Ian Bremmer: “A serious threat like in Cuba 1962, we need an escape route from escalation”

Of Massimo Gaggi

Putin and the nuclear threat, the US political scientist: «It is the move of a leader with his back to the wall. Something must be granted that allows him to take a step back without losing face ”

Has the icy chess player become a desperate poker player who risks all for all? Bluff? How serious is Putin’s nuclear threat? “It’s serious,” replies the political scientist Ian Bremmer, founder and head of «Eurasia», the main US center for research on international risks. «It is not the Third World War, but it is the very serious threat of a leader with his back to the wall: this time he has miscalculated, but he cannot go back. And then he ups the ante. We believed that the world would no longer risk a nuclear conflictthat there would be no more crises like that of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Instead we went back to 1962 ».

Is there a rational calculation in his move or, given his brutal language, has Putin lost his sense of proportion and the ability to analyze? A Bismarck who has been transformed, says the historian Paul Kennedy in the Corriere, into a dogmatic, almost hallucinated leader?

«Surely those who have known the cold but lucid calculating Putin today do not recognize him. Effect of the two years of isolation? He is sick? We do not know. He certainly no longer seems to have the analytical skills he once did. I believe that his reaction, the nuclear alert, has two reasons behind which there are two mistakes made by him: on the one hand, the underestimation of the compactness of the West and the effectiveness of the economic sanctions that are materializing. The Russian central bank risks not being able to draw on its reserves, the ruble collapses, people line up in front of ATMs to withdraw their money. These are things that he had not foreseen from his bunker and that frighten him. The second factor is the resistance of the Ukrainians. Here too he miscalculated. But he can’t go back. ‘

Until yesterday it was said that sanctions are ineffective, now it seems that they are more dangerous than cannons. Was the West wrong in supporting Ukraine with reprisals that can strangle the Russian economy?

“No, he wasn’t wrong. Indeed, Biden and Europe have moved well and have remained united: in the face of an unprecedented attack, it was necessary to react with the toughest economic sanctions, once direct military intervention was excluded. But at the same time an emergency exit had to be left open: something that would allow Putin to take a step back without losing face, once he understood that he miscalculated ».

Making concessions to an attacker who leads such a ferocious attack?

“Well, it certainly would have been easier to find a way out before the attack, but now it’s about not making things worse. The Ukrainian resistance offers a possibility. Russia is using only part of the troops amassed around Ukraine. He has the military strength to put an end to the game, but he should make a massacre in Kiev and other cities: tens of thousands of civilians dead and afterwards it would be really impossible to negotiate. It would be like using a nuclear weapon. We risk ending up on a road with no return. Let’s go back to the sanctions. Why are they adopted? In Iran we wanted to overthrow the ayatollahs’ regime. We didn’t succeed, but that was the goal. Do we want to overthrow Putin? He knows he is the target and is ready to play even extreme cards ».

Is Putin invulnerable?

“We do not know. Dictatorships sometimes break up suddenly, Putin up to now has been ruthless with his opponents ».

How can you get out of it?

“Like in Cuba: by granting something that allows the Russian president to take a step back without losing face in front of his people. In 1962 the Soviets took away their missiles – an American victory, but the Kremlin leaders were given the opportunity to tell their people that, in exchange for withdrawing from Cuba, the USSR had obtained the removal of the Jupiter missiles from the United States. based in Turkey. They were old devices. they had to be withdrawn anyway. But that was enough ».


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