At its core, economics assumes that people generally act rationally. Economics has mostly fared well with that assumption.
Some people think Putin doesn’t fit that assumption. They believe Putin is a madman. He is not. Putin is an evil, cruel and brutal person. But he is very rational. His current behaviour proves it. With annexation of Ukrainian state territory, he tries to reinterpret his invasion war as a defensive war.
That is (sadly) pretty smart.
From now on, whoever will attack the annexed areas will attack Russia, says Putin. All of Russia’s terrible arsenal of weapons will be at hand to “defend” these areas, says Putin. The hope behind this strategy: Western states reduce support for Ukraine for fear of an escalation of the war.
The West seems to have only the choice between plague and cholera: accept Putin’s annexation or risk escalating the war.
In fact, the West has no choice. The statement that parts of invaded Ukraine is absorbed into Russia’s empire is so outrageous that it calls for even greater support for Ukraine.
But the support should be smart. Russia must give up the annexed territories without Putin using chemical or nuclear weapons. That must be our goal. There is no guarantee that this will succeed. What a lot can contribute to this goal:
- Since Putin cannot do without the support at least of parts of his people: The people of Russia must fear an escalation at least as much as the West.
- The dictator Putin must be aware that using such weapons reduces his likelihood of remaining in power.
- Russia’s few allies must increasingly distance themselves from Russia’s threats.
- The Putin supporting people in the occupied areas in Ukraine must increasingly feel the negative consequences of being part of a dictatorial regime.
To sum it up: We will cope with Putin if he will not become happy about the occupied Ukraine territory. And he won’t use chemical or nuclear weapons when he suspects that such use will do him no good. Above all, we should always think of Putin as a rational being.
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