A borderland is a region where history is constant: Everything is in flux. The countries we are visiting on this trip (Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Poland) occupy the borderland between Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Roman Catholic Hapsburg Austria struggled with the Islamic Ottoman Empire for centuries, with the Ottomans extending northwest until a climactic battle in Vienna in 1683. Beginning in the 18th century, Orthodox Russia expanded from the east, through Belarus and Ukraine. For more than two centuries, the belt of countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas was the borderland over which three empires fought.
Editor's note: Originally published Nov. 9, 2010, this has been re-featured due to its timeless content. This is the second installment in a series of special reports that George Friedman will write over the next few weeks as he travels to Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. In this series, he will share his observations of the geopolitical imperatives in each country and conclude with reflections on his journey as a whole and options for the United States.
There have been endless permutations here. The Cold War was the last clear-cut confrontation, pitting Russia against a Western Europe backed -- and to a great extent dominated -- by the United States. This belt of countries was firmly if informally within the Soviet empire. Now they are sovereign again. My interest in the region is to understand more clearly how the next iteration of regional geopolitics will play out. Russia is far more powerful than it was 10 years ago. The European Union is undergoing internal stress and Germany is recalculating its position. The United States is playing an uncertain and complex game. I want to understand how the semicircle of powers, from Turkey to Poland, are thinking about positioning themselves for the next iteration of the regional game.
I have been accused of thinking like an old Cold warrior. I don't think that's true. The Soviet Union has collapsed, and U.S. influence in Europe has declined. Whatever will come next will not be the Cold War. What I do not expect this to be is a region of perpetual peace. It has never been that before. It will not be that in the future. I want to understand the pattern of conflict that will occur in the future. But for that we need to begin in the past, not with the Cold War, but with World War I.