It is a commonplace today to speak of the “map of Europe being re-written” and point to the actions of Russia in Crimea and the Donbas. But the process of ‘re-writing’ the world political map is perpetual. A key question is to determine significant moments of rupture and break, when we transition (to stick with a textual metaphor that has its limits) from one chapter to the next. Currently, geopolitical commentary is trashing about for a new language to describe the current moment, with memes like the ‘return of geopolitics’ and ‘revisionist geopolitics’ (re)appearing. Both are unhelpful, the first particularly so as it delimits geopolitics to a certain approach to international affairs rather than the innate condition of international affairs. Our world is always already situated geopolitically, within geopolitical fields (spaces), within geopolitical cultures, and a geopolitical condition (order of time/space compression shaping how we experience international events). The second has its blindness to the last two decades of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Today, it is more helpful to think historically about the rupture in the fields of Eurasian space and post-Soviet space. The key data (as I’m arguing in my manuscript in progress) is 2008, Kosovo’s UDI and recognition, the Bucharest summit, and then the Georgian-Ossetian-Russian August War. The key moment defining post post-Soviet space is the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
In our recent Monkey Cage blog piece JohnO and I argued against the current practice of seeing the Donbas as another ‘frozen conflict’ scenario (Nial Ferguson does it, like so many others, today in the FT, debunking ‘fairy tales’ while implicitly seeding another if only we hadn’t ‘strategic patience’ aka ‘dithering’). This misses the key rupture of 2008, and also the crucial fact that Crimea was outright annexed while any new Novorossiya in the Donbas will be unlike anything we’ve seen before with the existing de facto. This statelet will be the first true post post-Soviet de facto state, and its uniqueness should be appreciated by all.
Thanks to all at the Kennan Institute yesterday (esp Mattison Brady for these photos) for hosting JohnO and I as we presented preliminary results from our RAPID grant work. We’ll be publishing future pieces in the next few months, and academic papers as soon as our schedules allow. Let me leave with a quote from George Kennan (younger twice removed diplomat cousin of the showman popularizer George Kennan after whom the Institute is named) that is (Am Diplomacy, p. 97) relevant to our times: “We tend to underestimate the violence of national maladjustments and discontents elsewhere in the world if we think that they would always appear to other people as less important than the preservation of the judicial tidiness of international life.” The world political map is messy and we should never expect it to be judicially tidy.