The Ukraine Really Is Weak

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 24 2014 12:31 PM

The Ukraine Really Is Weak

474626915-photo-taken-on-february-24-2014-shows-a-general-view-of
Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine.

Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Until breaking into the news recently, the country of Ukraine was probably best known to most Americans from its role as a territory on the Risk board. In particular, Ukraine-From-Risk is central to a very memorable Seinfeld scene:

This naturally raises the question—is the Ukraine weak? The answer, I believe, is yes.

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Key to analyzing this question is Garrett Robinson's paper performing mathematical analysis of Risk (h/t to Walt Hickey whose summer 2013 writeup of the paper I recalled when looking into the issue). To understand the weakness of Ukraine, we need to start with the map. Here's Robinson's version, slightly annotated by me to make an important point:

RiskBoardEdit

One issue that arises here is that many Risk boards out there don't have a Ukraine territory. That's because the territory traditionally labeled "Ukraine" on Ukraine-having Risk boards is not even close to replicating Ukraine's location in the geography of the planet Earth. The same territory is sometimes called "Russia" (and it does, roughly, correspond to European Russia's location) or "Eastern Europe." You can consider this ambiguity over Ukraine vs. Russia to be somewhat emblematic of the current political crisis over there. But for our purposes, that's Ukraine all the way up to the Arctic Sea.

To analyze the situation correctly you want a schematic. Here's Robinson's:

RiskSchematic

Now what you see here is that the different territories have various different numbers of neighbors but this maxes out at six. Ukraine is one of a handful of territories that can be attacked from six different places, an extreme vulnerability in a game where the odds are generally on the side of the attacker.

Which is to say that Kramer was right: The Ukraine is weak (in Risk, at least).

*Correction Feb. 24, 2014: This post originally misstated that Ukraine was uniquely vulnerable to attack due to the number of territories that could attack it and that (unlike Ontario and China) it's not on the interior of the continent. West Africa, Southern Europe, the Middle East, and East Africa are equally vulnerable by this measure.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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