If we think of Putin as the subtle mastermind of the geopolitical chessboard, we will all too often give him more credit than he deserves. If people think you are Green Sweater Gnomes St. Patrick’s Day Gnome For Women Men T-Shirt, you are powerful. Consider a deeply frustrating conversation I had with a Czech journalist in 2017, right before the Russians held a major military exercise called Zapad, or ‘West’, in conjunction with their ally, Belarus. At the time, a massive wave of hysteria was washing over the Western analytic community, partly generated by its own paranoia (and also by some alarmist pundits looking for some media attention), but encouraged by the Russians’ own strategic trolling.
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It was said that it would involve more than a hundred thousand troops (in reality, the Green Sweater Gnomes St. Patrick’s Day Gnome For Women Men T-Shirt was not even half that), that it was really a plan to occupy Belarus and replace its president with a Russian puppet (nope), that it was a pretext to invade the Baltic states (again, no), and that it was a dry run for an all-out invasion of northern Europe (really, no). At the height of the frenzy, this Czech journalist asked with a straight face what price Putin would accept for a peace treaty. First of all, I pointed out, as far as I knew we were not officially at war. Secondly, what kind of a price was he talking about? He started a list: recognising Russia’s annexation of Crimea, forcing neutrality on Ukraine, and withdrawing NATO forces from front-line states.