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1 February, 2012  ▪  Zhanna Bezpiatchuk

The Ghost of the Past

Mr. Putin is motivated by historical nostalgia which is out of touch with reality

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski is definitely the most well-known geostrategist of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Serving in key positions in US foreign policy, the Polish-born Dr. Brzezinski paid significant attention to Eastern Europe. During the Cold War, Dr. Brzezinski was among those who laid the foundation of its possible comeback to Western democracy. For many, his phrase about Russia as a Eurasian empire with Ukraine and an Asian empire without it outlined the essence of the geopolitical reality in which Ukrainians still find themselves trapped. The Ukrainian Week had a chance to ask Dr. Brzezinski a few questions. Among other things, his answers include projections for Ukraine’s geopolitical future.

U.W.: Putin has declared his intention to create the Eurasian Union. The Common Economic Space of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will come into effect in 2012. How do you assess the prospects of this Union on the grand Eurasian chessboard?

Unfortunately, Mr Putin is motivated by historical nostalgia which is out of touch with reality. The fact of the matter is that neither the Kazakhs, nor the Ukrainians, nor the Belarusians want to be part of an even somewhat camouflaged empire again. As a result, any effort to make it into new Russian empire will produce resistance. And such resistance will further damage Russia's ability to become a modern, successful democratic and eventually even European state.

U.W.: What role will Ukraine play in this process?

Ukrainehas to be aware of the fact that its interests could be badly jeopardized if it were to again become a province of Russia. I would like to think that President Yanukovych does not wish to be a governor in Kyiv in an essentially Russian-dominated province.

U.W.: What are Ukraine's prospects in the geopolitical game between the EU and Russia?

I think that Ukrainians have to exercise their best choice. It seems to me that Ukrainian independence and Ukrainian prosperity are more likely to be assured within the framework of a larger cooperative Europe that eventually includes not only Ukraine but also Russia, and not in a territorial empire essentially restored by the Kremlin in which one nation dominates over the others. However, let me add here that if Ukraine is to make a choice for Europe, it has to face the fact that Europe is self-defined as a democratic entity. And a democratic entity does not put democratically-elected, former leaders in prison.

U.W.: How would you assess the development of the Ukrainian political elite over 20 years of independence?

I think the top political leadership of Ukraine over the last 20 years has deteriorated in quality. But at the same time I also note that a whole new generation of younger political leaders is emerging on the Ukrainian scene. Therefore, I'm optimistic that in the longer run the desire for independence and democracy that are both important will become the dominant political reality in Ukraine. I'm worried about the short-term prospects for Ukraine. I'm more confident about longer-term prospects.

U.W.: How many years do you mean by “short term” prospects for Ukraine? Is it five, ten or fifteen years?

Well, precisely in that time range anyway from five to fifteen years. This will depend not only on changes within Ukraine but also on the pace of Russia's democratization because Russia is now entering a new phase. It is, in my judgment, the third phase of its post-communist transition. The first phase was to contain the disintegration, to stop it. The second phase was to restore centralized power, and Putin played the pre-eminent role in that. The third phase, which is now beginning, is the emergence for the first time in Russia of an authentic middle class-based, young internationalist civic society — that is a new phenomenon in Russia. And I think it is going to now gain in strength. But no one can predict precisely how long it will take before it becomes politically dominant.

U.W.: Do you think the recent political protests in Russia look promising? 

They look promising. They hold out the prospect not only of Ukraine but of Russia at some point being part of a larger West in which the principles of independence and democracy are universally respected.


Zbigniew Brzezinski is an American geostrategist, political analyst and statesman

1966-1968 – member of the Policy Planning Council, US Department of State

1968 – Chairman of the Hubert Humprey Foreign Policy Task Force

1973-1976 – Director of Trilateral Commission with USA, Europe and Japan

1977-1981 – National Security Advisor for President Carter

1981 – President Carter presents Dr. Brzezinski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the improvement of US-China relations and US national security policy

1987-1988 – member of  the US National Security Council - Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy

1988 – co-chairman of the Bush National Security Advisory Task Force.

Also, Dr. Brzezinski chaired the US-Ukrainian Consultative Committee


Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century, 1993

The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, 1997

The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership, 2004

Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. 2007

Americaand the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy, 2008

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