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Putin Uses Game Theory

In their book, Professor Easley and Professor Kleinberg have discussed the use of applying networks to international relations – specifically, that is it useful to specify positive and negative relationships in a network in order to reflect “alliance or animosity” (113). Additionally, we have discussed several applications of game theory, from making decisions in a group project to penalty kicks in soccer.

Another interesting application of game theory which also relates to international relations and the network of countries in the world is that of Putin’s tactics with regards to Ukraine.

In a recent article, Daniel Altman observes that Putin can be seen to be following ideas straight from a “game theory textbook” – he tends to be successful because he understands (often better than others) what is at stake in various situations and is thus able to make decisions that are more profitable for Russia.

For example, Putin would like to extend Russian influence in Ukraine as well as push back the West. One can frame his possible tactics using game theory: if Russia provides financial aid to Ukraine, Russia benefits (even if Ukraine does become more independent, it would still rely on Russia). On the other hand, if Russia provides military assistance (or “doesn’t do anything”), then it could have a more direct influence in Ukraine if Ukraine were to become more unstable. There is also reluctance in the West to get involved, which means it is more difficult for Ukraine to get the aid necessary to be independent of Russia. (Meaning that even if Russia chose not to provide assistance, it is possible Ukraine will become more unstable and thus more vulnerable to Russian influence). Essentially, Putin’s Game Theory Graph would seem to indicate that he has the potential to gain in most scenarios.

Daniel Altman says “You Can’t Beat Putin, Because He’s Already Won.” Although not necessarily true, it is true that the situation is very unstable. Altman also demonstrates the power that game theory provides to those who know how to use it.


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