On Containment, Unipolarity and Multipolarity

There’s a lot of talk about reviving containment measures against Russia. There’s only one slight problem with that: Russia isn’t expanding outside of Russia’s sphere of influence. Containment works in a bipolar World, where you have the US, the USSR, and the “please don’t touch us” non-aligned movement countries. That is not the case today, when we live in a multipolar World.

The problem in the Anglosphere is that it is too used to either a bipolar or a unipolar World. The US has two major parties, so if Democrats hurt Republicans, or Republicans hurt Democrats, the other party gains. That is not the case outside of the US. If the US hurts Russia in Syria, China might take over. If China is hurt, Russia goes back at it. And so on. The tactics used in a bipolar or a unipolar World do not work when multipolarity is the name of the game.

With that said, let me explain why the alleged policy of isolating Russia will fail. The World, especially the BRICS countries, do not see this as a confrontation between US and Russia, but rather one of a unipolar World against a multipolar World. This simple concept is something that American strategists missed, because such a concept does not exist in the US.

For most of its existence, the US lived in isolation from the other Great Powers of that time period, and as such, concepts such as “Manifest Destiny” and “Monroe Doctrine” made sense. When your opposition includes the Native Americans who get sick way too often, peaceful Canadians who don’t care about what happens outside of their borders, and armies to the South that were easily defeated, you can get away with Manifest Destiny. Between 1789 and 1914, there was not much standing in the way of the growth of the United States. The biggest conflict, after the American Revolution and prior to WWI, was the American Civil War, where more Americans died than in all other wars, between 1790 and 1914, combined.

Additionally, the US developed a two party system, which again, was only disrupted by the Civil War. In 1914 the US discovered the existence of other countries with powerful armies. After WWI and the Russian Revolution, the US went into a period of isolation, with the exception of the Latin American Wars. When the US returned to the World Stage in 1941, the World had a bipolar structure, with US on one side, and USSR on the other. When the USSR fell apart in 1991, it was once again a unipolar World with the US at the helm.

The problem with that experience is that it is very one sided. The US has practically no multipolar World experience on the resume. This is clearly not the case for any other country that’s playing for power and politics in today’s World. While Russia has the same bipolar experience between 1941 and 1991 as the US, Russia also has a wealth of multipolar experience. Between 1815 and 1914, Europe was ruled by five countries, and was very multipolar. Heck, for most of Russia’s existence, with the exception of the Mongol Period and the Napoleonic Wars, Russia lived in a multipolar World.

The same is true for other BRICS powers. The same is true for the EU and for most countries not located in North America or Oceania. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the BRICS line up in Obama’s alleged attempt to isolate Russia.

China is a member of the SCO, is integrated with Russia through Central Asia, views Russia as a partner, and simply will not push for isolation of Russia. Hypothetically, let’s say that Russia becomes numero uno, but even if that’s the case, the World’s still multipolar. That doesn’t hurt China, since China doesn’t care about what happens to Ukraine, Moldova or the Caucasian States. China isn’t going to be hurt one way or another by the ongoing events in former Yugoslavia. China couldn’t care less if Kosovo is Serbia or Albania. With Russia at the multipolar helm, Central Asia is staying put. And since the helm is multipolar, the duo could switch sides with ease. Geopolitically, China’s and Russia’s multipolar interests align. Additionally, Russia cannot exert soft power against China, so China’s rooting for Russia in this conflict. China’s not going to isolate Russia only to risk further US encroachments against Chinese interests.

India and Russia are allied all but in name. The geopolitical interests align perfectly. Like China, India would benefit more from a multipolar World, than a unipolar World. What can the US offer to India to match all of that?

Like China and India, Brazil’s not going to care much about what’s happening in Eastern Europe. They’re going to decide whether a unipolar World or a multipolar World will be more beneficial to Latin America. How do you think Brazil will decide? My guess – they are going to want multipolarity. Remember, this isn’t US vs Russia; this is unipolarity vs multipolarity. Brazil isn’t going to commit to isolating Russia, only to place Latin America at risk of potential US encroachment. The more resources the US spends fighting Russia in Eastern Europe, the less resources the US can spend on Latin America, enabling Brazil to better challenge the US in that area, if Brazil wishes to do that.

Nor will South Africa. The country wants investments from all of the Great Powers, as well as the ability to play them off against one another, and thus to be less dependent on them. Since it’s unipolarity vs multipolarity, it’s not hard to see which way South Africa’s going to go.

This pattern will be repeated in many countries. Even places like Israel. To quote Avigdor Lieberman: “We have good and trusting relations with the Americans and the Russians, and our experience has been very positive with both sides. So I don’t understand the idea that Israel has to get mired in this…” That’s from Israel, a US ally. However, unlike the US, Israel’s been playing the multipolar game since the collapse of the USSR. Israel has to do it to survive.

And therein lays the difference between unipolarity vs multipolarity. In a multipolar World, few care about Ukraine. In a unipolar World, any actions against US/EU interests must be stopped, to prevent other countries from getting ideas. But why would BRICS hurt themselves to stop themselves in the future? Why would Israel? Why would any other country?

And that’s why Russia is not going to be contained or isolated. It’s just that simple.

A more prudent course of action would be to shift to the multipolar World with skill and grace, while keeping the influence for later use, not squander it on Ukraine. The country is a disaster, consisting of four or five parts, on the verge of bankruptcy, with incompetent leadership, and economic integration with Russia. It is hard to pick a worse place to challenge Russia, perhaps the Caucasus Region. Oh wait… something about August 2008 comes to mind.

Ukraine was and is extremely heterogeneous. It consisted of five distinct areas. One is the East and South, where most of industry is, which never spoke Ukrainian and never will. I was born in the West, in Lvov, and my parents moved to the East (Lugansk, close to my mother’s birthplace) when I was about six. The Ukrainian teacher in school loved me because I was the only kid in class who could speak proper Ukrainian. Western Ukraine speaks several dialects of Ukrainian. Historically, they fought in WWI and WWII on the side of Germany, against Russia. Hence their loyalties. There is central Ukraine, which speaks what is considered literary Ukrainian and is in between in every way. There is also the part to the West of Carpathian Mountains, where people have their own dialect, which is closer to Russian than Ukrainian, and where many speak Hungarian and Romanian. They hate Western Ukrainians as much as Easterners do, due to their history in WWII. There was Crimea, which was not Ukraine at all, where ~80% of people speak Russian.”

That’s an excerpt from a comment by BorninUkraine. First, note the divided loyalties. This is simply not the case with Belarus or Kazakhstan, so that would not apply to those countries, and they know it. Second, Ukraine’s basically a humpty dumpty cobbled together by Soviet Leaders for some weird reason that never materialized. It has five, well with Crimea gone, four, parts. The US/EU are trying to lead Ukraine through Western Ukraine. That is not going to work out in the long term. Thus far Putin has been parrying any attempts within Ukraine, slowly placing the country at Russia’s mercy. The leadership in Kiev failed to stop Putin’s counterstrokes at every turn. They even failed to stop attacking, enabling Putin to devastate what little power they have left with his counterstrokes. At this point, Putin can simply take Eastern Ukraine if he wants.

The solution is to simply fact the facts, and shift to a multipolar World. First, promote debates about a referendum amongst the Ukrainian people, and put it on the ballot, prior to the presidential elections. You need the system before you vote for the candidates. Second, provide a clear demarcation line between EU and Russia. Third, integrate EU with Russia through visa and similar programs, to prevent any further conflicts over the demarcated border. Fourth, push for a Cultural Union to bring the EU and Russia closer together. This is the only way to prevent further hostilities from flaring up in Europe and to complete a pivot to Asia, which is where the action will take place.

What would such a demarcated line look like? The Caucasian Region will be Russia’s that much is clear. Belarus will be on Russia’s side as well; however, the idiotic isolation of Belarus, such as not allowing them to join the Council of Europe, must end. Ukraine will also be in Russia’s sphere, with Crimea as part of Russia. However, Moldova will be allowed to join the EU, if they let Pridnestrovie hold a referendum on independence. The Baltics will remain with the EU. This would present a clear border between the European Union, and the Eurasian Union, and thus end the conflict in Europe. Further economic integration will follow. Interestingly enough, this will be exactly what Solzhenitsyn suggested, with a more interesting Caucasian Alternative.

The other option is to keep on struggling, but for how long? Until the Ukrainian economy collapses? Until the Great Depression hits Ukraine, and splits up the country by harsh economic means? The EU/US overreached, Russia reacted aggressively, so let’s end the conflict before it all goes to hell. Because right now, the situation is not improving. It’s deteriorating, rapidly for the EU/US, and slightly slower for Russia. Otherwise we’ll end up with up to four different Ukraines, and Crimea as a de facto part of Russia, but claimed by all four Ukrainian governments on a de jure basis.



  1. Brilliant post on an extremely timely subject which is poorly understood by western countries; hence their bafflement at its lack of success. This should be required reading for western diplomats – reasoned, dispassionate and well-substantiated.

    Another reason isolation of Russia is failing, which you have touched upon but not elaborated, is that when the USA doers not see signs of cooperation it simply invents them. Hence we see dispatches or reports in which this or that diplomats cites Chinese “concern” as evidence that the Chinese support American efforts to cut Russia off from the rest of the world.

    Very, very well done.

    1. Thank you Mark! I won’t mind if you reblog it whenever you want, or any of my posts for that matter 😛

      To quickly address China’s stance, since you’re right, I didn’t go into that, and the US misinterpreted it completely. China initially voiced concern, because they did not want to recognize Crimea’s Annexation, or to get into the fray. When the SCO voted to abstain from the conflict, a vote on which Russia abstained and one that I’ll abstain from commenting on, China was quick to push for support for Russia in the Crimean Crisis, but not related to Crimea, meaning that China will work their butts off to parry any attempt to isolate Russia, without recognizing Crimea on their own.

      This is an ideal position for China, since it lets them play like a Great Power, without taking any risks, since India is also coming out in support of Russia. I should note that supporting SCO is not, by any means, pro-American, since SCO denied America membership in the organization, on the grounds that it is not an Asian country, unlike other Asian countries, like Belarus: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/jun/16/shanghaisurprise

      Belarus was given Observer Status due to the lobbying efforts of Kazakhstan, a country that placed all of their effort behind Belarus getting OS, with other countries going “oh screw it, we’re not going to fight Kazakhstan over this!” Interestingly enough said action made SCO tripolar, with Russia, China and Kazakhstan having an equal amount of power in the organization, provided that Kazakhstan looks after the other Stans. Some can claim that “Kazakh is not an official SCO language”, but those are the people who forget that Russian is the official language in Kazakhstan, along with Kazakh. Being Bilingual is perfectly normal in Europe and Central Asia.

      Hence China’s either towing the SCO line or creating the SCO line and then towing it, because: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/03/25/why_the_west_isnt_isolating_russia_over_crimea_walkom.html

      “Suspending Russia from the G8 is an empty gesture…The gesture, announced Monday in The Hague, is empty because the nations that make up this group no longer dominate the world economy as they did when the organization was first formed, some 39 years ago…he larger G20 group of nations, which includes China and India, is now the approved forum for serious international economic co-ordination. And Russia still belongs to that. Other important members, including Brazil and South Africa, have announced that they won’t countenance any attempt to exclude Russian President Vladimir Putin from the G20’s next planned summit in Australia…Crimea will remain Russian. The West will complain for a while. Nothing will happen. The world will grind on.”

      As for China’s statement: http://www.postwesternworld.com/2014/03/04/china-back-russia/

      “As Lu Yu writes for Xinhua, probably reflecting China’s official position:

      Based on the fact that Russia and Ukraine have deep cultural, historical and economic connections, it is time for Western powers to abandon their Cold War thinking, stop trying to exclude Russia from the political crisis they failed to mediate, and respect Russia’s unique role in mapping out the future of Ukraine…It is quite understandable when Putin said his country retained the right to protect its interests and Russian-speakers living in Ukraine. (…) The United States and European countries must work with, not against, Russia to tackle the Ukraine crisis…Right now, the West should show more appreciation for what Russia can do to solve the crisis in Ukraine. Given Russia’s historical and cultural influence in the country, the Kremlin is the piece that cannot be missing in this political puzzle.”

      And India’s: http://www.postwesternworld.com/2014/03/25/undermine-attempt-isolate/

      “India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar, for his part, spoke of Russia’s “legitimate interests” in Crimea, in what became the most pro-Russian comments made by a leading policy maker of a major power. India made clear that it will not support any “unilateral measures” against Russia, its major arms supplier, pointing out that it believes in Russia’s important role when dealing with challenges in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. India’s unwillingness to criticize Russia may also stem from a deep skepticism of the West’s tacit support for several attempted coups against democratically elected governments over the past years – for example in Venezuela in 2002, in Egypt in 2013, and now in Ukraine.”

      They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at Lavrov’s smile: http://www.postwesternworld.com/images/2014/03/550/Screen-Shot-2014-03-25-at-9.27.15-AM.png

      If that’s not saying “mission accomplished!” I don’t know what is. The others are also having a great time.

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