Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Heartland

In the geopolitical world nothing happens in isolation. Anybody caught by surprise over the events last week in Georgia really just hadn't been paying attention, or probably just forgot that what has been done can often be undone. The term geopolitics, while coined by Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen, gained attention as a doctrine through the writing of Englishman Sir Halford Mackinder and his Heartland Theory of 1904. Essentially his doctrine divided the world into the World Island, comprising Eurasia and Africa; and the Periphery, including the Americas, the British Isles, and Oceania. The Heartland of the World Island was made up of the Ukraine, Western Russian and Mitteleuropa (Central Europe). His theory held that: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World."

Yesterday's seemingly curiously timed signing of a preliminary agreement between the US and Poland to host part of the missile defence system to be stationed near Russia's border must be part of this heartland strategy of the 21st century. Surprisingly the Russians are pissed off. The Russian talk had been largely ignored, all bluster with no bite. Suddenly, the world has been reminded that the bear still has claws. So when Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, says the deal "cannot go unpunished...Poland, by deploying [the system] is exposing itself to a strike —100 per cent," we all take notice, especially those of us moving back to Poland in the fall, gulp. Funny that after 18 months of negotiations the Poles finally accepted. Guess they got something in return, such as: American soldiers to staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia; the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO (that's like...Superfast, not Georgiafast); a battery of patriot missiles. OK, so Mitteleuropa is pacified, what's next...?

"Do you understand George? The Ukraine is not even a state! What is the Ukraine? Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, we gave them the most important part of their country!"
-Vladimir Putin to George Bush, April 4th, Bucharest
Yep, Vlad made quite an impression at his first and last NATO summit as Russian president. Not only did he manage to convince the right people (read France and Germany) that the Ukraine and Georgia shouldn't be offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP), but he gave a peek to the world of what was to come. The "most important" part of the Ukraine that Putin was referring to was the Crimean peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based and most of the population is Russian. The area was given to the Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954, when the collapse of the USSR was unthinkable, but control then went to the Ukraine in 1991 after the wall fell. Under a 1997 agreement, Ukraine agreed to lease harbor space in the Crimea peninsula base of Sevastopol to the Russians until 2017. Now, with tensions escalating, President Yushchenko's issued a decree on Wednesday requiring the Russian fleet to secure permission for any movements 72 hours in advance. Hmmm, what could happen next?

OK, Rose, Georgia; Orange, Ukraine; Tulip, Kyrgystan; the regime-change strategy under the cover of democratisation which Washington has sought to use to extend its influence in Eurasia with colour/flower coded revolutions is crumbling. Many thought Russia made a huge miscalculation in allowing them to happen, but those crafty Ruskies were just biding their time, knowing that democracy develops differently on different soils. The rest of the 'stans are seemingly lost to the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). At the same time many are losing faith in NATO. “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people,” the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish television. “Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict.” The Heartland could be lost to Russian influence in a heartbeat and many believe it is their goal, to truly reassert their presence as a superpower.

What ever happened to those heady days back in that innocent summer of '01. US hegemony was unquestioned, everyone was listening to Lifehouse (!?) the Twin Towers stood in New York, and Dubya peered at Putin for the first time and said: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul". A tectonic shift has occurred threatening a domino effect. South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be the first to fall. Transdnistria, Crimea and South-Eastern Ukraine the next likely dominoes. Bielorussia, Armenia (along with the Nagorno-Karabakh, sorry Azerbaijan), Kazakhstan and Tajikistan complete the new Russian Federation. Looks like the USSR minus the Baltics, western Moldova and Ukraine along with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Do we have a colour to call this next revolution?


Anonymous said...

True and scary stuff.