Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, remains one of America’s top strategic thinkers going back to the days of the Cold War. He spoke with WorldPost editor Nathan Gardels on Monday evening about the NATO Summit in Wales.
WorldPost: In light of the Ukraine crisis, NATO allies at the summit in Wales will announce a new rapid deployment force of 4,000 troops to respond to any threat to one of its members on the Russian periphery. Along with sanctions, it that enough to deter Putin?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: That depends on how the situation itself in Ukraine gets resolved. If deployment of potential forces in the Baltic states enhances their security in the immediate term, their security will still be in question over the next months if the Ukrainian issue is resolved in a fashion that makes Putin the victor and the democratic forces in Ukraine the losers and victims.
That, in turn, will raise the issue of how safe all the other countries around Russia’s rim will be in the longer term, particularly the Baltic states.
WorldPost: How do you define “resolved in a fashion that makes Putin the victor?"
Brzezinski: What Putin is striving to do is create so much hardship and so much disorder in Ukraine that, eventually, the Ukrainian government will collapse and some thuggish elements backed by Putin can assume power and abandon the effort to take Ukraine into the democratic West. Those in power would then join Putin on the march to create a Eurasian Union. That Eurasian Union is nothing but a new name for the former Soviet Union, or for the former Czarist Empire.
WorldPost: How would you define a democratic outcome of the Ukraine crisis?
Brzezinski: Eventually, some sort of accommodation in which Ukraine moves toward a deeper involvement with Europe -- but does not seek to join NATO -- while still keeping an economic relationship with Russia. That would benefit both Ukraine and Russia as normal trade and commerce can be restored.
WorldPost: Should NATO provide arms directly to Ukraine?
Brzezinski: If it does not, it signals to Putin that he can militarily escalate as he wishes in order to destabilize Ukraine altogether.
WorldPost: Do you assign any validity to the present view of liberal reformers of the Gorbachev era -– including Gorbachev himself –- who feel “betrayed,” as Gorbachev told me, by NATO expansion to Russia’s border? This was not the “new thinking” he agreed to with the West at the end of the Cold War, he said, but a return to “sphere of influence thinking.”
That is why Gorbachev and others like him support Putin’s pushback in Ukraine.
Brzezinski: It is quite conceivable that they sincerely think this is a correct version of what was discussed at the end of the Cold War, and thus a legitimate case for them to make.
But you have to ask yourself, “What was the desire of the people who, after more than 40 years of Soviet oppression, became free?” They didn’t want to be pawns between a residual West that ended somewhere on the borders of the old West Germany and a resurgent Russia. They wanted to be part of the democratic West and, eventually, of the European Union.
Those are perfectly legitimate aspirations. This is no threat to Russia –- except to those Russians who cannot conceive of Russia as anything else but a dominant empire that rules not only over the Russian people but over those adjoining Russian territory.
WorldPost: As justified as sanctions or even military action by NATO against Russian forces might be, isn’t the effect to drive Russia and China together into an anti-Western bloc?
Wouldn’t it be wise for the U.S. to “re-open to China,” so to speak -- as Nixon did in Soviet times -- in order to drive a wedge into this bloc before it consolidates?
Brzezinski: First of all, we are not in a position to manipulate Chinese policy. However, I do not support the argument that what is happening is creating a more solid Chinese-Russian relationship.
I think the Chinese are watching very carefully what is happening. They did not support Russia in the United Nations when there was a crucial vote on Russian misconduct. They are, at the same time, quietly increasing their influence over Central Asia and do not support the incorporation of countries like Kazakhstan into a new union with Russia.
The Chinese are playing a clever game and benefiting from Russia’s crisis with the West. They struck a fantastic deal with the Russians on energy because the Russians had no choice but to submit to their terms.
WorldPost: So any Russians who believe that China will somehow ally with them against the West are deluded?
Brzezinski: Yes, they are whistling in the dark. Russia is so weakening itself that one consequence will be that it will become a satellite of the Chinese! And that will benefit the West.
The Chinese leadership is rational and calculating. The Russian leadership under Putin is irrational, emotional, erratic and dangerous.