You would think it was 1914, instead of 2014.
A previously unknown group of nationalists strikes a blow against a brutal dictatorship. The Russians decide to intervene to protect fellow Slavs. The EU makes threatening noises; and faraway America decides not to get involved militarily. Substitute Austria for EU and you could be in a time warp. All we are waiting for is an assassination to trigger off a much bigger conflict. More likely this time is an over-reaction by a trigger-happy soldier to turn a minor conflict into a major war.
The Russians are copying their 2008 strategy in Georgia, seizing territory inhabited mostly by Russians. They have already invaded Ukraine. As with Georgia, don’t expect a hasty withdrawal. They are still there.
Russia is taking care of its own national interests. Just like always. They struggled for centuries to gain access to a warm water port on the Black Sea, finally achieving their goal under Catherine the Great. They are not going to risk losing it now.
Russians remember, too, that during World War II, Ukraine was divided between communists and fascists. To the Russians, the nationalists who have taken over in Kiev are fascists. They have certainly succeeded in opening up old wounds, ethnic, linguistic and religious divisions that go back centuries.
President Obama called President Putin on Friday warning him that there would be consequences if Russia invaded Ukraine. Within 24 hours, Russian troops were all over the Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine. 58% of the people in this area are Russian speaking. For strategic reasons, Russia needs it. Russia will keep it. The US will do nothing, except for giving Russia a symbolic slap on the wrist, perhaps leading a western boycott of the G8 summit to be held in Sochi in June.
As with Syria last year, the US will lose face. Americans may still think they are the world’s number one power, but the country is increasingly an irrelevant power. As it makes serious reductions to the size of its armed forces, it will become even less important. The United States is where Great Britain was after World War II – having fought two major wars, the country is broke and lacks the resolve for further conflict. A deliberate choice has been made by Washington to concentrate on domestic issues, including a costly government controlled medical system, again following London’s course seven decades ago.
This does not mean Ukraine will be completely abandoned by the West. The European Union is very much involved in the Ukrainian conflict. Indeed, in some respects it caused the present conflict, offering Ukraine a closer relationship with the EU and substantial financial incentives. It is this financial clout that will likely win out at the end, helping western Ukraine at least to break away from Moscow.
Interestingly, in a CBS report on the Ukrainian crisis, Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel was labeled “Europe’s de facto leader.”
Germany and Russia have fought over Ukraine before.
Russia has reverted to the use of force to resolve conflict. Germany and its EU associates are using economic power. The US has neither when it comes to Ukraine.
A likely outcome will see Crimea back in Russia, perhaps with eastern Ukraine. Western Ukraine will more likely associate with the EU. Armed conflict is possible between Russia and Ukraine, but not a prolonged war, as Ukraine is very weak compared to Russia.
Invading the Crimea may cause Russia to lose face for a while but President Putin doesn’t care and it will soon be forgotten.
The US, however, will suffer greater damage. It’s been five decades since the Chinese leader, Chairman Mao, ridiculed the US as a “paper tiger.” Now it’s true.