President Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a butcher this last week while meeting with refugees of the conflict in Ukraine. Later in his trip the President also stated that the Russian President could not stay in power with a direct call for regime change. While everyone knows these two things to be true, sometimes international relations and negotiations during war require restraint. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron said as much in response to Biden’s comments.
International geopolitics is traditionally a very planned out endeavor. Off the cuff remarks can have unintended consequences. Macron has been in talks with Putin, and it is easy to see why he would want the inflammatory rhetoric to be kept to a minimum. Russian Grandmaster Garry Kasparov would have none of that, however.
Kasparov makes a good point. You cannot use nuance with a man who only understands power. If Putin thinks he can force terms in Ukraine, he will keep going until he gets what he wants. If he thinks he cannot win, he will negotiate a withdrawal. He is still a human being, however, and human beings can do irrational things when they get angry. It is difficult to make rational assessments of your current situation if you are off balance emotionally.
Putin, like all dictators, still sees himself as the hero in the story. He has said publicly over and over that he wants to restore Russia to its former place in the world. The more personal Biden makes it, and the more the west pushes for Putin’s removal, the more likely it is the Russian President will see the conflict to its end. Absent direct intervention from NATO, Russia can take Ukraine if it wants it. It has too many planes, men, and bombs. It only must have the will to endure the inevitable losses.
Macron’s point is well made too. Do not do anything to strengthen Putin’s resolve. You can resist at the same time as you talk. The two are not mutually exclusive. Which man is right, Kasparov or Macron? As with all things, the answer is probably in the middle.