French writer: Ukraine war “existential” for U.S.

Emmanuel Todd, a respected French historian and anthropologist, gave an interview to La Figero Friday that’s getting a lot of attention.

He said  the U.S.-Russian conflict over Ukraine is a global struggle that is “existential” for the USA as well as for Russia.   And, he said, U.S. power is more fragile than most Europeans and US Americans realize.

It is a test of the economic as well as military strengths of Russia on the one hand and the U.S.-led collective West on the other.  If the U.S. loses, its financial power as well as its military prestige will crumble.  It is not a conflict that the USA can simply walk away from as it did the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the 2014 coup in Ukraine and the failure of the Minsk accords to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority, both Russia and the NATO alliance prepared for a showdown.  But Russia prepared by building up its economic strength as well as its military strength.

It is true, Todd wrote, that Russia expected Ukraine to crumble during the first few weeks of the invasion.  Russians underestimated the determination of Ukraine and its NATO backers to resist.

But the USA and its allies underestimated Russian determination and US American weakness, he wrote. The Russian leaders regard this war as their last chance to resist American domination, and they will not willingly give in.

He said that if Russia, backed by China, can resist U.S. sanctions indefinitely and exhaust the European economy, American monetary and financial power would collapse and the U.S. government would no longer be able to finance its huge trade deficit and governmental budget deficit.  This means the US government cannot afford to withdraw from the conflict.

For now, Russia has the advantage.  Todd pointed out some indicators of relative strength.

Since sanctions began in 2014, Russia has doubled its production of wheat, while American wheat production has declined, Todd said.  Russia is the world’s leading exporter of nuclear power plants.

In 2007, US American military experts said the USA would soon have the ability to launch a first strike against Russia to which Russia could not respond.  Today, Todd said, Russia’s hypersonic missiles give it nuclear superiority.

He said the USA has more than double the college-age population of Russia, but Russia has 30 percent more students studying engineering.  The USA fills the gap by enrolling foreign students, mostly Chinese and Indian, but this is unstable.

The USA has more advanced high-tech weapons than Russia does, and this has helped Ukraine win some victories.  But Russians are beating the USA in mass production of low-tech weapons, he said, and this is providing decisive.  

Ukrainians cannot match the number of Russian artillery barrages and drone attacks.  Todd did admit it is not clear to him how long the Russians can keep this up.  “The outcome and solution to the war will depend on the ability of both sides to produce armaments,” he said.

The conflict between the USA and Russia is not only military and economic.  It is diplomatic and cultural.  Todd noted Russia’s success in drawing Saudi Arabia and other non-European countries away from the Western alliance.

One facet of Russia’s soft power is its support for local nationalism, traditional religion and the patriarchal family, Todd said.  U.S. backing for feminism and the LBGT+ movement are seen as cultural imperialism.

The old Soviet Union’s influence in Africa, the Muslim world and India was limited by the fact that the Communists were atheists.  Putin’s Russia seeks to persuade the Global South that US Americans and their European allies are atheists and degenerates.


As a US American citizen, I would like my country to be strong and peaceable, not weak and belligerent.

I mostly agree with Emmanuel Todd’s analysis.  I think right now Russia has the advantage, although I could be wrong, and things could change.

I don’t think the war is “existential” in the sense of threatening the existence of the United States as a nation.  It threatens U.S. domination, but we individual US American citizens don’t need world domination to be prosperous and free.

I think the best thing that US American leaders could do is to cut our losses right now, but I don’t think this is politically possible.  I don’t think a negotiated peace is possible any more.   I expect the fighting to go on until one side gives up.  

Even then, there may not be any peace agreement or even an armistice, just a cessation of fighting as in Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea.  And even if actual fighting ceases, the economic war will continue until one side or the other is exhausted.

A day of reckoning is coming.  When it does, I hope I will have contributed to understanding of the reasons. 


[Afterthought 01/17/2022].  I’ve already written about why I think Russia is likely to win and what the consequences would be .  I haven’t changed my mind.  But I could turn out to be wrong.  

The USA and the European Union may be better able to get through the current winter than I thought.  Russian resolve may be less than I thought.  There may be important things I’ve overlooked.

Suppose Volodymyr  Zelensky achieves his purpose of driving Russia from the borders of pre-2014 Ukraine.  Suppose Joe Biden achieves his purpose of  eliminating Russia as a possible military, diplomatic and economic rival.  The USA will have paid a huge price, and already is paying a price.

U.S. Army and Navy arsenals have been drawn down to dangerous levels in order to supply Ukraine.  The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve has been depleted, which means a U.S. energy crisis is a real possibility.  

Supply chain crises and the sanctions war are spurring inflation.   I see empty supermarket shelves, which I’ve never seen before except during the first weeks of the Covid lockdown .

Saudi Arabia is gravitating toward Russia and China.  The Saudi alliance is a keystone of U.S. power.  U.S. and E.U. seizures of Russian assets have inspired neutral countries to seek alternatives to the dollar, the euro and the Western banking system.  Dollar supremacy is a keystone of U.S. financial power.  

The NATO alliance will crack as frontline NATO allies realize the United States, rather than providing a shield, intends to use them as a spearhead.

Then there is the opportunity cost.  Resources poured into fighting Russia are resources not available for dealing with weather catastrophes, contagious disease, climate change, rebuilding U.S. infrastructure and other national needs.  

The longer the war goes on, the worse it will be for US Americans.


I’m providing multiple links in case the full translation becomes unavailable.

Google translation of Emmanuel Todd’s full interview with Le Figaro.

Arnaud Bertrand on Twitter: Emmanuel Todd, one of the greatest French intellectuals, claims the “Third World War” has started.

Emmanuel Todd on the Third World War by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama

French expert says U.S. monetary control of the world will collapse due to Ukraine war by Iran’s PressTV.  Source of photo.

French expert says U.S. may have lost control of world finance due to conflict in Ukraine by Tass.

German General tells US Generals to lose the Ukraine War as soon as possible to prevent losing the Empire in Europe by John Helmer for Dances With Bears [Added 01/17/2022]

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10 Responses to “French writer: Ukraine war “existential” for U.S.”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I don’t see it. The US has spent almost nothing on the war. We are sending over surplus Cold War-era equipment, most of which is slated for replacement in the next couple of years. The money was already spent. Unless we plan on launching another land war somewhere, we don’t have a use for the stuff.

    The US built up enormous weapons stockpiles to stop a presumed Soviet attack through the Fulda Gap and the Northern European plain. (They built up a similar stockpile to do just that.) We are trickling a small percentage of that into Ukraine to stop a Russian attack. I guess it is doing what it was designed to do. If you don’t need to replace something, the only real cost is the shipping.

    You will always get military people crying about stockpiles being too low. At the peak pf the cold war, when we had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, military people were claiming we didn’t have enough. How many vaporized cities does it take to deter a nuclear attack? A dozen? A hundred? One? There was never any chance that we could take out Russia’s arsenal without getting a nuclear response. Not even with a total surprise attack and the best missile defense system we can produce.

    Ironically, Germany is being saved by climate change. Russian hydrocarbon was a failed attempt to bring Russia into the fold by creating a mutual dependency that benefitted both sides. LNG is more expensive than cheap piped gas, but market economies adapt, and other sources of pipes natural gas are spooling up.

    Much is made of the fear Russia has of a western advance. It is hokum. Any assault on Russian borders would be met with a nuclear response, and that would be that. There are no NATO forces massed on the Russian border, and have never been. That allows Putin to strip those borders for the Ukraine adventure.

    OTOH the eastern flank of NATO has every reason to be terrified of Russian assault and know exactly what it is like to live under Russia’s thumb. The Ukraine assault points out the legitimacy of those fears. They can have no confidence that NATO would go to nuclear war to protect them. Better for NATO to support Ukraine, if Ukraine is willing, than to fight them in Vilnius.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ellie K Says:

      This is a surprise: “The U.S. has spent almost nothing on the war.” The entire U.S. Marine Corps costs us $40 billion per year. We have spent double that (in weapons and humanitarian aid) on Ukraine in 11 months with no end in sight. In fact, the U.S. has contributed more than any other nation. I can fish up a citation for that, but not unless Phil allows URLs in his blog comments.

      So far, it has been a mild winter. That’s fortunate for Europe, because fuel export sanctions on Russia have been totally ineffective despite destruction of Nord Stream2. China and India continue to buy fuel from Russia. EU’s Van der Leyden attempted to source fuel from Kazakhstan; that failed within 2 weeks, last July. The EU continued importing Russian natural gas and/or oil until 31Dec2022.

      U.S. natural gas from Odessa, Texas is now shipped at great cost to North Sea terminals; it is vital to Europe’s survival. As a result, natural gas prices are rising for Americans. I’m worried because Saudi Arabia and OPEC countries have shown zero inclination toward serving as an alternative energy source for the U.S. or EU.

      Liked by 1 person

      • philebersole Says:

        I do allow URLs (within reason) on my blog posts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        You miss the point. When the president sends a billion dollars of military aid to Ukraine, that is not cash. It is the replacement value of what was sent.

        We have a lot of gear that is obsolete, mothballed, and surplus. That is mostly what is being sent. We don’t expect to confront a million Soviet soldiers and tens of thousand of Soviet tanks rolling through the Fulda Gap. And its not even useful in a fight with China. There is no intent to replace most of the equipment because we don’t need it. The obsolete stuff already has replacements in the pipeline.

        It’s like having several cars, half of which you’ll never use, and giving one to a friend who needs it for work. What did it really cost you?

        Europe has largely been eliminated as a market for Russian energy. That’s where most Russian oil and gas pipelines go to. It is physically impossible for China and India to even come close to making up the differences. What is going out is at a steep discount and oil prices are a lot lower than when they peaked.


  2. Patrick Berting Says:

    Phil, I think your take on Ukraine is defeatist and unduly pessimistic. You make the situation appear worse than it is. To me, Ukraine is a war that the US and Nato have to win. Abandoning the Ukrainians would be appeasement of the highest order and invite further Russian aggression.
    I will grant that the war could have been avoided and arose from poor diplomacy and flawed intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. philebersole Says:

    Patrick, if Ukraine really is a war that the U.S. and NATO have to win, then the U.S and the other NATO countries should reinstitute military drafts, shift to a war economy, impose rationing and prepare to send troops to Ukraine.

    This is not even being seriously considered (nor should it be) because, from the standpoint of the U.S., it is not a war for survival, it is a war for geopolitical advantage.

    The Russians do consider Ukraine a war for survival, and that is why they are mobilized for war and we US Americans are not.

    The war in Ukraine for most Americans is a spectator sport. It is not on any top list of concerns of the voting public.

    As for whether I am being unduly pessimistic, time will tell.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ellie K Says:

      Thank you for this post, Phil. I do not believe that your outlook is defeatist or unduly pessimistic. In Feb 2022, Biden said he wanted regime change in Russia. It is inevitable that

      the NATO alliance will crack as frontline NATO allies realize the United States, rather than providing a shield, intends to use them as a spearhead.

      The European NATO member most distant from Ukraine (the UK), is the 2nd second greatest source of funding. Germany, France, Poland, and Hungary are in closer proximity to Russia but are less ardent in their military support of Ukraine.

      Biden needed to exert a lot of pressure on Scholz to get him to send Leopard 2 tanks. The U.S. will give M1A Abrams tanks and F-16s to Ukraine. This is escalation. General Milley doubts an end to Ru-Ukr hostilities anytime in 2023. As of today, Ukrainians have been dying for 354 days while most US & UK media report a daily narrative of total Russian defeat. Emmanuel Todd and some of the German press are more credible.

      Despite Biden’s triumphant State of the Union Address, supply chains haven’t recovered from COVID disruption. Inflation is impacting all Americans outside of the District of Columbia, and supermarket shelves are depleted in Arizona and New Mexico where I live, just as you observed.

      Our Strategic Reserves are being depleted. That wouldn’t be a problem if Biden’s energy policy permitted prospecting, more drilling as well as expedited development of new nuclear energy sources. Instead, Biden has halted US pipelines, and is prematurely decommissioning our existing nuclear power plants.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        This is silly. NATO isn’t configured for offensive operations. Even if it tried, Russia would go nuclear and that would be that.

        NATO is just a hook that Putin likes to hang his hat on. NATO has been on the Russian border since 1999. They’ve been very careful not to put large forces where it might make Putin nervous. Looked away nervously and wrung its hands in 2008 and 2014. Ukraine tried to get into NATO and was rejected by both France and Germany. I guess becoming dependent on Russian energy was part of the offensive strategy????

        This is Putin’s war. The country that sends tanks and troops and air power over a border first is always to blame. Ukraine has no moral obligation to cease to exist.


    • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

      The west is doing its nervous balancing act. Yeah, we’d like UKR to win but Putin is scary with all those nukes so we’ll increase support incrementally. If it turned into a total rout, there’s no telling what he’d do. The best we can hope for is a frozen conflict with Russia holding the minimum possible area.

      I can’t imagine ever publicly saying to UKR that they must surrender their territory to Russia for peace. There may eventually be leverage applied in private once it appears that no more gains can be made. UKR’s biggest risk is that the west gets bored. Russia’s biggest risk is if the west doesn’t.

      From my POV, Russia has already lost this war in many many ways. Ukraine has also lost a lot but they get a victory in denying Russia what it wants, a puppet state. Pretty obvious that the people of Ukraine have decided the bit of freedom they have is worth going thru hell for. Massive, massive miscalculation on Putin’s part. He’s only still fighting because he knows a loss will be catastrophic to his regime and his legacy. He’ll need to pretend somehow that he won… something.

      Here is a very interesting video on western aid to Ukraine:


  4. philebersole Says:

    Liked by 1 person

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