The Ghosts of World War I Circle Over Ukraine

Hits: 926

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.

READ MORE!
Euromaidan: Anatomy of a Washington-Backed Coup D’etat
In late November 2013, the 'Euromaidan' in Kiev began as a popular protest against a generalized state of corruption and cronyism in Ukraine. The spark that ostensibly ignited the protests was the inability of then President Yanukovych to sign an EU Association Agreement that would cut Ukraine's economic and military ties to Russia in favor of a closer relationship with the EU and NATO. The EU had made the release of former Ukrainian prime minister and "gas princess" Tymoshenko a precondition for signing the agreement. But the fact that Tymoshenko was/is a convicted embezzler of state funds, combined with the rather ...
READ MORE
Putin’s New World Order
Is Vladimir Putin the most popular Russian leader of all time? It certainly looks like it. In a recent survey conducted by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center,  Putin’s public approval rating soared to an eye-popping 86 percent, which is twice that of Obama’s when he left office in 2016.  And what’s more surprising is that Putin’s popularity has held up through a severe economic slump and nearly two decades in office. Unlike most politicians, whose shelf-life is somewhere between 4 to 8 years, the public’s admiration for Putin has only grown stronger over time. And the phenom is not limited to Russia either.  According to a recent survey by the pollster YouGov, “Putin is the third most admired man in Egypt, the fourth in China, ...
READ MORE
The 2016 Aleppo Massacre: Are Putin and Assad the Only “War Criminals”?
On Friday, October 5th, the U.S. Secretary of State – John Kerry calls for war crimes investigation of Russia’s and Assad governments for the destruction of Syrian city of Aleppo. The western corporate mass media was a very quick, like, for instance, The New York Times, immediately and clearly to accuse the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for alleged war crimes in Syria – the same cliché used by the same propaganda machinery against the Serbs (Srebrenica case from 1995 or Kosovo War from 1999) during the bloody destruction of ex-Yugoslavia (by the U.S. and ...
READ MORE
A Geopolitical Importance of the Mediterranean Sea Area in Global Security During and After the Cold War (1949-1989)
Preface The current war conflict in Syria and constant warfare between the Israeli state and the Palestinians which recently erupted once again in Gaza strip brought the region of the Middle East to the world attention once again. However, the Middle East is a natural-geographic continuation of the Mediterranean Sea basin and, therefore, it is a part of the broader Mediterranean geopolitical game. Nevertheless, the geopolitical and geostrategic importance of the Mediterranean Sea basin is probably of the highest level from the global perspective. An importance of the Mediterranean Sea area in geopolitical and geostrategic standpoint one can understand from the very ...
READ MORE
The Problem is America: The Malignant Cultural Hegemony
What is wrong with the American people? After several years of horrific policy toward the waking world, democracy’s standard bearers seem to be drowning in a lake of selfishness. Distracted, apathetic, or simply dumbed and numbed by unrelenting propaganda, the most admired society on Earth has turned to a wriggling mush of diverging ideals. I fear that American have become what we ultimately deplored, just another despicable cultural hegemony. Here’s a short brief on the matter. A recent article by James Carden at The Nation prompted me to discuss this unsavory truth today. The title of the piece, “Trump’s Syria Policy: ...
READ MORE
Serious Drawbacks in Ukraine’s Adopted ‘Church’ Bill
On January 17, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) passed the bill No. 4128 on new amendments regarding the subordination (denomination) of religious organizations and the procedure of state registration of religious organizations with the status of legal entities. The relevant law No. 2673-VIII was signed by President Poroshenko on January 28 and came into force on January 31, 2019.Though the bill was designed to simplify the process of changing the religious subordination of a religious community, it actually introduces a new, more complicated scheme of registration and reregistration for religious organizations of all confessions including Protestants.So, reregistration becomes not just a ...
READ MORE
Bosnian Muslim Genocide against the Serbs in Srebrenica Municipality in 1992-1995 (Photo Album)
A Serb from Bosnia, General Mladic, protected Muslims civilians and gave them buses, food and water for to leave fighting zones (as you can see). There was no genocide over Muslim population in Srebrenica like main stream media want you to believe – there was no genocide over Bosniaks because all Bosnian Muslims victims were jihad fighters who had been killed during fight (in war). Even the so called „tribunal“ in The Hague for ex-Yugoslavia admitted that there was no genocide! The President of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, Alija Izetbegović In Srebrenica, there was a massacre over Serbian civilians: youngest victim was ...
READ MORE
European Holocaust had Roots in Africa, Now Namibia is Suing Germany
In 2014, after I published my report about Namibia, exposing the German ‘semi-denial’ that it had committed a Holocaust in its former Southwest African colony; a renowned German university sent me a letter. I paraphrase here, but the essence of the letter is kept intact: “Dear Professor Vltchek, we are impressed by your research and your conclusions, and we would like to translate and publish your groundbreaking analyses in German language. Unfortunately, we cannot afford any payment…” It was one of the major universities in the country, with tremendous budgets and an international reputation. I replied, asking why, with all those scholars and ...
READ MORE
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
With Monday’s procedural vote in the U.S. Senate to allow Montenegro into NATO, the Washington elite proved once more that heightening tensions with Russia might not just be inevitable, but actually desirable. With the exception of Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), the entire 100-strong body of the Senate rallied behind the motion that would see the tiny Adriatic state admitted into the Atlantic alliance over the objections of many Montenegrins . The vote set off a 30-hour countdown, during which Senators will debate before putting the issue to a final vote. If you needed more proof that US foreign ...
READ MORE
Russia vs. America
GR Editor’s Note Moscow is accused of doping as part of a US dirty tricks campaign to prevent Russia from participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. What is the record of the US with regard to doping? The main sports organizations including the NFL, MLB, and NBA have allowed unusually relaxed policies for performance-enhancing drug testing and punishment. The USADA is the US government agency responsible for the implementation in the United States of the World Anti-Doping Code, Yet, the record suggests that the USDA does not actively intervene in “big money sports” and often turns a blind eye ...
READ MORE
The U.S. Government Backs Ukraine Nazi-Fascists
The Nation  published an outstanding article on March 9th, by James Carden, which described the remarkable extent to which the Obama government (and virtually all of the Washington Establishment) are supporting (financially and otherwise) fascists who want to destroy Russia.  One such example was a recent event in Washington. According to Carden: It featured the deputy speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament, Andriy Parubiy. According to the program bio, Parubiy served as the “commandant” of the Euromaidan (why did an ostensibly peaceful protest require a “commandant” anyway?) and, later, as secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. The bio provided to attendees might fairly be described as selective. ...
READ MORE
Americans are no Different than Germans were (and are)
Daniel Goldhagen blamed the Holocaust on «the Germans» (by which he meant the German people), and said that they perpetrated the Holocaust because they positively enjoyed murdering «the Jews». But, as has long been well understood by historians (except when they fail to point to it as being a disproof of Goldhagen’s bigoted and indefensible anti-German thesis), Hitler had to work long and hard in order to bring about a consensus, first amongst his own leadership group, and then in the population as a whole, favoring the extermination-option. Hitler, Der Fuehrer, «The Leader», clearly was the catalyst turning the chemical ...
READ MORE
Why Canada Defends EuroUkrainian Fascism?
Canada has a reputation for being a relatively progressive state with universal, single-payer health care, various other social benefits, and strict gun laws, similar to many European countries but quite unlike the United States. It has managed to stay out of some American wars, for example, Vietnam and Iraq, portrayed itself as a neutral “peace keeper”, pursuing a so-called policy of “multilateralism” and attempting from time to time to keep a little independent distance from the United States. Behind this veneer of respectability lies a not so attractive reality of elite inattention to the defence of Canadian independence from the United ...
READ MORE
Obama Ignorance Exposed: Kosovo Left Serbia after Referendum, but There Was NO Referendum!
Barack Obama’s speech on the Ukrainian crisis seems to have left the public confused as he claimed that Kosovo broke away from Serbia “after a referendum”. But attentive listeners quickly pointed Obama’s gaps in history – there was no referendum in Kosovo. Video here.President Obama was speaking Wednesday at The Center for Fine Arts in the heart of Brussels, Belgium, and was telling the youth crowd mostly about Russian-Ukrainian conflict over the strategic Crimean Peninsula.He lashed out at Russia for “violation of international law, its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”Obama recalled the conflict around Kosovo and NATO’s involvement, ...
READ MORE
Allies Raped Hundreds of Thousands of German Women after WW2
Western allies raped hundreds of thousands of German women, writes German historian Miriam Gebhardt in a book published under the name “When the soldiers came” (Als die Soldaten kamen) and which received both praise and criticism in Germany.“At least 860,000 women and girls, but also men and young boys, were raped by ally soldiers after the fall of the Third Reich and in the postwar period. It happened everywhere,” writes Gebhardt, noting that US soldiers were the ones who did it the most.The book strongly echoed in Germany, where information on such crimes was known before but was almost exclusively ...
READ MORE
Amnesty International Publishes a Fabricated Report on Mass Executions in Syria
On Monday, February 8 (2016), the human rights organization Amnesty International published a 48-page report accusing the Syrian government of mass executions and tortures in Saydnaya prison. According to the watchdog, between September 2011 and December 2015, an estimated 5,000 and 13,000 people were extrajudicially executed. The methods used by the report to count the alleged ‘victims’ is quite contradictory. Amnesty International admits it had little direct evidence for its claims. Instead, the report was based on conjectures and the words of former prison detainees and commentators who are linked to the Syrian opposition and have lived outside the country for ...
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
When the American Civil War Ends: In 1865 or 1965?
The American Civil War The American Civil War (1861−1865) was a military conflict between the northern and the southern states of the USA which initially started as a political-economic revolt and desire for the independence by the southern states which created their own Confederacy not recognized by Washington. However, very soon the conflict was transformed into the war for the abolition of the slavery within the whole territory of the USA. In the first half of the 19th century, there was an increasing number of personalities mostly from the industrial northern states who called for the abolition of the slavery but ...
READ MORE
Why Theresa May Must be Impeached
So the moment we’ve been holding our breaths for a week finally came. In the end, I am mighty glad that this particular strike seems more like the impotent thrashing of the neocon snake that didn’t dare to attack places where Russian servicemen were likely to be killed, than it does the start of World War III. For the moment, at least, thank God. But the fact that it was a fairly limited strike — compared to what it might have been — in which the majority of missiles failed to hit their targets, having been eliminated by Soviet-era air defences, ...
READ MORE
Israel: The Ghetto of the Middle East: History of the Political Zionist Movement
Diaspora families living worldwide, the vast majority in New York with smaller communities in Paris, London and other major conurbations, are taught from an early age to believe that the modern State of Israel is their homeland. Not merely a biblical place of ‘milk and honey’, military might, innate intelligence and integrity but a place of final security; a sanctuary to which they can flee to escape the apparently insidious rise of anti-Semitism in the various land(s) of their birth. An ultimate insurance policy in case of need. That is how it is ‘sold’ to the average Jewish family in ...
READ MORE
Euromaidan: Anatomy of a Washington-Backed Coup D’etat
Putin’s New World Order
The 2016 Aleppo Massacre: Are Putin and Assad the Only “War Criminals”?
A Geopolitical Importance of the Mediterranean Sea Area in Global Security During and After the Cold War (1949-1989)
The Problem is America: The Malignant Cultural Hegemony
Serious Drawbacks in Ukraine’s Adopted ‘Church’ Bill
Bosnian Muslim Genocide against the Serbs in Srebrenica Municipality in 1992-1995 (Photo Album)
European Holocaust had Roots in Africa, Now Namibia is Suing Germany
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Russia vs. America
The U.S. Government Backs Ukraine Nazi-Fascists
Americans are no Different than Germans were (and are)
Why Canada Defends EuroUkrainian Fascism?
Obama Ignorance Exposed: Kosovo Left Serbia after Referendum, but There Was NO Referendum!
Allies Raped Hundreds of Thousands of German Women after WW2
Amnesty International Publishes a Fabricated Report on Mass Executions in Syria
Independence and Self-Determination: Weapons for Empire Building or National Liberation?
When the American Civil War Ends: In 1865 or 1965?
Why Theresa May Must be Impeached
Israel: The Ghetto of the Middle East: History of the Political Zionist Movement
Global-Politics.eu

Written by Global-Politics.eu

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