Streetwise Professor

March 9, 2014

Who Edits the NYT? Captain Obvious or Captain Oblivious?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:55 am

News flash: Vladimir Putin did not decide to invade Crimea until after the Yanukovych regime fell.

That brilliant insight is courtesy of the New York Times.  How would we know if the Times wasn’t there to tell us?

The collapse of the regime obviously changed Putin’s calculus.  He had no reason to invade while Yanukovych was in charge.  So of course Yanuk’s panic was a necessary condition for the events that followed.

The article relies heavily on two individuals, Dmitri Trenin and Mark Galeotti, who didn’t predict Putin’s move.  They therefore have considerable reason to try to make this turn of events seem beyond the ability of mere mortals to foresee.  The problem is that both confidently denied that Putin would move on Ukraine and did so after the collapse of the February 21 deal and Yanukovych’s flight.  Which means that they didn’t understand how Putin would react to the precipitous collapse of the regime.  The fact that this collapse might have been unlikely on 20 February is irrelevant to  predictions about events conditional on the collapse occurring.  Trenin’s and Galeotti’s conditional forecasts were wrong, making the surprising nature of the conditioning event totally irrelevant to the issue of their understanding of Putin’s decision making.  They obviously lacked such an understanding, so why go to them for analysis?

Trenin also asserts, without providing a shred of evidence, that Putin was “very passive” before February 21.

Please.  It is far more plausible that Putin was closely involved with events in Ukraine, and arguably was providing support to Yanukovych (including in the form of security personnel), and most likely directing Yanukovych and/or people within the security structures of the regime.

Putin’s actions subsequent to the fall of the regime indicate how important Ukraine is to him.  Would he really have been “very passive” in response to events spiraling out of control in Kiev?  Putin precipitated the entire crisis by dragooning Yanukovych into spurning the EU and subordinating Ukraine to Russia.  Would he have then just stood by “very passively” when those actions precipitated a revolution in Ukraine?

My take at the time was that Putin was pushing for a crackdown and Yanukovych was balking.  At least some in the US intelligence community now say the same. (And yes, I get that the intelligence community is also engaged in CYA, and yes, I get that the story is in Newsweek, aka The Bitcoin Enquirer.)

Why does anyone look to the NYT for deep analysis?  And why would the NYT go to two people who blew the call to explain what happened?

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