Why is the United States so interested in Ukraine more than 7000 miles away?
The answer to that question goes to the conceptual taproot of the conflict. It lies much deeper than is commonly perceived and is connected with U.S. ambitions (like Nazi Germany’s) to control the entire world. The details are supplied in the April 2022 edition of Monthly Review (Vol. 73, No. 11) in the journal’s “Notes from the editors: Ukraine as the ‘Geopolitical Pivot’.”
Here’s what the editors say:
In 1904, Britain’s Halford Mackinder articulated the relevant and guiding geopolitical doctrine (later developed in Nazi Germany by Karl Haushofer as well as by John Spykman in the United States during the 1930s and 40s.)
The doctrine’s basic idea was that the domination of Eastern Europe (including Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the western part of the Russian Federation) was the key to dominating the planet. Mackinder said in effect: Who rules East Europe commands Eurasia. / Who rules Eurasia commands the rest of Asia and Africa. /Who rules those continents commands the World.
Since its original expression at the beginning of the last century, Mackinder’s doctrine has informed the strategies of all leading capitalist nations as they sought world domination – including Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States. In its latter form, the doctrine is commonly referred to as “The Grand Strategy.”
It was further refined by U.S. planners such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Paul Wolfowitz. Following their advisement, U.S. presidents from Nixon to Biden have used it to guide their geopolitical policies.
The advisors’ clearest expression emerged in 1991, when then undersecretary of defense (appointed by George H.W. Bush) Paul Wolfowitz published his Defense Planning Guidance. There he wrote, “Our policy [after the fall of the Soviet Union] must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”
Towards achieving this end, Wolfowitz recognized a particular need to defang a weakened Russia which was then the strongest military power in Eurasia. Russia, he contended, must be quickly neutralized before it could recover from its post-Soviet reduction in status and power. The most effective avenue towards such nullification of Russian might would be to bring into the Western orbit the countries that had been part of Eastern Europe’s Warsaw Pact defense organization.
In making his case, Wolfowitz was echoing not only Mackinder, Haushofer, and Spykman, but the position of Truman advisor, George Kennan who in 1948 had written,
“. . . we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…. We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
Though adopted in practice by United States policy planners, Kennan’s strategy remained their unarticulated “quiet part,” because (following so closely upon World War II) it eerily echoed the ultimate goal of Nazi Germany’s aspirations to world domination.
However, following the fall of the Soviets and its bruited “end of history,” it became fashionable for U.S. politicians to finally speak the quiet part aloud openly identifying America’s system as “imperialist,” “dominant,” and brooking no rivals.
In turn, Carter advisor Brzezinski’s own elaboration of The Strategy shaped U.S. policy vis a vis Russia for over three decades.
In pursuit of controlling Russia, Brzezinski was the one responsible for creating a quagmire in Afghanistan to trap the Soviet Union in an unwinnable war. Supported by Carter, he initiated the program that armed and trained the Mujahideen to confront the Soviets in “the graveyard of empires.”
The trap worked and its debilitating swamp became a key element contributing to the dissolution of the USSR (and to the disastrous events of 9/11 in the United States). Brzezinski considered it a giant step towards seizing control of Eastern Europe.
Bill Clinton took the next step. Contravening U.S. promises to Gorbachev not to move the alliance “one inch” eastward, the U.S. president proceeded to dismember Yugoslavia and decided to move the organization into the actual sphere of the former Soviet Union.
Subsequently (in 1997) Brzezinski produced his book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. There he argued that the U.S. had finally found itself in a position “for the first time ever (for) a non-Eurasian power” to become “the key arbiter of Eurasian power relations,” while at the same time “emerging as “the world’s paramount power.” In other words, because of the opening in Russia, the United States found itself poised to become the first and the last globally dominant empire.
For Brzezinski, assuming that role in Eurasia required further weakening Russia to deprive it of any pretension to being a world power. Such debilitation, he argued, depended on incorporating Ukraine (which shares a 1,200 mile border with Russia) into NATO as a kind of Damocles’ sword over the head of the geographically largest country in the world.
However, Brzezinski warned that the inclusion in question would inevitably be perceived by Russia as an existential threat – as an unacceptable crossing of a red line that would force Russia into an anti-hegemonic alliance with China and possibly Iran in a tripartite bloc.
A U.S. countermove, Brzezinski wrote, would involve gradually expanding NATO into countries formerly belonging to the Soviet Union. It would mean applying pressure on China by creating distracting problems for it in Hong Kong and Taiwan and by forging closer NATO ties with the regional powers Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
Nevertheless, the greatest stumbling block to such moves on the grand chessboard remained Ukraine. How could the U.S. gain its control without having Russia interpret the move as a death threat aimed at its breakup and without having China perceive Russia’s balkanization as destabilizing its own far western regions?
With those questions still unanswered, Washington continued to implement Brzezinski’s grand strategy. Over the past 30 years, it has moved ahead with the project of normalizing NATO expansion to include 15 previous Warsaw Pact members. In those countries, it placed troops (including U.S. divisions) while locating missile facilities in Poland and Romania. The final goal continued to be the incorporation of the crucial Ukraine prize. So, finally, in 2008 NATO formally announced its intention to admit that trophy as a member state.
Towards that end, the U.S. played a major role in provoking a coup d’état in the Ukraine capital. It replaced the country’s elected president Viktor Yanukovych, who though once favorable to the West sought economic help from Russia when the International Monetary fund proposed austerity conditionalities on its loans. That move was unacceptable to U.S. ambitions in Ukraine. So, using Neo-Nazi agents provocateurs, they had Yanukovych replaced with a more amenable hand-picked client.
The U.S.-supported coup led to uprisings of dissent in Ukraine’s Donbass region and to brutal repression by the replacement government. For instance, in Odessa, more than 40 resisters were burnt alive in a union hall at the hands of Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis. Such right-wing repression led the Donbass regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to break away from Ukraine and form two people’s republics.
Additionally, even before the coup (in 1991) Crimea (whose citizens are predominantly Russian speaking) had become an autonomous republic within Ukraine. After the coup, a referendum had it voting to merge with Russia.
Kyiv’s response to these secessions took the form of intense military operations against the breakaways. Since 2014, the resulting civil war has taken the lives of over 14,000 people and has created 2.5 million refugees most of whom have fled to Russia.
The conflict came to an apparent end with the signing of the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15. The accords were worked out between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany and endorsed by the UN Security Council. The pacts gave Luhansk and Donetsk the right to self-government while remaining in Ukraine. However, Kyiv ignored the agreements and pressed on with its Donbass offensive.
Russia replied by demanding that the Minsk Agreements be honored. It also insisted that Ukraine agree not to enter NATO and that the 130,00 Ukrainian troops then attacking Donbass cease their operations. All of these, Moscow said, were red lines which if crossed would require vigorous response.
NATO and Kyiv insisted on crossing all the lines just noted. Russia’s “special military operation” was the result.
So, there we have it. The Ukraine conflict has been over a century in the making.
In 1904, Mackinder saw its importance for world hegemons who themselves (from Great Britain and Nazi Germany to the United States of America) concurred with his assessment. Though recognizing the dangers of doing so, Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Wolfowitz embraced Mackinder’s viewpoint. They focused their Grand Strategy on the world’s Chessboard towards ultimately securing control of Ukraine. To that end, the presidents they advised following the breakup of the Soviet Union expanded NATO right up to Russia’s borders.
In doing so, they insisted on crossing red lines repeatedly drawn by Russian leaders. U.S. support of a coup and the installation of a NATO friendly government in Kyiv caused alarm bells to ring in Moscow. So did a Neo-Nazi-led assault on dissenting Russian speakers in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
U.S. refusal to recognize and enter negotiations over Russia’s concerns on such matters represented the last straw.
All of that explains not only a desperate Russia’s “special military operation” against what it sees as a threat to its very existence, but why a U.S.-led NATO is pouring billions into the conflict.
It’s about the lynchpin of world domination. It’s about shoring up a vanishing U.S hegemony. It’s about America’s brooking no rivals. It’s about maintaining “full spectrum dominance” in a doomed unipolar world.