I finally found an expert about Russia and Ukraine!

Posted: April 12, 2022 by chrisharper in Uncategorized

By Christopher Harper

Although I have spent a lot of time in Russia and Eastern Europe, I don’t consider myself an “expert’–unlike many of those talking heads on network television who have spent far less time than I have in situ.

Remember top U.S. military experts saying the Russians would roll over the Ukrainians? Simply put, they’ve been wrong about almost everything.

Nevertheless, I finally found someone who knows his stuff. William Browder is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management. As such, he managed the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia during the 1990s and 2000s.

Browder has since run afoul of Vlad and his minions. So much so that Putin has tried to arrest him and put him in prison. One of his colleagues, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested and died in prison.

In a recent interview with Andrew Sorkin, the co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Browder pitched his analysis from a new book on Russia. See https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Freezing-Order/Bill-Browder/9781982153281

Here is an edited version of that interview:

Sorkin: What do you think Mr. Putin’s endgame is at this point?

Browder: Putin is a dictator. One of the great benefits of dictatorship is that he can steal as much money as he chooses. And he chooses to steal a lot.

After a while, in a country where people sort of think they’re in a democracy, they start to see that they’re hungry and not being cared for in hospitals, and their children aren’t being educated. They start getting angry, and they get angry at the guy in charge. And so, every once in a while, the guy in charge has to do something to make people less angry at him.

The purpose of these wars is that he was afraid of being overthrown. And so the best way to do that is to get everyone to rally around the leader. And so, when you’re talking about an endgame, there is no endgame. This is just him staying in power.

Sorkin: As a longtime target of Mr. Putin’s — and someone who I imagine has tried to better understand what motivates him — what do you think he is thinking?

Browder: The problem is that there’s some psychological features that feed into this whole thing, which make it a particularly toxic brew. The world that he lives in is like a prison yard. This is a world where everybody is sort of eyeing each other up aggressively, and everybody has to show strength to each other. You know the most powerful person in a yard has to be the most vicious person in order to keep their power.

And so his idea was to just destroy Ukraine and then thump his chest and show everybody how powerful he is. But his misjudgment in how effectively the Ukrainians are fighting back has made him look stupid. And for a prison yard type of person, that’s the worst thing that could ever happen.

Sorkin: Do you think he understands that?

Browder: Of course.

Sorkin: Do you think everyone around him is a yes man?

Browder: It’s not just the people around him. It’s also the people in the West. The Ukrainians have shown him huge disrespect by successfully fighting back. And so, for example, the war crimes that have been committed are not by accident. This is part of his thing.

He’s got to show that he and his people and everybody around him are so vicious. They’ll just keep on escalating and upping the ante, and they don’t care what people think about them. In fact, they want people to think this bad stuff about them because that makes them look more brutal.

Sorkin: Given what you’re saying, what is a reasonable way to think about the endgame?

Browder: There is no reasonable way for this thing to end. There’s only an unreasonable way.

It’s either he ends up taking over Ukraine and then moving his way toward the Baltic countries to challenge us at NATO — or for him to be defeated by Ukraine and then having the Russian people overthrow him because he was the weak guy who couldn’t beat Ukraine.

Sorkin: How do you handicap those two options?

Browder: I think each of those options has a 15 percent probability.

Sorkin: What’s the remaining 70 percent probability?

Browder: That he and the Ukrainians and all of us are stuck in this low simmer. It’s not going to be at the same level of awfulness that it is right now, but at this low simmering conflict that just goes on and on and on for years.

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