Ukraine and MLB

I’ve had a lot of discussions with friends and acquaintances this past week about two topics in the news. 

Because I am such a fan of baseball, lots of folks have asked me if I think we’ll have a baseball season any time soon. My short answer is “no.”

And the other topic of interest which is on everyone’s mind is about the war in Ukraine. Everyone I talk to brings it up at some point in discussion. We all wonder how this war might end and are hopeful that the conflict does not explode to engulf Europe and become World War III.

At their core, each of these conflicts are being played out along the same lines that I often see in my negotiations on behalf of my clients. Each conflict is about leverage. 

As I see it, Russia has most of the leverage in its war with Ukraine. First, its negotiator is unpredictable and volatile meaning that Ukraine and its supporters cannot trust what Russian leadership tells them. It also appears that Russia is not motivated at the moment by economic concerns or the safety of innocents. It does not seem to care about world reaction to its reckless and unjustified aggression. 

Those realities give Russia a great deal of leverage in its conflict. Ukraine and its partners on the other hand have limited leverage, in part because of their rational unwillingness to escalate the war and invite the possibility of nuclear retaliation. The threat of nuclear retaliation coupled with the unpredictability of Russia’s leader puts Ukraine in a difficult negotiating position. It has nothing to offer Russia at the table except complete capitulation. No negotiation can be successful when the expected result for one side is the worst negotiated outcome for the other. 

Similarly in the baseball lockout, the conflict is being controlled by the leverage of the parties. However in this conflict, the owners’ leverage advantage at the moment is tenuous. Their strategy for success is reliant on the players’ union capitulating in order to get back on the playing field and begin earning their paychecks again.

But if the players can hang strong and show a willingness to hold out into the summer, the owners will begin to feel the financial strain along with the long-term harm that will be done to the product. At that point, the leverage is likely to turn in favor of the players. In this conflict, it is not apparent that either side is willing to do lasting damage to its interests, unlike in the Ukranian conflict. 

Baseballs are not bombs, and the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine is certainly not equivalent to what occurs on our ballfields. But the dynamics surrounding ways out of the conflicts are similar and can be understood by determining who has leverage and which parties can be moved by fear of loss. 

In Ukraine, fear of loss does not seem to be a concern of the Russian leader. In fact, fear is the most important lever that he has to push. Mitigating the fear through positive action will be necessary in order to shift the balance in Ukraine. But as I write this today, I feel awfully worried about the outcome. 

Eric Brown is an attorney with offices in Connecticut. He can be reached at 888-579-4222 or online at  

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