Sunday 27 March 2022

A January 2015 interview with George Friedman about Ukraine is very illuminating today

A January 2015 interview with George Friedman sheds light on the war raging now in the Ukraine. 

George Friedman was the founder of Stratfor and then Geopolitical Futures, which forecast the course of global events. The full interview is here.

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: For all of the last 100 years Americans have pursued a very consistent foreign policy. Its main goal: to not allow any state to amass too much power in Europe. First, the United States sought to prevent Germany from dominating Europe, then it sought to prevent the USSR from strengthening its influence.

The essence of this policy is as follows: to maintain as long as possible a balance of power in Europe, helping the weaker party, and if the balance is about to be significantly disrupted -- to intervene at the last moment. And so, in the case of the First World War, the United States intervened only after the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917, to prevent Germany from gaining ground. And during WWII, the US opened a second front only very late (in June 1944), after it became clear that the Russians were prevailing over the Germans.

What is more, the most dangerous potential alliance, from the perspective of the United States, was considered to be an alliance between Russia and Germany. This would be an alliance of German technology and capital with Russian natural and human resources.

KOMMERSANT: Today, who in your opinion is the United States trying to restrain?

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Today the US is seeking to block the emergence of a whole range of potential regional hegemons: Serbia, Iran, Iraq. At the same time, the US authorities take advantage of diversionary attacks. For example, in a battle, when the enemy is on the verge of achieving victory, you hit him in the side get him off balance. US does not seek to "defeat" Serbia, Iran or Iraq, but they need to create chaos there, to prevent them from getting too strong.

KOMMERSANT: And with regard to Russia, what tactics do they use?

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: The fragmentation of Europe is accompanied by a weakening of NATO. European countries, in essence, have no [real] armies of their own. In the North Atlantic Alliance the United States is the only country that is strong in military terms. Against the background of the weakening of Europe, the comparative power of Russia has grown significantly.

Russia's strategic imperative is to have as deep a buffer zone on its western borders as possible. Therefore, Russia has always been particularly concerned about its relationship with Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States and other countries in Eastern Europe. They are of great importance for Russia's national security.

At the beginning of this year there existed in Ukraine a slightly pro-Russian though very shaky government. That situation was fine for Moscow: after all, Russia did not want to completely control Ukraine or occupy it; it was enough that Ukraine not join NATO and the EU. Russian authorities cannot tolerate a situation in which western armed forces are located a hundred or so kilometers from Kursk or Voronezh.

The United States, for its part, were interested in forming a pro-Western government in Ukraine. They saw that Russia is on the rise, and were eager not to let it consolidate its position in the post-Soviet space. The success of the pro-Western forces in Ukraine would allow the U.S. to contain Russia.

Russia calls the events that took place at the beginning of this year a coup d'etat organized by the United States. And it truly was the most blatant coup in history.

KOMMERSANT: You mean the termination of the agreement of February 21, or the entire Maidan?

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: The whole thing. After all, the United States openly supported human rights groups in Ukraine, including financially. Meanwhile, Russia's special services completely missed these trends. They didn't understand what was taking place, but when they did realize what was going on they were unable to take action to stabilize the situation, and then they misjudged the mood in East Ukraine.

KOMMERSANT: In other words, the Ukrainian crisis is the result of the confrontation between Russia and the United States?

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Here you have two countries: one wants a Ukraine that is neutral. The other wants Ukraine to form part of a line of containment against Russian expansion. One cannot say that one party is mistaken: both are acting based on their national interests. It's just that these interests don't jive.

For the Americans, as I have said, it's important to prevent the emergence of a hegemon in Europe. But recently the U.S. has begun to worry about Russia's potential and its intentions. Russia is beginning to move from the defensive position that it has held since 1992 in the direction of the restoration of its influence. It's a matter of the fundamental divergence of the national interests of two great powers.

KOMMERSANT: What actions on the Russian side could have caused the United States to become wary?

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: Russia had begun to take certain steps that the United States considered unacceptable. Primarily in Syria. It was there that Russians demonstrated to the Americans that they are capable of influencing processes in the Middle East. And the US has enough problems in that part of the world already without the Russians.

Russians intervened in the process in the Middle East among other reasons because they had hoped to get leverage to influence US policy in other areas. But they miscalculated. The United States thought that it was Russia's intent to harm them. It is in this context that we should be evaluating the events in Ukraine. The Russians, apparently, simply have not calculated how seriously the US side might perceive their actions or the extent to which they can easily find countermeasures. It was in this situation that the United States took a look at Russia and thought about what it wants to see happen least of all: instability in Ukraine.

KOMMRERSANT: So you think Ukraine is a form of revenge for Syria?

GEORGE FRIEDMAN: No, not revenge. But Russian intervention in the process in Syria, while the United States was still addressing the problems in Iraq, and was in negotiations with Iran ... In Washington, many people have the impression that Russian want to destabilize the already fragile US position in the Middle East - a region that is of key importance for America.

About this question there were two different points of views in Washington: that the Russian were just fooling around, or that they have found a weak point of the US and were trying to take advantage of it. I'm not saying that Russia's intervention in the Syrian conflict was the cause of the Ukrainian crisis, that would be a stretch. But this intervention tipped the balance of opinion in Washington in the direction of the opinion that Russian is a problem. And in that case what does one do? Not confront them in the Middle East. Better to pull their attention away to a problem in some other region.

The Syrian angle is interesting. I never saw any reason why the USA should take an interest in Syria, whose very cruel government has been a Russian ally and satellite since the 1960s. 

The Al Qaeda people whom the Americans and the Financial Times back are just as cruel. I can't see any big reason why American interests are at stake in the Middle East, in fact, once the Cold War ended. 

Nor, if it comes to that, do I see that the Saudis who are invading Yemen are noticeably better than the autocrat who rules Russia.

Probably a new Cold War is beginning. I am not convinced that the old one served much purpose (George Kennan thought this) though containment of the Soviet Bloc did (the policy he advised in his Long Telegram in February 1946.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, though it raises more questions than it answers!