A few months ago I attended a two day conference on the subject of the future of U.S.-Russian relations, attended by an impressive array of officials from Administrations past and present and experts on things Russian. One of the subjects discussed was the possibilities for additional, even more dangerous crises between our two countries. There were lots of potential flash points identified, beyond the current crisis in Ukraine, ranging from the Baltics to Kaliningrad, Moldova, Kazakhstan and the Arctic. But for each of these there were also “cooler” heads who argued that it would be stupid for Putin to initiate a new crisis in any of these places. After all, given the declining state of the Russian economy, technology base, demographics and even military capacity, he was playing with a very weak hand. Finally, one former senior Pentagon official interrupted to say “you can’t take stupid off the table.”
I will point out that nobody at the conference suggested that Russia might open a second front in Syria, while telling the U.S. to get out of that country’s air space. If anyone had, I am absolutely certain that they would have been met by howls of derision from the assembled wise people. Why? Because for Putin to have done so would have been stupid. I am pretty sure the response would have been the same if anyone had suggested this time last year that Moscow’s reaction to the ouster of their puppet as President of the Ukraine would be the invasion and then annexation of Crimea. Even after that, they would have responded to the suggestion that the Kremlin would double down by fomenting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine by declaring it impossible because it would be stupid.