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Ten handy phrases for bluffing your way through the Ukraine crisis

4 March 2014

10:00 AM

4 March 2014

10:00 AM

We’re all journalists now, apparently, so when a major foreign policy crisis comes along it is important to be prepared. Everyone must learn the art of winging it as the big news breaks. That’s not easy these days. What with Wikipedia on every mobile phone, our understanding of international relations can be called into question at any moment.

So here, as a beginner’s guide, are ten handy phrases for bluffing your way through a conversation about the situation in Ukraine:

  1. ‘It’s simplistic to think in terms of east versus west in today’s global, multi-polar world.’ A classic this: the phrase can be adapted and used in just about any serious conversation about anything. Say it early in the discussion, before anyone else can.
  2. ‘Sevastopol is of great strategic importance for Putin, especially  given the ongoing situation in Syria.’ A useful ploy, this remark establishes you as a bigger-picture guy, who grasps the geopolitics of both eastern Europe and the Middle East — and that global, multi-polar world you were just talking about.
  3. ‘What we are seeing here is the return of geography.’Similar to the last, this one neatly lifts you away from the intricacies of Eastern European diplomacy and has the advantage of being almost completely meaningless
  4. ‘The similarities with Hitler and the Sudetenland/Anschluss/Peter the Great/ Stalin and the Tartars/Genghis Khan are striking.’ Historical analogies are invaluable to the experienced bluffer, but the amateur must tread carefully. It is terribly easy to become unstuck in the past. When in doubt, hedge: ‘I am not saying that Putin is Hitler, but …’ or ‘it’s easy to get carried away with these comparisons, but …’ Try to look pained, as if contemplating both the complexity and the imminent possibility of human suffering.
  5. ‘Ukraine literally means “borderland”, of course’ — easy one to remember, but a sentence that hints at real wisdom. It has the added benefit of not requiring any follow-up knowledge. Use in the context of ‘statelets’, ‘the great game’ and ‘annexation’.
  6. ‘Yes, but Putin is in danger of over-playing his hand.’ Especially effective as a foil: if the clever bloke at the other end of the table is discussing an article he’s read in Foreign Affairs, just wait for him to say anything about ‘the limits of western power’  and pounce. Replace the word ‘Putin’ with ‘Nato’ if he is going the other way.
  7. ‘One must always be wary about unleashing ethno-nationalist forces.’ This one sets you up to make quite racist generalisations without seeming explicitly racist. ‘The Slavs are at their most dangerous when national borders are in flux,’ you can add, having already dropped your ethnic sensitivity card.
  8. ‘The Orthodox have a different way of looking at these things.’ Religion never fails when you need to generalise; refer noddingly to the ‘Moscow Patriarchate’ as if you expected all your companions to know the various traditions within Eastern Christianity.
  9. ‘It all comes down to the energy markets.’ No one will dare contradict you here. Link the crisis to the ‘shale gas revolution’. Refer obliquely to deals between the oligarchs, the Kremlin and Gazprom, and throw in the words ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’, ideally in an ironically proficient Russian accent, for good measure.
  10. ‘I am not sure we should be making light of the situation — we are talking about a potential World War III here.’ The Puritan’s gambit; this establishes you as a serious dude who cares and silences those who might have been enjoying themselves too much. Send it as a reply to anyone who shares this post with you online.

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Show comments
  • Dzglksfmtv Gjvcsforar

    Redefreiheit ist sehr wichtig, dass jedes Land braucht jeder diese Freiheit lenteen

  • Dmytro Skrypka

    🙂
    In russian language the word Ukraine is close to the word “borderland”.
    In ukrainian language it’s close to ‘kraina’ – literally translates as ‘country/state’.

  • Counterbluffer

    Counterbluffs with ***

    1. ‘It’s simplistic to think in terms of east versus west in today’s global, multi-polar world.’
    A classic this: the phrase can be adapted and used in just about any
    serious conversation about anything. Say it early in the discussion,
    before anyone else can.

    *** ‘It doesn’t matter whether it is simplistic, it is how the Russians
    think and if we don’t recognize that we’ll be playing checkers while they play
    chess.’ A classic response, you avoid the need to have to verify any
    empirical claim if you can attribute to perceptions.

    2. ‘Sevastopol is of great strategic importance for Putin, especially
    given the ongoing situation in Syria.’ A useful ploy, this remark
    establishes you as a bigger-picture guy, who grasps the geopolitics of
    both eastern Europe and the Middle East — and that global, multi-polar
    world you were just talking about.

    *** ‘Please, Sevastopol is at the ass-end of the Black Sea and hosts
    little more than a rusting fleet of future surplus scrap metal. Putin is
    playing for much bigger stakes than the Light Brigade battlefield. He
    wants to dominate Eurasia.’ If bluffer goes big, go bigger. He will
    fold.

    3. ‘What we are seeing here is the return of geography.’ Similar to the
    last, this one neatly lifts you away from the intricacies of Eastern
    European diplomacy and has the advantage of being almost completely
    meaningless.

    *** ‘Anyone who has ever stared across the featureless Russian-Ukrainian
    border has always known that geography never left us.’ Even
    statements completely lacking in meaning can be contradicted with equally
    meaningless but more poetic, drivel.

    4. ‘The similarities with Hitler and the Sudetenland/Anschluss/Peter the
    Great/ Stalin and the Tartars/Genghis Khan are striking.’Historical
    analogies are invaluable to the experienced bluffer, but the amateur must
    tread carefully. It is terribly easy to become unstuck in the past. When
    in doubt, hedge: ‘I am not saying that Putin is Hitler, but …’ or ‘it’s
    easy to get carried away with these comparisons, but …’ Try to look
    pained, as if contemplating both the complexity and the imminent
    possibility of human suffering.

    *** ‘That historical analogy with Hitler and the Sudetenland/Anschluss/Peter
    the Great/Stalin and the Tartars/Genghis Khan obscures more than it reveals.
    This situation is utterly unique and if we play by a past playbook we will lose
    and lose badly.’ Analogies are a bluffing trap as they are all to some important
    degree wrong whereas claims of uniqueness are both right and meaningless.
    Profit from the weakness and claim the bluffer’s intellectual looseness is
    actually dangerous.

    5. ‘Ukraine literally means “borderland”, of course’ — easy one to
    remember, but a sentence that hints at real wisdom. It has the added
    benefit of not requiring any follow-up knowledge. Use in the context of
    ‘statelets’, ‘the great game’ and ‘annexation’.

    *** ‘In Russian, it means borderland. In Ukrainian, it means center of the
    earth, a fact that neatly reveals the very heart of the matter.’ Always meet
    obscurity with even greater obscurity. And once there, don’t
    be afraid to invent facts. They are, after all, very obscure.

    6. ‘Yes, but Putin is in danger of over-playing his hand.’ Especially
    effective as a foil: if the clever bloke at the other end of the table is
    discussing an article he’s read in Foreign Affairs, just wait for him to
    say anything about ‘the limits of western power’ and pounce. Replace the word
    ‘Putin’ with ‘Nato’ if he is going the other way.

    *** ‘Putin has unexpected reserves …’ When cornered always hint at
    secret knowledge that you can’t quite reveal.

    7. ‘One must always be wary about unleashing ethno-nationalist forces.’
    This one sets you up to make quite racist generalisations without seeming
    explicitly racist. ‘The Slavs are at their most dangerous when national
    borders are in flux,’ you can add, having already dropped your ethnic
    sensitivity card.

    *** ‘The old ancient hatreds argument is the last refuge of an analytical
    scoundrel. Ethno-nationalism is a manipulated variable, what really lies

    at the heart of this dispute are present day interests. Don’t let
    your essentialist proclivities divert your gaze. Follow the money.’ This
    one is conversational jujitsu: using the bluffer’s strength against him by
    leaning into his racism.

    8. ‘The Orthodox have a different way of looking at these things.’Religion
    never fails when you need to generalise; refer noddingly to the ‘Moscow
    Patriarchate’ as if you expected all your companions to know the various
    traditions within Eastern Christianity.

    *** ‘If by that you mean they have a will to dominate and an insatiable
    thirst for wealth and power then you are right about the Orthodox. But wrong
    about everybody else.’ A bluffer classic: concede the knowledge just
    expressed, but render it meaningless by reference to a larger context.

    9. ‘It all comes down to the energy markets.’ No one will dare contradict
    you here. Link the crisis to the ‘shale gas revolution’. Refer obliquely to
    deals between the oligarchs, the Kremlin and Gazprom, and throw in the
    words ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’, ideally in an ironically proficient Russian
    accent, for good measure.

    *** ‘Energy is simply a means to end. This is about power and those who
    understand that see energy as just one important weapon in the power
    game.’ If a problem is too big to solve, make it bigger.

    10. ‘I am not sure we should be making light of the situation — we are
    talking about a potential World War III here.’ The Puritan’s gambit;
    this establishes you as a serious dude who cares and silences those who
    might have been enjoying themselves too much. Send it as a reply to anyone
    who shares this post with you online.

    *** ‘Let’s keep this situation in perspective and resist the common
    tendency to see today problems as utterly without precedent in their
    complexity and danger. This is just the latest in a long line of crises
    dating back to World War II and we have long since learned to deal with
    them without exploding the world.’ Calm bluff always beats alarmist
    bluff because it appears more rational and historically informed.

  • PabloKOh

    Where is the gold?

  • pearlsandoysters

    I am wondering if Churchill’s “We shall fight them on beaches” might be co-opted as a line for upcoming referendum in Crimea. I guess that the majority of population in Crimea feels the same type of existential threat to their “way of life”, that so powerfully reverberates through Churchill’s speech.

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