All bets are off
On gambling for resurrection, unquenched ambition for power, and how to ensure that someone pumps the brakes
An institution undergoing severe decline may undertake what is called a gamble for resurrection: A bold or even foolhardy effort to do something extraordinary when the odds seem stacked against them, in what can be a desperate effort to try to salvage the outcome. It's been observed in banking, in militaries, and in business.
■ From the beginning, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has displayed characteristics of a gamble for resurrection. The Putin regime sits atop a country with a stagnant economy, demographic decline, and a woeful state of civil affairs.
■ It didn't have to turn out this way. Russia has vast natural resources, a significant place in world affairs, and a long-standing reputation for academic and scientific achievement. But even a good leader couldn't oversee the government of a country so large for so long without becoming sclerotic. And Vladimir Putin, who has been in power for more than 20 years, isn't a good person.
■ He knows that others are aware of his vulnerabilities, which may explain not only why so many critics are killed, but also why he might have undertaken a massive and unprovoked invasion. A successful invasion would have looked -- superficially -- like a demonstration of strength.
■ As the invasion of Ukraine is repelled, it's entirely possible that Putin will go even farther in this gamble for resurrection. If it becomes likely that he himself will be forced out of power, then it seems likely that he faces an existential threat to his own person. (Things rarely end well for deposed dictators.) And that, in turn, raises the stakes that he might act in ways that may raise existential threats for everyone else.
■ It is very good news that there has been global condemnation of the sham annexation referenda in some of the Ukrainian territories Russia has occupied. But it is very bad news that four countries abstained from a UN Security Council vote to denounce the referenda.
■ Safety lies in large part with people making rational decisions even within the irrational system imposed on the Russian state. The larger the number of individuals who realize the fruitlessness of further escalation and who gather how essential it is that they put the brakes on an autocrat's worst impulses, the better.
■ One man may be gambling for resurrection -- and willing to go all-in with many others along with his own life -- but safety rests with ensuring the broadest possible understanding among those below him that a resurrection is possible without the gamble. They have to see the possibility of a future their strongman cannot himself conceive.