Putin’s Long Game

By Lloyd Graff

This is how I see the battle for Ukraine, from the comfort of rich, bumbling America.

Vladimir Putin is Dictator of Russia, a miserable place to live.

To Putin, the people of Russia are pathetic pawns in a narcissistic lust for power. The power game is his life and passion. He is a planner. Unlike American Presidents, he does not worry about elections or popularity. He sees their preoccupation with winning elections as weakness and silliness. He uses guile and corruption, backed by terror, to advance his almost maniacal lust for power and recognition on the world stage, using Russia as his vehicle. This makes him a dangerous foe because he doesn’t have to worry much about criticism from within the country. If dissenters get too much traction he just has one of his well-trained goons kill them.

Putin has been planning to take over Ukraine since the Soviet Union disintegrated. The key to taking Ukraine was weakening NATO and neutralizing Germany. 

Germany is the richest and most economically powerful country by far in Western Europe. Putin was a KGB operative stationed in East Germany when the wall came down.

He saw how Germany prospered afterward, and it must have galled him. But he also saw the country’s huge weaknesses that he believed he ultimately could cultivate and use to take over Ukraine and Belarus, and reassemble the rest of the Soviet Union without the cost of a big shooting war.

Vladimir Putin, Russian President

The horrors of World War II made Germany and the rest of Western Europe quite pacifistic. Germans paid an incredible price for Hitler’s war and would do almost anything to avoid another military conflict.

Germany joined NATO, but they saw their role as funding it and having others do the military stuff.  

Putin understood this fear of war and planned on exploiting it, even if it took decades. To Putin, NATO was essentially American military strength with Europe paying as little of the bill as it could get away with. 

When Ukraine allied itself with NATO and sought to join it, Putin was enraged. So he waited for the United States to take Europe for granted and look more and more inward while developing its economic relationship with China. 

Unfortunately for Putin, Russia became increasingly impoverished, alcoholic, and shrunken in population. It had only three strengths: military power, fossil fuels, and Vladimir Putin’s brilliance at keeping power and pushing his goals.

Putin believed that if Russia could weaken Germany, he could gobble up Ukraine, unravel NATO, and be America’s equal. His problem was corrupting and entangling Germany in his web without war. 

His key to the puzzle was the Greens in Europe and especially Germany. It would take decades, but he knew the weakness of politicians and the power of money.

Putin was a fitness buff. He was tough, and fossil fuels were his spear and net to capture Germany.

A subtle long-term promotion of the idea that coal was dirty, nuclear was too dangerous, and wind and solar could ultimately fuel the continent, was sold to a sleeping European population. While the new green energy infrastructure was being built, Russia would provide the least awful fossil fuel, natural gas, through huge safe pipelines under the sea. 

Angela Merkel bought the idea and saw it as her vehicle to gain and maintain power. Meanwhile, her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, was artfully corrupted. As soon as he left power he became head of Nordstream AG and later Nordstream 2, the gas pipeline of which Russian oil Giant Gazprom is sole shareholder. Earlier this month he was nominated for Gazprom’s board.

Putin’s huge headache was American fracking, which kept the world oil prices down and could reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Clever entrepreneurs developed liquid natural gas which could float all over the world in huge tankers. 

But in 2020 Joe Biden became the American president. He thought he owed his election to the Greens and Progressives and shut down much of American fracking. The stars aligned for a 69-year-old Putin. COVID had reduced oil and gas demand worldwide. Prices fell, and frackers dependent on big borrowing were economically fragile. 

If there was ever a moment to move on Ukraine this was it. Biden was weak, America had COVID, Germany had a new leader. European countries were uninterested and almost totally militarily dependent on an inward looking USA. 

A ruthless, fit, dedicated Vladimir Putin now has 150,000 troops facing Kiev. Biden could probably stop the implementation of Nordstream 2. He could stimulate fracking production in the US, which would reduce demand for Russian gas and slow inflation.

Does Biden have the guts to do it, or will Putin get his dream of reassembling the Soviet Union with minimal losses?

Question: Will Putin’s gamble in Ukraine lead to his downfall?

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11 thoughts on “Putin’s Long Game

  1. Bill

    I appreciate your insight, Lloyd.
    History repeats itself when it comes to a person’s unquenchable thirst for power. It eventually leads to their downfall.

  2. Marc Klecka

    Lloyd – This is a fantastic summation of what is happening in the Ukraine. The Russian people will determine Putin’s fate. How great is their thirst for freedom? Now, let’s talk about Canada and Trudeau!

  3. Bryan

    Great insight Lloyd. I do not anticipate much blow back on Russia. Putin has correctly calculated the weakness of global leadership. The down fall of Germany is the green party.

  4. Jerrold Levine

    A truly excellent article, Lloyd!
    Only one thing to add: having lived for three years (in the 1970s) in East Germany behind the wall, I saw the tremendous East/West psychological and moral competition over which system (Capitalism or Communism) was superior. In the end capitalism and freedom won out over Communism and dictatorship. Putin was a KGB agent on the losing side and he has never reconciled himself to this loss. Communism was pure evil, and so is Putin. As you point out he has been plotting his revenge for 30 years.

  5. Robert Ducanis

    Your comment stating “Biden could probably stop the implementation of Nordstream 2” irks me. Why is it Biden’s (or the USA’s) concern about a European issue with regards to pipelines thousands of miles away from US soil? This is how the USA blunders its way into unwinnable wars (Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan).

    We get pre-occupied with Ukraine and the next thing you know, China will be taking over Taiwan. Do we want to get entangled in 2 wars with fronts on the opposite sides of the globe? The supply chain logistics would doom us from the start with conventional warfare. Should Russia really choose to totally invade Ukraine, that country would collapse within a week. Should China decide to invade Taiwan, that country would fall within the same time frame. It took us 20 years to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan. What did we accomplish except losing thousands of USA sons and daughters, killing Afghan civilians, blowing trillions of dollars, and withdrawing leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban.

    Severe economic sanctions against Russia and their oligarchs?? I laugh at this. Do not ever underestimate the ability of the Russian population to endure unimaginable pain & suffering.

    Love or hate Putin,..anyway you look at it, this guy is playing a strong hand. Would the Western European countries decide to confront Putin without the backing of the USA? I doubt it to the extreme.

  6. Dave Bradley

    We cannot manage our own problems, and rightfully should stay out of everyone else’s problems. That’s why we are BANKRUPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Robert Ducanis

      Dave, I recently read a comment that sums of the debt situation in a nutshell…

      “We have to come up with $30 trillion to just be bankrupt.”

  7. Lloyd Graff

    Hi Robert,
    Putin may not be playing a winning hand in Ukraine. What if it turns warmer in Ukraine in early March. Russia’s tanks become useless in mud. What if Ukrainians successfully fight a guerilla war, ala Vietnam and Aghanistan. This could undermine Putin in Russia. What if LNG quickly grows as a competitor in natural gas and frackers get money. What if Biden reverses on fracking or lenders decide to lend to frackers to make monster money. What if Germany decides nuclear power is Green like France. What if China’s economy is more dependent on Germany than Russia and xi turns sideways on Putin with a sagging economy.

    Putin’s bet is no sure winner. Ego could undo him.

    1. Robert Ducanis

      Thanks for your reply to my post. We will agree to disagree. LNG exports will benefit the USA , but Western Europe will be enduring a burden of higher energy costs by using such imported LNG. Germany going to nuclear power?? How long do you think it will take to implement such a plan? It takes decades here in the USA to get a permit to build, and then another decade to actually build such nuclear plants.

      It is true that mud could halt Russian tanks, but this is not like WWII when the Nazis invaded Russia and had to contend the Pripyat Marshes and the never ending mud with the Rasputitsa rainy season. The roads back then were dirt. I would assume Russia could just drive their tanks up the main ‘paved’ boulevards into Ukraine. Also, Russia has their Hind attack helicopters….as effective as a tank with their missiles and gun systems. Current Russian self-propelled artillery guns (from 152mm to 203mm) have a throw-range of 12 to 25 miles.

      Putin may not be holding a royal-flush, but he probably has 3-aces in his hand at this time. The big question???? What is Western Europe and the USA going to do?? That’s the $trillion dollar question.

  8. Big Al

    LLoyd – That was one of the most concise and accurate description of the global situation with Putin. Keep up the good work!

  9. Daniel

    I truly enjoyed reading the article and the replies. I’ve learned so much more about the situation than I could ever get from the evening news broadcasts.
    Your readers are well educated and insightful.
    I will keep my ignorance to myself and continue to learn.


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