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The proverbial chess match: Ukraine defends against Russia's opening move

Analogies are not universally applicable and typically break down somewhere in the representation of the thing for which they are used as an illustration. However, they are helpful in providing insight or alternative angles from which to view some matter.

Take for example, the current conflict in Ukraine where the citizens are geopolitically divided between embracing the European Union (and thus western democracy) or the Eurasian Union (i.e. Vladimir Putin’s Russia.) Ukrainians in Crimea are potentially staring down the barrels of the Russian military which has fortified its presence in Crimea with the stated purpose of protecting its naval base in Sevastopol.

The ancient game of chess seems to be a suitable analogy. The white pieces represent the aggressor who makes the opening move and the black pieces are those of the defender. The object is to dominate the playing field, or the chess board, and capture the opposing King by placing it in check mate – a position in which it has no remaining defensive or offensive moves to render. The King is supported by the various pieces, the identities of which are suggested for the purpose of this analogy: pawns (the common men), castles (the property owners, industry and the middle class), knights (the military), bishops (the church) and the queen (the supporting government, i.e. parliament, congress, the kremlin, etc.)

Russia opened the game on the Crimean Peninsula, not with a pawn, but rather the King’s knight. This is a strong move which gives the opening aggressor the win 52 percent of the time, statistically speaking. Against this opening move, the defender only wins 38 percent of the time while the remainder of scenarios will results in a tie. However, these statistics hold true only when equally matched opponents are facing each other across the chess board. Russia has already mobilized the Orthodox Church to condemn the actions of the Ukrainian protestors and as The Wall Street Journal has written will soon utilize its Gazprom monopoly to extract painfully high prices for natural gas and fuel.

Ukraine is the underdog in every conceivable way: economically, politically and militarily. If the current stand-off in Crimea goes unchecked and the Ukrainians are unable to stalemate the Russians on the Crimean Peninsula, the Russians will potentially grab much more land with their eye on Kiev.

Recent statements from Russian President Vladimir Putin indicate that he believes his actions are moral justified because he views the new government in Kiev Ukraine as illegal and illegitimate. Therefore, some have suggested that his preliminary posturing in Crimea could be an initial move to fully restore ex-President Viktor Yanukovich. Putin’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also believes the provisional government in Kiev to be illegal and has predicted the instability of this group will lead to further “revolution and bloodshed.”

How ironic is it for Putin and Medvedev to speak out against the protests of the Ukrainian people, which were for the most part peaceful, when they themselves are the successor heirs to a government that was birthed in a bloody and violent revolution which dethroned Nicolas II from the throne in 1917. Nicolas II, along with his wife and children, would be executed (shot in the head), just a few months later in the city Yekaterinburg where they were held under house arrest. After that, violence and bloodshed were the mainstays and staples of the Soviet Union and to a large degree have been adopted by its successor power Russia.

While the world waits for Russia’s response to Ukraine’s opening defensive move (Ukraine challenged the white knight by advancing a pawn, as they remained steadfast in their holding indefensible undermanned posts in Crimea with reports that family members have been standing between the front gates of Ukrainian military bases and advancing Russian troops.)

It does not help that the leaders of the free world western democracies have no real strategy to either deal with Russia or to help Ukraine. It was only eighteen months ago when Mitt Romney was lambasted by President Obama and then Senator John Kerry for suggesting that Russia was the number one geopolitical threat to the United States (and the world.) Romney was excoriated as having an outdated play book and an ancient view of the world. Today, neither President Obama nor Secretary of State Kerry appears to have any viable options for confronting Russia or supporting Ukraine other than demanding that Russia stand down. Secretary Kerry was in Kiev, Ukraine today and stated that Russia's behavior is not becoming of a 21st century G8 level nation.

The United States of America should do the right thing, whatever that may be, regarding Russia and Ukraine. The United States spent the better part of the previous century fighting the Soviet Union in the epic Cold War over the issue of personal freedom and liberty around the world; democracy versus communism. But hey, that was a long time ago, and it never really happened (David Satter.)

It was only twenty years ago, when The United States of America pledged its support to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum of Agreement. Under the terms of this agreement Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world at that time, in exchange for promises that The United States and England would help to defend its political borders at the time of the signing.

Today, Ukraine may very well be standing on a precipice. Will they, with the help of the free world, remain standing on solid ground, or will they be pushed over the edge and fall back into authoritarian control? This is a pivotal, water shed moment on the world stage. As goes Ukraine, perhaps will go the rest of the free-world. This is bigger than Bobby Fisher and Garry Kasparov. It is a battle for freedom and for life.

Lest you think this is far-fetched, take a look at our own proverbial chess board here in the United States. Our “king” has sought to focus the nation’s attention on the pawns vis-a –vis The Affordable Health Care Act. Simultaneously, the king has weakened his knights (military), has turned a deaf ear to the church (bishops), has repeatedly attacked his castles (middle class) and has divorced his queen (congress and the supreme court) to go it alone with pen and phone in hand. How will we fare on the proverbial chess board as our pawns rally around the king? Perhaps, they too will find themselves tossed out with the bathwater and the Ukrainians.

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