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A letter from Prof. Sir Halford Mackinder to European leaders on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Dear Mr. Cameron, Mr. Hollande, Dr. Merkel and Mr. Van Rompuy,

Halford Mackinder

I write to you as the key European leaders in the Euro-Atlantic community, not least as you shape your responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. You may not be aware but I have been observing keenly geopolitical developments in Eastern Europe since my death in 1947. As the world’s first modern geopolitical theorist, I have always placed special emphasis on the importance of Eastern Europe. Why? My dictum is simple: ‘Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island controls the world.’

In other words, Eastern Europe is the gateway between the vast resources of Asia and the dense and technologically advanced populations of Europe. This means that it will either be controlled by imperial despotism in the form of Russia, or by democratic civilisation in the form of Europe. Due to its geostrategic location, who gains access over this crucial zone will also gain influence over the entire Eurasian supercontinent. When Eastern Europe is controlled from Moscow, Europeans – and by extension, North Americans – will be held captive, as they were for much of the Cold War. When Eastern Europe is shaped by Brussels (as well as London, Paris and Berlin) – and by extension, Washington – Russia will be weakened and rendered relatively harmless, as it was for much of the 1990s and 2000s.

For the past twenty years, I have observed as Western strategists have steadily enlarged the democratic European zone of peace, first into Central and then into Eastern Europe. This was perhaps the greatest geopolitical triumph of the twentieth century, and it unshackled countless millions from Soviet-Russian tyranny, from Poland to the Baltic States, and from Georgia to Romania. The result was the enlarged European Union (EU), undergirded by the Atlantic Alliance – and ultimately by American, British, French and German strategic power – which unleashed a period of prosperity and globalisation unrivaled in European history.

The Russian invasion of Ukrainian Crimea threatens to reverse this trend. Today, I turn in my grave as I watch you all engaging in what can only be described – accurately on this occasion – as a policy of appeasement. You believe that you can subdue Vladimir Putin’s revisionist regime by granting concessions. You are very wrong.

As one of the statesmen who observed the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, I wish to offer you some geopolitical guidance as you shape your responses. Be in absolutely no doubt that Moscow is testing your unity and resolve: Putin and the domestic political forces behind him believe the democratic West is a decadent and declining civilisation, which will not resist Russian geostrategic advances. So far, you have proven him right. You must be under no illusions as to the severity of this situation: this is a struggle for power over who will shape the destiny of Eastern Europe, as well as – according to my dictum – beyond. That is to say, European weakness today will invite additional Russian aggression tomorrow – and that could end very badly.

Russia’s power is now such that you – and the wider West – will pay a price, irrespective of your decisions. You bear some responsibility for this situation: had you not invested so heavily in the Russian energy sector and sought to draw Moscow into the European Neighbourhood as a ‘partner’ over the previous fifteen years, Russia may today have remained a poor and feeble husk. But I digress: the question now is whether you wish to pay a smaller price today or a bigger price tomorrow to prevent Moscow’s attempts to stoke-up chaos and disorder in the European Neighbourhood. I will work under the assumption that you do not wish to be remembered by future generations as a new cabal of ‘guilty men’. Thus, here are my recommendations:

  • All three countries – France, Germany, the United Kingdom (UK) – and the wider EU should apply punitive sanctions on Russian economic interests, particularly on Russian financial activity in London, Paris and Frankfurt. This will be painful, but well worth the price to inflict damage on the Kremlin, while punishing simultaneously the Russian elite for supporting it.

  • Mr. Cameron and Mr. Hollande: dispatch warships to the Black Sea and – crucially – jet-fighters to the Baltic region. The United States cannot be left to shoulder the responsibility for helping to reassure nervous allies and re-asserting the unity and power of the Atlantic Alliance. The UK and France, as the two main European military powers, must provide assistance too; indeed, given their closer geographic proximity to Eastern Europe, they should also take the lead.

  • Dr. Merkel: announce that Germany will begin a wholesale revision of its energy policy with immediate effect to reduce European energy dependency and slash European financial transfers into Russian coffers; simultaneously, provide the economic resources necessary to help get the new Ukrainian government back on its feet. The rapid stabilisation of Ukraine will prevent further meddling from Moscow.

  • Mr. Hollande: France must cancel the sale of its Mistral class projection vessels to Russia with immediate effect. Would you have sold battleships to Nazi Germany in the 1930s? Of course not. So, do not sell such potent war machines to Russia.

  • Mr. Van Rompuy: ensure the EU pushes even more assertively with its geopolitical objectives in Eastern Europe. Ignore those who counsel that the European Neighbourhood is a shared space or that Moscow is a ‘strategic partner’. Respond by telling your advisors that the European continent must remain unipolar with the EU as a supra-European power and that Russia must not be granted the ability to re-assert bipolarity and division. As per the new Ukrainian government’s wishes, push forward with the ‘Association Agreement’ and bring Kyiv permanently into the European fold. Although Moscow may win Crimea by force of arms, it must be seen by the entire world to lose the rest of Ukraine – and permanently.

I understand that you will not like some of my proposals. Indeed, some of you may even see them as a blowback from the distant past. After all, most of your foreign policy advisors believe that geopolitics has been replaced with geoeconomics or something otherwise known as ‘internationalism’. They are wrong; the future – just like the present – will show that I am right. Therefore, I wager that if you wish to avert disaster in Eastern Europe, in turn reversing years of Western advances, you would be well advised to take my proposals seriously.

Yours sincerely,

Prof. Sir Halford J. Mackinder

Director, London School of Economics (1903-1908)
Chairman, Geographical Association (1913-1946)
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Camlachie (1910-1922)
British High Commissioner to Southern Russia (1919-1920)
Author of the Geographical Pivot of History and Democratic Ideals and Reality