Zbigniew Brzezinski at the 50th Munich Security Conference, February 2014.
Zbigniew Brzezinski at the 50th Munich Security Conference, February 2014.

Brzezinski on Russia: Insights and Recommendations

June 01, 2017
RM Staff

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who died last week at the age of 89, served as national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977 until 1981. This evolving compilation of his observations and policy ideas about Russia is the second installment in the Russia Matters series “Competing Views,” where we share prominent American thinkers’ takes on U.S.-Russian relations, Russia itself and America’s policies toward it.

Differing from his fellow Democrats, Mr. Brzezinski took a notoriously hard line on the Soviet Union. (The New York Times, in its obituary, described his position toward the USSR as “rigid hatred,” and Moscow found him to be such an obstacle that the KGB reportedly tried to smear him “as a traitor and anti-Semite.”) After the Soviet collapse, Mr. Brzezinski retained a deep skepticism about Russia’s aims and intentions, even when calling on the U.S. to integrate it into the West.

The quotes below are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ news and analysis digests, reflecting the most pertinent topic areas for U.S.-Russian relations broadly and for drivers of the two countries’ policies toward one another.

Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed or in parentheses is a direct quote from Mr. Brzezinski. All sections may be updated with continued research.

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

  • On U.S. policy toward Russia in the wake of the Soviet collapse: The doggedly optimistic political and economic assessments of Russia's prospects have ... been deliberately disseminated in order to advance the pursuit of a more specific and admittedly important U.S. objective: Russian-American nuclear disarmament. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • From a review of Brzezinski’s 2012 book “Strategic Vision”: “Mr. Brzezinski suggests [that] a weakened America would increase the dangers of nuclear proliferation around the world. Were doubts to be raised about the United States’ nuclear umbrella, he says, countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and Israel would have to seek security elsewhere—that elsewhere meaning ‘nuclear weapons of one’s own or from the extended deterrence of another power—most likely Russia, China or India.’ Global environmental issues—including climate change and growing water shortages—would be similarly affected.” (New York Times, 01.29.12)
  • See also sections on “Bilateral economic ties,” “U.S. general policies toward Russia and other bilateral issues” and “Ukraine” below.

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • I think ultimately, if it [the Iran nuclear deal] works, it is a very good deal. … The fact that in addition to our immediate allies—the Europeans and so forth—both China and Russia are supporting this—is very important. We have an ongoing, significant feud with Russia, which is producing much anger—from us at them, and from them at us. And yet the fact that they have chosen to go along, at least this far, I consider to be a very important aspect of what has been accomplished. (MSNBC, 04.03.15)

New and original Cold Wars:

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent end of the Cold War necessitates a new strategy, one that no longer views Russia as an adversary and in which the factor of power is no longer central. But if Russia is no longer an adversary, is it already an ally, or a client or merely a defeated foe? What should be the goal and the substance of a post-Cold War grand strategy toward a major country, destined one way or another to be a power in world affairs, irrespective of its current malaise? Is current American policy toward Russia guided by a well-considered and historically relevant successor to the grand strategy of the Cold War years? This essay argues that the present U.S. grand strategy is flawed in its assumptions, focused on the wrong strategic goal and dangerous in its likely geopolitical consequences. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • In answer to questions about covert U.S. funding of anti-Soviet Afghans and arms supplies to the mujahedeenspecifically, whether he regrets these actions: Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.” Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire. (Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, 1998, cited in “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama”)
  • In his 2012 book “Strategic Vision,” Brzezinski argued that America’s failure to engage Russia after the end of the Cold War was backfiring as Russia has become focused on establishing authoritarianism and restoring its influence in the former Soviet Union. He saw the strained relations between Russia and the West as the result of a lost opportunity after the end of the Cold War, feeling that Russia matters because of its territory, resources and nuclear-weapons capabilities. (RM research)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Russian leaders have indicated that they would favor a joint Russian-NATO guarantee for the security of the [Central/Eastern European] region. … [President Yeltsin wrote in September 1993 to U.S., British, French and German leaders that:] "We are of the opinion that relations between our country and NATO should be several degrees warmer than relations between the alliance and Eastern Europe." (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • Failure to widen NATO, now that the commitment has been made, would shatter the concept of an expanding Europe and demoralize the Central Europeans. Worse, it could reignite dormant Russian political aspirations in Central Europe. Moreover, it is far from evident that the Russian political elite shares the European desire for a strong American political and military presence in Europe. Accordingly, while fostering a cooperative relationship with Russia is desirable, it is important for America to send a clear message about its global priorities. If a choice must be made between a larger Europe-Atlantic system and a better relationship with Russia, the former must rank higher. (Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997)
  • The enlargement of NATO, in any case, has already proven beneficial for Europe’s security, including Russia’s. Most notably, it has made post-Cold War Europe more stable, anchoring Germany more solidly in its middle rather than making it a “border state”, as some German leaders feared might happen after reunification. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • The alliance [NATO] needs to define for itself a geopolitically relevant long-term strategic goal for its relationship with the Russian Federation. Russia is not an enemy, but it still views NATO with hostility. Hence, two strategic objectives should define NATO’s goal: to consolidate security in Europe by drawing Russia into a closer association with the Euro-Atlantic community, and to engage Russia in a wider web of global security that indirectly facilitates the fading of Russia’s lingering imperial ambitions. (New York Times, 08.19.09)
  • A good first step might be an agreement on security cooperation between NATO and the Kremlin-created Collective Security Treaty Organization, which consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In return for this concession—which Moscow has long sought—such an arrangement should be made conditional on provisions that confirm the right of current nonmembers to seek membership of their own choice in either NATO or the CSTO. (New York Times, 08.19.09)
  • Better relations between NATO and Russia could also facilitate a cooperative outreach toward the rising Asian powers, which should be drawn into joint security undertakings. Such gradually expanding cooperation could lead, in turn, to a joint NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization council, thereby indirectly engaging China in cooperation with NATO, clearly a desirable goal. (New York Times, 08.19.09)
  • NATO cannot be passive if war erupts in Europe. If Ukraine is crushed while the West is simply watching, the new freedom and security in bordering Romania, Poland and the three Baltic republics would also be threatened. (The Washington Post, 03.03.14)
  • NATO forces, consistent with the organization’s contingency planning, should be put on alert… If the West wants to avoid a conflict, there should be no ambiguity in the Kremlin as to what might be precipitated by further adventurist use of force in the middle of Europe. (The Washington Post, 03.03.14)

Missile defense:

  • A historical episode as reported by The New Yorker: “President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched. Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at NORAD headquarters had generated the erroneous warning.” (The New Yorker, 12.23.16)
  • On American plans for an anti-missile defense system in 2000 and its effects on progress toward START III: I think it's going to be a difficult issue. I think the Russians will try to extract concessions from us, and I'm a little concerned that the [Clinton] administration doesn't really have a discriminating approach. It tends to view arms control with Russia and nuclear weapons reduction as an end in itself, as a test case of the relationship, and agreements as proof that the relationship is wholly positive. I think this kind of an attitude could result in us making concessions which it would not be in our interest to make. And, therefore, one has to be very careful as one looks at the future and not to rush precipitously into an agreement which at best is a very limited agreement in any case. (CNN, 04.16.00)

Nuclear arms control:

  • The very concept of ''A World Without Nuclear Weapons'' is an illusion. … The knowledge of how to produce nuclear weapons cannot be erased. Human consciousness cannot be manipulated like a tape recorder. A world in which nations destroyed their nuclear weapons but knew how to produce them would not be a more secure world. Moreover, some states or even terrorist organizations might choose to cheat. Given the closed nature of the Soviet system, its record of duplicity and deception, and its enormous geographical expanse, the risk that the Kremlin might surreptitiously store some nuclear weapons and their delivery systems cannot be disregarded. (New York Times, 04.05.87)
  • On planned START II talks between Putin and Clinton: First of all, it is a positive step, substantively and symbolically. It takes us further away from the nuclear arms race. Second, we really shouldn't exaggerate. Neither side has been increasing its arsenal, and in fact there's been some scaling down anyway. And thirdly, that agreement is in the interests of both sides, and in fact, even somewhat more in Russia's interest than in ours, because they're in a worse position to compete, to engage in an arms race. So we shouldn't pay anything extra for it. (CNN, 04.16.00)


  • In response to the assertion that “it has been said and repeated [that] Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today”: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries. (Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, 1998, cited in “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama”)
  • At current birth rates, by the year 2025 the Islamic population living immediately to the south of Russia could number as high as 450 million (not counting the projected 85 million Turks). It is probable that most of the neighboring Muslim countries will be economically weak, enhancing the likelihood that they will also be politically volatile. Their populations—composed in the main of the younger generation, which is restless, increasingly nationally self-conscious and more intensely Islamic in self-definition—could prove quite susceptible to extremist appeals. Unless handled with great skill and genuine moderation by their formerly imperial neighbor, their political awakening could acquire a fervent anti-Russian cast, of which the Russian mishandling of Chechnya might be only a harbinger. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Moscow has chosen to intervene militarily [in Syria], but without political or tactical co-operation with the U.S.—the principal foreign power engaged in direct, if not very effective, efforts to unseat Mr. Assad. In doing so it allegedly launched air attacks at Syrian elements that are sponsored, trained and equipped by the Americans, inflicting damage and causing casualties. At best, it was a display of Russian military incompetence; at worst, evidence of a dangerous desire to highlight American political impotence. In either case, the future of the region, and American credibility among the states of the Middle East, are both at stake. (Financial Times, 10.04.15)
  • In these rapidly unfolding circumstances the U.S. has only one real option if it is to protect its wider stakes in the region: to convey to Moscow the demand that it cease and desist from military actions that directly affect American assets. Russia has every right to support Mr. Assad, if it so wishes—but any repetition of what has just transpired should prompt U.S. retaliation. The Russian naval and air presences in Syria are vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland. They could be “disarmed” if they persist in provoking the U.S. But, better still, Russia might be persuaded to act with the U.S. in seeking a wider accommodation to a regional problem that transcends the interests of a single state. (Financial Times, 10.04.15)

Allegations of Russian meddling in U.S. politics:

  • In answer to questions about allegations that Russia tried to tip the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump: Yes. Russian intelligence was involved, no question. Yes. Putin plays that kind of direct role. Russian intelligence is not some independent agency. It is an agency of the state organized for specific political purposes. Putin absolutely controls the state apparatus. No doubts there. The meddling had a deliberate aim. The intention was to complicate American political life, initially without too much confidence that Putin would be able to influence events and help Trump win. Later on, as conditions changed and Trump gained traction, they were encouraged to go deeper. They became more ambitious and assertive. Having said that, I don’t mean to suggest Russian efforts were the fundamental or in any way decisive factor of President-elect Trump’s victory. He won soundly for domestic reasons and because of his considerable political skill. But it is also wrong to say Russian efforts had no impact. (Huffington Post, 12.23.16)
  • In answer to the question is this “old tactics, new methods” or something new altogether: The new methods give activities of this sort a wider scope than ever before. And thus they are indeed more influential and effective than ever before. That is new and, of course, deeply troubling. (Huffington Post, 12.23.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Brzezinski’s 1997 book “The Grand Chessboard” includes a chapter on Caspian-Mediterranean oil export pipelines; political scientist and security scholar Pavel Baev has credited this book with making “a profound Realpolitik impact on the political thinking in and about the Caspian region” and the so-called New Great Game involving Caspian hydrocarbon resources.

Bilateral economic ties:

  • On Washington’s overly “rosy assessment” of Russia’s post-Soviet economic transformation: Little attention has been paid to the fact that the emerging capitalist class in Russia is strikingly parasitic, inclined to stash its profits abroad rather than to bet on Russia's future, with Russian banks investing only about $450 million in domestic development while depositing some $15.5 billion abroad. The covert diversion of a significant portion of foreign financial aid to Western banks has similarly been ignored, since that consideration is viewed as less important than the key goal of sustaining the momentum of economic transformation. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • Support for the economic stabilization and eventual transformation of the Russian economy is being given a higher priority than aid to the new non-Russian states. In 1992 the head of the International Monetary Fund projected Russia's need for foreign financing at approximately $23 billion, and that of the non-Russian states at about $20 billion. At the July 1993 Group of Seven industrial nations summit, the United States prevailed in obtaining collective pledges of aid for Russia of $28 billion while largely ignoring the non-Russian states. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)

U.S. general policies toward Russia and other bilateral issues:

  • Offering an “alternative strategy” for the U.S. approach to Russia after the Soviet collapse: The basic premise … is that geopolitical pluralism will foster the best context for the emergence of a Russia that, democratic or not, is encouraged to be a good neighbor to states with which it can cooperate in a common economic space but which it will not seek or be able, politically and militarily, to dominate. … Consolidation of geopolitical pluralism within the former Soviet Union would entail a number of practical policy consequences. Though continuing the pursuit of a deepening friendship with Russia, it would call for a more balanced distribution of financial aid to Russia and to the non-Russian states, the abandonment of the single-minded elevation of the question of nuclear arms to the status of litmus test for American-Ukrainian relations, and an even-handed treatment of Moscow and Kiev. It would require the explicit recognition of the fact that Ukraine's independent existence is a matter of far greater long-range significance than whether Kiev does or does not promptly dismantle its post-Soviet nuclear arsenal. It also would condition American aid to Russia on the end of Russian efforts to the newly independent states into fully subordinate satellites, and it would entail a greater willingness to make an issue—including in the United Nations—of Moscow's transgressions against its neighbors. Georgia, for example, deserved better in 1993. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • The progressive inclusion of Russia in the expanding transatlantic community is the necessary component of any long-term U.S. strategy to consolidate stability on the Eurasian mega-continent. The pursuit of that goal will require patience and strategic persistence. There are no shortcuts on the way. Geostrategic conditions must be created that convince the Russians that it is in Russia’s own best interest to become a truly democratic and European post-imperial nation-state—a state closely engaged to the transatlantic community. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • China thrives on foreign investment; Russia fears potential threats from its immediate south and east, and senses the diminished utility of its nuclear forces. China is self-confident; Russia is self-conscious. Hence, both Russia and China may be susceptible to a strategy aimed at their inclusion in cooperative international structures. To that end, two Eurasian power triangles must be steadily managed and, over time, more directly connected: one involving the United States, the European Union and Russia; and the other involving the United States, Japan and China. For that linkage to be effective, the constructive engagement of Russia is essential. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • Western aid to Russia should be continued. But such assistance should not be directed to the central government. Russia is wealthy enough to be able to address its basic problems through its own resources, and Western aid has the tendency to perpetuate the worst inclinations in the current elite. Also, since financial aid is fungible, its diversion to military programs and operations (such as those in Chechnya) is a likelihood. Instead, Western aid should concentrate on helping Russia’s nascent NGOs, which promote the emergence of a new, younger and more open-minded political elite—an elite that understands its own interest in a society based on the rule of law. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • In his 2012 book “Strategic Vision,” Brzezinski wrote that America’s renewed greatness may be possible if, among many other things, Washington could shape a larger, more vital West that, through sustained effort, managed to integrate Russia and Turkey by 2025 to form a new “core of global stability.” (RM research)
  • A constructive U.S. policy must be patiently guided by a long-range vision. It must seek outcomes that promote the gradual realization in Russia (probably post-Putin) that its only place as an influential world power is ultimately within Europe. (The American Interest, 04.17.16)
  • The United States should make clear to Russia that any military incursion into Europe, including the “little green men” tactics seen at the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, would incur a punitive blockade of Russia’s maritime access to the West that would affect nearly two-thirds of all Russian seaborne trade. (New York Times, 02.20.17)

II. Russia’s domestic developments, history and personalities

Russia’s domestic developments:

  • Russia's first priority should be to modernize itself rather than to engage in a futile effort to regain its status as a global power. Given the country's size and diversity, a decentralized political system and free-market economics would be most likely to unleash the creative potential of the Russian people and Russia's vast natural resources. A loosely confederated Russia—composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic and a Far Eastern Republic—would also find it easier to cultivate closer economic relations with its neighbors. Each of the confederated entities would be able to tap its local creative potential, stifled for centuries by Moscow's heavy bureaucratic hand. In turn, a decentralized Russia would be less susceptible to imperial mobilization. (Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997)
  • Much … depends on the performance of the current Russian political elite—an elite that is strikingly different in composition and outlook from its post-communist counterparts in Central Europe. Russia’s current leadership includes no former political dissidents, not even one. … The current Russian political elite is largely an alliance of former apparatchiki, criminalized oligarchs and the KGB and military leadership. Their renunciation of the Soviet past has been perfunctory. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • A growing number of Russians are beginning to realize that a fundamental change in Russia’s relations with the West may be in the country’s vital long-term interest. (From Brzezinski’s 2012 book “Strategic Vision”)

Russia’s historical trajectory:

  • Of the major Eurasian entities (the European Union, Russia, China and Japan), only Europe and Japan can be said to recognize fully their fundamental stake in international stability. The case is somewhat more ambiguous with respect to China and Russia, which still favor more or less drastic alterations in the distribution of global power. But both are also cognizant of their limitations and aware of their interest in cooperating with the West. China is so inclined largely because it is an ongoing economic success; Russia because it is not. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • To be sure, neither America nor, even less, Europe can by itself seduce or transform Russia. Russia’s epiphany must come from within, much as was the case earlier in the twentieth century with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of the modern Turkish state. But both America and Europe can help create not only a congenial but a compelling context for desirable change. And for that reason, despite justifiable short-term pessimism regarding the outlook of Russia’s current political leadership, there is a reasonable basis for longer-term optimism. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • One cannot underestimate the cumulative damage inflicted on the Russian people by 70 years of communism. Russia’s current condition should not be judged by the superficial glitter of Moscow or St. Petersburg, the primary beneficiaries of Western financial inflows, or by occasional ups and downs in Russian growth rates. The painful reality is that the communist experiment has bequeathed to the Russian people a ruined agriculture, a retarded and in many places primitive social infrastructure, a backward economy increasingly facing the risk of progressive de-industrialization, a devastated environment, and a demographically threatened population. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • Some 70 million Russians live in urban areas affected by levels of pollution that exceed U.S. maximum contamination levels by a factor of five or more. About 75 percent of Russia’s consumed water supply is polluted by U.S. standards. Russia’s health system, long a source of pride, is malfunctioning, with many hospitals (especially in non-urbanized areas) lacking hot water and unable to meet even minimal hygienic standards. … The World Health Report 2000 on national health systems ranked Russia’s at 130, barely ahead of Sudan’s. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • Russia is experiencing the latest convulsive phase of its imperial devolution. A painful process, Russia is not fatally precluded—if it acts wisely—from becoming eventually a leading European nation-state… Russia is becoming for the first time in its history a truly national state, a development that is as momentous as it is generally overlooked. (The American Interest, 04.17.16)
  • Russia’s own future depends on its ability to become a major and influential nation-state that is part of a unifying Europe. (The American Interest, 04.17.16)
  • A Europe-oriented Russia, cooperating with China—though with some territorial tensions regarding the northeast—and gradually regularizing its relationship with the United States, will be a country that will be able to resolve the painful Ukrainian issue through mutual comprise. RBTH, 04.07.17)

Russian personalities:

  • President Vladimir Putin’s new team is composed of individuals who, with no exception, could now be serving in the higher echelons of the Soviet government (particularly the KGB) if the Soviet Union still existed. Putin’s own political lineage is quite suggestive in that regard. He is a third-generation apparatchik: his father was a Party functionary, while his grandfather even served on Lenin’s and then Stalin’s personal security detail. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • Although Putin displays a picture of Peter the Great in his office, his reliance on a KGB entourage and his professed admiration for his KGB predecessor, Yuri Andropov, indicate that Putin is no Russian Atatürk. His geopolitical mindset reflects the thinking of the last Soviet generation and not of the first post-Soviet generation. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • Nothing has hurt Putin more in the international dialogue with the West than the words of President Obama, who credited Russia with being a significant regional power. He didn't have to say more in order to score a point that hurt. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Brzezinski spoke of four key concepts laid out by Russian foreign-policy thinkers that, he believed, reflected the new chauvinistic worldview of the Russian leadership: First, that of "a divided people"; secondly, the theme of "protecting compatriots abroad"; third and more broadly, "the Russian world," or "Ruskii Mir" in Russian; fourth, the importance of acknowledging and sustaining, embracing and promoting "the Great Russian civilization." (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • What we are seeing in Ukraine … [is] a symptom of a more basic problem: namely, the gradual but steady emergence in Russia over the last six or seven years of a quasi-mystical chauvinism. Putin has taken the lead in this and its content is significant for the totality of Russia's relations with the world, and the West in particular. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)


  • Russia’s selective accommodation with the United States can be pursued [by Moscow] in parallel with carefully calibrated efforts to cultivate anti-American sentiments in Western Europe, in order to dilute Western resolve regarding any further expansion of NATO and to exacerbate existing cleavages within the Euro-Atlantic community. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • I think the affinity for Putin [among European populists] is overblown, largely promoted by self-serving journalists. Certainly, some individual leaders of these movements profess admiration for his strongman approach to governance, but I see little evidence there is some kind of popular groundswell in any serious country. The populist movements in the European democracies are the result of confusion and liberation. … Some groups and political leaders may cast themselves as pro-Russian, yes, and the Russian intelligence agencies are stirring up trouble, trying to undercut European unity on Russian sanctions by encouraging sympathetic political forces. But that is all marginal compared to [the] underlying dynamic. (Huffington Post, 12.23.16)


  • During the 20th century Turkey proved more successful in transforming itself than Communist Russia. … Unlike Russia, at no time did Turkey either plunge into a Manichean orgy of internal killing or degenerate into totalitarianism. (From Brzezinski’s 2012 book “Strategic Vision”)


  • According to Brzezinski’s 2012 book “Strategic Vision,” Japan could now be elevated above Russia in a ranking of major world players if it were to choose to pursue a more active international role. (RM research)


  • From a review of Brzezinski’s 2012 book “Strategic Vision”: “In his 1993 book ‘Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century’ Mr. Brzezinski argued that … China was more likely than Russia to assume a leadership role on the world stage.” (New York Times, 01.29.12)
  • Also in “Strategic Vision,” Brzezinski wrote that any hopes that Russia can be a mighty Eurasian power that is neither strictly European or Asian are an “illusion.” If Russia doesn’t ally with the West, he wrote, it will face the prospect of becoming a junior partner in an alliance with China. Furthermore, he believed that one of China’s strategic objectives was to gain a significant edge over Russia in economic influence in Central Asia and Mongolia. (RM research)
  • The real place for Russia is as an important country in Europe, as a major European country. And they will be reminded of that imperative every time they look to the east and ask themselves: What does China mean for the future of Russia? (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • Some Russians may believe America is trying to play China against Russia, but that is more an ego-gratifying compliment than a realistic judgement. The fact of the matter is that China is considerably more important than Russia right now, but if America and China cooperate, Russia has absolutely no choice but to join. That would be in America’s interest, firstly, but it would also be beneficial to Russia in the long run. (RBTH, 04.07.17)


  • Writing less than three years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union: Most ominous, given Ukraine's size and geostrategic importance, has been the intensification of Moscow's economic and military pressure on Kiev, in keeping with the widespread feeling in Moscow that Ukrainian independence is an abnormality as well as a threat to Russia's standing as a global power. (The inclination of some leading Russian politicians to speak openly of Ukraine as "a transitional entity" or "a Russian sphere of influence" is symptomatic.) The Russian military has enforced a partition of Crimea and asserted unilateral control over most of the disputed Black Sea fleet. Making matters even worse has been the open assertion of Russian territorial claims to portions of Ukraine. At the same time, economic leverage has been applied through reductions and periodic cutoffs in the delivery of vital energy sources to Ukrainian industry, presumably in the hope of destabilizing the country to the point that a sizable portion of the population will begin to clamor for a closer connection with Moscow. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • To isolate Ukraine internationally, Russian policymakers have also skillfully exploited the Clinton administration’s preoccupation with Ukraine's nuclear status. Playing on American fears (and the administration's evident preference for Russian control over Ukraine's nuclear weapons), Moscow was quite successful in portraying the new leaders in Kiev as a menace to international stability. Ukraine's ineptitude in conveying its concerns to the West also intensified its isolation and therefore its sense of vulnerability. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • It is urgent and essential that the United States convince the Ukrainian government—through the promise of substantial economic assistance—to adopt long-delayed and badly needed economic reforms. At the same time, American political assurances for Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity should be forthcoming. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • Op-ed written as Crimea was shaken by clashes in the prelude to the peninsula’s annexation by Russia: The U.S. could and should convey clearly to Mr. Putin that it is prepared to use its influence to make certain a truly independent and territorially undivided Ukraine will pursue policies toward Russia similar to those so effectively practiced by Finland: mutually respectful neighbors with wide-ranging economic relations with Russia and the EU; no participation in any military alliance viewed by Moscow as directed at itself but expanding its European connectivity. In brief, the Finnish model is ideal for Ukraine, the EU and Russia in any larger east-west strategic accommodation. But to be credible to the Kremlin, the U.S. needs also to spell out privately that attempts to destabilize the emerging democracy in Kiev or detach parts of Ukraine—not to mention even overt or covert Russian participation in its neighbor’s domestic conflicts—would compel Washington to use its influence internationally to prompt steps that would be economically costly to Moscow. (Financial Times, 02.23.14)
  • [Putin’s] initial success [in Crimea] may tempt him to repeat that performance more directly in the far eastern provinces of Ukraine. If successful, the conclusive third phase could then be directed, through a combination of political unrest and increasingly overt use of Russian forces, to overthrow the government in Kiev. The result would thus be similar to the two phases of Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland after Munich in 1938 and the final occupation of Prague and Czechoslovakia in early 1939. (The Washington Post, 03.03.14)
  • Russia’s unilateral and menacing acts mean the West should promptly recognize the current government of Ukraine as legitimate. Uncertainty regarding its legal status could tempt Putin to repeat his Crimean charade. (The Washington Post, 03.03.14)
  • On Obama’s approach to the Ukraine crisis: On the whole, I support the actions the president has taken so far. Considering the kind of democratic alliance we have, I think he generally did as well as is possible under present circumstances. He has had to tread carefully. ... Where I do fault him is for not explicitly addressing the American people on this issue. Notice, he hasn’t made a single major statement to the American people on what potentially could be a very major international crisis. And yet he needs the support of the American people… The president hasn’t laid out to the American people a comprehensive statement of what is really at stake. Why do we have this problem, why it is in our common interest to work it out, including with the Russians if possible—and if it doesn’t work out, why we have an obligation to help Ukraine. (Politico, 05.02.14, Remarks at the Atlantic Council, 04.29.14)
  • It is not an accident that in that one single portion of Ukraine in which the Russians actually predominate, the use of force has been sophisticated. The participants in the effort have been well armed, even with tanks, and certainly with effective anti-aircraft weaponry. All of that is something that even disagreeable, disaffected citizens of a country to which they feel they do not belong would not be storing somewhere in their attic or in their basement. These are weapons provided, in effect, for the purpose of shaping formations capable of sustaining serious military engagements. It is a form of interstate aggression. You can't call it anything else. How would we feel if all of a sudden, let's say, the drug-oriented gangs in the United States were armed from abroad, from our southern neighbor, by equipment which would promote violence on that scale on a continuing basis? (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • Ukraine has to be supported if it is to resist. If Ukraine doesn't resist—if its internal disorder persists and the state is not able to organize effective national defense—then the Ukraine problem will be resolved unilaterally… And the forces of chauvinism inside Russia will become more strident. And they do represent the most negative aspects of contemporary Russian society: a kind of thirst for nationalism, for self-fulfillment, gratification of the exercise of power. Something which is not pervasive in the new middle class, which is the longer-range alternative. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • We should make it clear to the Ukrainians that if they are determined to resist, as they say they are and seemingly they are trying to do so (albeit not very effectively), we will provide them with anti-tank weapons, hand-held anti-tank weapons, hand-held rocketsweapons capable for use in urban short-range fighting. This is not an arming of Ukraine for some invasion of Russia. … They should be weapons designed particularly to permit the Ukrainians to engage in effective urban warfare of resistance. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • [There should be] an open, not covert, effort to convince the Russians that any use of force will have negative, but enduring consequences for Russia itself, not involving a threat to Russia's security, but involving rising costs of the assertion of Russia's power at the cost of Ukrainian independence. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • Looking much further ahead, I think that one way or another, with or without a compromise solution, Crimea is going to become a serious economic burden for Russia. (Transcript of remarks at the Wilson Center, 06.16.14)
  • By summer 2014 Brzezinski believed Putin had three “basic choices” on Ukraine and Brzezinski himself unwaveringly supported the first: 1. He could pursue an accommodation with Ukraine by terminating the assault on its sovereignty and economic well-being. … 2. Putin could continue to sponsor a thinly veiled military intervention designed to disrupt life in portions of Ukraine. … 3. Putin could invade Ukraine, exploiting Russia's much larger military potential. (The Washington Post, 07.08.14)
  • As part of the above-mentioned accommodation, Brzezinski wrote: It should be made clear that Ukraine does not seek, and the West does not contemplate, Ukrainian membership in NATO. It is reasonable for Russia to feel uncomfortable about that prospect. Additionally, it would likewise be made clear that Russia no longer expects Ukraine to become part of the "Eurasian Union," which is a transparent cover for the recreation of something approximating the former Soviet Union or tsarist empire. This should not preclude, however, a Russian-Ukrainian trade deal, since both countries can benefit from increasingly cooperative trade as well as financial relations. … The issue of Crimea will remain unresolved for now, but it will serve as an enduring reminder that chauvinistic fanaticism is not the best point of departure for resolving complex issues. (The Washington Post, 07.08.14)
  • See also “Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors” section below and sections on “U.S. general policies toward Russia and other bilateral issues” and “Bilateral economic ties” above.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • On U.S. policy toward Russia in the wake of the Soviet collapse: Implicit in these notions is the view that Russia's major geostrategic concern is regional stability. That makes Russian and American goals basically compatible. Moreover, since Russia is the only power capable of generating stability within the former Soviet Union, and since the independence of some of the new states is precipitating regional conflicts, the pacifying role of Russia is thereby enhanced. Accordingly, the joint Clinton-Yeltsin communique at the January summit did not dispute Russia's interpretation of its "peacekeeping" mission in the "near abroad." Going still further, President Clinton, addressing the Russian people, not only described the Russian military as having been "instrumental in stabilizing" the political situation in Georgia, but even added that "you will be more likely to be involved in some of these areas near you, just like the United States has been involved in the last several years in Panama and Grenada near our area." (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • In late 1993 … the Russian military command asserted its de facto right to intervene in the former Soviet republics if developments there were deemed to violate Russian interests or threaten regional stability. These sentiments were subsequently echoed by Russian political leaders. Moreover, they have been matched by deeds. In 1993 Russian military behavior toward the new states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) became increasingly unilateral, while the Moscow government became more assertive in the use of economic leverage. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • The dynamic thrust of [Russia’s] prevailing policy seems to be pointed not toward the recreation of the old centralized union but toward a con-federal arrangement in which Moscow would dominate a cluster of satellite states (much like in the old Soviet bloc) but this time within the confines of the former Soviet Union itself. Russian politicians have been talking openly of making Russia the center of a new confederation within which the non-Russian, formerly Soviet states, while formally retaining the semblance of sovereignty, would be progressively and increasingly constrained by economic, political and military ties. … If not openly imperial, the current objectives of Russian policy are at the very least proto-imperial. That policy may not yet be aiming explicitly at a formal imperial restoration, but it does little to restrain the strong imperial impulse that continues to motivate large segments of the state bureaucracy, especially the military, as well as the public. (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
  • To the present [Russian] rulers, the appearance of a dozen or so newly independent states following the Soviet Union’s collapse is a historical aberration that should be gradually corrected as Russia recovers its power. Although it would appear that they realize that the end result may not be a single imperial state, they seem determined to attain the gradual subordination of the post-Soviet states within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States in a way that limits their practical sovereignty in the key areas of security and external economic relations. (The National Interest, Fall 2000)
  • In his 2012 book “Strategic Vision,” Brzezinski’s ranked list of states that are most geopolitically endangered by the ongoing changes in the world included the following: 1. Georgia, which could become anchored to Russia; 4. Belarus, which could be absorbed by Russia; 5. Ukraine, which could become anchored to Russia. (RM research)

IV. Miscellaneous

  • The next two decades are likely to be critical for Russia in determining its prospects for greater and politically genuine collaboration with West. (From Brzezinski’s 2012 book “Strategic Vision”)
  • Also in “Strategic Vision,” Brzezinski predicted that if America falters in its global leadership role, no “single preeminent successor” would emerge and “the resulting uncertainty is likely to increase tensions among competitors and inspire self-serving behavior.” The latter, he wrote, could include Russian encroachment on the independence of ex-Soviet states and splits in Europe’s position on Russia, with Germany and Italy gravitating closer to Moscow because of commercial interests. (RM research)

These quotations have been compiled by Russia Matters Project director Simon Saradzhyan and editor Natasha Yefimova-Trilling.

Photo credit: Photo by Tobias Kleinschmidt shared under a CC BY 3.0 DE license. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.