Is Russia’s war against Ukraine really about NATO?

Commentary

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist
Video Library |

What’s really the cause of the war in Ukraine? Some contend Russia invaded Ukraine to push back against NATO expansion. But geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan believes Russia is much more focused on its own security.

It’s not a ridiculous argument. The Russians definitely feel that they’re under pressure. But you have to look at what it is that the Russians ultimately were after, and why they feel insecure.

The Russian territory is a lot of flat, open, and it’s marginal at best, very cold, very dry in most places. 

And if you move out of those cold, dry zones, you get into either colder or warmer, drier zones that are even less hospitable. But these zones are not good buffers, there is no real mountains to hunker behind or swamps, or even forests. 

So what Russian strategy has been since the time of Catherine The Great is to expand past the zones that are habitable… past the zones that are really not habitable, but still passable, and go until you reach zones that are impassable. The Carpathian Mountains, for example, the Baltic Sea.

And the idea is that the Russians can then concentrate their forces in the access points between those barriers –  the Polish gap, the Caucasus, of the Caucasus coastal approaches, and by concentrating forces there, they can plug the gaps and then no one will come from them.

That’s the idea. And that’s how the Russians see the world. Which means there was never really much of a middle ground here.

Because for the Russians to feel secure, they have to control those gaps. 

Well, those gaps are occupied by people who are not Russian, as are a substantial number of territories around them, and between the Russians and the gaps. 

So for the Russians to feel secure, from the way they define security, you would have to step away from the defense of and surrender to history into the Russians, a number of countries – Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, and let’s not forget the stans, all five of them. And the caucuses, so add in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.  

So for the Russians to feel safe, they need to occupy all these countries, suppress the interests of all of these countries, deny them access to participate in any sort of political or economic exchange with areas outside of the Russian zone…and then have a forward positioned military with five million men complete with nuclear weapons. That is the Russian definition of security. 

Hey, everyone, I wanted to take a break from all the back and forth that’s been going on with the Ukraine war, and instead address an issue that kind of dates back to the beginning of the war and the causation. 

There are some people out there who believe that because the United States encouraged the growth of NATO from the old Cold War lines that show West Germany eastern border expanding to Bulgaria, Romania, Czech, Hungary, Poland and East Germany ended at the German eastern border, the West Germany eastern border, to eventually include a number of former Soviet satellites and former Soviet republics, that it is somehow the West’s fault, or the United States’s fault or NATO’s fault that Russia is now in a situation where it’s pushing back. 

It’s not a ridiculous argument. The Russians definitely feel that they’re under pressure.

But you have to look at what it is that the Russians ultimately were after, and why they feel insecure. 

The Russian territory is a lot of flat, open, and it’s marginal at best, very cold, very dry in most places. 

And if you move out of those cold, dry zones, you get into either colder or warmer, drier zones that are even less hospitable. But these zones are not good buffers, there is no real mountains to hunker behind or swamps, or even forests. 

So what Russian strategy has been since the time of Catherine The Great is to expand past the zones that are habitable… past the zones that are really not habitable, but still passable, and go until you reach zones that are impassable.  The Carpathian Mountains, for example, the Baltic Sea. 

And the idea is that the Russians can then concentrate their forces in the access points between those barriers –  the Polish gap, the Caucasus, of the Caucasus coastal approaches,  and by concentrating forces there, they can plug the gaps and then no one will come from. 

That’s the idea. And that’s how the Russians see the world. Which means there was never really much of a middle ground here.

Because for the Russians to feel secure, they have to control those gaps. 

Well, those gaps are occupied by people who are not Russian, as are a substantial number of territories around them, and between the Russians and the gaps. 

So for the Russians to feel secure, from the way they define security, you would have to step away from the defense of and surrender to history into the Russians, a number of countries – Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, and let’s not forget the stans, all five of them. And the caucuses, so add in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. 

So for the Russians to feel safe, they need to occupy all these countries, suppress the interests of all of these countries, deny them access to participate in any sort of political or economic exchange with areas outside of the Russian zone. And then have afford what position military with 5 million men complete with nuclear weapons. That is the Russian definition of security. 

So people who say that it’s NATO’s fault that expanded into these willing countries where they had votes and plebiscites and ratifications and they were enthusiastic about joining NATO –  to say it’s NATO’s fault that there’s a war now – It’s not that they’re wrong – It’s that they’re stupid, because that was never an option. 

All right. That’s it for me. Until next time,

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