Mundus bellum



The West operates a true “proxy war” in Ukraine

The Italian scholar of geopolitics Lucio Caracciolo made a comment this week that struck a chord in the liberal West.[1] Russia is criticized − rightly, in my opinion − for avoiding the word “war”, but it is the West itself that repeats the same ambiguity by avoiding talking about war while operating a true “proxy war” by sending weapons to Ukrainians.

And this is why Caracciolo prefers to speak of the war in Ukraine as a real world war. Much more than repeating the “Moscow sentences”, as he likes to impute the already downgraded liberal chant to the critics of the military escalation, Caracciolo is perfectly aware of the risks that the expansion of NATO has long carried, recognized even by the most experienced strategists of the House White, like George Kennan.

Indeed, it was none other than George Kennan, patriarch of USSR containment, who warned Bill Clinton about his choice to add Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to the Atlantic military alliance. “I would expect a strong militarization of its (Russian) political life,” Kennen wrote in his diary on July 31, 1997.[2]

In Brazil, the defense of the “war by proxy” is also the way of the experts in geopolitics who pontificate in the media, as in the example of the journalist and geographer Demétrio Magnoli, who now supports the supply of weapons to Ukraine based on the UN Charter. . Making use of pathos from the imputation mentioned earlier, and launching himself against what would be a false pacifism of Leonardo Boff, Magnoli speaks of “collective self-defense” for “the right of non-belligerent nations to contribute to the war effort of an invaded country”.[3]

The newspaper columnist Folha de S. Paul, however, seems to ignore that this is an argument also used by those who speak in favor of Vladimir Putin's intervention. That's what Daniele Perra did at Eurasia – Rivista di Studi Geopolitici, referring to the fact that in the case of Russia, acting in self-defense in the face of NATO threats, it would be responding to two criteria, that of “necessity” and that of “proportionality”.[4]

A minority position in international law? Perhaps. But already the fact that there are two positions invites us to think that it would be better to bet on the diplomatic struggle towards a peace agreement − or at least a ceasefire, as Caracciolo now prefers to speak more modestly − than on sending armaments to the Ukraine.

Incidentally, it is nothing more than pure diversion to say that “Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to exchange peace for a statute of geopolitical neutrality for Ukraine” in the second week of war, “but Russia rejected the offer demanding the transfer of Crimea, Donbas and southern Ukraine to its sovereignty”. If we follow the progress of the conflict well, we know that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz went to Zelensky five days before the invasion with the same proposal of geopolitical neutrality, however rejected by the Ukrainian president. It is understandable that, at this point, it is unthinkable to have a negotiation around the issue of Russia's security that does not bring up the rediscussion of Ukraine's territorial limits.

In fact, the journalist-geographer's arguments hardly hide the belligerent anger that animates him. For him, the crime of Vladimir Putin, inscribed in international law by condemning the violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign country, would not only concern the invasion of Ukraine, but the fact that the “triumph in Ukrainian lands would impel Putin to continue his escalation of imperial wars in Moldova and the Baltic countries, under the guise of protecting 'Russians abroad'”.[5]

And here comes the time to remember what Michele Prospero, professor of philosophy of law at the Sapienza di Rome. Prospero does not contest Russia's crime, but he questions the theses that seek to punish it by a kind of ethical criterion, such as the intention of exporting an illiberal regime to the countries that border it.[6] Now, the thesis of the escalation of “imperial wars” in favor of “Russians abroad” mentioned by Magnoli is very close to this argument. A kind of "Jihad pan-Russian" to be fought by a "Jihad Western democracy”.

As Professor Prospero argues, "it is not necessary to inflate" Russia's crime "by a further ethical supplement." It must be discussed from what it effectively means − the violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity. Strictly speaking, the “Pan-Russian principle” on which “Vladimir Putin's company's military consensus is based” is based on a “feeling of marginalization of a former power that seems to have forgotten the humiliating event of the loss of the Cold War”.

The logic of political realism already pointed out by Kennan, nothing more. The same realism that Prospero, as we have seen without neglecting the international order – the reason for Magnoli’s insults to Boff – shares with the French scholar of international relations Bertrand Badie, for whom “Russia’s position in the international system was remarkably weakened by the combined effect of the disappearance of bipolarism, from which it had benefited greatly, and of globalization, which marginalized it”.

Abstracting from this discussion to surrender to the simple imputation of his interlocutors and of Russia – Antonio Gramsci had already pointed out how impoverishing this type of judicial view of history is –, Magnoli does nothing but adhere to the common sense that is now being launched in the West passionately to war and thus avoids any option for negotiation. This is the argument of the simplest social media commentator, but sometimes even the most “authoritative” university professor, who is no longer afraid to ask himself whether it is in fact necessary to arm Ukraine.

As Lucio Caracciolo once recalled,[7] when you start talking about nuclear war even in bars (this is the situation in Europe, but I would say no less so in Brazil, despite our distance from the geographic center of the conflict), you can assess the point we have reached.

Dulce Bellum Inexpert − those who don't know war like war −, said Luciano Canfora, quoting Erasmus of Rotterdam.[8] We need not recall Gramsci's critique of Erasmus, unable to think that Luther's and Reformation wars could forge a new culture. An attentive disciple of Lenin, Gramsci is talking about the revolutionary civil war.

A Bellum that now surrounds us, so appreciated by Magnoli and Western public opinion, is something very different. Before her, Erasmo's phrase pronounced by Canfora sounds like a call to reason. Will the cultural misery of our time be up to understanding it?

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva Professor at the Department of Geosciences at UFSC.




[2] Il silenzio di Puskin, in Limes – Rivista Italiana di Geopolitica, n. 2/2022, p. 13.

[3] Pacifismos, in Folha de São Paulo, 30/April/2022. Available in

[4] Analysis of the conflict in Ukraine, in Eurasia – Rivista di Studi Geopolitici, 7/mar/2022. Available in

[5] pass.

[6] Perchè l'invasionerussiaa violates the regulation of legalità internazionale, in Il Riformista. available in



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