Johns Hopkins University professor Eliot Cohen believes Russian President Vladimir Putin played a bad hand well, but that doesn't make him a genius:
Ukraine is a problem for Putin’s Russia not because it may join NATO, but because it is democratizing—slowly, awkwardly, imperfectly—and after 30 years of independence is constructing a new national identity. So, too, have the other former Soviet republics, a number of which (Azerbaijan, for example) have quietly sided with Kyiv. The aim of reconstructing if not the Russian empire, then a 21st-century version of it, is slipping out of Putin’s grip, and he knows it. In many ways, what we’re seeing now from Moscow is a spasm of atavistic postimperial assertion, which, rather like British and French intervention in Egypt in 1956, may begin well but will probably end poorly.
Western strategic clichés usually portray the Russians as incomparably deft chess masters, wily manipulators of the use of force to support policy, who consistently outplay their Western opponents. But that characterization is less true than one might think. Indeed, American and British intelligence were shrewd in warning of Russian false-flag operations and provocations and in naming a range of Ukrainian quislings who were being vetted to take power. These revelations are an antidote to the poisoned needles being prepared by the Russian secret services.
Armed forces reflect their societies, and although Russia is a lot better off than it was in the ’90s, it remains a society with poor public health; a crude, resource-based economy; and a deeply corrupt and self-seeking elite. Russia is also vulnerable to sanctions and cyberattacks. And at the top, the country is led by an aging dictator who does not hear many uncomfortable truths from advisers who know better.
The comparison he makes between Putin and Robert E Lee is instructive. At some point, Putin will make a mistake. Let's all hope NATO can use it wisely.