Understanding Trump’s Geopolitics

Like many, I was pleased by Donald Trump’s recent speech to the Polish people. Many commentators have lauded (or lamented) the fact that it was interspersed with references to the defense of Western Civilization and called for a rekindling of Christian culture across both Europe and America.

However, few have noted the geopolitical significance of the speech, which, by itself, should be enough to dispel the Left’s narrative of presidential collusion with Russia. Contained within the speech are little gems that, when understood within a broader geopolitical context, illuminate the president’s intention to curb Russian influence in Europe.

Russia, as every passing student of European history knows, has a geography problem. A mostly landlocked country with few warm-water seaports, it suffers from a peculiar geopolitical liability. As a result, Russia has always sought to influence other countries throughout Europe to expand its political power and acquire access to a port city that would improve its defenses on the high seas. In the past this took the form of Pan-Slavism and the Iron Curtain.

Today, Russia uses outright military and economic coercion, as we’ve seen with the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, as well as use of natural gas to render Europe economically dependent on Moscow. Russia’s support of Syria in the fight against ISIS also plays a part; as long as the Assad regime remains in power, Russia has a Mediterranean naval base in the port Syrian city of Tartus.

Russia has gotten away with its bad behavior thanks in large part to the ineptitude of the previous administration, from the unenforced “Red Line” in Syria and the feckless retreat from ballistic missile defense to the tepid condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Recently, National Review reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to meddle more in the Balkans by bolstering Russian support for a proposed independence referendum for the autonomous Serbian Republic within Bosnia and Herzegovina, following that country’s formal application last year to enter the European Union.

While Russia’s actions under the previous administration cannot be undone, President Trump could stem the tide of Russian influence in Europe—and in his Warsaw speech points to how.  

“America loves Poland”: This Trumpian turn of phrase may be reminiscent of campaign trail rhetoric, but the sentiment behind it has never been more necessary in Eastern Europe. During the Obama Administration, Poland’s relations with the United States—like those of many other countries—became strained. President Obama in 2010 decided to end a long-standing commitment to build a missile defense shield, significantly weakening Poland in relation to an increasingly ambitious Russia. Not only has President Trump reversed that decision, which allows Poland to purchase the Patriot Missile Defense System, he has now visited the country and delivered a speech there to signal the renewed bond between our two peoples. The president is also sending the message that Poland is the first line of defense against Russian aggression in Europe, and will be bolstered by the United States if it is ever under threat.

“The Three Seas Initiative”: President Trump briefly mentioned this forum comprised mostly of former-Eastern Bloc countries. The group first convened in 2016 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, to discuss security and economic growth, among other issues. While most commentators glossed over the president’s reference, the Initiative’s very existence and Trump’s participation in it has serious geopolitical implications.

The idea of a Central-Eastern European federation has been fundamental to Poland’s foreign policy since the end of World War I, when Józef Piłsudski began to pursue a strategy of “Prometheism.” The idea was to weaken the Russian Empire’s influence by supporting nationalist movements among the non-Russian peoples of Eastern Europe, all while pursuing an “Intermarium” federation that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Sound familiar?

Though Piłsudski’s goal never bore fruit, his ideas weren’t forgotten. The Three Seas Initiative is beginning to resemble Piłsudski’s longed for federation in concrete ways. Most notably, the members are planning to build their own natural gas infrastructure, starting with liquefied natural gas terminals at ports in Poland and Croatia. What’s more, four of the initiative’s members—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia—have all joined together in a separate political union called the Visegrad Group, which responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with a “battlegroup” project meant to encourage joint military operations and coordinate defensive procurement and development.

What these peoples understand is that Russia will think little of them if their influence is in jeopardy, for all of them are one generation removed from Communist tyranny. President Trump, in supporting such initiatives is signaling to the international community that America will make good on its promises to protect Eastern Europe from Russian incursion.

“Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival”: We have seen the litany of articles published in the last few weeks about Trump’s defense of Western Civilization, yet when understood within the context as presented here, Western Civilization seems to take on a different meaning. Its invocation, along with frequent mentions of Christianity, mean the struggle against ISIS and radical Islam as a whole. But the president was also talking about the ever present struggle to keep an ambitious Russia at bay.

Vladimir Putin famously said that dissolution of the Soviet Union was the “major geopolitical disaster of the 20th Century.” His goal has always been to resurrect the old Soviet empire, minus the Communism. He seems to fancy himself a quasi-czar.

Yet Putin is running out of time with this new administration. Although President Trump has said that he would like to mend the relationship with Russia, this will occur only under his America First policy of ensuring the United States (and the rest of the West for that matter) protects its interests. Understood in that light, all of the media chatter about “collusion” begins to sound downright silly.

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About Nicholas Bartulovic

Nicholas Bartulovic is a graduate student at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. He is a former Ashbrook Scholar and lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife.

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8 responses to “Understanding Trump’s Geopolitics

  • It’s all about LNG , the Qatar play is part of this strategy too. Diminish Russian influence in Europe while taking their market. Cut backchannel funds to Iran though Qatar by taking their market and improving balance of trade with China at same time.

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  • Ukraine voted to rejoin Russia, it was not an invasion. One lie invalidates your entire argument.

  • More silly vilification of Russia. Russia did not behave badly in Syria. Russia came to remedy the mess that the Saudis, Turks, Qataris, and Obama created: the destabilization of the Assad regime. Russia was, and is, one of the only rational actors in that whole catastrophe. If Assad falls, ISIS triumphs. This has been so crystal clear for the last six years, and yet Russophobes like John McCain continue to beat the tired Cold War drum. This author should stick to the violin and stay out of geopolitical commentary.

    • Russian support of the Assad regime and it’s indiscriminate bombing, blockading, and murder of Syrian civilians cannot be defended. Those of us who attempt to excuse the inexcusable should be ridiculed and shamed into rethinking the absurdity of Russia’s Syrian civil war participation as being noble.

      • Assad had the civil uprising well under control back in 2011, until his neighbors started pouring arms and money into the place. The fact that the uprising turned into a six-year Civil War is purely the fault of Syria’s neighbors, the US, and our idiotic allies. It is not our business to take sides in other nations’ civil wars. I knew, from the first days of the uprising, that chaos was the only other option. And that has indeed occurred. I wish idealistic people like you were more realistic. Sometimes the choice is only between, a) an authoritarian dictator, and b) chaos. That’s all we can hope for an Arab countries. Those two choices. It is cruel to pretend otherwise. Many many Arabs are dead because America and its allies have pretended otherwise.

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