Russian playwright Anton Chekhov recommended that "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired."The same principle probably applies to the scenario created by Vladimir Putin by surrounding Ukraine with more than 100,000 heavily armed troops.
But it is possible that Vladimir Putin is playing a different game.
Or, perhaps an additional game.
As everyone knows, there is a sure fire way to make money on the stock market: buy low, sell high. The recent major ups and downs in the markets provide a wide range of prices from which speculators can profit.
If stocks are high (relative to tomorrow's price) investors should sell before they go down, but if they are low investors should buy before they go up.
Unfortunately, with one possible exception, nobody knows what the stock market will do next. It can always go either way.
The exception is Russian president Vladimir Putin.
What does Putin really want?
Does he want to incorporate Ukraine in Russia with military force? Does he want to scare NATO into refraining from expanding to countries bordering Russia?
These are reasonable questions, but observers may be missing something if they assume that Putin's only possible goals are geopolitical.
What if his goal, or at least one of them, is to make money?
Apparently he is not disinterested in money. He seems to be rather nervous about Alexei Navalny's charges that he has a fortune stashed away overseas and fancy mansions inside Russia.
If there is a war, the war itself and the western economic retaliation will cause great harm to national economies all over the world, including America's. President Joe Biden noted this fact recently.
This danger is already having major consequences for the stock markets.
Here's how Putin could make big money:
He growls about Ukraine, knowing it will depress Western stock markets. But before he growls, working through cohorts or franchisees, he sells a lot of stock. When the stock market goes down, they use the proceeds of the previous sale to buy more shares of stock (since their price is now lower) than they had sold. Buy low.
Then Putin smiles, suggesting that maybe he isn't going to attack Ukraine after all.
But, before he smiles, his cronies (knowing his plans) buy up a lot of stock, perhaps also using borrowed money, at the prevailing lower prices. They sell the stock when Putin's smile pushes markets up, paying off the loan and having a ton of profit left over. Sell high!
Repeat as often as possible.
Naturally Putin would get a major cut of all this boodle, since only he knows what he will do next.
There is no way to know whether Putin is actually doing this. But he does enjoy an interesting combination of motive, resources, and power to manipulate markets.
Putin has the economic resources of the Russian government at his disposal, as well as his own possible fortune. He has the power to roil stock markets by smiling or frowning about Ukraine and moving troops around. And he has plenty of motive. No matter how much money he may have, there is no such thing as "enough" money.
Putin would have no moral scruples against benefiting in this way from the vulnerability of stock markets to profitable manipulation. Considering some of the things he has apparently already done, why stop there?
It might not even be illegal, but if it were he would not lose any sleep over it.
I expect Russia will invade Ukraine, perhaps before this article appears in print. But wars are expensive. Another possibility: Perhaps Putin is playing the stock market, not to line his own pockets, but to help Russia pay for the war.
What better way to finance a war than with profits from manipulating stock markets in other countries?