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The Ukraine crisis or the revival of the Grand Chessboard’s geopolitics: Euro-Atlantic response to Russia’s assault                                                      

By Brice Didier, College of Europe Graduate, Department of EU International relations and Diplomacy studies

· Eurasie,Amériques,Europe

[A] shock to the West[1], Moscow’s assault on Ukraine in March 2014 appears to be a ‘symptom’ of a broader Russian impendence on the Western-established post-WWII order: when the Kremlin wages war for “spheres of influence and territories[2], it actually brings us back to ‘old-fashion geopolitics’. In this context, what happens in Ukraine is a sign that “realpolitik remains relevant[3].

According to Brzezinski [who passed away in May 2017], independent since 1991, Ukraine is an “important space on the Eurasian chessboard”, the control of which is supposed to make a domination over the world possible[4]. In a post-Cold War world under the United States’ (US) geostrategic domination, Brzezinski identifies Ukraine – in Eurasia, alongside Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan – as the state “deserving America’s strongest geopolitical support[5]. While Ukraine’s independence affects the nature of Russia’s state itself[6], it is for the US “the critical state[7] among “key Eurasian geopolitical pivots”[8]; ‘geopolitical pivots’ being defined as “states whose importance is derived not from their power and motivation but rather from their sensitive location and from the consequences of their potentially vulnerable condition for the behaviour of geostrategic players[9], such as Russia. Having “the capacity and the national will to exercise power or influence beyond [its] borders in order to alter – to a degree that affects America’s interests – the existing geopolitical state of affairs[10], Russia looks for regional hegemony and the recognition of its power on the international stage, and its interests are susceptible to confront with the US’ ones. Thus, Russia’s aggression on Ukraine in 2014 could be explained by its will to regain its status as a ‘Eurasian empire’ and thereby, the Ukraine conflict seen as a campaign for Eurasia.

Even if “[t]he [US] would like Europe’s Eastern neighbourhood to be Europe’s sole responsibility[11], Speck demonstrates that the global consequences of the Ukrainian crisis call for a response from “the only global power and with a strong interest in stability in Europe and a constructive relationship with Russia”: themselves[12]. However, from a neo-realist point of view, such as Mearsheimer’s, the Transatlantic partners are also, to a certain extent, responsible for the emergence of the crisis with Russia, on account of both EU and NATO enlargements since the 1990s[13]. In the end, even if the Euro-Atlantic community has not play hard power politics, considering this crisis’ upheavals and the actors involved, it is clear that the post-Cold War Euro-Atlantic order is now “challenged by great power rivalries of an entirely familiar kind in […] a new and dangerous world[14].

With regards to these elements, I will see to what extent the Euro-Atlantic response to the Ukrainian crisis has reinforced Transatlantic relations face to Russia’s new assertiveness. Addressing the origin of the crisis leadership in Transatlantic cooperation (1), I will discuss Obama’s ‘leading from behind’ approach (2), before questioning this response building as an ‘example to follow’ (3).

[1] U. Speck, “The West’s Response to the Ukraine Conflict: A Transatlantic Success Story”, Transatlantic Academy Paper Series, April 2016, p. 14.

[2] A. Merkel, “Regierungserklärung von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel”, quoted in U. Speck, Ibid., p. 15.

[3] J. J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin”, Foreign Affairs, vol. 93, no 5, September/October 2014, pp. 1-12, p. 2.

[4] Z. Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books, New York, NY, 1997, p. 48.

[5] Ibid., p. 149.

[6] J.-S. Mongrenier, « Ukraine » in Dictionnaire des conflits, Paris, Atlande, 2013, p. 596.

[7] Brzezinski, Op. Cit., p. 149.

[8] Ibid., p. 41.

[9] Ibid., p. 41.

[10] Ibid., pp. 40-41.

[11] H. A. Conley, “The ‘Consequences’ for Ukraine and the Transatlantic Partnership”,, 21 February 2014, retrieved 29 March 2017,

[12] Speck, Op. Cit., p. 4.

[13] Mearsheimer, Op. Cit., pp. 1-12.

[14] H. M. Oswald, Ukraine crisis and transatlantic security relations: causes for reassessment of strategy and partnership, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, June 2016, p. 69.

Caption of the photo above: Presidents Barack Obama & Vladimir Putin during the G8 meeting in June 2013. Photo by Pete Souza, Obama White House Archives.

The opinions and interpretations expressed in the publications are exclusively the responsibility of their authors, in respect of the Open Diplomacy Institute’ statutes (article 3) and charter of values.

This article has firstly been submitted as an essay paper at the College of Europe.

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