Monday, 17 March 2014

The re emergence of Central Europe or how the next European War started.

I hate to say I told you so, but, I told you so. Russia under the leadership of Vladimir "Rex" Putin has only gone and proved me right yet again. Years ago I said he wasn't to be trusted, years ago, when he meddled in Georgia the World was warned that the current bunch of Empire rebuilding Russians were not going to rest until they fixed the mistakes of  Mikhail Gorbachev.  There has always been a nationalist party in the Kremlin and regardless of ideology, any regional government that tried to get away from the loving embrace of Mother Russia has paid in blood and even greater loss of freedom.

 That the Crimea or Krim which is easier to say and more familiar to me, was never a part of Ukraine, really seems academic at this point, but is worth considering if only for the intellectual exercise most rational people went through as early as the emergence of an independent Ukraine in the 1990's. Firstly, the ceding in 1954 to the then wholly artificial concept of  an independent self sufficient Ukraine within the Soviecky Soyuz by an apparently drunken Soviet leader in a fit of  more than usually strong alcoholic haze, is one of the great mysteries of modern Russian history. That most regretted it almost immediately is not questioned. Roll onto the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in the wake of  Glasnost and Peristroika, and you see the rise of nationalist elements that began to clamour for the reconstruction of what had been lost. Solely in the case of the Krim was there ever a justified case for the restitution of territory to it's proper place. If people who consider themselves Russian want to live in the paradise that is the Soviet Empire redux, that I will grudgingly admit, is their  right. Where I depart from the views of both Kiyov and Moscow is the argument that you can forcibly keep people within borders that were never really yours or that you can just take back land after a sham referendum in which every rule ever written for referendums was broken. The less than subtle armed take over  followed by the "transparent" ballot boxes and annexation atmosphere that followed the occupation of the peninsula, including the unvarnished and unapologetic propaganda machine that had hundreds of thousands of imaginary refugees fleeing Ukraine, pogroms and apparent rise of 5th column nazis rising in their hundreds of thousands ready to wage terrible war on the legacy of dear old Lenin, would have been funny had it not been so earnestly taken seriously by Russians and Russian speakers in the Ukraine. Having got the required soviet style 97 % in a vote( prior to the Russian occupation , a poll had annexation at 40%) , Putin and the ultra nationalists have the needed bit of  moral justification they wanted. They would have achieved this years ago if they hadn't spent the entire time scaring the hell out of their own citizens and those of countries around them. Who knows, if Gorbachev had ultimately succeeded in creating a truly free and democratic Russia and the IMF and others not insisted on trying to recreate in Moscow what failed so miserably under Reagan and Thatcher, we'd be looking at situation where Crimea would continue to be an autonomous, predominantly Russian speaking state that could have eventually chosen in time to 1- separate from Ukraine  then 2- negotiate it's entry into Russia..... or not.  As it stands, this brutal regime has yet again shown it will do anything, as long as it can do so without fear of retribution or loss of personal power and fortune.

The fact remains that most existing sovereign states  in central and eastern Europe today live in constant fear that Russia will next target them in the never ending crusade to rescue imperilled Russians living abroad or to repatriate territory unjustly , in the eyes of Russians, given away at one time or another and most recently in the great dissolution of the temporary madness of  Gorbachev. Having successfully bluffed the West and the rest of Europe in the Krim, Putin now has his eye on the Eastern territories of Ukraine. If the current crisis can be stopped at this tipping point between all out European war and some old fashioned diplomatic tension, we and the people of the Ukraine may yet walk away from the naked territorial grab that is next in the works without thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dying needlessly when the ultimate result is a draw in which nothing changes but the formerly intact landscape of homes, factories and farms. If shooting breaks out, the inevitable outcome is the hardening of the resolve of  millions of Ukrainians, both native speakers and Russian speakers alike v the not so paternalistic Russian forces coming to take them kicking and screaming home to Moscow. As a citizen of Europe, you surely cannot be unaware that any war on European soil that involves Russia directly like this, cannot help but escalate tensions and cause every government from Warsaw through at least Berlin or even Paris to mobilize it's armed forces where  if the desired effect for Putin is pan European war, he will get his wish. The mood that prevailed last week  where economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia and it's oligarchs was not seen to be realistic or practical has now moved into full application. Germany and a number of other nations are moving to a position where soon a defacto boycott of  many Russian products and services will occur. Sanctions on individuals and their companies so successful against the Serbs in the last Balkan war, are the first step in a long line of steps designed to stop the  naked territorial aggression and ambitions of Putin's Russia short of having to declare War. I do have one question to which even I don't have an answer.... Can The United Nations Security council survive with it's reputation intact if a permanent member is allowed to veto any resolution stopping it's own aggression on a sovereign state let alone it's own people? I'm sure like the League of Nations it will hobble along like a dying animal for a bit, but can the Security council find a way around this? I for one hope so, the vacuum it's death would cause is too dangerous to contemplate.

What are the other critical forgotten conflict zones where it could all still go horribly wrong? Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan as well as Latvia  where fully 25% of the population are ethnic Russians. If we step away from strictly linguistic and ethnic tensions, Russia has till now been, all be it unstable at times, a partner in the greater international efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and in ( he laughed with unease ) Syria, where it has so far ( rolls eyes) refrained from further escalating the civil war/revolution into a bigger unstable bloodbath. As and when Russia drops the pretence of being an honest broker and good global citizen, we will be back in the full grips of a Cold War we have not felt since the 80's.  I'm still not convinced that anybody will use nuclear weapons, and maybe because of this, I'm all the more concerned that full on conventional war will break out in Europe and drag the rest of the World into it..... again. The European Union and the effect it has had on nations in it and those wanting in is tangible and powerful proof that the last thing Europeans want is another European land war. Oh look at those words come out of hibernation  people, like tired old soldiers who thought they'd been retired for good but called out again for one last kick at the ball. Where was I? The EU, In recent elections in Serbia and Bulgaria, the political momentum has been away from isolationism and towards a greater integration into the European Union, the cleansing effect this has had on countries is in marked contrast to what they were like a mere 10 years ago. The one positive you can take from the crisis is that even in the UK, the anti European rhetoric will be falling on increasingly deafer ears as the fear of war and the destruction of Pax Europa is staring us down the barrel of a kalishnikov.

Some of you are too young to remember what it was like to live in the cold war.  Lucky you, but grab your towels fast because we're about to get another ride on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse merry go round. Sometime from the moment Russian tanks crushed the Hungarian revolution in 1957 to the moment of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Peace Dividend somewhere in  early 1989, the  world was in the cold war. From as early as aged 7, I lived in daily terror of dying from a nuclear holocaust. It coloured my view of relationships, marriage and my definition of long term planning. I had for years a recurring nightmare where I would be walking in the street near my home seeing my family walking away from me under threat and when I turned around to look at the house, there would be the unmistakable, yet silent, mushroom cloud of death rising over the city from behind our home. The wind would approach, trees would bend and buildings dissolve and just before I died....I would wake up. That was no way to live. When the nightmares stopped, we all thought that regular programming had resumed and to a great extent it has. This current crisis has however restored the previous levels of terror prior to the last cold war. Where in the rest of Europe the appetite of Germany, Austria, France and Britain has effectively gone away, Russia is still hungry.  It has never stopped and pushes up against the political and economic aspirations of a peaceful and unified Europe. The death of the so called nuclear deterrent only makes actual conventional war more inevitable in Europe and the European Union the only effective solution to the Russian threat.

War is neither evitable or inevitable

The first ripples of fear will manifest themselves in the Central European capitals like Berlin and Warsaw where already the new Europe is drawing up plans to put a stop to the as yet "evitable?" war with Russia. New mutual defence pacts are being drawn up or tested as we speak, gone is the hope that somehow Russians will somehow develop a healthy appreciation of  our democracy, our only desire now being to castrate the regime and it's friends enough to buy time to shore up defences, limit the damage and be clear we mean business. I would like to think that the wishes and desires of the various peoples of the emerging Central Europe that had been swallowed by the Russian Bear will be respected and encouraged to the detriment of  Soviet ambitions, but I fear at least some of the more far off western powers will still try to use us as a bargaining chip. Please be aware that once out of the bottle, powers like Poland that have joined Germany and France in the new Entente Cordiale that includes the potent mix of NATO and EU membership will be hard to break down short of the previously mentioned naked armed aggression.

Merkle and Tusk

Russia has had it's moment to be part of greater Europe and seems to have decided rather firmly that it will not even try be part of Pax Europa.  If this is the way it's meant to be for the next decade or so, then so be it, let's not drag our feet any more than we need to. No more Mr Nice Guy, time we took down the oligarchs and the dictators they are supported by.  I'm sad it's come to this, but at least I can look forward to the leadership and wisdom of Frau Merkle  who herself had to endure the horrors and deprivations of the Cold War like the rest of the new European leaders in Central Europe. There is nothing like a victim at the helm to insure the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Yet it would be foolhardy for the peaceniks too to think for a second that self defence and military alliances that mean something are a bad thing. If Ukraine asks for help from it's neighbours as it will most assuredly not hesitate to do should it come to that, be prepared to see many more millions of slavs who have tasted freedom since 1989 to stand thier ground and not roll over and die with a whimper like some in the West have done repeatedly. Some of us have lost relatives to Russian aggression and oppression in every decade since 1945, if you think  there is no stomach for a fight in Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria or the Baltic states, etc.., think again.

In my lifetime I have seen a few things I thought I would never see.

1- Polish freedom from Russia
2- The fall of the Soviet Union
3- Irish peace
4- The end of the nuclear nightmare.... literally.
5- The restoration of Europe to it's state of affairs prior to 1900

The New Europe has ignited hopes in me of standing for election as an MEP,  the House of Commons or even the Polish Sejm. I now live on the cusp of fulfilling several long held dreams, not least of which  living in Poland again at least part time on my family's own recovered lands and properties. However that and other hopes are tempered by that old familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach I still have  every time  I watch a programme about European history and they get to the part where yet again, Poland and the rest of Central Europe are engulfed in a fight not of their own making, where our young and not so young people will yet again die for the vanity of a man in Moscow. Yet again we will be forced to rebuild our cities and towns and yet again we will be bombed into an industrial stone age, our economies in ruins. Well not  this time if we can help. And if it comes to a fight at least this time we'll be ready.

Those of you in far flung places who don't think a few shots fired in the Balkans or the Crimea will amount to anything are forgetting that the recent history between 1914 and 1989 was an interlude in which Central Europe was swallowed whole by both the West and the East, made to be the pawns of powers far away and too concerned with other matters to think our people mattered. Things are different now, we have our countries back, our power back and our dignity back. Soon jobs held in near perpetuity by British, French and American politicians, diplomats and generals will pass into the hands of  those most concerned. Central Europe is back and hoping it will not require a baptism of fire to be taken seriously.

I strongly recomend you watch this instructive video of the evolution of the map of Europe. pick a spot, any spot and watch, then look at Poland, Germany, Russia and a few other states. Try to realize that through most of European history the nations some of us hardly reckon can muster so much as a veto were for the longest time huge military and economic powers with interests that reached far past their physical boundaries. Further take your modern history glasses off and realize that Russia is IN Europe, it , Russia IS Eastern Europe and all the states to the west of it form the centre along with Germany. Maybe now you'll realize once and for all that things have changed. There is no Warsaw pact, no Soyuz and no Soviet Empire, just free sovereign states that are part of the old Europe minus a few royal houses.

Late news edit: Russian demands that Ukraine create a new federal constitution, it remain neutral or in other words, not join the EU or NATO, give status to the Russian language and Lastly respect the result of the impromptu referendum in Crimea. The real news is that President Obama on the recommendation of Foreign Secretary Kerry, has accepted this. Again, the actual opinion of the legitimate government of Ukraine is to be ignored and Russia is allowed to dictate terms in order to get out of a sticky wicket. Typical, disgusting and a complete surrender by Obama. Who is he to speak for another country, who is Lavrov to demand these things of Ukraine? While on the surface some of the demands are even reasonable, but seen as a whole, similar to the attempt to humiliate Serbia in 1914. And if you need reminding, despite the total acceptance of even the most intrusive demands from Austria, Serbia still ended up being invaded. Can we expect better from Russia? Probably not. EU foreign ministers are to meet and are already rejecting some of the demands as extreme. Among the demands the creation of a “Support Group for Ukraine” consisting of the US, EU and Russia that would guarantee the military neutrality of Ukraine, the same sort of diplomatic construct that kept Belgium neutral till 1914 when it no longer suited the Kaiser. 

At the end of the day if Ukraine does join the EU it too will want to make military alliances with neighbours that won't threaten to invade them. Russia will have to accept at some point that they no longer can call the shots like that. This of course will take longer if people like Obama insist on telling another people that they have no free will unless he and Putin think they can have it. How very sad. Plus ├ža change and all that. Even sadder is it's not clear if Putin is blinking or just playing WW1, the game. Obama's words "continue to oppose any violations of Ukraine's sovereignty or territorial integrity " ring even more hollow in the knowledge that the reaction in the White House and UN are those of the old school diplomats that have blinked when they could have helped at the ultimate cost of Ukraine. The desire of Ukraine to join the EU, the very reason for the uprising in the first place now seems to be in jeopardy. Time will tell if this premature climb down by the Americans will be accepted by the European foreign ministers and Ukraine itself.

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