Crimea Is Russia’s Cold War Chess Opening

Russia’s seemingly deliberate re-entry into a new Cold War is seemingly like an opening in chess. Planned, coordinated, and deliberately undertaken to put his position at advantage, Putin’s move in Crimea seems to be setting the board for a renewed confrontation with the West.

With Western leaders across the world denouncing the escalation while contributing to escalation itself, it seems as though the pieces are in play, and Russia’s opening will be matched. The United States and its allies are verbally, economically, and politically denouncing Putin and the most recent “referendum,” in Crimea, and by proxy conflict, the Cold War that seemed to end all those years ago is once again palpable.

To some context, it is important to understand a few core details. First of all, as a sign of relief, it is beyond the threshold of unlikely (as of now) that any open military with Russia will happen. Even Ukraine’s acting prime minister has stated that he has no interest in a military response to Putin’s continued aggressions. In fact, in pulling Ukrainian troops out of Crimea, Ukraine seems to be resigned to the fact that their territory is lost, and that the territory is not worth risking everything.

However, the Cold War never was an open military conflict; it was a war by proxy, like a game of chess. The United States and the Soviet Union were like the kings in chess in so far as they could never fight each other. Mutually assured destruction made it so that the conflict between capitalist democracy and oligarchic communism was instead fought in other nations that were like chess pieces. Crimea is one such region.

Understanding that, it becomes clear that Russia’s opening move in Crimea was an opening no different from the Cold War chess moves that defined the last half of the past century. Putin wants to expand his influence as far as he can (just as was done by both factions in the Cold War), and by effectively occupying Crimea and annexing it, Putin has done just that.

Compare this conflict to any number of conflicts during the Cold War, and it becomes eerie how remarkably similar they are. When a government is weak in a neighboring region, often times powerful forces start vying for influence. Russia did just that with military force and remarkable efficiency in a somewhat sympathetic Crimea, and in doing so, Putin has thrown the world into another stale-mate that is challenging the West, almost beckoning a response.

For instance, Putin knows full well that his actions have violated all sorts of international law and were in no way legitimate to the rest of the world. Putin is thus baiting the West to become involved, to play the next piece as it seems. In doing this, he likely hopes to build nationalism within Russia by establishing a common enemy.

Alternatively, Putin’s Crimea stunt is just as likely to be a reaction to what he perceives as a weak West. The Obama Administration has seemingly continued to be defined by inaction, and as such Putin imagines that he can work towards a Soviet-Reunion with impunity.

At any rate, it seems as though the ball is in the West’s court. Crimea is Russia’s great opening gambit to the world, beckoning a new Cold War on one side, and a dominant Russia that is unopposed as the alternative. The chess board is set.

Opinion by Brett Byers-Lane


Washington Post

New York Times

2 Responses to "Crimea Is Russia’s Cold War Chess Opening"

  1. Evert de Vries   March 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Of course, closing the Crimea means Russia will need access to the west elsewhere. Look out Latvia Lithuania and Estonia, your annex is coming. Maybe closing the Denmark strait straight away will forestall that?

  2. Evert de Vries   March 20, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Rubbish! Crimea has long been Russia’s southern military port with access to the the Mediterranean Sea. They can’t stand to lose it, but…. Enforce territorial water in the Black Sea rigidly, Close the Bosphorus strait and the Gibraltar Strait to all Russian land/sea/air traffic and remove landing/port rights to any Russian vessels currently in the Med – it will pen their naval and merchant navy vessels in and become frustratingly valueless to them. Much ado about about Nothing – except a bit of sadness for Ukrainian people still in Crimea.


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