The Russian attack on Ukraine presents us clearly with an old dilemma in human affairs, which harks back at least to Hesiod’s Theogony: is our world Cosmos or Chaos? Is our history ruled by chance, in this case in the form of Vladimir V. Putin’s supposedly delusional and evil persona? Or is it driven by rationally explicable necessity, which in the current drama unfolding in Eastern Europe takes a distinctly geopolitical form of the struggle for space, resources, and power?
It is undeniable that the Russian president started the war in Ukraine and is responsible for how it is being waged. But why he did so is another matter. Unfortunately, even posing questions about Putin’s motives is considered heresy against the approved public discourse in America. Meanwhile, foreign policy think tanks like the Atlantic Council are allowed to calmly discuss the possibility of nuclear war.
A legion of television “experts” and talking heads are unable to move from trite moralizing and demonization of Russia to some form of intelligent analysis. They apply to “Putin’s Russia” the dispositional approach of social psychologists: the Russians’ malignant behavior is rooted in their inherent malice, not in the environment or specific circumstances. The racist notion of “Russian national character” would not be allowed in relation to any other ethnic or religious group.
When such notions dominate the public space, it is unsurprising that ignorance and bigotry prevail. History teaches us that while most top decision-makers are not coldly calculating and rational people, they are even less often insane or “evil.” Even an experienced politician, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said after the Russians took Crimea in March 2014 that Putin “still lived in the 19th century.” She implied that our globalized world was beyond such obsolete vagaries based on geopolitical calculations and power plays.
But if the West has moved on from the geopolitical realism to postmodern liberal idealism, why has it been relentlessly pushing NATO’s borders all the way to the suburbs of St. Petersburg? Why did it bomb Serbia in 1999 in order to detach her historic province of Kosovo and turn it into an Albanian mafia state, then promptly build there a huge U.S./NATO base, Camp Bondsteel? Why obsessively play with Ukraine’s internal politics instead of letting it be peaceful and Finlandized, free to pursue its EU path if so inclined, but not to join a military alliance? Had that much been agreed to, there would have been no war.
Every step of the way, an influential core of high-powered American analysts and decision-makers who promoted the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet empire intended to undermine the Russian Federation, just as had been done to the Soviet Union. The late U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as well as literally the entire neoconservative establishment, supported the notion of dissecting Russia and forming her remains into friendly or harmless statelets. It was a linear, deterministic formula: first the disintegration of the Soviet empire, then of the USSR itself, and finally of the Russian Federation.
In the end the malevolent, paranoid Russian bear had the temerity to say “no.” As the doyen of America’s realist school of foreign policy, John Mearsheimer, wrote in Foreign Affairs back in 2014, Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend:
A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.
After all, Mearsheimer noted, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on U.S. borders. He has strongly reiterated this view since the beginning of the current conflict.
Whatever the outcome of the current war, it is likely to be harmful to Russia. Perhaps most importantly, a deep wedge will have been driven between two close nations. It is noteworthy that Ukraine freely elected a pro-Russian assembly majority and an even more pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych (before he was overthrown in a Western-instigated coup in February 2014). That political feat cannot be repeated, except at a regional level in the southern and eastern parts of the country.
What remains of Russian influence over Ukraine may come to resemble that of the British over Ireland after the Great Famine. Callous, studied British neglect cost the Irish a million lives and forced another two million to emigrate. After 1849 the British could control an increasingly restive Ireland for some decades, but they could not make its embittered people into loyal subjects.
Sanctioned and coarsely demonized by the Western elite, Russia will partner even more closely with China. It may lead to an alliance in which a weakened Moscow will be clearly Beijing’s junior partner, just as the European members of NATO are subordinate to Washington. The resulting behemoth will also include Central Asia, Iran, and Pakistan, roughly the equivalent of Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland theory, in which he argued that control of the center of the Eurasian “World Island” would determine control of the world. This alliance would have the potential to become the world’s most powerful economic and political “pan-region,” to use General Karl Haushofer’s useful term.
On the other hand, the hegemonistic elite in the United States is delighted. The bear has been baited into a no-win position. The advocates of a thalassocratic English-speaking empire have always sought to separate Russia from Europe and especially to drive a wedge between Russia and Germany. Britain tried it for most of the 19th century, and the United States, as Britain’s global heir, pursued a successful strategy of containment of the USSR for over four decades, from 1946 to 1990.
But then the United States squandered a golden opportunity to turn a new leaf in its relationship with Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the advocates of an ever-expanding NATO prevailed, to the chagrin of the late George F. Kennan, himself the architect of both the concept and policy of containment. In 1997, Kennan believed, as did most other Russia experts, that expanding NATO would damage beyond repair any hope of transforming Russia from America’s enemy to its partner.
The globalists in President Bill Clinton’s Washington would have none of it. The globalists in Joe Biden’s administration now intend to separate Europe from the natural resources of Eurasia with an impenetrable cordon sanitaire along Russia’s western borders. They see a possibility of creating a new pan-region of their own, encompassing North America and Europe. This “Oceania,” to use George Orwell’s term from his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, would be not only an exclusive zone of U.S. economic and military control, but also a “woke” political monstrosity.
Having a traditionalist, conservative, overwhelmingly Christian Orthodox Russia as the designated enemy on the other side of a new iron curtain would bring enormous benefits to Oceania’s rulers. Anyone who dares question the wisdom of transgenderism, open immigration, extreme environmentalism, or upholding the values and legacy of his own nation or faith, would automatically be accused of being Putin’s stooge. Conservatives of all color and hue, from Viktor Orbán down to Chronicles writers, would be cancelled even more radically than now, and probably subjected to harsh criminal prosecution.
The benefits of social control that will accrue to the ruling elites on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are even more crucial to them than the purely geopolitical issues of territories and resources. This would be the fulfillment of the “Great Reset,” zealously embraced by the entire Davos crowd, from the Washington swamp to the Brussels bureaucratic machine, as well as the governments of practically all EU member-countries, most prominently Germany. It would be an American-led Alliance of Failing Cultures, in which Europe would no longer be able to create a future worthy of its past.
The contours of the project are clear. We do not know, though, how soon the custodians of the coming “rules-based international order” may be chortling out the sides of their mouths. Energy may be a roadblock for them. Sanctions on Russia have hurt Americans at the gas pump, with more pain to come. Europe has declined to follow America in ending purchases of Russian oil, and Biden’s begging for more oil production from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates—and, embarrassingly, from former regime-change targets Venezuela and Iran—was fruitless.
Saudi Arabia has floated the prospect of decoupling from the U.S. dollar, while Beijing and the Eurasian Economic Union prepare to launch a new currency, which would be backed by China’s economic power and Russian commodities rather than the pure fiat currencies of the dollar and euro. A new monetary system would further weaken the dollar and U.S. global hegemony, which rests on the dollar’s continued status as the world’s reserve currency.
If Moscow can find a way to end its military action in Ukraine in relatively short order, Oceania may find that its medium-to-long-term troubles are just beginning. Now that the Eurasian land leg of its new Silk Road is crippled, Beijing (with Russia on its side) will be aiming to take down not only NATO and maybe the EU, but the whole global U.S.-dominated military, economic, and financial order.
No scenario presented here is far-fetched. Since Feb. 24, the world has started running at an insane speed. We are witnessing the beginning of a multidimensional war. Its outcome is impossible to determine unless the underlying paradigms of power decisively change in favor of one side. In the meantime, I find myself in the position of the Oracle of Delphi, confidently prophesying that a great empire will be destroyed. But which one?