Brzezinski on Russia 'We Are Already In a Cold War'

Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski believes the West should stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. "We should make it more costly for the Russians to use force," he tells SPIEGEL ONLINE in an interview.

Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: "Things move much more rapidly."

Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: "Things move much more rapidly."

An Interview by and

Russia wants to expand its arsenal of intercontinental rockets. The US intends to base heavy weaponry in Eastern European NATO member states. In addition, Washington is considering new atomic cruise missiles for Europe in response to Russia's alleged violation of an arms reduction treaty. The Ukraine crisis is threatening to spread.

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was US President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor from 1977 to 1981, talks about the new Cold War. Now 87, Brzezinski works for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Brzezinski, are we seeing the beginning of a new Cold War between Russia and the US?

Brzezinski: We are already in a Cold War. Whether it will become hot is fortunately still less than likely.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The last Cold War lasted more than 40 years. Will it last that long this time around?

Brzezinski: I don't think so. Things move much more rapidly. Pressures from the outside are more felt internally. If this continues, and if Ukraine doesn't collapse, domestic pressures in Russia will force whoever is in charge to explore alternatives. Hopefully, Putin is smart enough to know that it's better to explore alternatives ahead of time and not too late.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is he smart enough?

Brzezinski: That's very hard to say. He has what's called "smarts" in American, which is a kind of instinctive smartness. He has a real sophistication. I wonder why he's almost deliberately antagonizing more than 40 million people in a country next door which, until very recently, were not driven by any hostility towards Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think it is right for the US to send heavy weaponry to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states?

Brzezinski: Do you think it is right to send troops and weapons into a sovereign country and start up a limited war after having seized a larger portion of it?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are talking about Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Brzezinski: You have to see both sides. It's a question of action and reaction. I don't want a war, but I'm not going to be intimidated by the argument that if we respond symmetrically to unilateral actions by the other side, it is us who is somehow provocative and precipitating a war. On the contrary. Not doing so is the most likely way of precipitating a war.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't NATO playing into the hand of Putin's anti-Western propaganda?

Brzezinski: You mean NATO is not allowed to put troops on the territory of its member states when something potentially dangerous is happening nearby?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The question is whether it is politically wise because of the boost it could provide him domestically.

Brzezinski: That's exactly the argument that one could have made about a restraint reaction when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, or with the Anschluss of Austria.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you comparing Putin with Hitler?

Brzezinski: I think there are some similarities, but also some differences. Hitler was never particularly interested in personally making a lot of money. Putin has a side interest in making a lot of money, and that introduces a somewhat different perspective in life and one in which may perhaps be stabilizing and tempering down passions. But what is particularly dangerous is that he is a gambler.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Let's imagine a scenario where Russia invades the Baltics. Would NATO go to war?

Brzezinski: If he goes into the Baltic states by invasion, of course. That's the point of NATO, isn't it? We can't say to the world: "We don't mean what we are saying. We'll not do anything if you do anything"? That's a little bit like hanging out a sign on the front door of your home reading: "We are away, the doors are not locked." Do you think that would be a smart security strategy?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of the German population doesn't believe that Germany should use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia.

Brzezinski: I've seen that. What percentage of the Germans would say that, if Germany was attacked, the United States should not protect it?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Probably, the majority would say the US should help.

Brzezinski: Well, of course. That's human nature. That's why I don't worry too much about these things because human nature changes as circumstances change. Look at the Lithuanians, that tiny, little country. They have just announced that they are going to defend themselves, period. That should put Germany to shame. In fact, I believe Germany would fight. I think Ms. Merkel would fight. And the opposition would fight.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: in the Ukraine conflict, President Barack Obama has let German Chancellor Merkel take the lead. Is that a good move?

Brzezinski: I think Chancellor Merkel is doing an extremely good job. Obama also has some other problems, such as the Middle East.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Merkel believes that sending weapons to Ukraine is the wrong way to go. She doesn't believe that there is a military solution to the crisis. What do you think?

Brzezinski: We should make it more costly for the Russians to use force. I think it makes sense to give defensive weapons to the Ukrainians, like mortars and anti-tank rockets, for the defense of major cities. If you want to take over a large country, you have to take the big cities. And taking big cities is extremely expensive if people are willing to defend it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you see a potential solution to the crisis that could avoid further escalation?

Brzezinski: I do believe that the final outcome of this crisis should be reached on the basis of an accommodation, and that the fundamental framework for such an accommodation is the application to Ukraine of the same arrangements that have provided for stability and peace for a number of decades now between Russia and Finland. Ukraine should be free to choose its political identity, its political philosophy, and institutionalize it by closer links with Europe. But at the same time, Russia should be assured credibly that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO. I still think this is the formula for a solution.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: We've learned a lot about NSA in recent years. When you were national security advisor, did the NSA eavesdrop on German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt?

Brzezinski: I have a sense of responsibility to my former position, and therefore, I'm not going to discuss it.


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MikeBrooks 07/02/2015
1. Who is the danger?
Read the headlines in any European newspaper. Who is spying on it's erstwhile "friends", locks up completely innocent citizens of those countries and tortures them on mere suspicion? Who kills 40 or more innocent bystanders for every "suspected" bad guy targets with indiscriminate drone attacks? Who is so mistrustful of its own citizens that it listens into their phone calls, opens their mail, drives vans around their cities doing IMSI and other electronic surveillance, imprisons them on cooked up charges of wanting to join some terrorist group. Look, the US government is a corrupt, stinking circus sideshow run by an oligarchy composed of the likes of Michael Bloomberg and other hedge fund criminals. They are responsible for buying up cheap food in Africa and exporting it to Europe, leaving millions of poor African's with sky rocketing food prices and starvation. These swine created the Greek crisis, too. Their CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of the Ukraine, shot down a civilian aircraft, forced hundreds of civilians into warehouses and burned them to death, and contrived the present new cold war on behalf of US businesses and investors. I submit, who is the criminal? Russia, who pretty much minds their own business? Mr. Putin's, whose worst crime is loathing the music of an all women punk rock band and sent two of them to jail for six months for desecrating a church. Or, Obama, who has murdered at least 20,000 innocent civilians, ruthlessly destroyed the final democratic institutions of the US and turned it into an oligarchy, locked up countless thousands of innocent US citizens, sparked racial an social warfare, and looted the US Treasury on behalf of the worst collection of sociopaths the world has sen since 1937?
rsliazas 07/02/2015
2. Invasion of Lithuania
Your guest states that NATO will go to war if Russia invades Lithuania. (Although some Germans fear that Lithuania might invade Russia!). But what to do if the little green men and Russian "volunteers" show up at the border? (My idea: Shoot on sight!)
Victor Rasputnis 07/03/2015
3. Betrayal is not a human nature.
I disagree with Mr Brzezinski's reaction to the statement that 58 of 100 Germans do not want to fulfill obligations of their country (to military defend a NATO ally). He said it's a human nature. Human's do betray, true, but not as a prime reason. It's always something else: greed or cowardice. Also, I disagree with his optimism. If German public is so openly ready to betray an ally now, why would we believe Germans are reliable when it comes to the real action? Come to think of it, not everyone is fit to fight. Perhaps, some nations should just finance the military operations and let others act in the field?
redroseandy 07/05/2015
4. Peace Plan
The US has recently started a Cold War with China by surrounding it with military alliances, and has a hot war against Islam that NATO instigated to keep itself in a job at the end of Cold War 1. How much money does these war mongers think we have? I campaign to have all countries cede all of their armed forces in agreed stages, to a democratically elected United Nations, until war becomes impossible; as discussed in the peace treaty between the USSR and USA that ended the Cold War by the US agreeing to cut WMD in return for democracy in Eastern Europe.
attivant 07/05/2015
5. Nicht einverstanden, disagree
Russia wants to expand its arsenal of intercontinental rockets. >Only after very aggressive unfriendly West movements! The Ukraine crisis is threatening to spread. >This happens only because of the bad politics of the West! Ukraine is ready now to follow most of messages from USA and Europe. If tomorrow this country will fail in a new hyper-chaotic conflict – it would 80 % yours responsibility. And this scenario is so probable - Europe has no money now, I do not see how the Ukraine will change its economy even in two-three years with donations from EU billions and billions of dollars. Do you think it is right to send troops and weapons into a sovereign country and start up a limited war after having seized a larger portion of it? >It is not proved. Donetsk region was a significant soviet military base always. It should have had a lot of weapons and people having military background in army. Putin's anti-Western propaganda >Putin is extremely friendly to the West in comparison with communist and "patriots" who seating near 40% of places in Duma. Hitler was never particularly interested in personally making a lot of money. >Money in private accounts of Swiss banks – were not? But what is particularly dangerous is that he is a gambler. >Putin is a pure product of the soviet system, of the KGB, of the communist party and so on – like most people in Russia of 60 years old and older. He is not a gambler. Let's imagine a scenario where Russia invades the Baltics. >Only idiots in Russia are planning invasions in Baltic countries. As for me Baltic countries were always separate from Russia, it is another culture and religion, and Slavic people left Estonia 1000 years ago. But Ukraine does not! It was always a Russian influence here – Atilla had Russian name, gunns and skifen, Kiev was the first capital of Rus, the first bible on Russian was printed in Lvov (!) 500 years ago, most soviet bosses after Stalin were Ukrainian origins, and so on. East Ukraine was always some separate Cossacks Russian-speaking region. Solution in this conflict could be only significant political compromises from all sides. These compromises somehow existed in Soviet Union – in school was possible to choose the language for studying, there was own cultural development. Actually Ukraine got ALL from soviet Lenin's "regime" – in Russian empire Kiev region was not a national formation, somehow was west Ukraine only. Ukraine building now some fake country with some fake history.
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