The new geopolitical configuration resulting from the conflict in Ukraine

The new geopolitical configuration resulting from the conflict in Ukraine

16 janvier 2024 0 Par Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann

Diagnosis-Perspectives and Solutions

In order to assess the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine, a prior clinical geopolitical diagnosis is essential before proposing solutions. What are the competing geopolitical objectives between the great powers that are overarching this major crisis?  

         The conflict between Russia and Ukraine goes beyond territorial conflict in Europe and must be understood on a global scale. It constitutes an important step in the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and Russia for the European geopolitical order, but also indirectly with China for the global power hierarchy. This conflict is the catalyst for the mutation of the world geopolitical configuration, i.e. the change of the spatial order, because any international system is above all a spatial order. [3]. The new distribution of geopolitical spaces at the end of the conflict will determine the new hierarchy of powers. We can consider that the United States and its NATO allies are now waging a proxy war against Russia by providing military support to Ukraine, but the geopolitical conflict between the United States and its instrument, NATO, against Russia dates back to at least the disappearance of the USSR

         In the short term, and on a European scale, this conflict is the consequence of the regime change in Kiev in 2014, initiated by the United States as part of its attempt to reorient Ukraine towards the Euro-Atlantic space in order to definitively weaken Russia and prolong the hegemony of the United States over the European member states of NATO and the European Union.

         In the longer term, inspired by the the doctrines of Halford John Mackinder and Nicholas J. Spykman [8]., Georges Kennan, [11], and after the Cold Bar by Paul Wolfowitz [16 ]. Zbigniew Zbrezinsky [17] and Wess Michell [12]., the United States has sought to push Russia back into its continental lands since the break-up of the USSR in 1991 and to set up a belt of states in a coastal strip surrounding the Eurasian continent (the « Rimland » according to Spykman). In this way, the US seeks to stifle Russia’s living space in order to impose its own unrestricted expansion through NATO enlargement (Map 1 Geopolitical strategy of the United States against Russia in the increasing multipolar context).

                   The project of a NATO without limits (principle of the « open door » and « choice of alliances ») was the project of the United States, to the detriment of the principle of « indivisible security » in Europe and aiming at the fragmentation of the Russian and European world. According to this  vision, NATO had the desire to remain the unique pillar of the European security architecture according to the exclusive Euro-Atlanticist vision and in synergy with the supremacy of the United States in Europe and its vision of the unipolar world on the global scale. (Map 2 Ukraine conflict : a consequence of  NATO enlargement ).

         This strategy naturally ended up provoking a geopolitical backlash from Russia. At the heart of this crisis is the geographically induced geopolitical asymmetry between Russia and the United States. It is clear that the United States would not accept the installation of Russian military bases on its borders and an expansion of the CSTO into Canada or Mexico. The doctrine of the near abroad put forward by Russia should be seen in the light of the Monroe Doctrine defended by the United States in the 19th century, in order to preserve a space of security and geopolitical breathing space [6].  

         Russia has  reacted by means of a special military operation in Ukraine in order to contain the continuous enlargement of NATO and to prevent the creeping NATOisation of Ukraine, therefore becoming a threat on Russia’s borders, and considered as a casus belli [15]. The geostrategic objective is also to secure the Sea of Azov and to achieve a territorial continuity formed by the regions reunited with Russia in order to secure the Crimea. Finally, it is also a question of protecting the Russian speaking citizens who chose to reunify with Russia during the September 2022 referendum (Map 3 – Conflict in Ukraine : Russia’s strategy to contain NATO’s  encirclement an securing access to the Black Sea).

         If we look at the unfolding of the crises according to their longest duration, Russia, through successive military operations (Georgia 2008, Syria 2015, Ukraine 2014, 2022) or peace enforcement operations (Nagorno-Karabakh 2021), has sought to loosen the stranglehold of NATO’s encirclement in the Rimland, which was expanding on it, with the successive enlargements of NATO since the end of the Cold War. Beyond these geostrategic considerations, Russia’s strategic vision is overhung by its geopolitical positioning in the world. As early as 2007, at the Munich conference [13], Vladimir Putin announced that the unipolar American order would henceforth be challenged by Russia in favour of a new multipolar world.

         This further geopolitical shift is not without its difficulties, as the United States and its NATO allies seek to turn Ukraine into a new Afghanistan for Russia [5].   The harshness of the fighting between the Ukrainian and Russian armies is above all the result of the military aid provided by all NATO countries, led by the United States, to Ukraine since 2014. The US is making the following calculation: by setting the Europe of NATO and the EU against Russia, it delegates this European front (European Rimland) to NATO while maintaining its leadership role, and can focus more energy on the front in Asia (Indo-Pacific Rimland) against China [4].    

A conflict to subjugate the Europeans

         This manoeuvre by the United States and its close European allies also aims to torpedo a rapprochement between the European Union’s heavyweights, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, and to give NATO a new role. Indeed, according to the strategic vision of the United States, Russia must remain the designated enemy of the Euro-Atlantic system. It should also be remembered that Russia cannot become an ally of the Atlanticist West against China, because if Russia were no longer considered as the adversary, the European Rimland strategy would be inoperative and NATO would no longer be able to play its role as an instrument of control of the Europeans to the advantage of the United States. In this configuration, the United States would no longer exercise its supremacy in Europe, and a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, the heart of Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific, would be likely to endanger the Washington-London-Warsaw-Brussels (NATO/EU) axis. Nor is there any question of Russia, the pivot of the Greater Eurasia strategy [7]., and a pillar of the multipolar mode, becoming subservient to the Euro-Atlantic system (NATO/EU) or opening a front against China.  

         However, the increasing geopolitical fragmentation of Europe is not in the interest of Europeans, as all the states of the Eurasian continent are part of the old world with very ancient roots and ties. Russia cannot be separated from the rest of Europe, not only from the point of view of geography, but also from the point of view of civilisation and culture. Russia has always been part of the concert of European nations in the past and will be in the future.

         The United States and its close allies seek to fragment this geographical and historical reality in order to pursue their hegemonic dream and preserve the associated advantages of power and prosperity. This is why the United States does not want a European security architecture, as proposed by France, and a balanced international system, but seeks to maintain itself as the centre and exclusive reference of the European and international system. There is no possible alliance on an equal footing with the United States, only an increasing alignment. France has experienced this with the AUKUS Alliance in the Indo-Pacific [14].

         What are the outcomes of the crisis?

         First of all, it should be noted that Russia will not leave the territories that have reunited with Russia after the referendums in September 2022. The outcome of the conflict is therefore at least a territorial partition of Ukraine. The alternative is a total war between Ukraine and Russia with explicit cobelligerence of NATO states (this cobelligerence is today implicit because it is not declared by both sides but it exists de facto already) [1].

         Sanctions against Russia are only followed by NATO and EU member states, while Eurasian, African and South American states refuse to align themselves. We are therefore witnessing the emergence of an alternative globalisation to the US-dominated West, which confirms the acceleration of the emergence of the multipolar world with the crisis in Ukraine. Only the EU is reinforcing its vassalization to the US (map 4 – the emergence of alternative globalisation). The strengthening of the SCO also confirms this and demonstrates that this organisation is not anti-NATO but rather competes with the UN, which is blocked [2]. Russia is likely to continue its pivot towards greater Eurasia and to move further away from Western globalisation, which will never give it a place as a sovereign geopolitical pole. In the new fluid and multicentric world space-time, this process will be going on along  with the informal emergence of the Global South and the Silk road Chinese project of the Silk Roads, in geopolitical competition with the project of the Greater West under American domination. The challenge is to prevent these rival projects from leading to uncontrolled conflicts, through the doctrine of balance of power, as the world is in perpetual geopolitical flux.

         The scenario of simply freezing the conflict in Ukraine, or maintaining it as a long-term, low-intensity conflict, is preferable to unrestricted escalation, but would not be more useful for the stabilisation of the European and Eurasian continent.

         A new Cold War is not in the interests of either France or Germany. The co-belligerence of the European states only reinforces the military escalation, as Moscow will not give up the objectives of its special military operation, and the ineffective sanctions destroy the European economy. 

         The main mistake of the French and German governments was therefore not to establish an independent geopolitical posture towards the United States and, worse, to act only within the framework of the US priorities. Alongside with Kiev, Paris and Berlin only used Minsk agreements to gain time and strenghen Ukrainian army and did not implemented it [9,10]. Without an independent posture from the European capitals, Moscow will favour negotiations with Washington for a way out of the crisis in Ukraine, but also to establish the explicit or implicit rules of the new geopolitical configuration. It should be remembered that Moscow approached Washington in December 2021 as a priority and not France and Germany or the EU to negotiate a new European security architecture.    

         A new security architecture

         It is therefore likely that the way out of the crisis in Ukraine will be primarily the result of negotiations between the United States and Russia. However, it would be better for European states to negotiate their own geopolitical priorities independently, in order to influence the process of ending the crisis and not to remain a periphery of the US-dominated Euro-Atlantic area. A small group of states to carry France’s impulse, with at least France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, could carry this ambition because the European Union is aligned with NATO’s priorities. By refusing the multipolar world, the European Union is de facto following the United States’ project to make enemies of Russia and China, and to remain a subaltern subset of the Euro-Atlantic area, thus a geopolitical periphery but destabilised. However, even with a freeze on military confrontations, geopolitical rivalry will continue in the form of economic and civilisational war.   

 (Map : Sanctions against Russia  after its military operation in Ukraine- rise of Eurasian globalization)

         In order to promote a more sustainable stabilisation over the long term, the major challenge for the post-conflict period is to negotiate a new spatial order, as a basis for a new European security architecture.

(Map 5 : Franco-Russian and Pan-European reset in the context of the  geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China )

 This means a clear delimitation of reciprocal red lines, the neutralisation of buffer states, negotiating the geographical limits of alliances, avoiding the installation of offensive military infrastructures on border territories. In concrete terms, this means a definitive halt to NATO enlargement and the recognition of new borders.

            The scenario of a military escalation with a long-lasting conflict, with the United States and its close allies still not accepting the consequences of a multipolar world, is the worst scenario for Western Europe. The European Union will continue its vassalization, but also its geopolitical fragmentation as disagreements will grow based on rival national interests between NATO member states and the EU.

         Since what is at stake is the spatial order and the hierarchy of power, the risk of global conflict is particularly high, since in history every change in the spatial order has often been achieved violently, through war. At some point, however, it is possible to hope for a freeze in the fighting, which is necessarily a precarious situation, thanks to a diplomatic initiative. This is why a proposal by a group of states to promote diplomacy would be all the more useless, even while the fighting is going on, as it would be an attempt to avoid the worst-case scenario and prepare for the post-conflict period. 

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

Map 4

Map 5


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