Sunday, February 23, 2014

Perspective on Ukraine

If you have been following developments in Ukraine, you know that things are moving rapidly and the outcome is anyone's guess. We can hope that the opposition and the elected government reach a peaceful settlement acceptable to all or at least most of the country.

No one wants to see events develop in a similar way to what happened just 100 years ago, when another crisis in southeastern Europe sparked World War I. At that time the great powers were divided into two primary alliances, the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy, and the Triple Entente of France, Great Britain and Russia. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo led Austria-Hungary to issue an ultimatum to Serbia, and this in turn led Russia, Serbia's protector, to call for mobilization of its army. For an excellent account of the disasters of Russian generalship at this time, read Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "August 1914."

When Germany, alarmed at Russian mobilization, decided to implement its Schlieffen Plan and invade Belgium, everything changed. Great Britain had guaranteed the independence of Belgium, and so declared war on Germany. Reams have been written about the origins of World War I, but perhaps the most readable book on the subject is Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August."

 More than four years of all out war followed, which eventually drew in the United States. It was a war no one expected to go on for so long, and probably no one really wanted. Certainly no one expected it to lead to the downfall of most of Europe's monarchies, and to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The fact that three of the main protagonists, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, George V of Great Britain, and Czar Nicholas II of Russia were first cousins just made it more ironic.

The situation today is not the same, but it is in some ways more dangerous. NATO, the Western Allaince, is concerned with developments in Ukraine, where many people in the opposition want closer ties with Europe. Russia has traditionally had very close ties with Ukraine--in many ways Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilization. Today, as we know, both NATO and Russia possess extensive nuclear arsenals.

Let us hope and pray that sanity will prevail and that Ukrainians will reach a peaceful settlement of their difficulties, even if this involves a two-state solution. The history of two-state solutions in not altogether encouraging (Ireland, India and Pakistan, Israel and Jordan) but it would be better than all-out war which could escalate to involve most of the world once again.

Below, in more peaceful and warmer times, is the picture of a statue in Kiev of one of the Cossack hetmen who ruled Ukraine many centuries ago.


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