The ghosts of World War I circle over Ukraine

We don’t yet know the details behind the tragic downing of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine on July 17, but in one sense, the details aren’t going to matter very much in the global scheme of things. The geopolitical outcome is already known. World outrage has focused on Russian president Vladimir Putin to such an extent that Putin has suffered a huge loss of moral authority. That, in turn, lessens his range of actions in his ongoing confrontation with the West over Ukraine and increases the likelihood that Russia will lose its traditional dominance over that split country that straddles Russia and the West.

If that happens, prospects for a rapprochement between Russia and the West will be dead for a considerable period. And the watchword in U.S.-Russian relations will be hostility.

Thus, the downing of the Malaysian airliner is likely to be one of those hinge points that historians look back on as having deflected the course of world events. In these spaces the other day, Jacob Heilbrunn suggested a possible correlation between the Malaysia Airlines disaster and the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which set in motion events leading to World War I. It’s worth pondering, particularly an element of the Sarajevo story that could prove pertinent to our own time—namely, the mushrooming of seemingly isolated events into major geopolitical confrontations.

It is noteworthy how quickly the political passions leading to the Sarajevo assassination were overwhelmed by much larger and more profound geopolitical realities and tensions. The fate of the Serbs and their struggle against their Austrian overlords, a matter of intense political anguish in the Balkans at the time, evaporated in significance as Europe’s great powers grappled with complex alliance structures, far-reaching foreign-policy imperatives, internal political threats, and the exigencies of national honor.

Similarly, the emotions generated the past week at the thought of innocent air travelers getting blown out of the sky will soon be subsumed under much more significant geopolitical ambitions and maneuverings. As columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote this week, “Miscalculation and thoughtless error have often sown chaos in the relationships among nations. The deaths of 298 innocent people . . . transformed the battle for Ukraine into a global issue.”

While nobody seriously believes the missile attack on the airliner was a purposeful effort to kill civilians with no stake in the fate of Ukraine, it appears that pro-Russian separatist elements in eastern Ukraine fired the missile that downed the plane and that they received the training for the weapon, if not the weapon itself, from Russia. And, since the United States considers the separatist insurgency in Ukraine to be illegitimate and Russia’s involvement even more so, it was inevitable that the July 17 tragedy would be leveraged for broader geopolitical aims.

It will work. World opinion is turning powerfully against Russia and President Putin, with a lot of help from important world leaders such as President Obama and his ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, as well as many others throughout America and Europe. The result is that Putin will lose much of whatever leverage he had in the matter of the fate and future of Ukraine. Whatever prospect he had of negotiating an end to Ukrainian bloodshed on terms acceptable to him will be lost in the storm of anger generated by that airliner attack.

Again, this is reminiscent of the Sarajevo crime, so heinous that it swept away much of the sympathy previously harbored for the Bosnian Serbs in their struggle against the Habsburgs. Even the timing of Ferdinand’s visit constituted a nasty insult to Serbs throughout the Balkans, coming as it did on the venerated Serbian holiday commemorating the 1389 Serbian defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. But now this insult, not to mention the broader Serbian struggle, no longer mattered in the geopolitical swirl unleashed by the assassin’s bullets.

Similarly, Putin’s range of options will be severely attenuated now in the wake of the Malaysian Airline disaster. We are likely to see in Ukraine a chain of events that Putin was seeking to prevent through a series of extremely delicate and calculated maneuvers. To understand what this is all about, it is necessary to explore the fundamental interests that Putin was pursuing in Ukraine as well as President Obama’s attitude toward those interests.

Russia’s interest in Ukraine is two-fold. First, it is imperative for Russia’s national interest, and also for its cultural sensibility, that eastern Ukraine be allotted a reasonable degree of autonomy from the central authority in Ukraine. Ukraine is a split country. Half of its people are of western origin and look to the West as the locus of their cultural identity. But the country’s eastern half is populated by people of Russian origin, who speak Russian and whose cultural identity emanates from what they consider the Motherland. Russia considers it a national imperative to prevent these people from being swallowed up in a Ukraine dominated by the Western-oriented people of its western regions.

More significantly, Russia’s national interest requires that Ukraine never come under the full sway and influence of the European powers. Ukraine has been part of the Russian sphere of influence for more than 350 years, and this reality has contributed greatly to the country’s sense of security. The geography of Russia—vulnerable to attack through lands devoid of natural protective barriers—gives it a sense of vulnerability that has been, for centuries, uppermost in the minds of its leaders and populace. The result is a need to control surrounding territory as a hedge against that inherent vulnerability. Ukraine has been part of this strategic concern for centuries.

What this means is that Russia may accept Ukraine as a buffer nation between East and West, so long as its Russian-speaking people are accorded a proper degree of cultural respect and autonomy. But it will never allow Ukraine, and particularly eastern Ukraine, to be pulled away from its historical tie with Russia and become a part of the West. This geopolitical necessity is as firmly embedded in the Russian consciousness as the Monroe Doctrine is embedded in the American geopolitical outlook.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the facts on the ground. When Ukraine’s previous president, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced from office following massive pro-Western street protests that turned violent and generated threats on his life, the country appeared to be headed toward civil war. The new president, Petro Poroshenko, faced the need to put down the separatist insurrection in the country’s east. Russia’s Putin, after annexing Crimea in the crisis, seemed willing to accept Poroshenko’s governing mandate to keep his remaining nation intact.

He asked his parliament to rescind the previously enacted law giving him the right to invade Ukraine. He said he and his government “want to create conditions for [a] peace process.” He also ignored pleas from the separatist rebels in Ukraine that they be allowed to join the Russian Federation. Poroshenko welcomed these actions as the “first practical step of support for the peace plan.”

Further, when Poroshenko launched a military attack on insurgent positions in the east, Putin did not embrace the insurgent cause. Soon Ukrainian government forces had cut in half the territory controlled by the rebels and squeezed them largely into the eastern industrial city of Donetsk. Morale crumbled in the rebel forces, and dissention emerged. As described in an excellent dispatch in Canada’s Globe and Mail, several dozen militia fighters in Donetsk abandoned their weapons and fatigues and disappeared. One rebel recruit was quoted as saying, “Russia abandoned us. The leadership is bickering. They promise us money but don’t pay it. What’s the point of fighting?”

Meanwhile, the putative leader of the separatist rebellion, Igor Girkin (or Strelkov, as he is more widely known), acknowledged substantial impediments to enlisting support from locals. “It is very difficult,”  he said, “to protect this territory with the forces at our disposal.”

In other words, Poroshenko was winning the war for control of eastern Ukraine, and Putin did not pursue overt actions to reverse his gains. That’s the most salient reality of the situation on the ground.

But Putin did provide covert support to the rebels in an effort to keep them from being overrun. Most likely, he pursued this approach largely to protect his bargaining position, and that of eastern Ukraine, in any peace negotiations that might emerge.

After all, Poroshenko has not exactly conveyed a sensitivity to the interests of Russia or his own Russian-oriented citizens. Upon taking office, he seemed to accept a degree of autonomy in the East, but he set clear limits. Ukraine, he said, “was, is, and will be a unitary state.” More significantly, he forcefully advocated a move “towards fully fledged membership of Ukraine in the European Union”—building upon, he said, actions already taken to create an association agreement with the EU and visa-free travel for Ukrainians to European countries. The call for “fully fledged” EU membership generated prolonged applause in the Ukrainian parliament.

It isn’t difficult to see why Putin bristled at this and why he felt a need to preserve his bargaining leverage in any negotiations that could be established to bring peace to this troubled land. After all the civic drama, the destruction of an elected government, the eastern rebellion, the resulting bloodshed, the Russian grab of Crimea, the great-power confrontations, it appears that the Ukrainian government is still dedicated to pulling the country out of Russia’s sphere of influence. And it is equally apparent, manifest in Obama’s increasing sanctions squeeze against Russia, that the EU and the United States stand ready to aid and abet Poroshenko’s vision.

That’s the significance of the enhanced sanctions announced by Obama just prior to the downing of the Malaysian jetliner. Obama wants Russia to stop supporting the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who wish to break off from the government in Kiev. Obama also wants Russia to intervene with those separatists to get them to give up the fight and accept a negotiated settlement favored by Obama and his European counterparts. In other words, Obama and the EU want to neutralize Russia in the matter of Ukraine’s future so they can terminate Russia’s centuries-long dominance over the territory of Ukraine.

Russia can never accept this. No Russian leader could permit it and expect to remain Russia’s leader. So long as that threat hovers over those struggling to deal with this tragic mess, relations between Russia and the West will continue to deteriorate.

Prior to the Malaysian airliner disaster, the outcome of this standoff was an open question. But now, in the wake of this anger-generating event, Putin’s delicate maneuver game is on the verge of collapse. In the short term, it isn’t likely he will be able to reverse or impede the events leading to the integration of Ukraine, including eastern Ukraine, into the European community.

But in the long term, Russia will never accept this humiliating geopolitical defeat. Thus, will Ukraine become a festering sore between East and West, a lingering flashpoint between Russia and America. In this environment, there will be hardly any prospect at all of U.S. diplomacy enlisting Russia’s help in the pursuit of American goals in Iran, in the rest of the Middle East, in U.S. efforts to deal with a rising China, in our efforts to maintain stability in the Caucasus, or in global energy.

The ultimate outcome is likely to be written in the reality that Ukraine affects the strategic interests of Europe and America hardly at all, whereas it is crucial to Russia’s strategic well-being. That reality, coupled with the calamitous fallout of an aviation tragedy, will guide events in Ukraine and surrounding environs far into the future.


2014-07-23

About the author:

Robert W. Merry is political editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy.

Source: The National Interest

RELATED POSTS
Neocon Insanity and “Political Madness”: Hillary Clinton and the Dangers of Nuclear War
As we move into the final month prior to this year’s presidential election, the tempo of dramatic world events and developments that are breaking daily is mind boggling. Every single day we are seeing more outrageously desperate actions on the part of the globalists and their US government minions. Among the latest unfolding developments this week all fast tracking towards world war against Russia is NATO’s violation of international law deploying AWACS (Airborne Radar Warning and Control system) in Syria despite only Syria and Russia possessing the legal right to control the embattled country’s airspace. With both US and Turkish boots ...
READ MORE
George Soros’s False Flag Factories
Global hedge fund tycoon and political provocateur George Soros is leading a war of symbols, namely flags and banners either resurrected or conjured up by his myriad non-profit groups, to stir religious, racial, and ethnic tensions the world over. From the Serbian OTPOR! movement and its clenched-fist symbol adopted by protests groups around the world to the menacing black and white flag of the Islamic State, which first appeared during the Soros-backed «Arab Spring» rebellions, Soros’s «false flag» factories have been running at break-neck production speeds. Soros and his acolytes saw the importance of symbology in the writings of Gene Sharp ...
READ MORE
Africa, Russia, United States Imperialism And The Bankruptcy Of The International Criminal Court
As defections continue from the Rome Statute the Netherlands-based group says Washington may have engaged in torture A recent article published in the New York Times appears to suggest that the United States will be investigated by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for committing torture against captives in Afghanistan. Surprisingly enough the ICC has almost exclusively focused its attention on alleged war crimes and acts of genocide taking place in Africa. Many of the cases have in effect served the interests of U.S. imperialism where governments which are targets for destabilization and regime-change are indicted by the prosecutorial institution in order ...
READ MORE
Ending NATO, a Monstrous Institution
Their anxiety about the future of NATO, recently on full display again when the American president was in Europe, could not be bettered as a measure of the incapacity of Europe’s top politicians to guide their continent and represent its populations. Through its provocations of Moscow, NATO systematically helps increase the risk of a military confrontation. By thus sabotaging its declared purpose of preserving collective security for the countries on either side of the Atlantic, it erases its fundamental reason for being and right to exist. Grasping these facts ought be enough to fuel moves aimed at quickly doing away with ...
READ MORE
The 2014 Ukraine Coup was as Much about China as Russia
The events which led to the 2014 coup in Ukraine are generally blamed on anti-Russia actors, including the United States and EU. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was recently in the EU where he said the following, “The largely-provoked-from-the-outside Ukrainian crisis has become the direct consequence of such short-sighted policy of Washington and Brussels”. He continued, “We hope that Germany and France, as partners within the Normandy format, as well as the US who have a special influence on the Kiev establishment, will use their means to change the situation”. Lavrov went on to define his hopes for Ukraine stating, “We want to see Ukraine a ...
READ MORE
Stepan Bandera: The Legacy of Self-Loathing Nazi’s in America
Stepan Bandera’s 106th birthday celebration passed on New Year’s day 2015 and the question of what it means in Ukraine is front and center again. Are there really nazis in Ukraine today? When the Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseni Yatsenyuk can say on German News “We cannot allow Russia to attack Ukraine and Germany again like the Soviet Union did in 1941” – Isn’t that case closed regarding ideology? Yet history and the facts are clear that the Bandera legacy has little to do with Ukrainian history except mass murder. Instead history shows the mass murderer and torturer Bandera’s greatest impact on the ...
READ MORE
The Destabilization Of Macedonia? Greater Albania And The Process Of “Kosovization”
Introduction The last open armed conflict in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – FYROM (former Socialist Republic of Macedonia as one of six federal republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) in the May 2015 was just an expected continuation of constant tensions between the ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian Slavs during the last quarter of century.[i] However, these tensions are time to time transformed into the open armed conflicts of the Albanian extremists, usually coming from Kosovo, with the Macedonian security forces. The most notable conflict incidents in Macedonia after the Kosovo War in 1998−1999, when the Kosovo Albanians ...
READ MORE
Will Russia Surrender?
The Russian government’s sincere and diligent effort to prevent chaos in Syria and additional massive refugee flow into Europe, all the while avoiding conflict with Washington and its vassals, has been brought to an end by Washington’s intentional attack on a known Syrian army position, thus wrecking the cease fire agreement that Russia sacrificed so much to achieve. The response to this fact by the Obama regime’s ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, reveals that Washington will lie to the hilt in order to achieve its agenda of reducing Syria to the same chaos as Washington has reduced Iraq and Libya. ...
READ MORE
New Strategic Calculus For The Balkans
The Balkans have returned to the forefront of European geopolitics as a result of the New Cold War, with the US and Russia facing off in a proxy war over the planned Balkan Stream pipeline through the region. The geopolitical circumstances have evolved since the 1990s, when all of the former Yugoslavia was lumped together as the Western Balkans. In order to accommodate for the changing strategic reality in the region, it’s necessary to carve the Central Balkans out of the idea of the former, and the new division of the Balkans into Western, Central, and Eastern regions simplifies the ...
READ MORE
Kosovo’s Mafia: How the US and Allies Ignore Organized Crime
PRISTINA, Kosovo — It was the fall of 2000, just over a year after the end of the war in Kosovo, when two NATO military intelligence officers produced the first known report on local organized crime, painting the former political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Hashim Thaci, as having “established influence on local criminal organizations, which control [a] large part of Kosovo.” The report, the existence of which has not been previously reported, was widely distributed among all NATO countries, according to former NATO sources interviewed by GlobalPost. And year after year as the nascent democracy of Kosovo struggled ...
READ MORE
Provoking Moscow: NATO Needs Enemies to Justify Its Existence
NATO was always more about offense than defense, about America controlling the policies of Alliance members, increasing their numbers, pressuring them to stress militarism more than they’d chose otherwise – and selling them lots of US weapons. When founded in April 1949, Soviet Russia was a North Atlantic Alliance enemy in name only, ravaged by WW II – needing years after Stalin’s April 1953 death to regain pre-war normality, peace essential to restore it. Washington controls NATO, covering 75% of its budget, calling the shots, installing subservient Alliance officials to serve its agenda. At a time when no US enemies exist, they’re invented ...
READ MORE
Why do They Hate Russia?
The fundamental and justifiable reasons of a Russophobic hysteria around the world by liberal-democratic governments, politicians, academics and political parties/movements are: Constant Russian global imperialism. Russian policy to transform world into Pax Russiana. Russian war crimes across the globe. Russian military presence across the globe. Russian occupation of foreign countries. Russian installation of puppet regimes across the globe. See below images as proves of justifiable reasons of a Russophobic hysteria around the world: Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save
READ MORE
Interview With Historian Stephen Cohen On Ukraine
Interview with historian Stephen Cohen, by Patrick L. Smith, published in Salon.com, April 17, 2015 Introduction by Patrick L. Smith: It is one thing to comment in a column as the Ukrainian crisis grinds on and Washington—senselessly, with no idea of what will come next—destroys relations with Moscow. It is quite another, as a long exchange with Stephen F. Cohen makes clear, to watch as an honorable career’s worth of scholarly truths are set aside in favor of unlawful subterfuge, a war fever not much short of Hearst’s and what Cohen ranks among the most extravagant expansion of a sphere of ...
READ MORE
Since 9/11, The U.S. Has Been Involved In More Than 5 Wars … And They Have All Been Disaster
Why Does America Keep “Losing” Its Wars? Below, we demonstrate that the U.S. keeps “losing” war after war. There are 3 potential reasons this might be happening: Is this chaos an intentional way to implement regime change and grab resources? Or is this a sign of the decline of the American empire … and we just can’t win a war anymore? Or do those in charge just not really give a damn about winning … and are they just focusing on one short-term goal after another? We’ll let you decide why you think this keeps happening. But if you don’t believe that the ...
READ MORE
Documentary Movie “Ukraine: Masks of the Revolution” (2016, by Paul Moreira)
Last movie by famous French movie maker Paul Moreira on Canal+ (France) broadcasted 01/02/2016. Some French citizens are now shocked after discovering the truth about the Odessa massacre and the Euromaidan bloody coup in 2013/2014. Interview to Paul Moreira: http://www.humanite.fr/derriere-les-masques-de-la-revolution-ukrainienne-597568 Preview screening on January, 20th 2016 at FIPA Biarritz 29th edition, selected out of competition in Reportages and Investigation – Panorama of Creation category. Without them, there would have been no Ukrainian revolution. In February 2014, paramilitary groups fought against the police in the streets of Kyev and ousted President Yanukovych. They settled a new government. According to the western media, they were the revolution heroes. They ...
READ MORE
Understanding the U.S. War State: The New Fundamentalism, “America is God”
This article was original published by GR in May 2003 “It is easy. All you have to do is tell the people they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” -Hermann Goering Genocide used to be a crime without a name. Although the most heinous of all crimes, the concept was not introduced into international language until after World War 2. Until then, military invasion and destruction of other peoples and cultures masqueraded under such slogans as progress and spreading civilisation. I was shocked many years ago when I heard Noam Chomsky say ...
READ MORE
Heusinger, Adolf,  Generalinspekteur der BW 1.4.1957 - 31.3.1961
General Adolf Heusinger (August 4, 1897 – November 30, 1982) was a German general officer who briefly served as Adolf Hitler’s Chief of the General Staff of the Army during World War II and served as the first Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, the West German armed forces, from 1957 to 1961. Heusinger served as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1961 to 1964. Heusinger was born in Holzminden, in the Duchy of Brunswick, German Empire. He entered the Imperial German Army on June 17, 1915, and was assigned to 7. Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 96, an infantry regiment raised in ...
READ MORE
Obama And The Bombing Of Hiroshima
Later this month, Barack Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima by the American military on August 6, 1945, and the destruction three days later of the Japanese city of Nagasaki, rank among the greatest war crimes of the 20th century. One would think that after 71 years, the United States would finally be prepared to acknowledge that the incineration of two defenseless Japanese cities, causing some 200,000 deaths, was a militarily unnecessary act. Nothing of the sort will happen. Obama “will not revisit the decision ...
READ MORE
Manchester Terror Act on May 22nd, 2017: Photo Evidence Not Presented on the Mainstream Global Mass-Media (Euronews, CNN, DW, BBC, ABC…)
See photo evidence here: Manchester terror act on 2017-05-22   © “Free Media Group” 2017 Save
READ MORE
Ukraine Honors Nationalists Whose Troops Butchered Jews
(JTA) — Amid a divisive debate in Ukraine on state honors for nationalists viewed as responsible for anti-Semitic pogroms, the country for the first time observed a minute of silence in memory of Symon Petliura, a 1920s statesman blamed for the murder of 50,000 Jewish compatriots. The minute was observed on May 25, the 90th anniversary of Petliura’s assassination in Paris. National television channels interrupted their programs and broadcast the image of a burning candle for 60 seconds, Ukraine’s Federal News Agency reported. A French court acquitted Sholom Schwartzbard, a Russia-born Jew, of the murder even though he admitted to it after ...
READ MORE
Neocon Insanity and “Political Madness”: Hillary Clinton and the Dangers of Nuclear War
George Soros’s False Flag Factories
Africa, Russia, United States Imperialism And The Bankruptcy Of The International Criminal Court
Ending NATO, a Monstrous Institution
The 2014 Ukraine Coup was as Much about China as Russia
Stepan Bandera: The Legacy of Self-Loathing Nazi’s in America
The Destabilization Of Macedonia? Greater Albania And The Process Of “Kosovization”
Will Russia Surrender?
New Strategic Calculus For The Balkans
Kosovo’s Mafia: How the US and Allies Ignore Organized Crime
Provoking Moscow: NATO Needs Enemies to Justify Its Existence
Why do They Hate Russia?
Interview With Historian Stephen Cohen On Ukraine
Since 9/11, The U.S. Has Been Involved In More Than 5 Wars … And They Have All Been Disaster
Documentary Movie “Ukraine: Masks of the Revolution” (2016, by Paul Moreira)
Understanding the U.S. War State: The New Fundamentalism, “America is God”
Adolf Heusinger: Hitler’s Army Chief And NATO’s Chairman
Obama And The Bombing Of Hiroshima
Manchester Terror Act on May 22nd, 2017: Photo Evidence Not Presented on the Mainstream Global Mass-Media (Euronews, CNN, DW, BBC, ABC…)
Ukraine Honors Nationalists Whose Troops Butchered Jews