Putin is playing a multi-faceted game that is apparently way beyond the game-playing capacity of either the European counties or the US.  It is not, however, beyond the game-playing capacity of the Chinese.  Russia and China are playing off each other and against the West.  As Europe faces economic stagnation and a refugee tidal wave all the EU can think about is how products from the settlements in the West Bank should be labeled in European stores.

I thought it would be hard to find someone worse than the former EU foreign minister, but they managed it with the twit Mogherini.  Who picked her and why?  Metternich and Talleyrand must be turning over in their graves.  At any rate, Putin engages in military display, on air, land and sea; intervenes in Middle Eastern affairs through weapons sales and support for Assad; plays with the Ayatollahs and thumbs his nose at the US.  In the Pacific China rampages around the East and South China seas and just sent a fleet into Alaskan waters!

They both engage is massive cyber-intelligence attacks against Western governments and corporations.  In the meantime, neither the EU nor the US do anything effective to counter them.  Sanctions will be placed on China for blatant hacking, but it is not clear how effective they will be because they are unilateral.  NATO has relocated some if its depleted resources East, but I doubt that it scares Putin very much.  Both China and Russia’s serious problems are domestic, especially Russia.  The fall in commodity prices, particularly oil and gas, along with sanctions due to his Ukrainian adventure (note that if he had stopped at Crimea nothing whatever of any significance would have happened, despite international law, the Budapest agreement or anything else) have played havoc with the Russian economy and the social situation in Russia deteriorates by the day, particularly in the area of health.  Russia is literally a dying country — but the very sick bear still has sharp teeth and claws.

In China the problems are more medium- and long-term.  Especially since a highly-educated and increasingly prosperous middle class will not wait forever to get some political freedoms.  Recent demonstrations in Hong Kong should serve as a wake-up call for the Chinese leadership.  It is not likely that it will, however.  Until too late as in the Soviet Union.

Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and in business, consulting and finance. He is professor emeritus in the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a columnist for Globes, the Israeli business and financial newspaper.

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