Sigmund Freud taught us that every important decision we make is “overdetermined.” He meant was that there were always a number of reasons why we made any important decision, even though they may not have been of equal significance.
Nothing illustrates that more than Russia’s take over of Crimea and its decision to declare it an independent state – effectively, another Russian satellite.
Some of those reasons were:
*The historical attachment of Ukraine to Russia – and if all of Ukraine is not (yet) available, get a key part of it when you can.
*Crimea is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet that provides it access to the Mediterranean.
*Nikita Khrushchev, then the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the USSR, detached Crimea from Russia in 1954 and attached it to Ukraine. Ardent Russian nationalists never accepted the legitimacy of the transfer, noting that Khrushchev was from Ukraine.
*President Putin long ago declared the collapse of the USSR to be the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century. He has spent his presidency first by consolidating power and then by creating a new Russian empire. The mini “independent” states under at least his indirect control include Belarus, Moldova, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And now Crimea. Russian allies include India, which declared that Russia has “legitimate interests” in Ukraine; China, which approved the referendum and independence of Crimea; Syria, which declared that the takeover of Crimea reflects President Vladimir Putin’s “wise policy” and his efforts to restore “security and stability” in Ukraine after an “attempted coup;” Iran has yet to be heard from.
*Putin was clearly also reacting to the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych after weeks of demonstrations in Kyiv’s central square. The threat that produced was palpable. First, it threatened Putin’s entire project of creating a new Russian empire. But more importantly, the overthrow of a pro-Russian president set a disastrous example (from Putin’s point of view). If successful and the country paid no price, it could serve as a demonstration effect for other countries in Russia’s orbit. Finally, of course, it could set a precedent for the overthrow of Putin himself.
Of all the “overdetermined” reasons for Putin’s decision to violate Russia’s treaties with Ukraine and the U.S. and to seize territory from an independent state, the most weighty is the last. By far the most important reason for the “independence” of Crimea is Putin’s fear of the demonstration effect produced by the ouster of his ally and friend, Yanukovych. For that ultimately crucial reason and for all the other, less signifcant reasons, no amount of sanctions will reverse his decision.
We are not living with a mad man but an expert chess player. He is on a roll and he will not be stopped from further illegitimate, unlawful, and dangerous foreign moves that advance his vision.
Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus, Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago.