America’s ‘Grand Chessboard’ Breeds Destruction in Ukraine and Beyond

Writing in the Boston Globe about the U.S.-Russian jockeying in Ukraine, Stephen Kinzer has it exactly right:

From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.

…Some policy makers in Washington have been congratulating each other for a successful American-aided regime change operation in Ukraine. Three factors converged to produce the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. First was his own autocratic instinct and utter lack of political skill, which led him to think he could ignore protesters. Second was the brave determination of the protesters themselves. Third was intervention by the United States and other Western countries — often spearheaded by diplomats and quasi-covert operatives who have been working for years on “democracy promotion” projects in Ukraine.

As protests mounted in Kiev last month, many in Washington found it difficult to break the old habit of shaping US policy to punish Russia. Several European leaders suggested resolving the Ukraine crisis through negotiation with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. This enraged the United States, which wants to isolate Putin, not accommodate him.

That is important context. If one wants to understand Russia’s calculations – an impulse entirely absent from most of the commentary coming out of Washington – one must acknowledge the provocations the U.S. has committed in continuing to fight the Cold War long after Russia’s defeat. Here again, the U.S. dismissed diplomacy in favor of sticking it to Russia.

From the beginning of the instability in Ukraine, the geo-political contest between the U.S. and its European allies on one side and Russia on the other was the underlying factor. Indeed, the protests that erupted started over the question of whether Ukraine would be integrated under Western influence or remain under Russian influence. Now, Russia is basically occupying Crimea as it tries desperately to undermine the new pro-Western regime in Kiev, while the U.S. continues to try to isolate Russia and bring Ukraine fully into its orbit.

But, as Kinzer explains, neither Russia or the United States is “powerful enough to emerge from the Ukraine/Crimea crisis with a full victory,” meaning that “any solution short of partition will have to take Russia’s interests into account. Thus far the United States has shown no interest in doing that. The likely geopolitical outcome, therefore, is a stalemate.”

There is a damn-near bipartisan consensus in Washington that something ought to be done to punish Russia further. Some call for sanctions, others for isolating Russia in the international community, and still others for some kind of provocative military action short of direct hostilities. Not only are these ridiculous, they would serve no practical purpose. How do they think Moscow will respond to sanctions? Putin would laugh. More drastic proposals for economic punishment would be no good, considering Washington’s European allies get a good bit of their energy supply from Russia through Ukraine. And any military action would be as contrary to international law as Russia’s incursions into Crimea, never mind being fantastically stupid given that it could provoke incredible carnage.

This is what seeing the world as a zero-sum strategic chessboard produces. Outside powers may profess genuine concern with the fate of Ukrainians, but they are viewing Ukraine in terms of their own interests, not the people’s. In Syria, that sort of proxy game has helped destroy a country and kill over 100,000 people.

As Anatol Lieven wrote yesterday, unless Russia and the West “find ways of withdrawing from some of the positions that they have taken…the result could very easily be civil war, Russian invasion, the partition of Ukraine, and a conflict that will haunt Europe for generations to come.”

28 thoughts on “America’s ‘Grand Chessboard’ Breeds Destruction in Ukraine and Beyond”

    1. Crimea is a stronghold for Putin, direct access to Black Sea. If Western influence has it their way, having the Black Sea would screw Putin!

  1. "More drastic proposals for economic punishment would be no good, considering Washington’s European allies get a good bit of their energy supply from Russia through Ukraine."

    And a sizable percentage of the supplies for US troops in Afghanistan flow through Russia due to the problems in Pakistan. This is something only a few have noted.

  2. I agree with you on a lot of your unique views. You've written a great informational article that engaged me from the beginning. Thank you.

  3. @Ron F: "…why does John Glaser think partition of Ukraine a bad thing?"

    Me: Perhaps partitioning would give D/EU/US + NATO free access to the western side. Paraphrasing Glaser quoting Kinzer, 'the West' (primarily US-driven) has "pursued a strategy of encircling Russia;" recall that there was a proposal to install Patriot batteries in Poland, a proposal quietly dropped after Russia reportedly threatened to deploy Iskander systems into its Kaliningrad exclave. See Russia could deploy missiles near Poland: officer.

    Q: Why might this matter?

    A: It is thought that part of the Pentagon's encircling Russia plan is to enable a US 1st-strike capability, thus disabling MAD. In case anyone doesn't know, reputedly MAD is *the* thing preventing a nuclear war, anticipated result of which could be such massive nuclear fall-out = the end of most life including human on this once gem-like planet. Recalling 'use it or lose it,' in response to a US 1st strike threat, Russia might feel forced to move to a 'launch on warning' policy… Certainly, the 1st actual attack by the US on Russian nuclear missiles would force Russia to launch whatever it can. Oh, always and as usual, IMHO. Then: "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when…"

    1. Iskander/Kaliningrad update: IF this article is correct THEN "… in response to the US-led deployment of a missile defence shield … Bild newspaper first reported on December 14 that Russia had deployed about 10 Iskander systems in its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania."

      From part one of the article (here): "The US-NATO missile defense system being deployed in Europe is a potential threat to at least half of Russia’s silo-based strategic nuclear arsenal."

  4. Glaser is enormously prolific- I have no idea how he can keep up. However, I am curious about one thing he wrote. Glaser sad: "any military action would be as contrary to international law as Russia's incursion into Crimea." How are these two things comparable? Wasn't Russia invited in by Crimea, which is a semi-autonomous region that is majority Russian? Sometimes one must stand up to the schoolyard bully. This is one of those times. Russia did what it had to do.

    1. The whole business of "contrary to international law" has been undermined by the NATO members of Security Council ever since the end of Cold War. I am not actually sure that any portions of international law related to the crimes against peace, invasion, forcible changes of elected officials, etc. etc. In this climate, countries urging the respect of international law started sounding a bit ridiculous, or worse, weak. It used to be an understood practice that revolutions, unlike coups, meant that the legal system of that country is null and void, as well as treaties. The problem with Kyev insisting that this is a revolution not a coup — as Russia called it — is that it cannot call upon a constitution, where it picks and chooses from the last two constitutions Ukraine had, and laws that are passed illegaly by any standard. And it cannot call upon international law. Russia does not have to abide by Budimpest agreement as far as borders go. To make things more complicated, the real power behind the revolution are neonazi parties and groups, Svoboda, Right Sector, National Front, Trident, and many more very dangerous groups. They patrol strets today, and they are the government, apart from the pathetic Jewish banker, Yatsenyuk, who is subject of their threats. Jewish community already left Kyev. US and the West are keeping quiet, not to let other right wing groups in Europe to get an idea how to take over government. With so much discontent, this is dangerous. But to tell Russia it has nothing to fear from the nazi takeover of Kyev, and to relax while they start takeover of other regions?

  5. ?the west has been in credibly callous and irresponsible post cold war in regards to Russia.
    As pointed out they have sought to stick it to Russia right on her door step by trying to contain her by bringing former nations into their orbit and ?the nerve to wanting to put missiles there. ?the west still has nato as ?the Warsaw pact has been disbanded. They speak with hypocrisy especially
    ?the U.S. when in Serbia in ?the 90’s Clinton bombed ?the hell out of Serbia and created Kosovo. Protecting whose inteterest? As if they really were upset with ethnic cleansing. How selective ?the west is. Russia may be acting with folly in regards to Ukraine but so has ?the west in its dealing with Russia and all Eastern Europe. Fools maybe all.

  6. A good synopsis, but ignores the initial causes of anti-Russian sentiment in western Ukraine and the resultant neo-nazi parties and extreme Ukrainian nationalist insurgent groups that have been supported and funded by Western intelligence agencies since the 1930s more infotmation

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