism has been at the heart of most violent struggles from the end of the Second World into the first decades of the 21st Century. In a vMEME harmonic with BLUE to give it nationalist fervour and/or religious zeal, it has kept the modern iteration of the Israeli-Palistinian conflict going for close on a century and is currently threatening to burn a Sunni-Shia war right across the Middle East.

Yet time and time again Western strategists just don’t get the criticality of tribalism to the way most people in the world think and feel about themselves and others. Alex Salmond does – which is why he’s been able to take the Scottish independence campaign as far as he has. And so does Vladimir Putin.

Those ethnic faultlines that threaten the Ukraine also threaten the Baltic states. When the Soviet Union dissembled in 1991, many ethnic Russians were living in the Baltic states, as in the Ukraine. Such was the anti-Russian feeling in those countries that the ethnic Russians – termed ‘occupiers’ by some – were not automatically granted citizenship of the newly-independent countries even though they were born there. Many who worked in the public sector lost their jobs and were discriminated against in other ways. In Latvia, for example, even now ethnic Russians cannot vote or work in the public sector unless they pass a citizenship test. This requires them to be fluent in the Latvian language and demonstrate knowledge of Latvian culture. Many of the older ethnic Russians do not speak Latvian and so could not pass the citizenship test. Others, according to the BBC’s Damien McGuiness, refuse to take the test on principle because it clearly discriminates against their heritage.

Yet the Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – are all members of NATO! They are also members of that ultimate advocate of ‘human rights’, the European Union! Where was the West’s GREEN, one might ask, when countries were signed up which openly discriminated against ethnic Russians born on their territory to ethnic Russian parents who simply happened to live in the country when it seceded from the remnants of the Soviet Union?

Many countries, such as the UK, these days discriminate against foreign migrants who want to become naturalised citizens, requiring language fluency and knowledge of the indigenous culture…but the discrimination in the Baltic states is of a totally different order.

Such injustices feed the PURPLE/BLUE nationalism of Putin and other Russians, make a mockery of the West’s claims to respecting the human rights of peoples and are festering cultural sores which will undoubtedly cause problems in the future unless steps are taken to manage them. What happened in the Ukraine and the Crimea should be an object lesson on the need to anticipate and manage natural differences.

Putin: the fitness image

Putin: the fitness image

Putin the man
Putin’s annexation of the Crimea can be read as RED’s lust for power exploiting PURPLE/BLUE nationalism – decidedly 1st Tier! However, his reading of how to develop Russia’s future and his reading of the West’s potential responses could be argued to be 2nd Tier.Putin has spent years building up Russia as a participant in the Capitalist global economy and dutifully taking part in G8 meetings. It seemed Russia was coming of age as a partner in the super club’s attempts to manage the world. Now Russia has knowingly compromised all those understandings with its annexation of Crimea.

That all was not well with Putin and Russia should have been gleaned from Russia’s boycotting of Anglo-French-American attempts to manipulate the Security Council over Syria. Too conveniently the West wrote this off as Putin reverting to Soviet-era style protection of his Middle Eastern client.

In their need to understand Vladimir Putin, many commentators such as Stephen Wayne Kasica,  have categorised Putin as a relic from the Soviet era – a former KGB man who wants to turn the clock back – perhaps best epitomised by the fitness buff’s recent decision to re-establish GTO, the Soviet mass physical education system in 1931 introduced by Joseph Stalin. As Oliver Bullough has pointed out, Putin has restored some Soviet symbols such as the 5-pointed star.

However, as Bullough also points out, Putin has restored Russia from the mess it had become during the ill-fated presidency of Boris Yeltsin. In the year before Putin became Yeltsin’s prime minister, Russia had defaulted on its debt, salaries for public sector workers and pensions were being paid months late, if at all. Basic infrastructure was collapsing and the country’s most prized assets belonged to a handful of well-connected oligarchs who ran the country like a private fiefdom. Putin, perhaps working from 2nd Tier, recognised that all that RED indulgence and dissipation needed BLUE order – and that was what the restoration of Russia began with. For Putin, the former secret policeman, putting in order forcibly was something he prized.

Looking outwards from Moscow, the once-mighty Russian army had lost a war in the would-be breakaway republic of Chechnya, a place with fewer inhabitants than Russia had soldiers. 3 former Warsaw Pact allies had joined NATO, bringing the Western alliance up to Russia’s borders. Again Putin’s task was restoration. As he told the Douma on his appointment as prime minister in 1999: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest …. We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.”

NATO expansion - copyright © 2014 BBC

NATO expansion – copyright © 2014 BBC

Undoubtedly BLUE figures large in Putin’s selfplex – duty to the motherland and restoration of the motherland’s greatness. And undoubtedly that feeds his RED’s ego strength. But is there something of a 2nd Tier meta-view in the way he goes about restoring Russia?

Whether Putin really can access 2nd Tier thinking is a moot point. Some people can’t get over what an autocrat he is, how thuggish he looks (and often seems to work!) and how dangerous he seems. All of which may be so…but he’s a very smart and complex-thinking autocrat and thug.

As with Syria, so with Ukraine, the likes of Barrack Obama and David Cameron give half-hearted support to a movement calling itself ‘democratic’ because their BLUE and their culture tell them it’s the right thing to do…but they don’t really understand it and they don’t know what to do. Putin, on the other hand, behaves like a Spiral Wizard, looking upstream and looking downstream, seeing how the land lies and examining the faultlines. From considering the possibilities, he decides what he wants and how to get it. With Syria, it was a waiting game, letting the West tear itself apart over whether to launch a missile strike in response to the apparent use by Assad’s forces of chemical weapons against a rebel-held area – see Cameron: “I get that!” (Or does he?) – before stepping in to save Obama from the consequences of his own short-sighted thinking. With Ukraine, it’s been a case of put the plan into action quick and establish de facto control of the Crimea while the myopic leaders in the West were still trying to get their heads around the fact the revolution has a problem.

From 28 February, when masked Russian troops (without their insignias) suddenly materialised like beamed-down space warriors throughout the Crimea, Putin has led all twists and turns on the Ukraine crisis. From the 16 March referendum, through the massing of 35,000 troops on the Ukraine-Russia border, to last Friday’s call to Obama to initiate diplomatic moves, to Sunday’s negotiating demands, to Tuesday night’s call to Angela Merkel to announce a tiny drawdown of troops from the border…it’s been Vlad’s show all the way.

He’s playing a ‘blinder’ that has so far has outfoxed Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron, William Hague and just about every other Western leader…with the possible exception of Merkel who, with her East German background, probably understands Putin – culturally, at least – more than most.

Putin’s biggest problem though is the interdependent nature of the global economy. Investors and speculators have lost confidence in Russia through Putin’s unpredicatability. What has left Western leaders looking hapless and bemused has made the capitalists decidedly nervous. By 6 March the Russian market was down 59% in US dollar terms, according to David Francis of The Fiscal Times. Inflation is rising, economic growth is stagnationg and capital is continuing to pour out of the country.

If he has been employing 2nd Tier thinking Putin will have factored these things into his calculations. The potential collapse of the economy and the pressure from Russia’s oligarchs to get their fortunes out of the bank freeze sanctions the West has imposed gives him the perfect reason to play reasonable with the West. It also gives him cause to reign in the Russian ultra-nationalists reported by Oliver Laughland, Conal Urquhart & Alan Yuhas  (among others) to be pouring across the border into Ukrainian cities with a large Russian population, like Donetsk, with a view to stirring up further trouble. Putin can halt the advance West to save Russia’s economy but with enough leverage to get most of what he wants.

The eventual outcome
There is still much that is unpredictable and, therefore, dangerous about the Ukraine crisis. Many catastrophic conflicts – not least World War I – have resulted from crises spinning out of control and politicians haplessly committing their countries to war. Of course, the nuclear element makes all-out war between Russia and the West unthinkable but a more limited series of clashes could easily erupt, with the risk of them getting out of control.

Assuming that diplomacy will increasingly come to the fore, following Putin’s call to Obama, the likelihood is that Putin will get most of what he wants. At Sunday’s talks with American secretary of state John Kerry, according to the BBC’s Bridget Kendall, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov demanded:-

  • rights for national minorities
  • language rights
  • the disarmament of irregular forces in the Ukraine
  • inclusive constitutional reform, leading to the federalisation of the Ukraine

Kerry didn’t reject any of the demands out of hand but said it was for the Ukranians to decide upon how their country should be constituted. The new government in Kiev of course immediately rejected the idea of federalisation.

Real politik, however, is likely to result in the federalisation of the Ukraine into something like the Swiss cantons, with guarantees for  ethnic/language minorities. The likelihood is that the Ukraine will become assiduously neutral, again like the Swiss, with NATO and Russia acting as joint guarantors. Whether such would be a viable long-term solution would depend on any number of factors, not least the guarantors indulging in no further meddling! Certainly the federal solution and total neutrality have worked for the Swiss – both politically and economically.

The ‘price’ Russia will pay for the solution is likely to be a second referendum in the Crimea, supervised by independent (UN?) monitors. Having had several months of being effectively Russian, a number of the Tatars and Ukrainians will already have left, allowing the ethnic Russians to achieve an even bigger landslide for Crimea to be part of the Russian Federation.

If the eventual outcome is something like the above, then Putin will indeed have played a ‘blinder’. Quite dangerous at times.but with immaculate skill and highly complex understanding.

Where whatever compromise is eventually reached over Ukraine, there is a question mark over where relations between the West and Russia go from there.  Is it possible that, once the dust has settled, Russia makes the G7 back into the G8 and everything goes back to how it was – only now Russia has the Crimea and the Ukraine is assiduously neutral? Will the West ever trust Putin again..or will Western leaders come to realise how much they contributed to the mess?

It would be interesting to know if Putin has thought that far ahead. If the West has, on past performance, the likelihood is that its  leaders haven’t the foggiest how to take the relationship with Russia forward.

Perhaps something new is called for? Some new arrangement…?

Anatol Zukerman in The Globalist calls for a new collaboration between the US and Russia, with the EU – and presumably China? – also involved. On the face of it, a G3 or a G4…?

Highly undemocratic…but perhaps Democracy is not the way to go. Just as some people are calling for economic systems beyond Captialism, perhaps we need political systems beyond Democracy…?



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