The current Russia-Ukraine crisis in 2022 gives three historical lessons which do not fit in the two opposing (pro-Western vs. pro-Russian) narratives often found in mainstream mass media around the world.
The first lesson is that when a major power (or power bloc) pushes too far for its imperial goals against a rival power (or power bloc), there is the high risk of a violent reaction from the latter in due time.
Historically, the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s resulted in the (temporary) "unipolar moment” for the U. S., with its "end of history” hubris after the end of the Cold War. This resulted in the domino effect to absorb many ex-Soviet allies and republics by the Western alliance, as new members of NATO and/or the EU.
The long list of these countries absorbed by the Western alliance sounds like a fairy tale to the West but a worst nightmare to Russia.
Those countries which now become new members of NATO include:
Those countries which now become new members of the EU include:
But these two lists do not yet include countries waiting to be new members.
These military and economic expansions of the Western alliance had caught Russia (helplessly) by surprise in terms of their speed and reach, as they have since threatened the existential security of Russia in Europe. What was once regarded as wishful thinking is now an alarming reality to Russia, which is that the missiles (and other lethal weapons) deployed in these new NATO countries (bordering Russia) can now reach Russia in a matter of a few minutes.
There is a déjà vu of this geostrategic crisis before, namely, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when the U. S. felt threatened by the Soviet attempt to install ballistic missiles in Cuba (in retaliation to the American deployments of Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey to target the Soviet Union). The crisis was finally resolved, when the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, and the U. S. agreed to withdraw the Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy.
But the Soviet Union was long gone. Today, Russian president Vladimir Putin makes it very clear to the Western alliance that there should be an end of NATO expansion and of its military deployments along the Russian border in Europe. The U. S. and its allies categorically reject Putin's demands ("security guarantees”) and insist that it is their "right” to accept new members (like Ukraine and others) as they see fit and conduct military activities in Eastern Europe as they deem necessary.
The peace negotiation has thus failed. So now there is the violent reaction from the other side, namely, the Russia-Ukraine crisis in 2022.
The second lesson is that power is a double-edged sword in a ruthless geopolitical game for domination (whether regional or global) by opposing sides.
In political philosophy, as an academic endeavor, one can debate, unto the end of time, whether it is "just” or "right” for the Western alliance to expand its military reach all the way to the border with Russia -- or, conversely, whether it is "just” or "right” for Russia to militarily prevent any neighboring country from joining NATO as a threat to its existential security.
But, in geopolitics, as a ruthless game, power speaks loudly but is a double-edged sword, as it often carries the day in the short term but perpetuates the vicious cycle of violence in the long term. For instance, why does the Western alliance exert its farthest military expansion all the way to the backyard of Russia, with the clear understanding that the latter fiercely opposes it? The answer is: "Because it can.” Then, in a counter move, why does Russia under Putin militarily attack Ukraine, with the clear understanding that the latter and its Western supporters vocally disapprove of it? The answer is the same: "Because it can.” But then, in a counter-counter move,…the cycle continues.
So, if one side does not like what the other side does, the outcome will depend on which side has more power to subdue the other side, though in a double-edged way. For instance, the U. S. under Biden has tried different means to stop Russia: economic sanctions, verbal condemnations, emotional appeals, deployments of U. S. troops to NATO countries bordering Russia, shipments of lethal weapons to Ukraine, the American training of Ukrainian troops, the declassification of secret intelligence about Russian military movements, a united diplomatic front with Western allies, etc. All these efforts have hurt Russia but have not succeeded in stopping the vicious cycle of violence.
The same can be said about the mixed results of Russian efforts over the years to stop Western infiltrations into ex-Soviet republics and allies -- like the long list of new NATO members, on one hand, and the equally long list of countries still under Russian influence in the Eurasian continent (to be addressed hereafter), on the other hand.
Thus, power is a double-edged sword, as it often carries the day in the short term but perpetuates the vicious cycle of violence in the long term. Just reflect over all the "endless wars” in which the U. S. has engaged in the 20th century, or what the human world has gone through with ever new violent conflicts over the millennia, until this day and age.
The third lesson is that a weak country dealing with rival powers (or power blocs) is better off with political neutrality by being nice to both, since an explicit alliance with one at the expense of the other (that is, with "a thumbs up” to one side and "a middle finger” to the other side) will result in a more unstable and dangerous existence.
The two "color revolutions” (with Western infiltrations after the collapse of the Soviet Union) in Ukraine and Georgia illustrate this more dangerous existence. The failure of Georgia to become a new member of NATO after the Russo-Georgian War in 2008 is a good lesson for Ukraine in the current Russo-Ukrainian War in 2022. The pro-Western foreign policy after the "Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 (especially under the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili) had worsened relations with Russia, resulting in the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, allowing Russia to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia -- with subsequent Russian military presence in Georgia. Similarly, the pro-Western foreign policy after the "Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004 (especially under the current leadership of Volodymyr Zelenskyy) had worsened relations with Russia, resulting in the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2022, allowing Russia to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine -- with subsequent Russian military presence in Ukraine, as it is so now.
The major blunder committed by Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia then and by Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine now is their one-sided pro-Western foreign policy with an ambition to join NATO and the EU, without a reasonable sensibility towards the existential needs of Russia as the rival power (or power bloc) in the ruthless geopolitical competition between the U. S.-led alliance and the Russia-led one in the region. The point here is not how to condone imperial domination but how to win (not to lose) in a geopolitical struggle for survival in a tough neighborhood.
These two crises, namely, the Russia-Georgia crisis in 2008 and the current Russia-Ukraine crisis in 2022, could have been avoided, if a more sensible neutral foreign policy were taken by Saakashvili in Georgia then and by Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine now, without favoring either power bloc (Western or Russian), while maximizing the benefits of being in good relations with both of them. This is the same "neutral” strategy that some weak European states (like Switzerland, Malta, Liechtenstein, Sweden, and Finland) had adopted (and still do), so as to play with rival power blocs without being either attacked by one side (which is rejected) or dominated by the other side (which absorbs them).
Weak countries therefore face two existential dangers if they naively choose a non-neutral, one-sided foreign policy when dealing with rival powers (or power blocs), as they risk being attacked by the major power which they reject, on one side, or being dominated by the other major power which they join, on the other side. Weak countries, if naively behaving in a tough neighborhood like this, risk living a more unstable and dangerous life, much to their regret later in a historical (cool-headed) retrospect.
So what is the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis in 2022 on the geopolitical game between the Western alliance and the Russian one in the region and in the rest of the world? Two impacts are within sight.
First, Ukraine will not be part of NATO anytime soon due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis in 2022, just as Georgia has not been a member of NATO due to the Russia-Georgia crisis in 2008 -- not yet to mention the loss of some territories in both cases. Strategically, this means that the Western alliance can keep its influence in ex-Soviet Republics (like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and ex-Soviet allies in Eastern Europe which are now part of NATO (like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia) — but it has reached its own limits in pushing its influence all the way to the backyard of Russia, which includes not only Ukraine but also Georgia and Moldova -- as well as the even more difficult ones (like Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). The Western alliance will also face more resistance in the Central Asian backyard of Russia (like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), as the recent crackdown on the unrest in Kazakhstan (with Western infiltration) in January 2022 clearly showed. And, of course, there is little or no chance for other friends of Russia in the Eurasian continent (like China, North Korea, India, Iran, Syria, etc.) to become anti-Russian for the Western alliance.
Second, counter-measures by the Western alliance will hurt not only Russia but also itself. For instance, economic sanctions against Russia (like its Nord Stream gas pipelines) not only will cause energy shortages in Europe (and elsewhere) and intensify the inflationary pressure of higher energy prices in the West -- but also will push Russia further into a closer alliance (orbit) with China for survival, which in turn reshapes the global balance of power more unfavorable to the U. S. and its allies.
U.S. president Joseph Biden is obsessed with his "politically correctness” on a "united” front with allies against Russia (and China, for that matter) in a one-sided narrative about world affairs, but this "united” strategy, when pursued by both sides, may well lead the world closer to hell by being blind to "groupthink” and thus to the three historical lessons from the Russia-Ukraine crisis, in an extreme form of geopolitical isolationism (like "decoupling” as the new slogan in our time). The more "united” each side (a power bloc) is, the more blind it is to "groupthink” without learning substantially anything from the sober lessons of history, in a classic "We the Good Guys” vs. "You the Bad Guys” Manichaean divide, which can surely make either side "feel good” (for a macho moment) but can also bring the world closer to hell later.
But the good news is that humanity has not been historically monolithic, as it is diverse enough to have some dissenting voices who question this new trend of geopolitical isolationism on the world stage, so as to go beyond the temptation to think or believe in a "good vs. evil” (or "good vs. bad”) Manichaean closing of the human mind in this interesting time.
Thus speak war and peace in human history.
About the author:
Dr. Peter Baofu is an American visionary and author of 175 scholarly books and numerous articles (as of February 2022) to provide 141 visions (theories) of the human future in relation to the mind, nature, society, and culture -- and had been (or lived) in more than 117 countries
Up to 16,000 military men of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been entrapped near the towns of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk