It is instructive to re-read the opening chapters of Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” if we are not to repeat the same failures of imagination that destroyed the Edwardian world. It is worth focusing on the motivations of the actors in this drama as Tuchman so masterfully summarized them in her prelude to Chapter 6. It is important to understand, I think, that Donbass is just a convenient pawn in a much greater game in exactly the same way that Serbia was. Furthermore, none of this is about technology.
Tuchman talks of the “Bellicose frivolity of senile empires” in relation to the insane behaviour of the Austrians in their rush to confrontation with Serbia after Sarajevo.
The parallel with the NATO allies is overwhelming; we have a powerless United Kingdom still dreaming of her lost empire, envious of everybody and hoping to be relevant again; then there is America having to face the possibility that it is no longer exceptional and facing a difficult confrontation with itself. Then there is France and Germany trying to resist assuming their traditional roles; the Baltic Statelets – traumatised by Soviet occupation after WWII; Poland with its tradition of hostility to Russia. Then there is the self-perpetuating institution of NATO – desperate to justify its existence.
Then we have the think tanks – those Grima Wormtongues chock full of grand children of middle European aristocratic refugees who dream of revenge fantasies including return to the family castle, ancestral titles and estates destroyed by the Soviets. Then there are the financiers who see war as an opportunity to make a buck.
Bellicose senile frivolity? Yes!
Both Russia and China equally have emotions. Both have lifted themselves out of third world serfdom in a tumultuous and bloody hundred years. Both countries have been raped and pillaged by the West at one time or another, derided, ignored, abused and lectured. They have scores to settle.
Then there is Ukraine – a corrupt, poor and artificial construct that has forced together two antipathetic religions and historical traditions that finally blew apart eight years ago.
Now add the realization of NATO and the West that time is not on its side in the face of Russia and China’s decision to cooperate in developing Eurasia into a society that will outgrow and potentially outshine the West – that is if the West cannot sabotage it first.
There are very powerful emotions at work here.
I think the question now is how Ukraine will respond to Russias recognition of the Donbass and their determination to protect it. The critical, absolutely central question is what aid and comfort Ukraine thinks NATO and the West are going to give it? That thinking, as in 1914, will shape Ukraines response. I would pray that Blinken and company choose their words very, very carefully and avoid giving Ukraine a blank check. We know what happened the last time one of those was written.
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