The philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) once observed, “Upon the breaking and shivering of a great state and empire, you may be sure to have wars…”

Bacon’s observation appears to describe the 20th century geopolitical strategy of “containment” that Washington used in the effort to check and undermine the expansion of the Soviet empire through a US and NATO military build-up, economic protectionism, and a propaganda war that sought to foster dissent within the former Soviet Union—by supporting ideals of democracy and religious freedom against Soviet Communist Party rule.

From the US perspective, the strategy of “containment” helped to press the Soviets to withdraw their occupying forces from eastern Europe, although the final decision to retract Soviet forces from eastern Europe was implemented by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Yet once Soviet forces did withdraw, Washington did not foresee that unification of West and East Germany under a NATO aegis since 1990 would then result in Soviet collapse—plus the danger that Soviet disaggregation could, in turn, result in the rise of a revanchist Russian pan-national movement.

The first sign of a revanchist backlash to Soviet collapse took place in August 1991, when there was a coup d’etat attempt by Brezhnev-era hardliners who opposed Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision not to try to stop Germany from unifying under a NATO aegis and to permit the Warsaw Pact to collapse. Those hardliners also opposed his New Union Treaty, which would have given the Soviet Republics a greater say in governance. As Ukraine and the Baltic states were also opposed to Gorbachev’s New Union Treaty, Soviet disaggregation was just around the corner, as Ukraine and other former Soviet republics demanded independence and Kyiv and Moscow engaged in a very uncivilized divorce in the period 1991–1994.

The next Moscow coup attempt took place in September and October 1993, when the Russian Parliament impeached Yeltsin during a constitutional crisis. With US President Bill Clinton’s support and that of the Russian military, President Yeltsin dissolved parliament and instituted presidential rule by decree. One of the ways Clinton backed the ‘pro-American’ Yeltsin was to promise that Washington would not announce NATO enlargement until after Yeltsin was secure in power.

Yet Moscow’s dissatisfaction with NATO policy was revealed when Boris Yeltsin exploded in rage in December 1994—just after Washington, London, and Moscow had signed the Budapest Memorandum at the Budapest OSCE conference on December 5, 1994. The Budapest Memorandum was intended to provide security assurances for Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to give up their nuclear weapons capabilities left over from the Soviet Union and to sign the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT). China and France then gave weaker individual assurances in separate documents.

The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was intended to end the uncivilized divorce between Russia and Ukraine by making certain that Ukraine did not retain an independent nuclear weapons capability—that could potentially be aimed at any state, not just Russia—and that would concurrently provide vague “security assurances” to Ukraine.

Yet Yeltsin was angered by the fact that Washington was beginning to push the enlargement of NATO’s nuclear alliance into former Soviet spheres of influence and security faster than the Clinton administration had admitted to him. In effect, just after Moscow had blocked a then-neutral Ukraine from retaining an independent nuclear capability through the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Washington was already proposing the expansion of NATO’s “nuclear alliance” (in NATO’s own terms) into former Soviet spheres of influence and security—that could then include a nuclear umbrella for Ukraine and other states that became NATO members!

Boris Yeltsin’s negative response to NATO expansion should have given Washington second thoughts about enlarging NATO membership in the period 1997–1999. Paul Nitze, who had been responsible for the “militarization of containment” during the Cold War after writing NSC-68, argued in 1997 that Clinton’s NATO enlargement policy could have, and should have, been put on hold. The Partnership for Peace program should have been expanded and deepened, with both Russian and Eastern European participation—in the effort to create a new European security architecture that would include Moscow. In Nitze’s view, it was better not to enlarge NATO than to risk a Russian revanchist backlash. This was in large part because the enlargement of NATO’s membership would not only cause a Russian backlash, but it would also weaken NATO’s ability to make collective decisions in consensus. (See Hall Gardner, Dangerous Crossroads, 1997)

As the process of NATO expansion continued, the Russian backlash continued to brew. Not only had Yeltsin failed to stop NATO enlargement, but Clinton’s support for Yeltsin, plus American assistance in liberalizing the Russian economy through what became nomenklatura privatization (what I called “date rape” in my 1997 book Dangerous Crossroads), was furthermore seen by Russian hardliners as direct US political interference in Russian affairs.

It was in 1999–2000 that a virtually unknown Vladimir Putin came to power. Putin stepped into the Russian Presidency after protesting Yeltsin’s inability to stop NATO from expanding—that is, without obtaining any meaningful form of Russian input in the formation of a new European Security Order—and particularly against Yeltsin’s failure to prevent NATO military intervention in Kosovo and against Moscow’s ally, Serbia.

As there was talk about Russia entering NATO throughout the 1990s, and as NATO forged the new NAT0-Russia Council (NRC) in December 2000 to May 2001, that promised Russia "a voice but not a veto" in European security issues, it was not contradictory for Putin to express interest in joining a reformed NATO at that time. A possible Russian membership was not to happen, however, as NATO did not listen to Russia's voice even in the NRC and perhaps most crucially did not take the time to fully consider negotiating a Russian proposed European Security Treaty in 2008-09 after East-West Institute and OSCE discussions. The failure to find US-NATO-EU-Russian compromise in 2008-09 led to the crisis the world is now facing.

This is not to overlook Yeltsin’s alleged weakness in dealing with the Chechen independence movement that Moscow saw as being supported by the U.S. and its Moslem allies—as stated by President Putin in his unexpectedly long-winded historical discourse, with its questionable interpretation of history, that explained Putin’s rationale for his intervention in Ukraine in 2014/2022 during his interview with generally pro-Trumpist Tucker Carlson.

Putin’s rise to power accordingly represented a “palace” coup that took place just after NATO enlargement to Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic and when NATO engaged in the 1999 air war “over” Kosovo and against Moscow’s ally Serbia. This act showed Moscow that NATO was not necessarily a defensive organization that would protect its members but was willing to intervene militarily within Russian spheres of influence and outside of its territorial mandate—and without a UN Security Council mandate.

Although Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson presented a very questionable interpretation of Russian-Ukrainian history, Putin’s long-winded discourse (and Tucker Carlson’s pathetic reaction that revealed a general American ignorance and lack of concern for the impact of socio-historical interpretation on contemporary issues) nevertheless revealed how the US and NATO have opted to intervene in an area of the world in which they have almost no experience or understanding.

American leadership should have realized that German unification followed by the Warsaw Pact and Soviet collapse would open up a vast range of revanchist claims and counterclaims throughout the region—just as the collapse of the Imperial German, Austrian, Hungarian, and Tsarist empires did in the interwar period. This geohistorical reality should have awakened the Americans and NATO to the potential dangers of moving the NATO juggernaut into such a sensitive and chaotic region that needed careful and engaged diplomacy to be able to reconcile and reunite. As recognized by both George Kennan and Paul Nitze, the Cold War founders of “containment,” who both had a lifetime of experience in dealing with the Soviet Union, NATO enlargement, as long as NATO remained an essentially collective defense organization, would cause a dangerous Russian backlash.

Moreover, the fact that the European Union sought to extend EU political economic and security association accords with former Soviet bloc states, most importantly Ukraine, in 2013–14 was likewise seen by Moscow as a new form of “containment” that would result in the isolation of Russian political and economic influence.

In the contemporary crisis at the end of the so-called Cold War, almost all efforts to engage with Russia and sustain peace have failed or else have collapsed, with each side blaming the other. Almost all Cold War and post-Cold War arms accords have collapsed, perhaps most importantly the 1972 ABM treaty and the 1987 INF treaty, while Russia has suspended its participation in START in 2023 without mutual inspections. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act also proved incompatible and fell apart as NATO expanded its military infrastructure and promises of full NATO membership closer and closer to Russian borders, particularly Ukraine. Washington and NATO refused to thoroughly discuss Russian demands for a new European Security Order in 2008–09 and continued to press forward with NATO enlargement.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the reality is that Homo Geopoliticus et Economicus is once again confronted with the real possibility that confrontation will both intensify and widen from the Crimea and wider Middle East toward other areas throughout the planet. Thus far, Russian revanche remains regional (in eastern Ukraine and Crimea) and not global—although there are numerous signs the conflict has already begun to spread, directly or indirectly, to other regions. These regions possibly include Transnistria/ Moldova; the Red Sea/Yemen area; Iran and the wider Middle East; Somalia and the Horn of Africa; Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Sahel region; Venezuela and Guyana; North and South Korea; Myanmar, China, and Taiwan, among other regions.

To prevent this “new Crimea War” from intensifying and expanding any further into new regions beyond the Black Sea region and Gaza, it will prove necessary to work with UN-backed contact groups, including Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, China, and other states, to help press Ukraine and Russia into a peace accord that will help to stabilize, reconstruct, and back, with defensive measures, the formation of a neutral, non-nuclear Ukraine. A March 2022 Russia-Ukraine peace accord had pointed a way toward peace in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine; it is time to revive that diplomacy and work toward the establishment of a new regional Black Sea community for peace and sustainable development.

Concurrently, it is time to seek a new “confederal” approach to the Palestinian question with the assistance of Egypt, Jordan, and Arab Gulf states in working with Israel to establish a new Israeli-Palestinian confederation, much as I have argued in previous articles and books, including Averting Global War (2007) and World War Trump (2018).

It is time to wind this “new Crimean War” down and as soon as possible—before the Black Sea and Gaza conflicts cause even more death and destruction and spread to new regions!!!