Ukraine: Crucial ‘Geopolitical Pivot’
In the geopolitical calculus of both Russia and the NATO bloc, Ukraine is of crucial importance. Its interest to the West and to Russia entails a willingness to engage on the ‘Grand Chessboard’ of Eurasian geopolitics for influence or control over it.
For the West led by the US, influence over Ukraine is an opportunity to cut Russia out of European affairs and to bolster its continual push East through the expansion of NATO. This is seen, with good reason, by Moscow as an unabated drive towards encirclement. For Russia, Ukraine represents, inter alia, a potentially sensitive position from which it is vulnerable militarily; it is a cornerstone of viable Russian security in Europe.
According to Zbigniew Brzezinski — US foreign policy guru who founded the elite Trilateral Commission along with David Rockefeller, as well as reputed teacher of Obama at Columbia University — Ukraine can be classified as a ‘geopolitical pivot.’ That is a state “whose importance is derived not from their power and motivation but rather from their sensitive location and from the consequences of their potentially vulnerable condition for the behavior of geopolitical players.” For Brzezinski, a Ukraine severed from Russia consequently severs Russia from Europe, albeit in his terms in its “imperial status” as a Eurasian power. Severed from Ukraine, Russia would be reoriented towards Asia, which sets it on a collision course with an emerging China (an ideal scenario for Washington with its wont for buck-passing):
Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian Chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to to be a Eurasian empire. Russia without Ukraine can still strive for imperial status, but it would then become a predominantly Asian imperial state, more likely to be drawn into debilitating conflicts with aroused Central Asians … China would also be likely to oppose any restoration of Russian domination over Central Asia…
For Russia, militarily, control of its eastern frontier has perennially poised a potential quagmire: it has been the point from which armies have invaded to push into the Russian heartland particularly for topographic reasons. Thus, for Stalin negotiating with the Allies at Yalta, the question of Poland was “one of life and death.” “Throughout history,” he cautioned, “Poland has been the corridor for attack on Russia.” With Poland today already an integral part of NATO, Ukraine, with even greater proximity to the Russian heartland doubtless presents an even greater worry. Indeed, the geopolitical analysis group Stratfor aptly characterizes Ukraine as the “soft underbelly of Russia.” “Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries. Therefore, rumors to the contrary, neither Scotland nor Texas is going anywhere. Nor is Ukraine, if Russia has anything to do with it.”
Topographically, a potential attack on Russia can be greatly reduced if Ukraine is in the Russian orbit; conversely, it can be augmented if controlled by a Western power:
Dominated by Russia, Ukraine anchors Russian power in the Carpathian [mountains]…If Ukraine is under the influence or control of a Western power, Russia’s (and Belarus’s) southern flank is wide open along along an arc running from the Polish border east almost to Volgograd then south to the Sea of Azov, a distance of more than 1,000 miles, more than 700 of which lie along Russia proper. There are few natural barriers.
Thus, a Russia bereft of Ukraine loses the crucial security safeguard of the Carpathians. The road to Moscow is one step closer through subverting the government in Kiev.
The continuing systematic Western military buildup surrounding Russia has doubtless already increased Russian anxiety in the present context. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union — and the emergence of the unipolar world order — the US led West has steadily marched towards post-Soviet Russia, extending NATO menacingly all the way to its borders. In addition to official NATO membership the US has established a military outpost in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, leading to the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. This expansionist march of NATO is viewed by Russia as a betrayal of agreements it was given that such NATO growth would not occur.
Additionally, the ongoing provocative military ‘defensive’ shield installations in Poland and Romania — ostensibly to protect the West from Iran, which neither has has nuclear weapons or missiles with which to deliver them with — has been a point of tremendous concern. (A more rational location to place such installations, if we are to accept NATO’s motives at face value, would have been near NATO member Turkey.) To Moscow, this represents an existential threat to the critical Russian nuclear deterrent, a centerpiece of its military defesive strategy for decades. This fundamental reality informs the Russian stance when Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, threatened Russia would preemptively destroy such NATO military installations in the event of a crisis.
The current reshaping of Ukraine represents — yet again — a potential extension (de facto or officially) of NATO, part of its continual march east. Not least among concerns, a Ukraine in the NATO orbit leaves its “soft underbelly” accessible to the bloc. Far from the partisan portrayals of Western media concerning the EU’s association agreement — which it largely terms as a benign “civilizational” proposal to usher prosperity and to shift away from the Kremlin’s overbearing embrace — there is, in fact, a military component. As Russian expert Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and Princeton, points out the ” proposal, for example, includes ‘security policy’ provisions, almost never reported, that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.” Ukraine would, in effect, have to abide by NATO military policies to the dismay of Moscow. Revealingly, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared the prospective agreement with Ukraine would have been “a major boost to Euro-Atlantic security.”
Ukraine in the NATO orbit would also potentially deprive Russia of its critical naval port and military presence in the Crimean peninsula. This would cut Russia off from access to the Black Sea and therefore the Mediterranean Sea. That Russia has a robust naval presence with access to the Mediterranean means the sea cannot become exclusively the province of NATO. This fundamental reality also frustrates NATO’s continuing efforts to unseat Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Energy exports are also a centerpiece of Russian foreign policy. Being excluded from the Mediterranean would also hamper this policy. Moreover, Moscow has watched as NATO has in recent times been very active on the world scene participating in ruthless military actions in Libya as well as aiding in the attempted smashing of the Syria state in the ongoing civil war. Western elites are seen increasingly as more unstable and willing to participate in wild military adventurism. These plethora of considerations weigh heavily on Moscow’s calculations, as they rationally inveigh against persistent and intensifying Western encroachment. In this fraught and tense scene of European and Eurasian affairs Ukraine is the ‘geopolitical pivot’ par excellence.