Vladimir Putin is neither a modern-day Hitler nor a master strategist. He is best understood as a bellicose poker player up against a bunch of docile opponents, Garry Kasparov writes in Politico
Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, writes that he has dedicated himself "to opposing Vladimir Putin's campaign to destroy democracy and civil liberties in Russia."
What Putin has going for him that his Soviet precursors did not is unhindered entrée to international markets and institutions, Kasparov says. "Putin's oligarchs bank in London, party in the Alps, and buy penthouses in New York and Miami, all while looting Russia under the auspices of a reborn KGB police state."
European authorities have enabled Putin by facilitating his regime's access to Western capital. Western banks helped underwrite the Kremlin takeover of dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Yukos oil empire, Kasparov writes.
Putin rules like an authoritarian communist dictator but acts like a Western mogul. He is no Hitler, but "turning the other cheek" to him "just gets you slapped again," Kasparov writes.
President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are mistaken to worry about possible "instability" and "high costs" in confronting Putin. What "could be worse than the instability caused by the partial annexation of a European country by a nuclear dictatorship, carried out with impunity?" Kasparov asks.
Merkel seems to now appreciate the urgency of standing up to Putin, he notes.
Kasparov's conclusion is that "Putin is no master strategist. He's an aggressive poker player facing weak opposition from a Western world that has become so risk-averse that it would rather fold than call any bluff, no matter how good its cards are."
He's no Hitler, but Kasparov writes the instructive analogy is that "appeasing a dictator" and "greedily grabbing at an ephemeral peace" in the face of aggression is a recipe for war in the long run.
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