The Grand Chessboard

In the late 1990’s shortly after the fall of the former Soviet Union, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote the following in a book titled “The Grand Chessboard”:

“Russia, it hardly needs saying, remains a major geostrategic player, in spite of its weakened state and probably prolonged malaise. Its very presence impacts massively on the newly independent states within the vast Eurasian space of the former Soviet Union. It entertains ambitious geopolitical objectives, which it increasingly proclaims openly. Once it has recovered its strength, it will also impact significantly on its western and eastern neighbors.”

Brzezinski added:

“Much depends on how its internal politics evolve and especially on whether Russia becomes a European democracy or a Eurasian empire again. In any case, it clearly remains a player, even though it has lost some of its “pieces,” as well as some key spaces on the Eurasian chessboard.”

The aforementioned comments can shed a lot of light on what Russia and Vladimir Putin are thinking at the moment, given that many people have asked what Vladimir Putin is thinking. Since it has not developed into a European-style “democracy,” Russia is perhaps reclaiming its role as a Eurasian empire through process of elimination. And it seems as though Russia does not want to limit its role in the world as just a European-style “democracy.” As Brzezinski wrote in the 1990’s:

“Within the Russian foreign policy establishment (composed largely of former Soviet officials), there still thrives a deeply ingrained desire for a special Eurasian role, one that would consequently entail the subordination to Moscow of the newly independent post-Soviet states.”

Thus, whereas America and Europe wish to limit Russia to just a European-style “democracy” that is subordinate to them, Russia is seeking a bigger role and is laying claim to a global status. But Russia’s claim to a global status entails a certain level of domination over small Eastern European and Central Asian countries, and that is exactly what we are witnessing with Ukraine at the moment. Eastern European countries seek to avoid Russian domination by joining NATO. Culture and religion are also major factors in precluding Russia from choosing to accede into a limited role in global affairs as just another European-style “democracy” that is subordinate to Washington and Brussels.

But of all the various Eastern European states, Ukraine is most important for Russia’s geopolitical designs. As Brzezinski wrote:

“Even without the Baltic states and Poland, a Russia that retained control over Ukraine could still seek to be the leader of an assertive Eurasian empire, in which Moscow could dominate the non-Slavs in the South and Southeast of the former Soviet Union.”

Hence, after resurrecting itself as an actual state in the international system over the course of the last three decades since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Russia is now resurrecting its global status as a Eurasian empire. Becoming a European-style “democracy” and limiting itself to a subordinate of Washington and Brussels was not what Vladimir Putin and the Russian establishment were aiming for over the course of the last three decades. Thus, Vladimir Putin is seeking to play ball with Washington given that Russia exercises leverage over Brussels through energy supplies, and what remains to be seen is whether Washington will assume an adversarial position vis-à-vis Russia, or whether the accommodation of Russian national interests by virtue of a discussion on NATO expansion will take place between Washington and Moscow. Given that America and Europe will not accommodate Russia as an equal partner because of cultural, racial, and religious reasons, the scope of interaction between Moscow on one hand and Washington and Brussels on the other hand will perhaps be limited to the issue of NATO expansion.

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