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The Russia-Ukraine War in – and “on” – ‘The Grand Chessboard’

The 1997 book The Grand Chessboard by Zbigniew Brzezinski identified Ukraine as the “geopolitical pivot on the Eurasian chessboard” whilst thoroughly analysing the Russian, American, and European implications for the future… which has now arrived.

The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (1997)

In the first article of this series on the Russia-Ukraine War, the prophetic TV series Years and Years (2019) was examined for its predictions relevant to the current crisis. In complementary fashion, this second article presents the insightful and prescient analysis of perhaps the most influential diplomat, political scientist and geostrategist of the 20th century: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), by Zbigniew Brzezinski. For aside from the Years and Years ‘prophecies’ of a war between the two nations, as well as its wider ramifications, the breaking news of Russia’s intent to invade Ukraine in mid-late February 2022 recalled to mind Brzezinski’s seminal book.

Unlike the relative recency of Years and Years, which I viewed on its first broadcast in mid-2019 (and happened to rewatch a mere week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine), The Grand Chessboard is a book I had actually read years and years ago. As is most often the case, I had read the book on the basis of no particular interest but rather from a general interest in reading substantial literature.* As a result, the book left me with a simple but worthy lasting impression: The Grand Chessboard was – and more importantly, would continue to be – significant for the interpretation and foresight of geopolitical affairs.

*As I have defined the metaphor, I use works of literature as ‘stepping stones’ for the ongoing development of understanding. Hence, as with The Grand Chessboard, the vast majority of books and articles I read have no direct or immediate pertinence to current news events at the time that I read them. Rather, I seek and collect substantial literature on any subject I discover to be significant in some way, from which to regularly select texts to read based on my current interests and mood (as classified in my article A Typology of Book-Reading – Part II: Moods for Comprehension). Instead of merely keeping ‘up to date’ with and ‘informed’ by current news, I broaden my awareness of significant concepts and details while, in the process, enhancing my ability to recognize and correctly interpret significance in increasing areas of thought.

Furthermore, this news event prompted recall of a particular theme from The Grand Chessboard: the especial significance of Russo-Ukrainian relations to the geopolitical world order and the (almost) inevitable rise to prominence of this issue in the future. Since that future has seemingly arrived, I now return to the enduringly insightful and foresightful contents of The Grand Chessboard, the most relevant of which I present here.

Book Notes on ‘The Grand Chessboard’ by Zbigniew Brzezinski (1997)

Presented below is a composition of my extracts from The Grand Chessboard, much of which relates directly to the Russo-Ukrainian relationship and its geopolitical implications. In the book, the passages concerning Ukraine are firmly in the context of Brzezinski’s incisive discussion of Russia and America, considered both separately and relatedly, as well as Europe. Hence, I have also selected passages of indirect relevance to understanding the roots, the genesis, and wider implications of the Russia-Ukraine War.

The passages have been minimally edited from the book and are re-presented in note form, organized by thematic headings and separated into distinct points. Note that the last two themes (J-K) were taken from the concluding chapter of The Grand Chessboard, which is based on elucidating the (then) current condition of civilization from the perspective of America’s past, present, and future influence. These sections form the longest of the themes and are included for their contextual illumination of the Russia-Ukraine War… and its ‘grand’ implications beyond.

Contents

Themes and Key Points from ‘The Grand Chessboard’ (of direct and indirect relevance to the 2022 Russia-Ukraine War)

  • A) The Soviet collapse created monumental geopolitical confusion
  • B) The ‘democratization’ of Russia and ‘independence’ of Ukraine are illusionary
  • C) Ukraine’s nationalism became defined by anti-Russian sentiment, backed by the West
  • D) Most post-Soviet states imitated Ukraine’s anti-Russian integration stance
  • E) Failure to produce global co-equality facilitated a geopolitical illusion
  • F) Ukraine is a geopolitical pivot on the Eurasian chessboard
  • G) Europe’s geographic scope is the policy dilemma for the European Union
  • H) A special role in Eurasia is Russia’s dilemma of foreign policy
  • I) Mishandled relations with Russia could undermine NATO
  • J) Geopolitical instability and human degradation pose the potential for global anarchy
  • K) American power is in decline and the era of global superpower is over

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The ‘Grand Chess Master’ of Geopolitics

  • Credentials of a Preeminent Intelligentsian
  • Brzezinski Beyond the Grave: Zbig’s Prescient Analysis of the Russia-Ukraine War
    • After Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, the West must be ready to respond, by Zbigniew Brzezinski, March 3rd 2014, Washington Post
  • Zbig’s Ideological Bias (and a Suggested Corrective)

The ‘Propaganda War’ (Spoiler: It’s On YOU)


Themes and Key Points from ‘The Grand Chessboard’ (of direct and indirect relevance to the 2022 Russia-Ukraine War)

A) The Soviet collapse created monumental geopolitical confusion

  1. The collapse of the Soviet Union produced monumental geopolitical confusion: the Russian people suddenly discovered that they were no longer the masters of a transcontinental empire but that the frontiers of Russia had been rolled back centuries, thus weakening Russia’s geopolitical influence and reducing their economic resources.
  2. The independence of Ukraine challenged the very essence of Russia’s claim to being the divinely endowed standard-bearer of a common pan-Slavic identity.
  3. The Soviet collapse led to the creation of a dozen states most of which were hardly prepared for genuine sovereignty: not only did their viability seem uncertain, but Russia’s willingness to accommodate permanently to the new reality was similarly unpredictable.
  4. The international status of Russia was significantly degraded by the Soviet collapse, with one of the world’s two superpowers now viewed by many as little more than a Third World regional power, though still possessing a significant but increasingly antiquated nuclear arsenal.

B) The ‘democratization’ of Russia and ‘independence’ of Ukraine are illusionary

  1. America’s growing inclination to prioritize American-Ukrainian relations and to help Ukraine sustain its new national freedom was viewed by many in Moscow—even by its “westernizers”—as a policy directed at the vital Russian interest in eventually bringing Ukraine back into the common fold.
  2. There were also purely domestic reasons that a “mature strategic partnership” between two “democracies” proved to be illusory:
    • Russia was just too backward and too devastated by Communist rule to be a viable democratic partner of the United States.
    • Post-Soviet Russia had made only a partial break with the past: almost all of its “democratic” leaders were not only the products of the Soviet system but former senior members of its ruling elite. Thus the key institutions of Soviet power—though weakened, demoralized, and corrupted—were still there.

C) Ukraine’s nationalism became defined by anti-Russian sentiment, backed by the West

  1. Ukrainian nationalism developed a distinctively anti-Russian edge during its critical formative stage: the self-definition of Ukrainian nationhood was diverted from its traditional anti-Polish or anti-Romanian orientation and became focused instead on opposition to any Russian proposals for a more integrated relationship, deciphering them as Russian imperial tactics.
  2. Ukraine’s determination to preserve its independence was encouraged by the West, e.g. the U.S. secretary of defense declared “I cannot overestimate the importance of Ukraine as an independent country to the security and stability of all of Europe.” American policy makers also came to describe the American-Ukrainian relationship as “a strategic partnership,” deliberately invoking the same phrase used to describe the American-Russian relationship.

D) Most post-Soviet states imitated Ukraine’s anti-Russian integration stance

  1. Post-Soviet Union, a sense of national consciousness was deepening in almost all of the new states that increasingly focused on past submission to Moscow as colonialism and on eradicating its various legacies.
  2. Ukrainian insistence on only limited and largely economic integration had the further effect of depriving the notion of a “Slavic Union” of any practical meaning. Propagated by some Slavophiles, this idea automatically became geopolitically meaningless once it was repudiated by Ukraine.

E) Failure to produce global co-equality facilitated a geopolitical illusion

  1. The new states, if anything, were increasingly inclined to distrust even perfectly legitimate and needed forms of economic integration with Russia, fearing their potential political consequences.
  2. Notions of Russia’s alleged Eurasian mission and of the Slavic mystique served only to isolate Russia further from Europe and, more generally, from the West, thereby perpetuating the post-Soviet crisis.
  3. The “near abroad” option thus offered Russia not a geopolitical solution but a geopolitical illusion.
  4. The failure of the Western orientation to produce the desired global co-equality with America for a “democratic Russia,” which was more a slogan than reality, caused a letdown among the democrats, hence tempting some Russian geopoliticians to consider a counteralliance aimed at America’s hegemonic position in Eurasia.

F) Ukraine is a geopolitical pivot on the Eurasian chessboard

  1. Ukraine’s loss of independence transforms Poland into the geopolitical pivot on the eastern frontier of Europe.
  2. The loss of Ukraine (i.e. its independence) was geopolitically pivotal, for it drastically limited Russia’s geostrategic options.
  3. For Russia to abjure its imperial past requires accommodation to the geopolitical pluralism.
  4. The expansion of Europe need not be rushed; and it certainly should not be promoted on an anti-Russian theme.
  5. Russia is likely to acquiesce in the expansion of NATO to include several Central European countries, but will find it incomparably harder to accept Ukraine’s accession, for to do so would be to acknowledge that Ukraine’s destiny is no longer organically linked to Russia’s.
  6. Russia cannot be in Europe without Ukraine also being in Europe, whereas Ukraine can be in Europe without Russia being in Europe—hence Ukraine’s relationship to Europe could be the turning point for Russia itself.

G) Europe’s geographic scope is the policy dilemma for the European Union

  1. How far eastward should the European Union extend, and whether or not the eastern limits of the EU should be synonymous with the eastern front line of NATO, are the critical policy decisions for a united Europe. The NATO question also involves the United States; and its practical meaning focuses attention on the future status of the Baltic republics and perhaps also that of Ukraine.
  2. There is an important overlap between the European dilemma [i.e. of Europe’s expansive scope] and that of Russia’s ambitions, which may go beyond the attainment of recognition and respect as a democracy.

H) A special role in Eurasia is Russia’s dilemma of foreign policy

  1. Regarding the important overlap between the European dilemma [i.e. its expansive scope] and that of Russia’s ambitions: within the Russian foreign policy establishment there still thrives a deeply ingrained desire for a special Eurasian role that would consequently entail the subordination of newly independent post-Soviet states.
    • In that context, even friendly western policy is seen by some influential Russian policymakers as designed to deny Russia its rightful claim to a global status.
    • Hence, U.S. policy toward the vital geopolitical pivots of Ukraine and Azerbaijan cannot skirt that issue, and America thus faces a difficult dilemma regarding tactical balance and strategic purpose.

I) Mishandled relations with Russia could undermine NATO

  1. Any accommodation with Russia on the issue of NATO enlargement should not entail an outcome that has the effect of making Russia a de facto decision-making member of the alliance, for that would create opportunities for Russia to resume not only the effort to regain a sphere of influence in Central Europe but to use its presence within NATO to play on any American-European disagreements in order to reduce the American role in European affairs.
  2. It is also crucial that, as Central Europe enters NATO, any new security assurances to Russia regarding the region be truly reciprocal and thus mutually reassuring.
    • Restrictions on the deployment of NATO troops and nuclear weapons on the soil of new members can be an important factor in allaying legitimate Russian concerns, but these should be matched by symmetrical Russian assurances regarding demilitarization in the region.
    • An equitable NATO/EU accommodation with Russia would be welcomed by all Europeans as a signal that Russia is finally making the much-desired postimperial choice in favor of Europe.
  3. A clear choice by Russia in favor of Europeanism over imperialism will be more likely if America successfully reinforces the prevailing geopolitical pluralism in the post-Soviet space. However, the policy of consolidating geopolitical pluralism should not be conditioned on the existence of a good relationship with Russia; rather, it is also important insurance in case such a good relationship fails to develop, as it creates impediments to the reemergence of any truly threatening Russian imperial policy.
  4. Political and economic support for the key newly independent states is an integral part of a broader strategy for Eurasia; and the consolidation of a sovereign Ukraine is a critically important component of such a policy.

(J) Geopolitical instability and human degradation pose the potential for global anarchy

  1. The disruptive consequences of population explosion, poverty-driven migration, radicalizing urbanization, ethnic and religious hostilities, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would become unmanageable if the existing and underlying nation-state-based framework of even rudimentary geopolitical stability were itself to fragment. Without sustained and directed American involvement, before long the forces of global disorder could come to dominate the world scene. And the possibility of such a fragmentation is inherent in the geopolitical tensions not only of today’s Eurasia but of the world more generally.
  2. The risks to global stability are likely to be further increased by the prospect of a more general degradation of the human condition.
    • Particularly in the poorer countries of the world, the demographic explosion and the simultaneous urbanization of these populations are rapidly generating a congestion not only of the disadvantaged but especially of the hundreds of millions of unemployed and increasingly restless young, whose level of frustration is growing at an exponential rate.
    • Modern communications intensify the rupture with traditional authority, while creating increasing consciousness—and [resentiment ]—of global inequality and thus more susceptible to extremist mobilization.
    • On the one hand, the rising phenomenon of global migrations, already reaching into the tens of millions, may act as a temporary safety valve [against destabilizing resentiment]; but on the other hand, it is also likely to serve as a vehicle for the transcontinental conveyance of ethnic and social conflicts.
  3. America’s global stewardship is hence likely to be buffeted by turbulence, tension, and at least sporadic violence. The new and complex international order, shaped by American hegemony and within which “the threat of war is off the table,” is likely to be restricted to those parts of the world where American power has been reinforced by democratic sociopolitical systems and by elaborate external multilateral—but also American-dominated—frameworks.
  4. An American geostrategy for Eurasia will thus be competing with the forces of turbulence: there are signs in Europe that the momentum for integration and enlargement is waning and that traditional European nationalisms may reawaken before long. Large-scale unemployment persists even in the most successful European states, breeding xenophobic reactions that could suddenly cause a lurch in French or German politics toward significant political extremism and inward-oriented chauvinism. Indeed, a genuinely prerevolutionary situation could even be in the making.
  5. The uncertainties regarding Russia’s future are even greater [i.e. than European stability] and the prospects for a positive evolution much more tenuous. It is therefore imperative for America to shape a geopolitical context that is congenial to Russia’s assimilation into a larger setting of growing European cooperation and that also fosters the self-reliant independence of its newly sovereign neighbors.
    • The viability of Ukraine (for example), will remain uncertain, especially if American attention becomes diverted by other international issues.
    • The potential for an eventual grand accommodation with China could also be aborted, [for various reasons], meaning that China could then become a highly destabilizing force in the world.
  6. Thus neither the new global problems that go beyond the scope of the nation-state nor more traditional geopolitical concerns are likely to be resolved, or even contained, if the underlying geopolitical structure of global power begins to crumble. With warning signs on the horizon across Europe and Asia, any successful American policy must focus on Eurasia as a whole and be guided by a geostrategic design.

(K) American power is in decline and the era of global superpower is over

  1. America is not only the first, as well as the only, truly global superpower, but it is also likely to be the very last.
    • That is so not only because nation-states are gradually becoming increasingly permeable but also because knowledge as power is becoming more diffuse, more shared, and less constrained by national boundaries.
    • Economic’ power is also likely to become more dispersed, with America’s portion of world GDP (once as high as 50%) likely to decrease to about 10-15% by 2020 as other powers—Europe, China, Japan—increase their relative share to more or less the American level. Hence global economic preponderance by a single entity (of the sort that America attained in the 20th century) is unlikely, and that has obviously far-reaching military and political implications.
  2. The very multinational and exceptional character of American society has made it easier for America to universalize its hegemony without letting it appear to be a strictly national one. For example, an effort by China to seek global primacy would inevitably be viewed by others as an attempt to impose a national hegemony. Put very simply: anyone can become an American, but only a Chinese can be Chinese. Hence, once American leadership begins to fade, America’s current global predominance is unlikely to be replicated by any single state.
  3. The key question for the future is thus: “What will America bequeath to the world as the enduring legacy of its primacy?” The answer depends in part on how energetically America shapes a framework of key power partnerships that over time can be more formally institutionalized. A genuinely populist democracy has never before attained international supremacy; and the pursuit of power – especially the economic costs and human sacrifice that the exercise of such power often requires – are not generally congenial to democratic instincts: thus democratization is inimical to imperial mobilization.
  4. The critical uncertainty regarding the future may well be whether America might become the first superpower unable or unwilling to wield its power. Might it become an impotent global power?
  5. As America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstances of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.
    • An American consensus on foreign policy issues generally existed throughout World War II and even during the Cold War. It was rooted, however, not only in deeply shared democratic values, which the public sensed were being threatened, but also in a cultural and ethnic affinity for the predominantly European victims of hostile totalitarianisms.
  6. In the absence of a comparable external challenge, American society may find it much more difficult to reach agreement regarding foreign policies that cannot be directly related to central beliefs and widely shared cultural-ethnic sympathies and that still require an enduring and sometimes costlyimperial engagement.
    • Two extremely varying views on the implications of America’s historic victory in the Cold War are likely to be politically most appealing: on the one hand, the view that the end of the Cold War justifies a significant reduction in America’s global engagement, irrespective of the consequences for America’s global standing; and on the other, the perception that the time has come for genuine international multilateralism, to which America should even yield some of its sovereignty.—Both extremes command the loyalty of committed constituencies.
  7. Cultural change in America may also be uncongenial to the sustained exercise abroad of genuinely imperial power, for that exercise requires a high degree of doctrinal motivation, intellectual commitment, and patriotic gratification.
    • Since the dominant culture of America has become increasingly fixated on a mass entertainment heavily dominated by personally hedonistic and socially escapist themes, the cumulative effect has made it increasingly difficult to mobilize the needed political consensus on behalf of sustained, and also occasionally costly, American leadership abroad.
    • Mass communications have been playing a particularly important role in [the predominance of hedonic-escapist culture], generating a strong revulsion against any selective use of force that entails even low levels of casualties.
    • Both America and Western Europe have been finding it difficult to cope with the cultural consequences of social hedonism and the dramatic decline in the centrality of religious-based values in society.
      • The resulting cultural crisis has been compounded by the spread of drugs and, especially in America, by its linkage to the racial issue.
      • The rate of economic growth is no longer able to keep up with growing material expectations, with the latter stimulated by a culture that places a premium on consumption.
      • It is no exaggeration to state that a sense of historical anxiety, perhaps even of pessimism, is becoming palpable in the more articulate sectors of Western society.
  8. Almost half a century ago, a noted historian, Hans Kohn, having observed the tragic experience of the two world wars andthe debilitating consequences of the totalitarian challenge, worried that the West has become “fatigued and exhausted.”
    • Kohn feared that “[t]wentieth century man has become less confident than his nineteenth century ancestor was.”
    • Things which seemed to belong to the past have reappeared: fanatical faith, infallible leaders, slavery and massacres, the uprooting of whole populations, ruthlessness and barbarism.”
  9. Modern man’s lack of confidence has been intensified by widespread disappointment with the consequences of the end of the Cold War: Instead of a “new world order” based on consensus and harmony, “things which seemed to belong to the past” have all of a sudden become the future.
    • Although ethnic-national conflicts may no longer pose the risk of a central war, they do threaten the peace in significant parts of the globe. Thus, war is not likely to become obsolete for some time to come. With the more-endowed nations constrained by their own higher technological capacity for self-destruction as well as by self-interest, war may have become a luxury that only the poor peoples of this world can afford. In the foreseeable future, the impoverished two-thirds of humanity may not be motivated by the restraint of the privileged.
  10. International conflicts and acts of terrorism have so far been remarkably devoid of any use of the weapons of mass destruction. How long that self-restraint may hold is inherently unpredictable; but the increasing availability, not only to states but also to organized groups, of the means to inflict massive casualties—by the use of nuclear or bacteriological weapons—also inevitably increases the probability of their employment. The present moment of relative global peace may be short lived.
  11. To date, efforts to spell out a new central and worldwide objective for the United States, in the wake of the termination of the Cold War, have been one-dimensional: They have failed to link the need to improve the human conditionwith the imperative of preserving the centrality of American power in world affairs. Several such recent attempts can be identified:
    • During the first two years of the Clinton administration, the advocacy of “assertive multilateralism” did not sufficiently take into account the basic realities of contemporary power.
    • Later on, the alternative emphasis on the notion that America should focus on global “democratic enlargement” did not adequately take into account the continuing importance to America of maintaining global stability or even of promoting some expedient (but regrettably not “democratic”) power relationships, as with China.
    • As the central U.S. priority, more narrowly focused appeals have been even less satisfactory, such as those concentrating on the elimination of prevailing injustice in the global distribution of income, on shaping a special “mature strategic partnership” with Russia, or on containing weapons proliferation. Other alternatives— that America should concentrate on safeguarding the environment or, more narrowly, on combating local wars—have also tended to ignore the central realities of global power. As a result, none of the foregoing formulations have fully addressed the need to create minimal global geopolitical stability as the essential foundation for the simultaneous protraction of American hegemony and the effective aversion of international anarchy.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The ‘Grand Chess Master’ of Geopolitics

Credentials of a Preeminent Intelligentsian

Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928 –2017) was a political adviser and geostrategist of utmost international influence, akin to that of Henry Kissinger (with whom he is most often compared). Brzezinski served as an adviser to presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, in the capacities of National Security Adviser and counsellor. In more recent years, former president Barack Obama said of Brzezinski: “His influence spanned several decades, and I was one of several presidents who benefited from his wisdom and counsel.”

While The Grand Chessboard is generally considered to be his most important work, I should also mention another of Brzezinski’s major works: Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970). Although not relevant to the topic of Russia-Ukraine, Between Two Ages is perhaps even more revealing in understanding the trajectory of Western civilization and its future implications on world order.

Both of these enduringly important books are freely available to read or download at Archive.org:

The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (1997)

Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (1970)

Brzezinski Beyond the Grave: Zbig’s Prescient Analysis of the Russia-Ukraine War

In response to the Russian invasion of Crimea (begun February 20th 2014), Brzezinski wrote a concise piece for the Washington Post that managed to deliver his characteristic “grand chessboard”-style analysis and foresight on the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, from the perspective of advised western geostrategy in response. Brzezinski was to die three years later; yet (as will be apparent) his analysis speaks to the present Russia-Ukraine war as if it were written upon its initiation.

Below is the article in its near entirety, only two small passages having been excised.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: After Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, the West must be ready to respond,by Zbigniew Brzezinski, March 3rd 2014, Washington Post

Regarding the Russian aggression against Ukraine [i.e. the 2014 annexation of Crimea], much depends on what Vladimir Putin does next. But what Putin does depends on not only his calculation of the likely NATO (and especially the U.S.) response but also his estimate of how fiercely the Ukrainian people would respond to any further escalation by Russia. And, to complete the circle, the Ukrainian response would be influenced by citizens’ reaction to any repetition of Putin’s Crimean aggression and by whether the nation believes that the United States and NATO are truly supportive. […]

His initial success may tempt him to repeat that performance more directly in the far eastern provinces of Ukraine. If successful, the conclusive third phase could then be directed, through a combination of political unrest and increasingly overt use of Russian forces, to overthrow the government in Kiev. The result would thus be similar to the two phases of Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland after Munich in 1938 and the final occupation of Prague and Czechoslovakia in early 1939.

Much depends on how clearly the West conveys to the dictator in the Kremlin — a partially comical imitation of Mussolini and a more menacing reminder of Hitler — that NATO cannot be passive if war erupts in Europe. If Ukraine is crushed while the West is simply watching, the new freedom and security in bordering Romania, Poland and the three Baltic republics would also be threatened.

This does not mean that the West, or the United States, should threaten war. But Russia’s unilateral and menacing acts mean the West should promptly recognize the current government of Ukraine as legitimate. Uncertainty regarding its legal status could tempt Putin to repeat his Crimean charade [i.e. “his thinly camouflaged invasion”]. The West also should convey — privately at this stage, so as not to humiliate Russia — that the Ukrainian army can count on immediate and direct Western aid so as to enhance its defensive capabilities. There should be no doubt left in Putin’s mind that an attack on Ukraine would precipitate a prolonged and costly engagement, and Ukrainians should not fear that they would be left in the lurch.

Meanwhile, NATO forces, consistent with the organization’s contingency planning, should be put on alert. High readiness for some immediate airlift to Europe of U.S. airborne units would be politically and militarily meaningful. If the West wants to avoid a conflict, there should be no ambiguity in the Kremlin as to what might be precipitated by further adventurist use of force in the middle of Europe.

In addition, such efforts to avert miscalculations that could lead to a war should be matched by a reaffirmation of the West’s desire for a peaceful accommodation with Russia regarding a joint effort to help Ukraine recover economically and stabilize politically. The West should reassure Russia that it is not seeking to draw Ukraine into NATO or to turn it against Russia. Ukrainians themselves can define the depth of their closeness to Europe and the scope of their economic cooperation with Russia, to the benefit of peace and stability in Europe. […]

***

Zbig’s Ideological Bias (and a Suggested Corrective)

Finally, on “Zbig” (as he is known among his peers), I add the point that his worldview and ideology are Western-oriented and establishment-serving, based on my impression from reading his aforementioned works. Hence, his insightful discussion of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, its geopolitical ramifications, international dynamics and world order in general is best used as a ‘stepping stone’ for your own interpretation of these issues. This sensible attitude is especially important for interpreting current wars, as demonstrated presently, in that the Russia-Ukraine war reporting has been dominated by moralizing from the start. An accessible corrective in this case would be John Mearsheimer’s analytical talk of the Russia-Ukraine war (2022), which can enable you to gain a broader perspective on the crisis from its origins to the present and the future.

The ‘Propaganda War’ (Spoiler: It’s On YOU)

I conclude this article with a word of advice by way of an ancient, wise saying:

“The first casualty of war is truth.”

Thus, the ‘propaganda war’ is already in full effect. Indeed, for those who missed it, that’s because it’s a war on YOUR hearts and MINDs

From Jacques Ellul’s definitive work on the subject, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1962):

“The First World War; the Russian revolution of 1917; Hitler’s revolution of 1933; the second World War; the further development of revolutionary wars since 1944 in China, Indochina, and Algeria, as well as the Cold War—each [war] was a step in the development of modern propaganda. With each of these events propaganda developed further, increased in depth, discovered new methods. […] And in this way propaganda has become a permanent feature in nations that actually despise it, such as the United States and France.”

“To the extent that propaganda is based on current news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. A man caught up in the news must remain on the surface of the event; he is carried along in the current, and can at no time take a respite to judge and appreciate; he can never stop to reflect. [He is unable] to consider several facts or events simultaneously and to make a synthesis of them in order to face or to oppose them. One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones. Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but be does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandist, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks. Moreover, there is a spontaneous defensive reaction in the individual against an excess of information and [inconsistencies]. The best defense here is to forget the preceding event. In so doing [he] condemns himself to a life of successive moments, discontinuous and fragmented.”

“Those who read the press of their group and listen to the radio of their group are constantly reinforced in their allegiance. They learn more and more that their group is right, that its actions are justified; thus their beliefs are strengthened. At the same time, such propaganda contains elements of criticism and refutation of other groups, which will never be read or heard by a member of another group…Thus we see before our eyes how a world of closed minds establishes itself, a world in which everybody talks to himself, everybody constantly views his own certainty about himself and the wrongs done him by the Others – a world in which nobody listens to anybody else.”

“The news event may be a real fact, existing objectively, or it may be only an item of information, the dissemination of a supposed fact. What makes it news is its dissemination, not its objective reality.”

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Author: Simon Kanzen

I value reading substantial literature, enjoy thought-provoking entertainment, and above all, I think every day. With Stepping Stones, I develop my thoughts in writing and share references to relevant media, intending for other readers and thinkers to find these writings useful.

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