The Ghosts of World War I Circle Over Ukraine

Hits: 1281

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.


Originally published on 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

Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

[wpedon id=”4696″ align=”left”]

READ MORE!
The Vietnam War is not History for Victims of Agent Orange
Watching the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick 18-hour series, “The Vietnam War,” is an emotional experience. Whether you served in the US military during the war or marched in the streets to end it, you cannot remain untouched by this documentary. The battle scenes are powerful, the stories of US veterans and Vietnamese soldiers who fought on both sides of the war compelling.The toll in human terms caused by the war is staggering.  Nearly 58,000 Americans and 2 to 3 million Vietnamese, many of them civilians, were killed in the war. Untold numbers were wounded. Many US veterans of the war suffer ...
READ MORE
Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton: Who’s the Fascist?
The U.S. public loves fascists; they elect them, constantly. Donald Trump, who “says he would raise the minimum wage and stop the endless efforts at regime change,” is called a fascist by some.  But Hillary Clinton “is happy to bomb Libya or Syria or any other country,” and played a major role in mass Black incarceration. Barack Obama is the war-maker and deporter-in-chief. “All of the major party candidates fit the F word description in some way.”“No one comes into office with any intention of undoing America’s leadership as the world’s worst jailer.”Donald Trump is the ill spoken, boorish, graceless ...
READ MORE
70 Years of Disinformation: How the CIA Funded Opinion Magazines in Europe
When an intelligence agency arranges to disseminated fake news it is called “disinformation” and it is a subset of what is referred to as covert action, basically secret operations run in a foreign country to influence opinion or to disrupt the functioning of a government or group that is considered to be hostile.During the Cold War, disinformation operations were run by many of the leading players in both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and in the opposition Warsaw Pact. Sometimes the activity and the sponsorship were clearly visible, as when Radio Free Europe and Radio Moscow would exchange barbs about ...
READ MORE
Loss of land in Palestine under Israeli occupation
Professor Doctor Asem Khalil, Ph.D. in Constitutional and International Law, Associate Professor of Law of Birzeit University, West Bank, speaks of ways to consolidate the Palestine State, and definitely end Israeli crimes against humanity in the Palestinian territories. Edu Montesanti: Dear Professor Doctor Asem Khalil, thank you so very much for granting this interview. How do you evaluate the meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15? “I’m looking at two-State and one-state” formulations, President Trump said during a White House news conference with Mr. Netanyahu. “I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with ...
READ MORE
Vatican and Albanians in Kosovo
Does the Vatican know what the Albanian bishops in Novo Brdo are doing? – the question many Serbs asked these days.The Albanian Roman Catholic mass was Served in Serbian ancient town and mine, Novo Brdo, in Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Nikola. All was done secretly and illegally, as is usually done by those who are self-aware of the guilt, Albanian Roman Catholic bishops held a mass at the remains of the ancient Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Novo Brdo, Kosovo and Metohija.The Mass, served by the Roman Catholic Bishop of so-called Kosovo Dodd Jerji and the Archbishop ...
READ MORE
The Untold History of U.S. War Crimes
In this exclusive interview, Prof Peter Kuznick speaks of: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagazaki; US crimes and lies behind the Vietnam war, and what was really behind that inhumane invasion; why the US engaged a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and how that war and the mainstream media influences the world today; the interests behind the assassinations of President Kennedy; US imperialism towards Latin America, during the Cold War and today, under the false premise of War on Terror and War on Drugs.Edu Montesanti: Professor Peter Kuznick, thank you so very much for granting me this interview. In ...
READ MORE
Kosovo and Metohija is an Integral Part of Serbia
The real question is not whether the status of Kosovo and Metohija should be negotiated; the actual questions to be asked are: On which basis? About what? Whom with?The sole legitimate basis is that Kosovo and Metohija is an integral part of Serbia currently placed under UN mandate, pending a Security Council decision ending it. In other words, this is mandate cannot be terminated either by the EU, or NATO, the USA, Germany, or France and, should this idea ever occurred to anyone, Serbia cannot end it, either.International law (the UN Charter, the OSCE Final Act) and the Constitution of ...
READ MORE
“Collateral Damage” from America’s De-Stabilizing, Endless, Post-9/11 “Wars On Terror”
“Show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” – Popular conservative Sun (a British daily newspaper) commenting on the homeless war refugees from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc. who are fleeing their militarily de-stabilized and devastated countries after their homes and homelands had been reduced to bloody rubble by soldiers obeying orders from their commanders (including NATO and American “interventionism” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc, etc). Hopkins appears to be in good company. But she was probably just paraphrasing what she had been hearing from a multitude of ultra-nationalist ...
READ MORE
The U.S. Government’s Love of Foreign Dictatorships
Lest anyone be tempted to believe that President Trump and other U.S. interventionists are intervening in Venezuela because of some purported concern for the Venezuelan people, let’s examine just a few examples that will bring a dose of reality to the situation. This latest intervention is nothing more than another interventionist power play, one intended to replace one dictatorial regime with another.Egypt comes to mind. It is ruled by one of the most brutal and tyrannical military dictatorships in the world. The U.S. government loves it, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for the Egyptian citizenry, ...
READ MORE
The UN Security Council Resolution on Kosovo
June 10 is a sad date in the history of the UN, the institution originally meant to play the key role in ensuring peace, security, and the primacy of law in the world. The decade since the passing of the June 10, 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1244 addressing the Kosovo problem – the document totally ignored throughout the period – has shown that the UN is no longer playing the role prescribed to it by the post-World War II system of the international law. The Resolution the tenth anniversary of which nobody seems willing to celebrate in the UN ...
READ MORE
Chile: September 11, 1973
Forward Forty-three years ago on September 11, 1973, the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet, crushed the democratically elected Unidad Popular government of Salvador Allende. The objective was to replace a progressive, democratically elected government by a brutal military dictatorship. The military coup was supported by the CIA. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a direct role in the military plot. (Nixon and Kissinger, image right) For details see: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/KOR309A.html  and references below. In the weeks leading up the coup, US Ambassador Nathaniel Davis and members of the CIA held meetings with Chile’s top military brass together with the leaders of the National Party and the ...
READ MORE
Independence and Self-Determination: Weapons for Empire Building or National Liberation?
Since World War II most of the world’s conflicts have revolved around struggles for independence against Western and Japanese colonial/imperial regimes.Following formal independence, a new type of imperial domination was imposed – neo-colonial regimes, in which the US and its European allies imposed vassal rulers acting as proxies for economic exploitation. With the rise of US unipolar global domination, following the demise of the USSR (1990), the West established hegemony over the East European states.  Some were subject to fragmentation and sub-divided into new NATO dominated statelets.The quest for a unipolar empire set in motion a series of wars and ...
READ MORE
Geopolitics of Kosovo
The ethnic demarcation that is promoted by Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic, between Serbs and Albanians is just another name for the creation of Greater Albania. Vucic statements and spinning of the necessity for the "demarcation" between Serbia and Kosovo caused shock among Serbs. Most of his political life, Vucic advocated for a Greater Serbia, but with coming to power, things changed. Against his demarcation is virtually the entire Serbia. From experts to the pillar and base of Serbs throughout history Serbian Orthodox Church. A few years ago, I wrote in my analytical column that Vucic came to power with the ...
READ MORE
Electronic Voting Fraud: A Real Threat to any Democrat Running for President
А single strategic IT manipulator virtually anywhere could swing the 2016 election with just a few keystrokes perpetrated in less than a minute. (Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)The support of readers like you got this story published - and helps Truthout stay free from corporate advertising. Can you sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation today? The way our electoral process now stands, electronic voting machines guarantee a Republican victory in 2016. No matter what she does, Hillary Clinton - or any other Democratic nominee - cannot be elected without a fundamental change in the basic mechanics of how our votes are ...
READ MORE
Arms to the Sadists: US Congress Urges Pres. Obama to Provide Ukraine with More Torture Techniques
On Monday March 23, the US House of Representatives adopted H. Res. 162 urging president Obama “to provide Ukraine with military assistance” in dire attempt to reignite conflict in the East of Ukraine, mainly frozen as a result of February 2015 Minsk agreements between Kiev and the outbreak Donetsk and Lugansk provinces with French, German and Russian mediation. The general presumptions of the resolution are as evident as false: it contains routine mantras about “Russian aggression”, “Crimea occupation”, “violent separatist proxies” and “insurrection that has resulted in over 6,000 dead, 15,000 wounded, and more than a million displaced persons”, as ...
READ MORE
The Arab-Israel War of 1973 and Its Legacy
Each of the full-blown wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours have carried a great measure of significance. The War of 1948 led to the creation of the modern state of Israel, a cause for euphoria among the world’s Jews in the post-Shoah-era, in contrast to the Nakba inflicted on the Arabs of Palestine.The War of 1967, during which Israel routed three Arab armies in six days established Israel as a regional hegemon while its defeated Arab neighbours stewed in their humiliation and the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza came under occupation.The Arab-Israeli War of 1973, known ...
READ MORE
Kosovo – Mafia – Fascism – Jihad
Hiding Genocide in Kosovo: A Crime against God and Humanity is not a typical book of the current events or international affairs genre. Nor is it a journalistic exposé. It is simply a book of stories, true stories of what has taken place in Kosovo since the end of the 1999 war: shooting, beheading, burning, bomb attack, maiming, rape, abduction, torture, desecration, theft, mutilation, and harassment. While Western policymakers (the U.S., EU, UN, NATO, OSCE, etc.) delude themselves that they are buying the goodwill of the Muslim world by the sacrifice of a small Christian community in Kosovo, the perpetrators ...
READ MORE
Bismarck, the United States and the Pomeranian Grenadier
All of the Balkans, legendary German Reichskanzler (Imperial Chancellor) Otto von Bismarck famously said, were not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. And Bismarck, a Prussian landowner or junker had nothing but amused contempt for Pomeranian grenadiers who were regarded as a standing joke in the German Army. In 1890, brash, young new German Emperor Wilhelm II fired Bismarck after 28 years as minister-president of Prussia and then first Imperial Chancellor of Germany. He abandoned the priority policy of maintaining warm ties and close communications with Russia that Bismarck had always followed and scrapped the Dreikaiserbund, the League of ...
READ MORE
Nazi Roots of Ukraine’s Conflict
The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, one of the leading journals in its field, offers a two-page photo essay on “what to see, do, and buy” in Lviv, a picturesque city in the Western Ukraine. “Amid the turmoil that has rocked Ukraine over the past two years,” the article gushes, “Lviv has stood firmly as a stronghold of national culture, language, and identity.”That’s one way of putting it. Another, less charitable way would be to note that Lviv has for nearly a century been a breeding ground of extreme Ukrainian nationalism, spawning terrorist movements, rabid anti-Semitism, and outright pro-Nazi ...
READ MORE
The Myth of Hiroshima
With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles. Could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated? But it is not only the history of the ...
READ MORE
The Vietnam War is not History for Victims of Agent Orange
Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton: Who’s the Fascist?
70 Years of Disinformation: How the CIA Funded Opinion Magazines in Europe
Palestine: There’s no Conflict, There’s an Illegal Occupation
Vatican and Albanians in Kosovo
The Untold History of U.S. War Crimes
Kosovo and Metohija is an Integral Part of Serbia
“Collateral Damage” from America’s De-Stabilizing, Endless, Post-9/11 “Wars On Terror”
The U.S. Government’s Love of Foreign Dictatorships
The UN Security Council Resolution on Kosovo
Chile: September 11, 1973
Independence and Self-Determination: Weapons for Empire Building or National Liberation?
Geopolitics of Kosovo
Electronic Voting Fraud: A Real Threat to any Democrat Running for President
Arms to the Sadists: US Congress Urges Pres. Obama to Provide Ukraine with More Torture Techniques
The Arab-Israel War of 1973 and Its Legacy
Kosovo – Mafia – Fascism – Jihad
Bismarck, the United States and the Pomeranian Grenadier
Nazi Roots of Ukraine’s Conflict
The Myth of Hiroshima

Written by Policraticus

SHORT LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The website’s owner & editor-in-chief has no official position on any issue published at this website. The views of the authors presented at this website do not necessarily coincide with the opinion of the owner & editor-in-chief of the website. The contents of all material (articles, books, photos, videos…) are of sole responsibility of the authors. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the contents of all material found on this website. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. No advertising, government or corporate funding for the functioning of this website. The owner & editor-in-chief and authors are not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the text and material found on the website www.global-politics.eu

Website: http://www.global-politics.eu

One comment to “The Ghosts of World War I Circle Over Ukraine”

Comments are closed.