Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help

Russian Federation President Vladimir (above) at the International military-technical forum “Army-2021” at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre, Moscow, August 2021. Putin ostensibly wants the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near Russia’s borders, are moving very close to a red line for him. Ostensibly to achieve that, he has massively built-up Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border with Ukraine. Some in the West believe Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Still, more appears to be involved here than Putin just being the Putin he has been over four US administrations. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of Putin, the person, will be briefly scratched a bit here.

Regarding the massive build-up of Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border of its neighbor, Ukraine, and alarming activities that may indicate those forces will invade it soon, Washington and Moscow continue to wave their fists at each other. Moscow has denied having any intention to attack Ukraine and has explained away its buildup of troops as being a defensive measure. By building up military forces near Ukraine, which is all he has actually done physically at this stage, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin ostensibly would like to cause the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as Russia), are moving very close to a red line for him. Putin insists that the US and its allies provide Russia with signed guarantees to refrain from expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia and limiting their military activity near Russia’s borders, particularly in and around Ukraine. However, some in the West believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Ukraine was a flashpoint during the administration of US President Barack Obama in February and March of 2014. It was then that Crimea, Ukraine, was quietly and orderly captured by Russian troops dubbed “the green men.” The Obama administration was similarly at odds with Russia over Syria, mutants mutandis.

Putin seems to enjoy being seen fighting the good fight against Russia’s old adversaries the US and its allies.On the other side of the coin, dealing with Russian moves, Russian aggression, has become more tiresome for US administrations and Western capitals as much as anything else. Yet, Putin has not challenged the US mainly as a result of some domestic political consideration, or even less likely boredom or some vanity. Putin did not move so many troops to Russia’s western border because that area is more commodious than the locations they were previously based. Assuredly, Putin harbors negative thoughts and feelings toward the US and choices made by decision-makers that concern Russia in a significant way. Asked to bend: retreat back away from a matter, it is unlikely that he would without acquiring “concessions” from the US and its allies. He has issued preconditions concerning an agreement on “NATO expansion” already. (Perhaps he did not issue preconditions before entering any talks because he even realized that would be going a bit too far.) One would imagine he entered into this venture thinking, hoping he could potentially get what he wanted without having Russian forces fire a shot. it does not appear that Putin and his advisers are not too far down the road to change course. However, greatcharlie agrees that he would probably go into Ukraine if at some moment he feels it is, as it likely would have been determined by him along with his advisors and war planners in advance, to be the right time to do so. One would do no more than justice to Putin by presuming he long contemplated his military moves before cutting orders to get them rolling. He is certainly not moving step by step in what might be described as a hot-headed manner. Still, the larger decision to act as he has regarding Ukraine may very well be the result of a miscalculation. It is the unsought, undesirable job of the West to help him see that.

Inquiry into the fruit of things requires consideration of how Putin may view the situation. Russia has been led by Putin and his thinking from the posts of president and prime minister since 2000. A positive relationship with Russia has not been maintained by the US. There are many patterns apparent in his repeated confrontations with the West. Some eyes in the West appear somewhat closed to what may be happening with the Russian Federation President from the inside. What currently plagues the relationship is more than Putin just being the Putin he has been over five US administrations. The threat of the use of force, even mutual destruction, underlies Washington’s diplomacy with Moscow. The idea being that a somewhat expansionist, yet plainly aggressive, Putin can be made to behave as desired by placing a club at the end of the path he is traveling. He is ostensibly put in a position to act reasonably before he reaches it. It would go a long way to explain the somewhat unbroken string of unsuccessful interactions of US administrations with him, if the problem is that no useful perspective of why Putin has responded so aggressively has been developed. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of the intractable Putin, the man, will be briefly scratched a bit here. New light is shed on the man by using a different lens. There may be something about his inner self repeatedly being manifested and must be looked at from the correct angle. The aim is not to shoot down other analyses, but hopefully to add to them in a way to figuratively help put the reticle of some analysts on the bulls-eye. Offering what may be a few missing links might create an improved understanding of Putin and his actions, lifting thinking on Putin, to a degree, up from the region of the commonplace. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

The Russians are coming! A mixed formation of Russian attack and transport helicopters moving toward their target during the Zapad 2021 military exercise. (above). If Putin decides to go into Ukraine, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly from sea assets, would likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

The Situation: What Could Russian Forces Do?

From what can be gathered about the situation, the US Intelligence Community has concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have already been deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border, too. Reportedly, online disinformation activity regarding Ukraine also has increased in the way it did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. According to the New York Times, the most evident scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be to conquer the entire country but to rush forces into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to drive all the way to the Dnieper River. Purportedly at the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined. Suffice it to say, Moscow calls such assessments of Russia’s intentions slanderous ravings. Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who unfortunately does not exactly have a watertight record for tying her statements to reality, laid it on thick in the newsmedia, alleging Western and Ukrainian talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.” It is really disempowering to put out such a message. 

If Putin decides to go in, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly the sea assets, would most likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the main battle area and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Russian forces would most likely be deployed in a way to prevent the resurrection of Ukrainian forces in areas which Russian forces have captured. As for reinforcements or reserves, the rest of Russia’s armed forces would be right across the border in Russia. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

A stern fact is that the Ukrainians will hardly receive enough military aid from partners and friends, particularly Javelin handheld anti-tank rockets and Stinger handheld antiaircraft rockets, fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of Javelins, Stingers and other weapons systems shipped to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly surveil the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. As for an insurgency in captured areas after an invasion, doubtlessly Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Amat victoria curam. (Victory loves preparation. [Victory favors those who take pains.]) As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan, stratagem, to counter such steps short-term and long-term. Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a result of Euromaidan, the Revolution of Dignity, Putin likely feels more and more that he is being “rock souped.” Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront of Western expansion eastward. NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and the government in Kyiv is hopelessly pulled further away from Moscow’s reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that his logically reached perception has actually been fostered by Western actions.

Ukrainian troops training with the FGM-148 Javelin, a handheld, shoulder-fired precision missile system designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as hovering helicopters (above). The Ukrainians would hardly receive military aid from partners and friends fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to handle all aspects of that matter. As for a post-invasion insurgency, surely Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Admittedly, it is surprising how much Putin has done to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. However, there is surely an art that moves Putin’s mind. One might presume that as he initially staked the situation with regard to the US, almost nothing communicated through telephone conversations or bilateral talks alone would be enough to compel the US to act as he wished. The potential use of military force could not exist as an abstraction, being left to the imagination of Western national leaders and their advisers. With a build-up military force, he could illustrate, convince US decisionmakers that the threat of military action was real.

Surely Moscow closely observed events as they developed in the border crisis between India and China. Although it has been repeated as of late that China backed down to India on the matter of the border crisis in which occasional gunfire was exchanged and lives were lost. The common wisdom is that the aggressive moves it made with ease against India placed China in a situation which in the long run would prove too consuming, too difficult to handle and contrary to national interest, particularly such an approach can have an impact economically. There was also too little gain for China both geostrategically or geopolitically as compared to the potential loss suffered from such an investment. 

An odd advantage that Putin has is that the US will act in a fairly predictable fashion. There is less for him to fear of some random, unexpected decision from the US than the US may fear about such a choice made by him. Placed in a trying position, which Putin surely hopes he has done, a certain reality would need to be faced by US decisionmakers. Conceivably, he would expect the top military officers and officials at the Pentagon (US Department of Defense) to see the situation straight. Indeed, he may be hoping the Pentagon would be the voice of reason, the source that will explain that the real possibility exists for the situation to get out of control if the US were to commit itself too heavily to Ukraine’s defense. That would seem especially true if US decisionmakers contemplated having to act if both Russia moved on Ukraine and China moved on Taiwan almost simultaneously. That is a real possibility despite how fanciful it may sound. Tremendous pressure would be placed on the available military resources of the US and its allies. It would seem unlikely to Putin that decisiommakers in Washington would sink themselves deeper into a situation in which only bad choices were left available. C’est comme ça! However, Putin still cannot be absolutely certain that Washington would parse out the situation as he has. He has the task of showing it this perspective and convincing it to acquiesce to at least most of his demands.

The clever bit for Putin would be to determine what military action by NATO, if any, would be taken to physically halt a Russian advance into Ukraine. To that extent, Putin may have assessed that with regard to Ukraine, as well with Taiwan, policies of past eras are no longer viable under current circumstances. The military forces of Russia have been transformed. Insofar as Putin is concerned, unless the US planned to transport the bulk of its armed forces into Ukraine and nearby, any challenge by the US and its allies that included military action would mean recklessly placing some small set of their forces in great peril. Russia would not back down once hostilities were initiated. Again, fighting along its own border would allow Russia countless advantages to bear on its prospective opponent. It would truly be absolute madness for Washington to commit its forces to the fight without some clear way to win or create some acceptable circumstance they could not have achieved without firing a shot. Ironically, in the name of global peace and security, to avoid a nuclear Armageddon, it would need to let its declared partners in Kyiv fall. Even though the US public today is uninterested in starting foreign wars, if the Biden administration commits the US to a fight that would have an uncertain purpose and outcome, it would garner great attention from the public and very likely fail to get its approval. To the extent that these considerations factor in Putin’s calculus, he would most likely find Washington’s stated position on Ukraine to be unrealistic and unreasonable. It only makes sense as long as Moscow does not act.

If efforts at peace fail, it is not completely clear to greatcharlie whether Putin would want all of Ukraine or just some of it: Donetsk and Luhansk for instance. If he wants more, his plans may likely include capturing Kyiv and establishing a new Ukrainian government. That would take up an enormous amount of time, resources, effort, and political capital. Putin seems too shrewd to rush into something as colossal as administering Ukraine. Still, no one is infallible. Putin has been known to miscalculate. It was a gross miscalculation to interfere with the US elections in 2016, an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented on by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. If Putin acts militarily in Ukraine and successfully captures enough territory to his content–at least on paper he should be able to with some ease, he would again be looked upon as a shining hero among supporters. The effort by NATO and the West in general to deter him would be depicted as a debacle. If he fails to make gains against the Ukrainians and capture sufficient territory, the failure would be an enormous defeat for Putin. It is possible that the rippling effect of such a prospective defeat would lay the groundwork for his departure as Russia’s leader.

US President Joe Biden (left center) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan to counter such steps short-term and long-term.

The View from the US

In remarks before meeting with his Infrastructure Implementation Task Force on January 20, 2022, US President Joe Biden laid out his position on a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Biden, who would not expect to speak idly on such a grave matter or any matter, for that case, stated: “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin.  He has no misunderstanding.  If any–any–assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.  But–and it would be met with severe and coordinated economic response that I’ve discussed in detail with our allies, as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin. But there is no doubt–let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price. It is also not the only scenario we need to be prepared for: Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression in paramilitary tactics, so-called “gray-zone” attacks, and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. Remember when they moved into the Donbas with “Little Green Men”?  They weren’t–they were dealing with those who were Russian sympathizers and said that Russia had no–nobody in there. Well, that includes “Little Green Men” in uniforms, as well as cyberattack. We have to be ready to respond to these as well–and decisively–in a united way, with a range of tools at our disposal.” Très, très fort!

During a two hour videolink call concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, Biden also warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine. Putin complained NATO is attempting to “develop” Ukrainian territory. He demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward. Although there were no breakthroughs, the two sides agreed upon continuing communications. In greatcharlie’s December 31, 2021 post entitled, “Infrequently Discussed Issues Regarding Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders,” it was explained that from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. Despite expressing concerns that Putin may invade Ukraine at any moment, there may still be some in Washington who assess and intuit, correctly or incorrectly, that since action has not been taken, with all of the tactical benefits such a surprise move would garner, it may not be taken. The delay In smashing into Ukraine may be a true lack of desire on the part of Putin to bear the burden of administering more of that country. There is the off chance that Putin may have some doubts about the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, it is possible, despite what greatcharlie has already suggested here on this matter, that Putin may be worried about economic retaliation from the West. (Russia does not have much to shield itself from economic retaliation as compared to China, bound to the West with its products and production capabilities. The energy it provides to Europe and Nord Stream 2 are the more meaningful cards for Moscow to play. With concern to that, during the administration of US President Donald Trump, the US offered Europ a fairly decent alternative source of energy worthy of consideration.)

Putin usually plays his cards close, making it difficult to know whether some resolution might be found through a more open dialogue. No doubt officials in Western capitals are mindful of being too attached to diplomacy in coping with Putin. Each is doubtlessly versed enough in history to hark back to this infamous statement which likely has an expected chilling effect on efforts to work with him: “As long as war has not begun, there is always hope. For the present I ask you to await as calmly as you can the events of the next few days. As long as war has not begun, there is always hope that it may be prevented, and you know that I am going to work for peace to the last moment.” These words were spoken by United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 27, 1938, during an address to the British people as concerns of war rose as negotiations between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and himself. The tragic outcome of that effort is well-known. 

For Washington, Moscow’s actions have far greater implications than the progress of US-Russian relations. As Blinken also explained during his January 8, 2022 CNN appearance: “There are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security.” He went on to note that the US is joined by international partners “to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated.” An additional step in knocking down the idea that this crisis stands as a problem between Washington and Moscow has already been taken by the US. On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated very clearly on CNN: “It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.” In effect, he expressed the view that despite intercession of the US and its allies, this matter remains Kyiv’s problem mainly. Looking at the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes, from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published as twelve short stories in the Strand Magazine (1891), was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy a readership made much distraught over his demise. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation. Moreover, Putin is a far more powerful opponent for Ukraine than Moriarty was to Holmes.

Putin (right) seated in a conference room at the Kremlin during a videolink call with Biden (on screen left). During a two hour videolink concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, There were no breakthroughs, but the two sides agreed to continue communications. From Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict draws near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. There is the off chance Putin may have some doubts as to the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, Putin may very well be worried about economic retaliation from the West.

Some Key Issues for Negotiation as the Situation Stands

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis for the moment would imaginably mean, in brief, crafting an agreement with Russia that will relax tensions, strengthen the sovereignty of Ukraine, enhance the security of Ukraine, and ensure Russia remains committed to whatever agreement is reached. Ukrainians must be allowed to enjoy full control and use of their own territory. Ukraine would retain self-determination as a sovereign state. If Ukraine wants to join NATO that wish will be protected. (Perhaps with some disagreeable yet necessary minor alteration in the short-term.) Russia would need to take action assented to in an agreement that would confirm it has no aggressive intention. Any action that may have prompted accusations by both sides that the other was moving back to the adversarial thinking of the Cold War and the paradigm of East-West spheres of influence of the past must be addressed. Lending some further context for Washington’s efforts to negotiate with Moscow on Ukraine, Blinken, also stated during his January 9, 2022 interview on CNN that, “It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions.” 

Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia. They would all doubtlessly agree they have no reason to give up anything they have. They are not bothering Russia and Russia should not be bothering them. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow that they could accept, they would want to know how Russia would be held to the terms of the signed document. They would be skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. Plus ça change! All would likely agree that force should not need to be relied upon to hold Moscow to it. There is the likelihood many NATO allies and neighboring countries to Russia might sign an agreement with Russia, but would be hesitant to do so. If the US sought some collective agreement concerning the situation with Ukraine, those countries may see it as too much to ask or a manifestation of naiveté by leading powers less threatened by Russia. Some capitals would likely respond to the suggestion with reproach. Even more, they may believe the constant struggles with Russia that have created their anxieties among them about negotiating with Moscow. US officials would be up against that sort of reception and more if it sought to create some consensus among the Europeans on constructing a comprehensive agreement with Russia. Perchance if the situation is approached with a degree of gentleness and patience–“with diplomacy”–their efforts may bear fruit.

Yet, given these and other considerations that would shape a diplomatic effort in this crisis, to get a firm handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Putin (center) flanked by Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu (right) and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (left). Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia regarding Ukraine. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow, all would remain skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. To get a handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Some Common Wisdom Regarding Putin

Many Western political leaders and senior foreign and national security policy officials have claimed to have the ability to look into Putin’s soul. The reviews of their skills have been mixed. US President George Bush provided the following statement on the matter on June 18, 2016: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.” However, given his former work in the intelligence industry, his decades of experience in politics and as a national leader, Putin is the one who has mastered such an art. While he is never publicly vocal with his findings concerning other national leaders he meets, his conclusions are best manifested by the actions he takes as they regard their interests.

Every US official Putin meets likely for him becomes the avatar of Western duplicity. He will always be distrustful, and will simply study the individual seeking to gain a sense from his or her words, the nature of the conversation among the most senior US officials on Ukraine. To this extent, each conversation informs his next move, not due to its content, but due to what he perceives to lie behind their words. In many ways times have changed for Russia, and more dramatically for Putin. Russia can not exactly match the US as a global power. It cannot exactly match the power of the US even militarily. However, its capabilities have increased and it can do more things in the world now than a decade or two ago. It would appear that Putin so badly wants to get that point across.

It was never the case that Putin could have been shaped into the Russian leader Washington wanted. Moreover, Putin was never a man to be trifled with. However, these were among many ideas about Putin perhaps carried over from the tail-end of the Clinton administration, over two decades ago, when the then young president was establishing himself both at home and abroad. Perhaps it accounts for the manner in which those officials in the Obama administration approached Putin, dismissing him to a degree as something akin to a potentate, a footnote in their dealing with a Russia that was a shadow of its former self during the Soviet era in nearly every respect. There is a popular saying among many in the younger generation that “to compete, one must compare.” Officials in the Obama administration saw no comparison between the power Russia had maintained following the Soviet Union’s collapse, and the US which was at the time, and remains, the preeminent power in the world. Putin would likely posit that Washington has done more than enough since the Obama administration to push him to act as he has.

It remains a trend to look at Putin superficially. Interestingly, it allows everyone to have an equal shot at analyzing him and his moves. To that extent, time is spent, near idly, discussing how bad a person he is. (One very senior US official referred to Putin as “a killer” In May 2021.) At the core of even such unremarkable analyses must be something about the whole authentic enough to give it true weight. Yet, aspects of such analyses are often not quite logical. It is fascinating to see how simple facts may go some way to explain what might be recognized at best as a charitable position. As seasoned analysts would tell, if that product is simulated, conclusions that result from it will be inauthentic. What is left to examine amounts to a mere perception of what is going on in Putin’s mind and in his camp as compared to the hard facts. Using conclusions that result from such analyses will never allow policymakers and other senior officials to approach him in the right way. Even logical opinions are not the equivalent of fact. Truth is not an opinion. In the defense of some analysts, adhering to such a limited, official approach to Putin could hardly be described as neglectful. Perhaps considerations outside of what is generally accepted are avoided in fear of being castigated for devoting time and effort to trivialities. There must be something stronger that lends an understanding of his state of mind

Another problem arises when such views, despite all that is wrong about them, are adopted unconsciously by senior policy officials or worm their way into analyses, and even worse, as a possible result of that contamination, more apposite aspects may fail to receive sufficient or any treatment. It is hardly deliberate. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions, too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a world class athlete.

The West’s position on Putin as it stands today is that Putin has a mind to have Russia serve as the follow-on to the Soviet Union and claim its status and glory as a power. The enterprise has faced some rough patches over the years, but has progressed nonetheless. Putin’s actions in countries formerly aligned with the Soviet Union or were under its influence decades ago have been his targets and he has managed to get the attention and response from the West led by the US, the adversary of the erstwhile Soviet Union. It sounds bad enough for his neighbors, the West, and all others interested in maintaining stability and security in their countries, regions, and the world. Yet, in taking that tack, he has to an extent guaranteed Russia would remain stuck, limited to being a only simulacrum of the Soviet Union, a shadow of the past. Granted, Russia may be seen as possessing formidable military forces, with new weapons developments and declarations of the intention to defend its territory and its interests, but not a country that was advancing politically, economically, or socially, seeking to elevate to something better. Not to offend, but perhaps that was the best he could ever expect from his people.

Putin (right) and US President Bill Clinton (left) at the G8 Summit in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in July 2000. When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

Missteps in Responding to Putin Somewhat Downplayed

The formal inclusion of the new Russian Federation in the high realms of international politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union was nobly attempted. A seat in the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was inherited from the erstwhile Communist state. As important, Russia began to engage in separate meetings with leaders of the intergovernmental group of the leading economic powers, the G7, in 1994 while Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was in office. Russia formally joined the group in 1997 at the invitation of US President Bill Clinton and United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair. This noble step was ostensibly taken in the name of international peace and security. Surely, inviting Russia to join the G7 was more than a friendly gesture and a fresh start. Membership would plug Russia into the international order, forestalling any burgeoning sense that if left isolated, control in Moscow might fall fully into the hands of organized crime groups, and so would Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Russia membership would more importantly plug the G7 countries vis-à-versa into Moscow in a structured way, creating an effective, stable line of communication and political and economic influence.

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

At the G8, national leaders would come to the big table committed to having a positive impact in not only economic affairs, but world affairs in general. The existing seven members–the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU–were bound by shared values as open, democratic and outward-looking societies. Russia was not a country completely devoid of desirable things, Russia possessed natural resources, particularly oil and gas which the energy industries of the other powers coveted. Certainly, Russia retained the power to destroy with its nuclear arsenal and the residue of the once powerful Soviet military. However, Russia was hardly developed enough to participate in that way as a member. 

As for Putin, he had not as yet grabbed all reins of power firmly in Russia, much as he tightly grips them today. It is not inconceivable that his political qualities were not fully scrutinized by any member state. However, more pertinently, Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though in his own way appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. For Putin to be satisfied, Russia would need to possess membership on his terms, legitimate terms. Further, within group meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would conclude that something akin to a schoolboy prank was being played on him and he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance. It may seem an odd thought, but it does not appear so fanciful when one considers how he currently perceives NATO. Perchance Putin could imagine, in the abstract, that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before. Perhaps such thinking could be said to have some validity given that such was essentially the case in early post-Soviet Russia. Putin had already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. That sensibility seemed to stick regardless of all else good that came his way through the G8. The whole G8 experience, overall, may have left a bad taste in his mouth. Other group leaders could not have guessed that outcome.

Further reflecting his hot and cold impressions about the other industrial powers, although Russia was suspended from the G8, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the G8 until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin retained control of that situation by choosing when Russia would depart and then exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his. It is an apparent odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20–the Group of 20, in essence a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets. As of 2021 there are 20 members in the group to include Putin’s erstwhile G8 partners, the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU, and also Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and his Russia. To all appearances, as a G20 member, Russia plausibly retains authority in world governance. 

Una idea perplexina. (The idea is strange to us.) Intriguingly,  Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have less meaning for him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness. (Hopefully, Putin was not feeling any real discomfort.) It was a small matter, a trifle, but perhaps it will later be discovered that it was small in the way that small movements of a needle would indicate an earthquake on a seismograph.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. 

One might go as far as to say apparently none of the negative perspectives, memories that Putin held regarding the West were revealed. He concealed them with sangfroid and equanimity. Yet, he likely thought of them by day and nursed them by night. Inclusion was not enough to stem those feelings or his responses to Western moves albeit in Russia’s direction. Once power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced US influence were taken, Putin responded robustly. The promotion of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, then the sovereign territory of Ukraine. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8–now once again the G7–and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all.

Putin (left) United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron (center) and US President Barack Obama (right) at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland in June 2013. Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. Perchance Putin could imagine that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him, He already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. The whole G8 experience may have left a bad taste in his mouth.

Putin from a Different Lens

What one might gather from this part of the story is that more than anxiety and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves, there is apparently a real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies. It has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Often, that sense of vulnerability has been exacerbated by efforts from Washington to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Note how every step taken eastward by the US in Europe, as innocuous as each may have appeared to Washington’s eyes, has led to hyper-vigilance–for example, increased intelligence and surveillance activity and aerial and naval incursions in the territory of NATO Members–and military action by Moscow. Though it has been listened to with skeptical ears in the West, Putin has said that US moves evoke his actions.

In a December 21, 2021 Washington Post opinion piece entitled, “Putin Wants Us To Negotiate over the Heads of Our Allies. Washington Shouldn’t Fall for It”, the former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul lists what he identifies as Russian actions and policies undermining European security. McFaul included the following on that list: Russia well-maintains troops and weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova; Russia has recognized the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries; Russia caotured and annexed Crimea and well-supports the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine; Russia has deployed SS-26 Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and maintains them in other deployment locations; Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad; Russia has engaged in assassination operations, such as those conducted in the European cities of London, Moscow, Salisbury, Berlin and Tomsk; and, Russia has aided remaining European dictators who kill and arrest Europeans exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. One can only imagine Putin’s inner-dialogue as he took each step.

Cast one’s mind back to Putin’s greatest expression of vulnerability in March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Conceivably, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time have truly rattled Putin and could potentially push him over the edge. That must always be considered. If the actual intention is to irritate Putin, then there will be no firm peace ever reached while he runs Russia.

Putin (above) in an office in the Senate Building at the Kremlin. In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, the possibility exists that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message.

What Might Be Done Regarding Putin To End This Crisis?

More than once has Putin associated himself with the ideas of “West German” Parliamentarian Egon Bahr on East-West competition. Discussing NATO in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and its allies as having broken their promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and doing only what is best for their own interest in the name of all countries. Putin told his interviewer: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have.”

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam. (Life’s short span forbids us to enter on far reaching hopes.) Whatever it is that Putin wants to achieve, he must move faster than time wastes life. Time is not on Putin’s side. National leaders and political figures in power now in the capital of those countries of the former Eastern bloc which Putin so dearly covets to develop Russian influence are individuals of the last generation that even briefly lived while the Soviet Union had considerable influence, sway in their countries. Coming generations will only know the Soviet Union from history books. They will unlikely as a pattern, by inertia, due to insouciance  simply seek as their predecessors seek to connect with Moscow. The benefits of connection to the West will be well understood by them. Relatives who in the past decades who immigrated West would likely have some influence on their understanding of those benefits. Russia simply will not compare, offer anything they would desperately want to invest in their future. Russia itself represents the past, and how bad things were, something no one should reasonably want to be like or be part of.

As greatcharlie ruminated on in its January 18, 2018 post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One,” Putin very likely has considered what Russia would be like after he, as one might presume he accepts, is “called to heaven” or perhaps elsewhere, goodness knows. It would seem that now while on Earth, he is on course regarding Ukraine to saddle future generations of Russians with a country or parts of it that are still economically, socially, and politically challenged that they will need to care for, to pay for. Future generations may not appreciate that. In Donetsk and Luhansk, future generations might abandon their homelands for “the other Ukraine” or points further West. They would unlikely pour into Russia for employment, a “better life.” In the future, a Russian leader might very well try to reverse whatever Putin seems to be attempting in Ukraine due to financial strains caused, or–not to be offensive–out of decency. Taking on Donetsk and Luhansk might very well be viewed in the future as a grave miscalculation, another step toward sealing Russia’s fate as a second tier superpower. It is greatcharlie’s assessment that future generations of Russians will not want to hold on to Ukraine as leaders of Putin’s generation, with an idea to reestablish Russia to resemble the Soviet Union. This reality may have value in negotiations with Putin. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting at Hotel Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. January 21, 2022. For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Washington and Moscow could engage in an exploratory dialogue during which suggestions could be sought on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be.

A Possible Way Ahead in Diplomacy

For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Engaging in what in essence would be an exploratory dialogue, transparent and frank, between Washington and Moscow on such matters would be the first step. In that dialogue, suggestions could also be sought from Moscow on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be. If the US and Russia can cooperate on matters concerning the International Space Station, surely they can cooperate on an Earthly matter as Ukraine. N’est-ce pas vrai?

In theory, enough compromise might result from the collective talks to result in an agreement that would satisfy hopes and mitigate fears on all sides. Perhaps it would become the paradigm for peace in Europe that would remain until that time a new generation of Russia leadership that would share the values of other open, democratic and outward-looking societies. After the agreement is reached, Putin would need to feel freer and be able to stand upright. The US and its allies, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the UN, and especially Ukraine would be on a long list of those who would need to be satisfied with the plan for negotiating with Russia and the resultant argument. Creating consensus and acquiring agreement across the board on everything negotiated with Russia will take time but that course must be taken. Besides, if one is to believe Putin, and accept that he has no plans to invade Ukraine, then there is no real need to rush.

In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, it is possible that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message. It could be a former US President, German Chancellor, or European President or Prime Minister that Putin seemed to favor. Perhaps a small multinational delegation of doyens rather than a single doyen could meet with Putin. He may appreciate that. The immediate task of whoever meets Putin would be agreement to cease actions threatening Ukraine and publicly making demands for that would require its government to surrender self-determination and freedom to associate with other countries as Kyiv saw fit. The appropriate alternative suggested would be to discuss all issues. Putin would need to be convinced that everything Moscow, he, might deem pertinent could be hashed out at the suggested multi-party talks. The theme of the conversation would essentially be “Let us do everything the right way this time.” Again, Putin may appreciate that.

As for any agreement reached through multi-party talks, if Putin accepts that approach to diplomacy, more than simple guarantees must be insisted upon. Apparently, Lavrov presented a rather one-sided draft treaty to Blinken when they met in Geneva on January 21, 2022. That will not do. It was a rather incommesurate and hasty approach to the situation given its enormity. The effort to maintain Ukraine’s security, Russia’s security, Europe’s security must not only be comprehensive, it must be a dynamic process. Not to get into too much detail,, but as a comprehensive agreement, a new agreement would supersede the existing Minsk Agreement, although its terms could be referenced. Reasonably, terms of a new agreement could be built upon terms of the Minsk Agreement when directly related. Of course, the decision on that, as with everything else, is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties. All issues concerning Crimea and existing sanctions could be disassociated from these talks. Those talks could continue in their current venue. Again, the choice there is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties.

The negotiation process might require parties to take some the following steps, among many others: construct detailed plans of action on every key area as mutually recognized, each issue of contention, must be formulated to ensure greater clarity not confusion; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for actions as reducing the number of destabilizing forces near border; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for the suspension for refraining from existing actions such as military exercises; reduce the scope and scale of military exercises near the Russia-Ukraine border despite perceptions of whether they are threatening or benign; establish liaison offices in the security zone on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border could be created staffed by Russian and Ukrainian officers and military advisers if desired by either party; organize limited but comprehensive aerial surveillance over the security zone would be organized and appropriately scheduled; establish multiple military and diplomatic committees each with responsibilities in key areas of the agreement and respectively staffed with appropriate expertise and authority could be created to review plans for action in key established under the main agreement or hash out nagging issues could possibly exist; organize and schedule direct Ukraine-Russia talks, in a multiparty forum, at the ministerial level and deputies just below to include NATO Members and non-NATO Members in European countries neighboring Ukraine can be created.

It would be crucial to eliminate all ambiguities at the negotiating table through multilayered agreements if necessary as the process moves along. Pull all loose threads detected at the negotiating table may include using scenarios and hypotheticals. Whether a negotiating path as suggested will create stability in Europe right away, greatly improve Ukraine’s security and remove Russia’s fears, perhaps even through some very creative steps, remains to be seen. Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus. (Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (center) visiting his country’s eastern frontline in December 2021 (center). On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the view on CNN that in the end, despite the vigorous efforts of the to correct the situation, this matter is mainly Kyiv’s problem and the Ukrainians have a Russian “gun to their head.” Viewing the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand Magazine that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy their readership. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation.

The Way Forward

Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.) Putin does not seek to make Russia first in Europe nor match the power and position of the US in the world. Russia lacks the wherewithal, the resources,, and a lot of other things required to accomplish such objectives. However, Putin does want to control what he claims to be in Russia’s “near abroad”: the former Soviet republics on its border. As the US and its European allies become more engaged with them, it becomes less likely that he will be able to accomplish that goal either. If the US and its allies were not enough trouble for Putin, his “friends” in Beijing have been knocking on the doors of those near abroad governments, making enticing, huge offers, which Moscow cannot match, to invest in their economies and support industrial and infrastructure development as a way to enhance ties–albeit perhaps not always in a legitimate way. Unfortunately for Putin, he was unable to shape Russia’s position in the world positively over the past two decades, by transforming the country to be a contributing member as an advanced industrialized, economic power, and present Russia as anything close to an alternative as a partner to its neighbors. Russia remained a country from which villainy of some sort was expected more than anything else. Unable to sway the capitals of bordering former Soviet republics to Russia’s camp, it would seem he made the decision a while back to use brute force. US decision-makers should not simply expect Putin to get a hold of himself, and get a grip concerning the use of greater military force in Ukraine. He already moved on Crimea, so for many, no points could be argued that would convince them that he would not do more. The capture of Crimea may have actually been only the first phase in a plan of far greater conception concerning Ukraine.

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis would likely mean crafting a sustainable agreement with Russia, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, and that is the rub. Some national leaders in Europe might go as far as to say aggression simply resides in Putin and it is too late for any worthwhile diplomacy with him. They may need to overcome an anxiety over the history of Russian behavior before altering their thinking on that. Still, at the same time, no responsible party involved in this matter wants war. Given how Putin thinks, more than aggression and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves inform his actions. A real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. That sense of vulnerability is intensified by Washington’s efforts to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Putin has actually said that US moves evoke his actions, which thereby are actually reactions. That is hardly something he, or any military commander, would want to admit or to accept.

As suggested here, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Some, despite everything presented here, albeit in brief, might contend that there is little obvious room for compromise from either side. However, the referee has not yet blown the whistle for full-time. It has always been greatcharlie’s contention that smart people are usually able with the appropriate amount of effort to find answers to problems. A posse ad esse. (From possibility to actuality.)

Commentary: Trump and Kim at the DMZ: Is a Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign” Helping Trump Prompt Denuclearization?

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) walk side by side toward South Korea following Trump’s historic June 30, 2019 crossing of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into North Korea. It appears that attendant to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign of economic sanctions, a virtual “maximum defusion campaign” designed to mitigate lingering distrust and cauterize tension is being directed at North Korea through Trump’s interactions with Kim. A genuine friendship has developed between the two leaders. Hopefully, Kim will further open his consciousness to see the great possibilities Trump’s denuclearization proposal will create for North Korea and finally accept it.

The immediate impression of supporters, critics, and detractors of US President Donald Trump over his suggestion that he and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom was surprise, skepticism, and apprehension. Yet, on June 30, 2019, the meeting occurred, and the results were excellent. To Trump’s credit for inviting Kim to meet at the DMZ, and to an extent to Kim’s credit for accepting his invitation, the diplomatic process, which appeared to be moving somewhat slower after their last summit has been invigorated. The parties have now taken the step to organize teams of officials from both countries that will form working groups on the denuclearization matter. Many observers are still struggling to understand how Trump managed to get the US relationship with North Korea to this point. The situation is surely a long way from the flap early in the Trump administration during which there were reports every ten seconds about some vituperation he or Kim had hurled at the other. The situation in Northeast Asia seems an even longer way from the formerly atrocious condition of relations between their respective countries since the end of the Korean War. Generally, contentious relationships as that which existed between the US and North Korea do not recurvate so quickly. The surprisingly fast change in this case started from the moment Trump opened to the door to talks with Kim. Nearly all foreign and national security policy circles in the US were skeptical that Trump’s entreat to Kim to enter diplomatic talks on denuclearization would amount to anything worthwhile. However, Trump clearly understood that the time for the two leaders to meet, far more than just face-to-face, but one-on-one, eye to eye, head-to-head, brain-to-brain, had come. The improved environment resulting from the burgeoning relationship between the two leaders through their meetings in Singapore on June 12, 2018 and in Hanoi, Vietnam from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019, and in satisfying communications through diplomats and letters, surely encouraged both Trump and Kim to meet extempore at the DMZ. Both men, thinking in harmony, saw something attractive, constructive, and very positive, in the opportunity.

The diplomatic process on denuclearization is a devilishly complex undertaking. For that reason, many less discerning eyes, looking for some dramatic advancements, continually report that Trump and Kim are accomplishing little to nothing through their interactions. Yet, in reality the indications and implications are that much has been achieved. They are unaware that Trump has not only taken a real step away from war, but he has also been engaged in a virtual “maximum defusion campaign”. That diplomatic campaign has been running parallel with his maximum pressure campaign. Perhaps greatcharlie is going out on a slender thread by positing that Trump has been engaged in some unannounced and nowhere else expressed diplomatic campaign. However, the world can see for itself how much attention and energy Trump has given to what has been a masterful, statesmanlike diplomatic effort, uniquely shaped by his bold and self-assured personal style to encourage Kim to move toward denuclearization. His maximum defusion campaign has required a considerable, dedicated effort to do what is necessary to reduce, relieve, alleviate, moderate, and mitigate rough spots and tackle some nagging issues most present to mind between the US and North Korea that might preclude the reaching of an agreement on denuclearization. The meeting at the DMZ was a very visible manifestation of the positive, forward thinking mindset that has developed between Trump and Kim via the maximum defusion campaign.

Admittedly, in 2019, greatcharlie has been somewhat focused on the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization. Its enchantment with the matter is stimulated by its support of the effort. Through this essay and others it has written on the topic, greatcharlie, using the faculties it has on US and North Korean foreign and national security policy decisionmaking, has sought to put together the arithmetic of what Trump nas been doing. His prosecution of a so far successful virtual maximum defusion campaign is outlined. Interestingly, the diplomatic process on denuclearization can be seen as a vessel in which all of the strengths attitudes and varied aspects of Trump’s diplomacy can be found. Perhaps it could said that the diplomacy on denuclearization is a metaphor for Trump administration diplomacy in general. Through a closer look by greatcharlie at the diplomatic process, to some extent, a better understanding of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign and national security policy is provided. Non viribus celeritate corporum magna gerimus, sed sapientia et sententia et arte. (We accomplish important things not with the strength and quickness of our bodies, but by intelligence and thought and skill.)

The Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign”

With regard to the word “defusion” as used in the term “maximum defusion campaign”, it is defined as an effort to improve a difficult or dangerous situation, for example by making people less angry or by dealing with the causes of a problem.  A tame double entendre can be found in the term “maximum defusion campaign” when effort is interpreted as having the purpose of deactivating, disarming, and disabling North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range range missiles programs to make the region and the world safer. Assuredly, the maximum defusion campaign has meant far more than peppering his interactions with Kim with simple acts as using humor or a slap on the back to lessen tension at severe moments. The maximum defusion campaign could best be described as a nondestructive method of conflict resolution. It has been an effort in which Trump, through face-to-face diplomatic exertions and other direct forms of communication such letters, has sought to create a genuine, personal connection with Kim. Through that connection, Trump would hopefully would be able to encourage a change in Kim’s conception of denuclearization and make the idea of a US assisted economic renaissance in North Korea more comfortable for him. The two leaders would be energetically engaged in tandem to resolve was once a nuclear crisis.

Among obstacles to finding a peaceful path between the two countries was the great animus existed between them for many years following the July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula. They were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and North Korea. For the US, the thrust of its dislike of North Korea was anti-Communism. Its main goal was containment of the Communist threat there as well as everywhere else in the world. Communism was correctly characterized then as an aggressive revolutionary political system dedicated to the destruction of the West. That anti-Communist posture morphed in the 1990s to the extent in which the uncertainty and instability that North Korea posed in the region to primacy over the geopolitical threat. In North Korea, there was an almost anti-US underpinning to the country’s development, that was perhaps not as strong as, but almost equally significant as its Communist movement. Out of all three potential adversaries in the Northeast Asia, North Korea, not the Russian Federation or China, posed the greatest threat to US allies in the region despite the existence of the US nuclear umbrella that provided was designed have a deterrent effect. That type of de facto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and other various reports. This was particularly so in the military, the intelligence services. Lest we forget, for 65 years, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of the DMZ have remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off.

The process of creating a connection between the US and North Korea could only begin with one side expressing itself to the other. It was Trump who took the first step. He saw the opportunity to initiate a form of personal diplomacy with Kim. Fortunately, Kim was willing to listen and understand, albeit cautiously, to what Trump was saying. In establishing terms that interaction, there were very apparent and essential differences between the two leaders that could have become hurdles for them to overcome. On a very basic level, they included: political orientation, age, work experience, prestige, power. Trump, however, decided straightaway to engage Kim by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart, and grasping the realities of his position as a young leader. As the personal diplomacy evolved, to some degree it has also entailed an unspoken reliance upon soft sensory abilities, using intuition and intimations, exploiting all of their human potential. Ever since those surprising beginnings of the diplomatic process, there has been a seemingly irreversible mutual respect exhibited between Trump and Kim. All along the way, an authentic effort has been made by both leaders to be understanding toward the positions expressed by one another in their negotiations.

No precondition of creating some faux parity in status between the US and North Korea as countries was insisted upon before the talks began. Big concerns about that still have not been raised since by North Korea. An equilibrium in power and prestige did not need to be feigned between Trump and Kim. Conversely, there was not an insistence by the Trump administration that Kim recognize Trump’s greater standing as President of the US. Although the talks could not be honestly described as “a meeting between equals”, they could certainly be called an “exchange between friends.” Trump has kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way. Trump has essentially been the administration’s metaphorical talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking.

In the talks, surely there have been moments when Trump and Kim have been required to reconcile with dissonant components of one another’s thinking. Steps taken by Trump to cauterize tension would certainly fall under the rubric of Trump’s virtual maximum defusion campaign. Among the culprits that have likely elicited such dialogue between the two leaders are: joint military exercises; ship seizures, missile launches, and delays or deception concerning the dismantling and destruction of nuclear weapons and long-range missile development facilities. Whenever matters have needed to be smoothed out, rather than loose ground, Trump turned those occasions into opportunities to propel the conception of denuclearization forward with Kim. To be certain, whatever Trump has discussed has not exceed what is decent. Indeed, what he has said and has offered would only be congruent with the interests and values of the US. The same has most likely been seen from Kim. The extent to which the leaders have been successful in handling controvertible issues is evident to all that Kim and North Korea appear far less the threat that deservedly made headlines in 2017 when the administration began.

The maximum defusion campaign has required Trump to create une atmosphère ouverte et amicale, an open and friendly atmosphere, when engaged with Kim that will ensure forward thinking must be dominant in all interactions. That positive atmosphere has been promoted without effort or pretentiousness, and a natural discourse between them has resulted. That undoubtedly accounted for the warm interaction was observed by the whole world at the DMZ. It is essentially what has been publicly observed from Trump since his first meeting with Kim in Singapore. Further, there is apparently no disproportion between what had been seen publicly and what has been happening behind closed doors between Trump and Kim. Reportedly, from small bits and pieces overheard when their meetings have started, Trump and Kim have spoken to each other in a very friendly, very natural manner. Their conversations have unlikely been fraught with technical matters, unless the discussion migrated into issues concerning land development, architecture, engineering, and construction and Trump’s enthusiasm got the best of him. It certainly seems that Trump has accurately claimed that he has a friendship with Kim, and certain chemistry exists between them.

In their conversations, both Trump and Kim have surely been exposed to considerable amounts of unsynthesized intelligence that has come from one another. That would be a natural result of negotiating truthfully and in good faith. That has required both leaders to evaluate what is heard, select what is important, and advance the dialogue by incorporating in their decisionmaking. That process of selecting what should be given their attention is aided by experience and a strong sense of priority, a clear focus on ones goal. It would appear it has all gone well because the two leaders have made progress and a good rapport has apparently developed between them. Further, both Trump and Kim have proven respectively that they can been discreet. Nothing of substance has leaked from their furtive talks. That may be doing much to further build confidence between the two leaders.

Maximum Defusion May Aid Trump’s Efforts to Encourage Denuclearization Nearly as much as Maximum Pressure

The maximum pressure campaign has been centered on the entirety of North Korea’s world so to speak. However, the virtual maximum defusion campaign has been centered on Kim. In all fairness, it was Trump who managed to awaken the curiosity of Kim, and moved him to consider the prospect of working, of all things, alongside the US President. As explained in a February 4, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider ”, the connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them were comfortably founded. Those communications were conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their meetings. It is very likely that at the DMZ, they were no longer appeared exactly the same to one another as they had in Singapore or Hanoi. Surely, Trump may feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim has displayed an awareness that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump has been moving through a process of growth. As important, he has likely recognized how Trump has grown into the job of US President.  Regarding his own maturation, Kim has likely developed a greater sense of what could be done for North Korea with Trump. Perchance he has already noted just how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea. He may finally decide to grab what Trump is offering, the best path possible for his country’s future. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)

As a critical element of personal diplomacy, there must be trust and there should be a palpable sense that it is always evolving, always improving. Trump must be able to trust Kim. Kim must be able to trust Trump. Each must believe what the other says, and say what they really mean. It appears at this point that they trust one another to a certain degree. Coming across the DMZ at the invitation of Trump  was a firm, physical expression of trust in the US President. For Trump, going across the DMZ at the invitation of Kim was far more than quid pro quo, tit-for-tat. Rather, it was a reciprocal firm, physical expression of trust in the North Korean leader. All in all, their mutual crossing of the DMZ could be categorized as an historic confidence building exercise, a very visible symbol of the mutual trust that exists between Trump and Kim.

As aforementioned, Trump without question created a comfortable atmosphere for Kim at the DMZ, as well as in all previous meetings. Kim has apparently tried to create a similar comfortable for Trump. At the DMZ, Kim was successful to the extent that Trump was willing to come into North Korea. Through a brief discussion in a conference room on site, it was jointly determined that the parties would move to the next step which is establishing teams of officials from both countries to form working groups on the denuclearization matter. As Trump explained in his own words on July 1, 2019 on Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump: . . . . In the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!” Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

Away from the negotiation table, the maximum pressure campaign goes on. Trump has kept all economic sanctions in place. Still, some military exercises have been suspended. There have been no flyovers of formations of US bombers and stealth jets, and Japanese and South Korean fighter-bombers. For his part, Kim has not test launched any long-range missiles, and no nuclear tests have been conducted. US warfighters reported missing in action during the Korean War have been returned. Cyber activity against the US is below the threshold that would illicit a concerted response. There have been no revelations on cyber activity by North Korea against the US. Valuable talks, positive conversations with good exchanges of ideas, have taken place between diplomatic officials of both countries. Letters have moved back and forth between Trump and Kim. Right on the heels of the Hanoi Summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome had not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress is being made on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.”

Trump, Unlike Others, Is Kim’s True Friend

Publicly, the historic meeting between Trump and Kim at the DMZ was initiated with a Twitter message from the US President to the North Korean Chairman that stated: “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Writing in that manner, Trump indicated clearly that while the message was ostensibly a short note on the progress he made with other countries during the G20 Summit in Osaka, the exertion even more was directed at getting the attention of the North Korean leader. From that perspective one can begin to find more underlying meaning in those other portions of the message that Trump also wanted Kim to notice. Indeed, very conspicuous was the emphasis Trump’s placed on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he considers to be a friend and with whom his administration is engaged sensitive  negotiations on trade and sorting out the matter of tariffs. It was as if Trump wanted to remind Kim that the Chinese have created a very successful, evolving economy while being a Communist country. Although moving toward a similar path alone would be incredibly challenging, it is along a similar course that Trump would like to see Kim take and would like to support.

However, almost as conspicuous in Trump’s tweet was the absence of any mention of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. It could be supposed that Putin was mixed in with names other leaders that Trump met under label “world leaders”. However, doing so meant not giving Putin any special recognition as the leader of a superpower which Putin craves. There was no recognition of their talks as a meeting of eagles. (Given the childlike taunts heard from the Russian Federation news media over the Fourth of July Celebration hosted by Trump, one cannot help but sense that there was no feeling that at the G20 in Osaka, Putin had once again failed to have Trump “eat out of his hand” as critics and detractors in the US have repeatedly suggested he could. In fact, the very telling attitudes and behavior displayed within the Russian Federation media very likely manifested an attitude of dissatisfaction that perchance has trickled out from the corridors of the Senate Building of the Kremlin over the outcome of his meeting with the leader of the world’s only superpower.)

With certain domestic political troubles facing Trump in mind, US commentators would likely make the case that Trump refrained from mentioning Putin in his Twitter message to avoid triggering commentaries from critics and detractors in the US news media and political opponents who, incredulously, are still holding on to the belief that Trump has some secretive tie to Putin concerning his 2016 Presidential Election. Such commentaries regarding Putin had emerged, they could have obscured what Trump was trying to communicate concerning a possible meeting with Kim. Trump is aware of what greatcharlie, in a June 18, 2019 post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed ‘Struggle’ with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students”, referred to as un grand defi, a great challenge, promoted by Putin, pitting the US against Russia, to a large extent, in order to raise Russia’s profile as a superpower. Trump will not lend any credence to the idea that there is some all-encompassing geopolitical and geostrategic struggle between the US and Russian Federation. What Kim possibly read into it is that Trump, who is the main player on the world stage, mentioned him before Putin. Moreover, Kim was presumably struck by the fact that Trump gave special attention, put considerable thought into meeting with him.

Kim may be ruminating over side-by-side comparisons between his treatment from Trump with that from Putin and Xi. North Korea has a long history with the Russian Federation and China, but the matter at hand is the country’s future. It is a fact that Putin, Xi, and others did not stop by the Korean Peninsula to see Kim on their way home or ever before when they have been in the region. Neither at least publicly suggested doing anything of the kind. In Trump’s ostensible campaign of maximum defusion, it is always the thought that counts. Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. If Kim has engaged in an honest comparison of treatment by the three leaders, Trump presents Kim with something absolutely different than Putin and Xi. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to break free of the status quo which has locked Kim in as the very junior partner in its relations with both the Russian Federation and China. Those ties established many decades ago through revolution and war have become de facto chains for the North Korean people. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to escape the bondage of his ties with the Russian Federation and China and find a path to a greater future than the one they have essentially engineered for his country. Whether Putin and Xi are willing to admit it or not, they have both treated North Korea as if it held some second-class status. If one would allow greatcharlie to say, Kim is treated as a junior worm in their de jure tripartite partnership. Perhaps due to habit or simply a manner of thinking, they could not bring themselves to interact with Kim in any other way. Iniqua nunquam regna perpetao manent. (Stern masters do not reign long.)

However, while their approach to Kim and North Korea may feel right given his power and his country’s diminutive size and output relative to theirs, Kim certainly does not see the world from a worm’s eye view. With respect to that, Kim may have come to the realisation that the foreign and national security steps he has taken since coming to power have supported the existing paradigm between North Korea and its powerful allies in Asia. Those steps have greatly served their interests. To that extent, the Russian Federation and China have commodated North Korea in the development of many aspects of its military equities, although they both vehemently deny assisting Pyongyang in any way with it nuclear weapons program or long-range missile program. Surely, the nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs provide directly for North Korean defense. Yet, from where one sits, whether in Moscow, Beijing, or Pyongyang, the relative value of those weapons can be determined. From Moscow and Beijing, surely, at least initially, they supported North Korea in its role as a buffer to the US and its allies in the region.

Intriguingly, it would appear from what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Kim and North Korea must have a curious sort of faith in Russia and China. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources can still seep into the country primarily through various schemes set up by Kim’s friends in Moscow and Beijing. North Korea is so reliant upon such resources that beyond any threat that its powerful neighbors might pose to it militarily, at the present, Putin and Xi can control its links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival essentially rests in their hands. Kim has a choice to allow that to go on as it is, or to seek a far better path for his country. Being who they are as leaders and as individuals, Putin and Xi would hardly accept a similar existence for themselves or their respective countries. To the extent that the picture presented here is on target, it is possible that the initial overly aggressive stance that Kim took toward the Trump administration in some part may have also been a manifestation, or even a projection, of his angst over being boxed in by his purported friends in Moscow and Beijing.

In vinculis etiam audax. (In chains, yet still bold.) It is hard to imagine that since he came to power following the death of Kim Jong-il, that officials in Moscow and Beijing believe they have managed their relative relationships with Kim well. It could be supposed that the coming of a US President such as Trump, and his authentic and energetic efforts to connect personally with Kim and forge some sustainable agreement regarding peace and security between their countries, was never a factor in their geostrategic forecasts. That despite the ruffling of feathers and some saber rattling, the situation in the region would remain pretty much the same for some time to come. Everything that has occurred so far between Trump and Kim has no doubt been disturbing for Putin and Xi to watch, and for them it may pose terrifying prospects. Likely among his own reflections, Trump has considered and weighed the possible impact of any complicity by Putin and Xi in delaying Kim’s movement on denuclearization and outright efforts by them to undermine the diplomatic process. Streams of intelligence from the US intelligence services more than likely indicate that any negative impressions he might have were not limited to being just a hunch. Trump, however, would want to get a picture from Kim on the relative roles of Putin and Xi. Whether Trump would ever broach the matter with Kim is uncertain as it is a delicate area. Still, it may be an area that needs speaking to at some point because with the assistance of the US, Kim could be put in a better position to fend off efforts by the Russian Federation and China to spoil any efforts to economically develop North Korea that might get underway.

The Importance of Empathy

Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional responses, the full meaning of the diplomacy to him, and his reaction to the enormity of the matter. Indeed, from the very beginning, Trump regularly expressed publicly an interest in Kim’s well-being and what he was thinking. Developing that understanding has likely been somewhat difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, it cannot be denied that Kim has certainly made some dreadful mistakes in the treatment of his people and in international affairs that would reasonably cause pause. Trump has faced criticism for speaking only somewhat elliptically about that. However, no one should not get that idea that Trump is in the least bit dewy-eyed over building relations with the North Korean leader. Indeed, as greatcharlie has repeatedly explained, he is very aware of Kim’s maliferous leanings and outright violent acts against North Korean officials, friends, family, and ordinary citizens. Looking at the greater picture of Northeast Asian and global security and for the purpose promoting dialogue, Trump has focused upon Kim as a national leader who still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump has sought to find the humanity in Kim, to convince him to work for good, to stir the better angels of his nature. He has placed his attention to bringing Kim along to share his vision of North Korea path. Trump wants to walk with Kim to what could colloquially be called “a good place”. Trump hopes reports of Kim’s past negative behavior will eventually become simply an unfortunate record “from his past”, and not describe a potentially far more evolved “Kim of the future”. Given the great opportunity put before Trump, to be certain, it would be absolutely counterintuitive for Trump to splice the budding communications link with Kim by belaboring the matter.

The G20 in Asia, Northeast Asia, brought the major regional powers to the table except Kim. Trump arranged to meet bilaterally with Moon Jae-in in Seoul afterward. Kim and North Korea, although situated geographically in the middle of things, were left on the outside. True, Putin had a summit with Kim in Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. Xi met with Kim for a secret three-day meeting in Beijing, China, from March 25, 2018, to March 28, 2018; in a surprise two-day meeting from May 7, 2018 to May 8, 2018 in Dalian, China; in a one day meeting in Beijing from June 19, 2019 to June 20, 2018; in another three-day meeting in Beijing from January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019; and, in a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea from June 20, 2019 to June 21, 2019. Yet, while they were on the world stage, when all were present, Kim was clearly not at the forefront of the minds of his Russian and Chinese partners. They left him off the international stage. Trump, on the other hand was thinking about Kim, and wanted him to have a palpable sense of the possibilities for his future and North Korea’s future. To do that, he set up an impromptu meeting with Kim at the DMZ. Kim was given time on the international stage. Kim might consider that this action was a sample of what Trump wants to bring to him. Trump was to end North Korea’s existence in the shadow of other nations, to tear the label hermit kingdom off of it. Trump’s visit to the DMZ was in a way a gift to Kim. Surely, it was not some small coin of a certain age and value exchanged as a supposed symbol of friendship. Trump shared his own moment in the spotlight with Kim. Just the thought by Trump, at that moment in time of attempting to connect with Kim, well-expressed his goodwill and positive intentions. Through his actions, Trump essentially seemed to speak the words: “I promised to support your ascendency on the world stage and here we are. You can count on  my word, my promise, my efforts!”

How it all has actually registered with Kim, though, is unknown. How anything Trump has done for Kim remains uncertain. Only Kim really knows. Perchance, it has all been authentically expressed sublimely in Kim’s letters to Trump. To go a step further, perhaps Kim’s thinking may have been evinced by his decision to meet with Trump on June 30, 2019. Indeed, what has certainly been left out of most media commentaries is how big a decision it was for Kim to drop everything and immediately visit the DMZ. Reportedly, Trump was uncertain Kim was even in North Korea at the time he sent his invitation on Twitter. As fate would have it, he was there. Apparently sanguine about the meeting, Kim got his aides and advisers to clear his schedule and get all of the necessary logistics done to bring him securely to his country’s southern border. Doubtlessly, the cost of the unexpected trip was no small amount. From what was observable publicly, Kim appeared travelled to the DMZ to interact with Trump alone. There was no visible official entourage hanging on Kim except a bevy very adept security men, a troupe of photographers who displayed the dexterity of small bees, and a dutiful interpreter. Staying in the background was the First Vice Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea of Korea, who is Kim’s very handsome sister, Kim Yo-jong. Kim seemingly holds her in high regard and whose counsel he appeared to appreciate at one time. She was accompanied the North Korea’s negotiation team. As he reportedly having fallen into disfavor with Kim after the Hanoi Summit, no one would have expected to see Kim Yong-chol, once Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a foreign policy doyen, and sacred cow of the North Korean intelligence industry.

A Diplomatic Process between Leaders

Clara pacta, boni amicitiae. (Clear agreements, good friends.) Many critics and detractors of Trump have a tendency to view the diplomatic process on denuclearization from the mindset of a bureaucrats and bean counters, judging every step, wanting to set their own their measurables all along the way. They insist that a genuine agreement of some type should be immediately printed on paper, put on the table, and signed, even though Trump and Kim are only moving through the first phase of a multi-step process. Undeniably, progress needs to be gauged. At some working level, there must be immediate, quantifiable measurable must be created There should be timelines. However, Trump and Kim are not bureaucrats. Oddly, enough, the manner in which they relate to each other is a very “human process”.  While fully aware of what steps are necessary to accomplish tasks, as leaders they must conserve their energy and psyche for examining the bigger picture. Leaders must be the chief imagineer, and decide what course to follow, and pass down their concept and intent for moving in a determined direction. Through their talks, getting thoughts and words of both leaders to closely connect, perhaps not seamlessly, but at a sufficient number of points to have a mutually acceptable agreement is their main job. The two parties are not there yet, but moving closer. Communications between Trump and Kim are most fruitful when they relate at the level of leaders, not as bureaucrats. Once they reach that point in which they are in mutual agreement, it will be the job of subordinates to complete the background work and hammer out documents for them to sign.

Assurément, Trump is not simply going through the motions of talking with Kim. He too expects results, measurable, even if he is not in a rush. In the February 23, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summitt Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?”, it was explained: “What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.” Recall again that Trump, firm about getting what he wants, without animus, walked away from an agreement the North Koreans sought in Hanoi for a relaxation of sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization.

A Few Things Trump and Kim Might Consider Moving Ahead

1. Trump Might Include the US Congress in the Diplomatic Process

Realistically, the long-term process of ensuring denuclearization is sustained and North Korea’s economic development will go beyond Trump’s possible years in office. The mission of ensuring that North Korea never becomes a nuclear threat again and ensuring North Korea would be successfully transformed economically would be transferred to future US administrations. Although Trump has emphasized that he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, he should also consider Kim’s possible concern that perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may not be as positive. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must be established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.

To accomplish that, Trump might turn to the US Congress. Pyongyang may be aware at this point all US Presidents make policy in the world of politics. Certainly Trump as the chief executive is the top decision maker on foreign and national security policy. However, as it was noted in a February 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”, government powers concerning foreign and national security policy also reside in the Congress. Members of the US Congress, who also represent the citizens of the US, their electorate, will review administration initiatives, relations with other countries and on its own judge behaviors of other national leaders. Often Congress will take action through legislation, that will impact the shape of US policy. It will do assuring that it has support from enough Members to prevent action by the President to halt it. Further, no matter what direction either takes on policy, both the President and Congress must take actions that connect with the US public.

It might be worthwhile to have a US Senate delegation led by US Vice President Mike Pence very briefly visit Pyongyang. The purpose would not be to negotiate. Among the things that might be accomplished through such a visit is: to allow Kim a chance to meet Members of Congress; to allow Members of Congress to meet Kim; to allow Members of Congress to demonstrate the goodwill of the US; to allow Members of Congress to see North Korea and assess for themselves its potential to become another economic power in the region; to allow Kim to ask questions of the Members of Congress and hear about their desire to see denuclearization and bring vigor to North Korea’s economy; to allow Kim to especially hear the enthusiasm of some Members of Congress who are fully onboard with Trump’s ideas for supporting North Korea’s economic development; to allow Members of Congress express the concerns of their constiuents regarding North Korea and its nuclear program and long-range missile development program; to allow Members of Congress to hear Kim’s thoughts on denuclearization; to allow the visiting Members of Congress to personally extend an invitation for Kim to visit Capitol Hill attendant to an invitation from Trump for him to visit Washington.

A decision by Trump to include the US Congress at this stage in the diplomatic process on denuclearization may not be enough to assure Kim that US is trustworthy, but it could help further build his confidence in the process and add to the forward momentum that exists. Indeed, involving the Congress in the interaction between the US and North Korea in this manner might prove crucial to its outcome. The main hope would be that the brief visit would display to Kim that Congress has an interest in, and a positive view of, the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Concomitantly, the visit may serve to gird support within the Congress on the diplomatic process. Surely, it would be worth the candle for Trump to make a go at it.

US President Woodrow Wilson faced a similar decision on whether to include the Congress in perhaps his most important diplomatic effort. Wilson refused to include US Senators among the negotiators accompanying him to the Paris Peace as suggested by his rival, Republican Majority Leader and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge. Wilson needed Lodge’s active support to ensure Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles.  As a result of that “offense”, and Wilson’s refusal to negotiate with Lodge on the treaty, Lodge gave little support to the Treaty of Versailles. In the end, on November 19, 1919, for the first time in its history, the Senate rejected a peace treaty.

2. Kim May Ask Trump: “Prove That You Really Trust Me”

There are likely other North Korean concerns regarding the longevity of a prospective with the US. Kim may not has posed the question but certainly must be wondering whether Trump trust Kim enough now to let him keep weapons that he has. What would be acceptable limits of nuclear capability under trust. If Trump does not trust Kim to that extent, some explanation must be given as to why. Presently from the US perspective, denuclearization is defined as the eradication of all elements of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as well as it long-range missile program. It is expected that denuclearization will be defined in the same way by the time an agreement is reached.

Oddly, on July 1, 2019, the New York Times reported that a freeze of Kim’s nuclear arsenal might suffice to prompt Trump to lift sanctions on North Korea. That report was never confirmed by the Trump administration. US National Security Adviser John Bolton denies that there has been any discussion of a freeze. Bolton stated on Twitter: “@AmbJohnBolton: I read this NYT story with curiosity. Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”

Whether such a modification had been confirmed or not, the notion itself, having been published in the New York Times, might have an impact on the course of negotiations. Certainly, Kim does not want to be left undefended in the region as he may have already begun to feel uneasy about the future of its relations if not with the US, instead with Russia or even China. It will be difficult to reconcile Kim’s desire to be trusted over committing to a freeze.

One stands on shaky ground by making this suggestion, but it might very well be that the US may need to provide a security guarantee to protect North Korea from military actions by any foreign power. In a complete transition, much in the way of many present NATO allies that were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact, the North Korean military might be moved to transform itself to fit with the current US-led collective security arrangement in Northeast Asia. To go a step further, North Korea may be invited to receive the protection and deterrence provided by the same nuclear umbrella the US provides to its other regional allies.

3. A Phased Elimination of North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal?

Surely both the Russia Federation and China are not pleased at all to see Trump make significant “psychic” inroads with Kim. It is very likely that they will try to improve their relative positions with their very junior ally, North Korea. They may even seek to improve the toehold they have on the Trump led diplomacy on denuclearization through some pretense. On July 2, 2019, just two days after Trump and Kim met at the DMZ, the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared on Twitter: “@mfa_russia: We welcome meeting between US an #NorthKorea. Normalization of relations is a vital element of any solution of regional problems, incl #nuclear. Multilateral efforts needed for a complex solution in the interests of all parties.”

In a more troubling scenario, the Russian Federation and China may believe to a large extent that they own North Korea. Being unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim, one or both may decide to pose a credible threat to its future. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim, if he moves closer, even alongside the US. However, in Ukraine, Putin already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West. Using history, he points to a way in which that country is actually in possession of Russian Federation territory or some other interest. He might outline how that country owes Russia some long-standing debt. He then takes back what he feels properly belongs to Russian Federation. Perhaps Kim would have much to worry about from Putin. (Putin would hardly want any country friendly with US sharing, touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can.)

There is no desire by greatcharlie to go out on a limb on this issue, but Kim’s desire to be able to deter rogue moves by either country, may to some small degree legitimize his insistence on retaining his existing arsenal to deter any sudden moves. If maintaining a deterrent becomes a major obstacle to an agreement, perhaps Kim could be allowed a phased reduction of that arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. That might be agreed to in tandem with the provision that North Korea’s long-range missile program must be immediately eliminated.

The Way Forward

The adage obtains, “All’s well that ends well.” Despite the rapid actions required and personal strains by staff that resulted from organizing the DMZ visit on both sides, it was all accomplished brilliantly. Interestingly, Trump’s sudden desire to meet with Kim at the DMZ reflected a pattern making quick decisions to act decisively once he discerns the potential making parfois audacieux, bold moves given events and situations. Such thinking greatly resembles what is defined in military science as maneuver. Indeed, Trump’s approach is very similar to what was once taught at Germany’s Kriegsakademie (War Academy) in Berlin before World War II. It was emphasized that commanders needed a superior understanding of maneuver at all points to ensure they would always be stronger than an opponent at the decisive point, which they referred to as the Schwerpunkt. Military science scholars and historians may recall two classic examples of this being applied by German commanders during World War II: the Battle of Flanders during the German invasion of France in May 1940; and, the Battles of the Minsk and Smolensk Pockets during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The fulcrum of the diplomacy on denuclearization has become a commitment between Trump and Kim. If Trump, in particular, had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. He certainly would not have had the idea to very publicly invite Kim to meet him at the DMZ. Moreover, he would not have taken the extraordinary step of crossing it into North Korea with Kim at his side. Perhaps Trump now sees more promise in the entire diplomatic process on denuclearization than he had before. For Kim, that could mean economic sanctions are closer to being removed. Certainly, Trump has also created circumstances in which the entire world might begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work with it in normal, internationally legal ways. For Kim, that means Trump is already setting the stage to support North Korea’s economic renaissance.

Kim, too, has certainly moved forward with diplomatic process audaciously. Lingering mistrust and uncertainty undoubtedly still influences Kim’s thinking on it. Despite progress, it has likely delayed his full investment in the denuclearization plan as Trump has proposed. The historical record of the last century as example, it indicates that even deep thinkers have made mistakes by relying only on their limited powers of deduction. It can only be hoped that Kim will likely make greater personal progress as he confronts this particularly tough, challenging matter. After all, the talks concern North Korea’s survival, not the survival of the US. Kim must open his consciousness to all the possibilities of a new, economically successful North Korea. The odds are that a change in his thinking will take place, but over time. Trump has indicated that he is willing, within reason, to give Kim the time he needs reach the point at which they can together sign a verifiable, sustainable agreement to create an improved peace in Northeast Asia. Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet. (An educated man always has riches within himself.)