March 2014
Raphael Lapin



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Dear Clients and Friends




In  this March '14 edition of  NEGOTIATION STRATEGIES is a one-minute read in which we extract negotiation lessons from the recent Ukrainian/Crimean crisis  For your reading convenience, we also distill these lessons into a brief lessons learned at the end of the column.


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With Best Wishes 


Raphael Lapin



How it looked from the US perspective: A few weeks ago when the Ukrainian President fled the Ukraine and the opposition government seized power, Russian troops moved to take control of the Crimean Peninsula. The overarching issue was a tug-of-war between the European Union and Russia over the allegiance of the Ukraine, which led to extreme protesting and eventual civil war-like violence.  Russia's move was immediately interpreted as an act of aggression with the intent to occupy the Ukraine much the same as they did in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (which was  a reaction to economic reforms and decentralization of administrative authority taking place in Czechoslovakia at the time, under Alexander Dubcek. This  was not well received by neighboring and virulently communist Russia, who had dominated Czechoslovakia since WWII). Russia's move into the Crimean Peninsula was even compared by some, to Hitler's taking of the Sudetenland in 1938.


These historical comparisons and relative assumptions are understandable, and to be sure, there do appear to be compelling parallels.  Nevertheless, upon diligent examination and understanding of geo-political context and history of the relationship and disputes  one sees that there is really no comparison at all. In fact,  it is abundantly clear that Putin's motivations were neither  the same as Brezhnev in Czechoslovakia in 1968 nor Hitler's with the Sudetenland in 1938  (an essay in its own right and beyond the scope of this column).  Therefore acting upon these assumptions impulsively, without the necessary thought and analysis might be futile at best and dangerous at worst.


This appeared to be the  US foreign policy's reaction to the crisis. Obama immediately issued a demand  for  a total withdrawal of all Russian troops together with a threat of "dire" consequences should the demand not be complied with.  The success of this tactic I believe, is evidenced by the fact that as I write this column, the Crimean Parliament is about to vote itself an independent state with allegiance to Russia and Russian troops  are still present in that Black Sea peninsula! 



My mentor, Roger Fisher who was the Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard and the founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, used to teach us that to change someone's mind, you first need to know where their mind is at. We can't influence or persuade them from the standpoint of our mindset. 


To change Putin's mind, we need to know what concerns and interests drove him to move troops into Crimea in the first place. A better approach then would have been to rigorously challenge ourselves with  questions such as: "What was it that prompted such an excessive act on the part of Putin?" or "If I was in his shoes, what would my key concerns be?"  Putting ourselves in the other party's shoes and understanding how things look from their perspective, is key for effective preparation for any negotiation.


How it looked from Putin's perspective: Until recently, the Ukraine and Russia enjoyed a friendly relationship and common understanding even after its declaration of independence in 1990. In fact,  Russia had been leasing a highly strategic naval base on the Crimean Peninsula from the Ukraine and Russian nationals were treated as equals. After the recent seizing of power by the opposition after a lengthy period of unrest and upheaval, not only was the Ukrainian government a hostile one to Russia, but Russia also perceived their lack of control and governance as anarchy. Suddenly, Russia found herself with a high security and very strategic naval base in hostile territory and with her nationals safety being threatened. Putin did, what from his perspective any responsible leader would do, and went in to protect military assets and Russian nationals from a hostile country and anarchy. To date, Russia has only done as much as necessary to accomplish this by containing her engagement to Crimea and not moving towards Western Ukraine. 


Obama, might have done better by first putting himself in Putin's shoes and really understanding where Putin's mind is at - that necessary and important step in successful negotiations. Then, instead of issuing demands and ultimatums, he should have engaged Putin by acknowledging and demonstrating understanding (even if not agreeing) to Putin's concerns. He could have used this as a stepping-stone to develop further information that might be relevant to the negotiations.  In all probability, Putin might have engaged in some productive dialogue rather than responding defiantly and defensively feeling under attack.  And when dialogue becomes productive, there is no telling as to where that might lead! This may have opened the door to some joint problem solving and creative stabilizing solutions. At the least, the US-Russian fledgling relationship may have been preserved or even enhanced and a model for furthering d�tente might have been established. 

About1About Lapin Negotiation Strategies 


Lapin Negotiation Strategies offers training, consulting, advising and executive coaching in negotiation, business diplomacy and dispute resolution services.


Our proprietary and aggressively results oriented services are designed to help your leadership, teams and individuals master the essential negotiation, relationship-building and conflict management skills that increase revenues, decrease the high cost of conflict and build strong working relationships.

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Raphael Lapin

Raphael Lapin, a Harvard trained negotiation and communication specialist. He is adjunct professor of law at Whittier School of Law in Southern California and visiting professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Raphael trains and advises Fortune 500 companies and governments around the world and is the author of "Working with Difficult People" (DK Penguin Essential Managers Series)
Working with Difficult People
 Learn more about Raphael Lapin's book, "Working with Difficult People" by clicking on the image above