To a large degree, the tragic events that unfolded in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 were driven by developments beyond Ukraine’s borders. Of course, domestic factors also played a crucial role, but it was Ukraine’s important geopolitical position, and the clumsy interventions of competing outside powers pursuing their own self-centred agendas, that pushed Ukraine into a bloody violent war.
In this video, Kevork Almassian analyzes the Ukrainian conflict from a geopolitical perspective.
The main protagonists were, on one hand, the U.S. and the EU which engineered a colour revolution in 2014 and installed a pro-western regime, and on the other hand, Russia which sees Ukraine as its geopolitical backyard and losing it means the contact line with NATO has moved further to the east. That is why Moscow engineered a referendum in Crimea and annexed it and supported the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, who have taken control of Donetsk and Donbas.
The war in Ukraine has been shelved for some time, especially under President Trump, as the latter was dealing with other geopolitical challenges, such as China, North Korea and the “peace deals” between some of the Arab countries with Israel.
However, with Biden in power, he shifted the priorities of the US. The most important political and military event in 2021 was the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan which raised questions about Washington’s next step on the foreign policy level, which, in my opinion, are:
- Although the US abandoned the regime change war, the Biden administration wants the Syrian war to be frozen and stop the Syrian government from grabbing more territories from the terrorists. Biden doesn’t mind the restoration of ties between Syria and the Arab countries but at the same time, he doesn’t allow full recovery of the devastated country.
- In Iran, the US is interested in striking a nuclear deal with Iran but this time Washington is looking for a more comprehensive deal that includes Tehran’s missile programme and its role in the region. There is no doubt that Iran is also interested in striking a deal but will it accept to compromise on its missile programme and decrease its involvement in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen Lebanon and Palestine? I doubt it, especially after the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal under President Trump but time will tell.
- As is the case of Ukraine, where the US wants to block the access of Russia to Ukraine and by default to Eurasia, Washington wants to block Beijing’s access to the East and South China Seas and by default to international waters. Since the dawn of the modern age, control of the seas has been central to global politics. Therefore, Taiwan has become an important geopolitical topic for the US and hence we heard calls for a referendum in Taiwan, which means independence from China and calls for sending representatives of Taiwan to international bodies although the latter doesn’t have independent entity status and it is not recognized as an independent country.
- In order to put the current crisis in Ukraine in perspective, I would like to refer to a very interesting book that I am sure most of you are aware of which is The Grand Chessboard, written in 1998 by President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. In his book, Brzezinski argued that the US had to take control of a number of strategic countries, including Ukraine, arguing that that country is “a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country (means) Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”.
Brzezinski warns against allowing Russia to regain control over the country because, by doing so, “Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia”.
Similar to the Chinese case, it is quite obvious that the core of the issue in Ukraine is also a struggle of power between two blocks and each has its own interests with no honest intention to compromise. The US wants to have full control of Ukraine through NATO and kill any chance for Russia to return to the international stage as a superpower, and the latter is determined under Putin in restoring its glory, and Ukraine is the battlefield.
Now, for us to have a better understanding of the Taiwan and Ukraine crisis, I want to elaborate on the Sea vs. Land power theory.
Philosopher Carl Schmitt described the rise of sea powers through three stages: ancient civilizations first ruled river systems. Rome and Venice then dominated the Mediterranean Sea. Subsequently, powers like Portugal, Holland and England came to dominate the world’s oceans. Sea powers have a specific mindset: they favor openness, global free trade, individualism and enterprise. The United States is the contemporary heir of the oceanic sea powers.
Throughout modern history, the sea powers have been opposed by land-based powers: Napoleon’s France, czarist Russia, imperial Germany and the Soviet Union. Land powers are more inward-looking and they emphasize community, collective action, security and strong central rule. After the fall of the previous great land power, the Soviet Union, US-led sea power has dominated the world.
When we understand the Sea vs. Land power theory, we will have a better understanding of the core of the conflict between NATO and Russia on one hand and the US and China on the other.
So, as Brzezinski told Spiegel in 2015, we are already in a Cold War but whether it will become hot is the real question. And while Russia has set out its demands for a sweeping new security arrangement with the West in Eastern Europe, including a request for a written guarantee that NATO will not expand farther east, the proposal was met with deaf ears in NATO, as the latter believes Russia is a declining power and a compromise of this sort will be interpreted as a sign of weakness. What is your take on this? Do you believe Russia will invade Ukraine as the western media and experts claim? Is the military conflict inevitable or diplomacy will prevail in the end?
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Sea versus land powers: https://www.dasym.com/sea-versus-land-powers/
Introduction to Contemporary Geopolitics: https://de.coursera.org/lecture/contemprorary-geopolitics/sea-power-vs-land-power-Eltq2
An Unnecessary War: The Geopolitical Roots of the Ukraine Crisis: e-ir.info/2015/04/09/an-unnecessary-war-the-geopolitical-roots-of-the-ukraine-crisis/
The significance of Ukraine on the geopolitical chessboard: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/20/significance-ukraine-geopolitical-chessboard
Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.