The Case of the Missing Chessboard

By Pippa Malmgren

The return of geopolitics is a shock. Now humans have to catch up. The big problem is that the people in charge are also behaving like amateurs.  They talk about making all kinds of dramatic moves but without any sense of where the chessboard actually is (Thanks to Robbin Laird of the Second Line of Defence for this idea).

Worse, even if they could identify where it is, there is no sense of strategy. What is the end game? Where do we want to end up with the superpowers? What is the definition of “winning” in this situation?

What do I mean by “where is the chessboard”? You can speak of sanctions or moving nuclear capability onto mobile platforms (Russian and American nuclear submarines in the Pacific and the Atlantic) or even of building trenches WWI style around Crimea.

But to what end?

These are tactical considerations that will have no impact, or adverse impact, without a grand strategy.  Russia and China have a clear and grand strategy. They are aligning with nations around the world to do lucrative deals. Ironically, the former communist nations have become highly commercial. They understand that influence is more easily accomplished through financial gain than ideology.

The Economist captured the problem well in “Can the West Win Over the Rest” saying, “In a more transactional world, the price of influence is going up.” Put another way, QE raised the price of influence as well as everything else.

The non-Aligned countries don’t want to choose sides. They want to make money. Who is offering better money-making deals these days?

It’s not the US.


Because Americans are not that interested in the rest of the world.

Because American companies find it hard to do business abroad and not trip up over the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Because Americans cannot deal with organized crime that increasingly dominates mainstream business in many parts of the world.

I am not saying that America needs to get darker about its approach to negotiating. I am saying that dark forces in the world economy are on the rise, and the U.S., for now, has no alternative game to offer, even though nobody like being engulfed by what the other side is offering.

When you ask about this, you just get shoulder shrugs. There’s nothing we can do about this, say the non-aligned. We have to create jobs. If Russia and China are buying, we have to be selling. The Economist writes, “Their (the non-aligned) economic clout is rising. Consider the 25 largest non-aligned economies, or the “transactional-25” (defined as those which have not imposed sanctions on Russia, or have said they wish to be neutral in the Sino-American contest). Together they account for 45% of the world’s population, and their share of global GDP has risen from 11% when the Berlin Wall fell to 18% today, more than the EU.”

So where is the chessboard?

It seems to be on a checkered landscape of backroom deals being done under organized crime threats. Will moving nuclear weapons around fix this?

No. I hear people in the military world talking of tactics that won’t make any difference. You can place naval assets in the Baltic and soldiers in the Baltic states, but you may wake up to find that the opponent already owns everybody hundreds of miles beyond your position. You think you control the territory because you have tanks.

But they control the territory because they have terrorized the locals into accepting cash to save themselves. You are already surrounded by “merchant adventurers” who work for the other side, and all their victims are bound to them, perhaps even exhibiting signs of Stockholm Syndrome.

This is how Estonia’s capital, Tallin, in a nation with almost no non-ferrous metals, became the world’s 6th largest metal exporting location on earth, earning it the nickname “Metalinn.” Like the American mafia, these crime gangs used to be bullying thugs, but they got smarter and suited up.

Now they are extremely sophisticated businesspeople who glide fluidly through life in beautiful cars accompanied by the best lawyers in town and usually working closely with enforcement officials who are on the take. Lest anyone think this is a rare phenomenon, look at the recent findings by Lady Case’s investigation into the British Met Police, where so many officers (hundreds, if not thousands) have been found to be involved in corruption that there will be at least 2-3 court cases a week for years to come. London used to jokingly be called Londonistan because so many Russians were based there.

But the true implications of this were not acknowledged. Even Britain, which is America’s leading defense partner, has been compromised by organized crime and graft at the highest levels. Nuclear weapons won’t solve this….

The Russian influence in Latin America, like its influence in Africa is on the rise. This reality doesn’t fit the current “Russia is broke and isolated” narrative we see in the press or coming from Washington.

Jack the Dripper’s trove of classified documents reveals that Washington is aware of this but unable to do anything about it. The Wagner Group and Russian operatives are not only deeply embedded in Africa, but also in Latin America. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has just begun his first tour of Latin America since the war in Ukraine began. He has more friends than enemies on this continent. Jobs beat morals here.

In Africa, the Russian presence is ever more apparent in places like Sudan. The contest for control of the state is between various groups, from the official military to the rebel forces, who are all backed by Russia. It does not matter which one wins. Russia will win with any of them. It may be that Russia isn’t even interested in political control. The goal is simply to plunder the valuable assets like gold and make use of the valuable locations like the Sudanese ports on The Red Sea. That’s the way to play chess. Make all the pieces work in your favor.

In the West, those in the markets talk about the de-dollarization of the world economy but not understanding that something more profound is in play. This isn’t about which fiat currency you use. It’s about whether the fiat is a government or an entity that controls everything through violence. This is not about de-dollarization.

Featured graphic: Photo 128641035 / Chessboard Strategy © Ilkin Guliyev |

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