The promise of this blog, “When complex is as simple as it gets,” is that taking ineradicable complexity seriously leads to different policy and management implications than conventional thinking and analysis. Let me itemize several brief ways this holds with respect to Ukraine today.
I’m writing this on February 25 in medias res. It’s important for me to show how the key concepts in the last several blogs matter when it comes to assessing current online media reports and punditry.
1. Control, manage and coping ahead. Unlike like so much of the discussion on Putin’s invasion, its brute force does not mean he and his forces control the contingencies they have unleashed, on the ground and now in real time. (It doesn’t even mean Putin “controls” his forces.) Nor does it mean he and his forces have the options and resources to manage the unexpected so as to maintain what must be his/their changing aims. We outsiders should be looking to the media for how Putin et al are coping with creating and opening their very own, very complex Pandora Box.
2. “Even if what you say is true, the explanations have to go further.” Yes, of course, all this revilement about Putin et al is true as far as it goes. But since when does “invasion” mean the next is always worse? The invasion is creating good messes even in its very bad mess. How do I know that? Remember that bit about “the fog of war”? In times of emergency, power is different people at different times contributing to different decisions, which we do not stop by taking a slice of time called hindsight.
3. Rethinking emergency response. The Russians are invading with the Ukrainians and others responding. People are dying. This however is not the emergency response of top interest to those who take complexity seriously and for whom I write this blog. The key question, rather, is what’s happening to the backbone infrastructures of water, electricity, telecoms and roads, right now and in the next steps ahead? (Not just in the Ukraine; think: a real-time response by some of the much vaunted Russian hackers on their war economy).
4. Recasting Russia’s Ukraine invasion. It strikes me Putin et al are following a uniquely Russia predilection for world-historical events.
Not just the Bolshevik Revolution, or Stalinism, or the fall of the Soviet Union (all of which were full of contingencies). We also have the unprecedented privatization of public assets into private hands in post-Soviet Russia (a world historical event rivaling the USSR collapse according to some), the globally notable drop in carbon emissions during the post-2008 Russia economic and demographic crisis, and now added to the series, I submit, the Ukraine invasion.
If this sounds like historical determinism, please read “world-historical events” as one big contingent set of events after another. Why is this important? Because who would say this punctuated series represents any kind of major learning curve for Russians?