Friday, August 22, 2008

Georgia: Chess Metaphors

Vladimir Putin lost several pawns on the chessboard - Kosovo, Iraq, Nato membership for the Baltic states, US renunciation of the ABM treaty, US missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. But he waited.

The trap was set in Georgia. When President Saakashvili blundered into South Ossetia, sending in an army to shell, kill and maim on a vicious scale (against US advice and his promised word), Russia was waiting ...

... Moscow can also counter Georgian PR, the last weapon left to Tbilisi. Human rights? Look at what Georgia has done in South Ossetia (and also in Abkhazia). National sovereignty? Look at the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia. False pretexts? Look at Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada to “rescue” US medical students. Western outrage? Look at the confused cacophony.

There are lessons everywhere. To the former Soviet republics - remember your geography. To Nato - do you still want to incorporate Caucasian vendettas into your alliance? To Tbilisi - do you want to keep a President who brought this on you? To Washington - does Russia's voice still count for nothing? Like it or not, it counts for a lot.
Michael Binyon's "Vladimir Putin's mastery checkmates the West" in The Times

His article inspired Charles Crawford, a former British ambassador in Belgrade and an avid chess player, to extend on chess metaphors.
Aron Nimzowitsch was a great chess Grandmaster. One of his famous reputed chess aphorisms is "the threat is stronger than the execution".

The sense is that one can wait for some time to play a strong chess move, letting the threat that it might happen create new advantages. However, once the move is played the threat is gone and the move stands on its own merits. And, of course, the move is 'committal' - once played it can not be taken back.

In this case the Russians have been watching the Kosovo precedent and waiting to move.

One possible move was to stand firm on rejecting Kosovo independence. Another was to say that if Kosovo gets what it wants, why should not some others do the same?

The Georgian episode opens the way for Moscow to play the second move, as looks to be happening: "Georgia's territorial integrity is a dead issue".
Mr.Crawford later referenced to Bobby Fischer quotes and Game 14 of the World Championship match between Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand.

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