By Andrew Brons.
Wars result from a cocktail of innocence, lack of awareness, herd instinct on the one hand and hard headed cynical calculation and psychopathic aggression on the other. However, the lethal ingredient is a network of unconscious, unplanned and therefore unforeseen consequences. I have compared them previously to the motivations of the players on the Ouija board – we all push the glass and the glass moves in response to our efforts but no single person planned the moves or its final destination.
We are told that the peoples of Europe had no warlike thoughts on their minds as they enjoyed the splendid Summer of 1914. What of the political leaders? They had their rivalries and they had their vanities but most did not contemplate war so much as they enjoyed peacock strutting. Nevertheless there was the ratcheting up of international rivalry and tension: the expansion of the German navy and the British introduction of Official Secrets legislation. The only problem with ratcheting is that it is always up and never down.
It probable that Gabriel Princip wanted to see a war of independence for Serbian Bosnia – or should we say a war for the inclusion of Serbian Bosnia within Serbia. However, nobody would accuse him of wanting a wider European conflict. There is no evidence that Princip was acting with the knowledge and agreement of the Serbian leaders, when he shot and killed the Arch Duke and Duchess in Sarajevo. There is no evidence that Austria had any wish to engage in armed conflict with Serbia, still less with Russia, before those fateful shots were fired.
Europe walked into a World War – the so-called Great War – as though in a trance, not knowing where it was going. There might well have been cynics behind the scenes who knew they would profit from the conflict but that is another story for another day.
Austria was appalled when its heir to the throne and his wife were murdered – I shall not use the anaesthetised word assassinated. No wonder it made demands on the Serbs with regard to the trial of Princip.
Serbia, an independent country that had known independence only since 1882, resisted, perhaps understandably, what it saw as attempts to influence its judicial decisions by a powerful neighbour.
Serbia might not have colluded with Princips over the murder of the Archduke and Duchess but it certainly shared his resentment about Austria’s annexation of Bosnia in 1908 and Serbia being denied access to the sea from 1912.
In the context, we can understand Austria declaring war on Serbia and Serbia seeking help from Russia, its traditional protector, which mobilised against Austria.
In the same way we can understand Austria seeking the help of Germany, which mobilised against Russia. Equally we can see why France rushed to support its traditional ally Russia, with the result that Germany feared a war on two fronts.
We can understand, if not justify, Germany wishing to defeat France quickly before Russia could attack its Eastern flank.
France was aware of its vulnerability from Germany since its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and had constructed defences that made a direct German attack on France difficult. We can therefore understand, if not justify, Germany attacking France by invading Belgium.
Britain was a co-signatory (with France) of Belgium’s creation in 1831 and felt obliged to fight for its independence. And so the First World War started.
We look back at 1914 and say, complacently, “That could never happen again, could it?”. However, we are seeing, in the anniversary year, no less, a re-enactment of the building up of international tension – a ratcheting up of accusations, threats and (unspoken) consequences.
There is a certain irony because the United States – perhaps because of the minimal but crucial influence that its President has over foreign policy – seems to have stepped back from the brink of a war with Iran. Indeed the EU’s High Representative, Baroness Ashton, is credited with drawing up the outline of an agreement. The United Kingdom seems to have been persuaded, for the meanwhile if not longer, to step back from an attack on Syria.
However, Russia has become overnight the bogeyman we use to frighten our children from behaving badly. Why?
If you were to ask politicians – members of the Political Class – in the West, they would say “Russia’s annexation of the Crimea was the reason. The Crimea was (and still is legally) an integral part of Ukraine and Russia stole (Yes, that word has been used) it with a bogus referendum”. That is how the Political Class would want you to understand it.
As with many other disputes about territory, your understanding and conclusion might depend on the date of your starting point. Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when it was ceded by the Soviet leader Krushchev, who was Ukrainian by Nationality although born in Russia. It has even been said that Krushchev ceded the territory when he was under the influence of drink but I am not one to judge. Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the status of Crimea became a source of contention between Russia and Ukraine. Russia laid claim to the port city of Sevastopol, the home port of the Black Sea Fleet.
It ought to be said that even the 1996 Constitution* saw the status of Crimea as being different from the other constituent parts of Ukraine. They were twenty-four provinces and two municipalities, whereas Crimea was the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Secondly, this dispute is not just about territory but about less concrete concepts such as legitimate spheres of influence, something to which big powers of all kinds believe they have a right. Indeed even incipient (or perhaps just would like to be) great powers, like the European Union, seek spheres of influence – its neighbourhood policy, for example.
Russia has continued to favour some candidates for political power in Ukraine over others. Russia’s preferred candidate, Leonid Kuchma was elected President in 1994 and again in 1999. However, a Pro-Western Prime Minister, Victor Yushenko, was elected against the wishes of the Pro-Russian President, Kuchma but was sacked by Kuchma in April 2001. Kuchma’s chosen successor, Pro-Russian, Yanukovych was elected President in 2004. The result was challenged in street protests led by the Pro-EU Yuliya Tymoshenko and a re-run of the second round took place. Yanukovych was again elected. In 2010, Yanukovych was re-elected as President. However, while the Pro-Russians held the Presidency, the Pro-EU, Tymoshenko was Prime Minister from January to September and from December 2007 to March 2010.
After Tymoshenko’s defeat in the presidential election of 2010, she was prosecuted and convicted of several offences including embezzlement and abuse of power. She was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Her supporters say that the prosecutions were politically motivated.
The street protests in 2014, were led by an unholy alliance of Tymoshenko supporters on the one hand and by two Ukrainian Nationalist parties, Svoboda and the Right Sector, on the other. These protests led to Yanukovych fleeing from Kiev to Eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian Parliament removing him as President. It does not appear to have this power except as impeachment proceedings, which are outlined in Article 111 of the Constitution but do not seem to have been followed. The Parliament also ordered the release of Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.
What led to the street protests of 2013 and 2014? There seems to be general agreement that the incident that sparked them off was the President Yanukoych’s rejection of a trade agreement with the EU – regarded as the first step towards Ukraine becoming a candidate country. What part did the EU play in the financing of those street protests? As an MEP I asked the Commission but it failed to confirm or deny the suggestion.
What should we understand from all of this? Has there been interference in the affairs of the Ukraine from other states and powers? Yes, from East and West. From Russia that sees Ukraine as a whole but particularly the Crimea and its Eastern part as its legitimate sphere of influence but also from the EU and from the United States. The EU wants Ukraine to become a candidate country and eventual member of the European Union. It certainly sparked the protests that led to the overthrow of the Ukrainian President and probably financed them. The United States supports a global economy and recognises the EU’s part in constructing it. However, it also wants to hem Russia in behind its borders and to seeks US influence and power right up to those borders. It has sought to make Ukraine a member of NATO and will do so again and again. When it succeeds, it will seek to base weapons of mass destruction within it. Do you remember those terrible WMDs that Iraq had or rather did not have?
There is a parallel here but we must travel back in time to 1962 – the Cuban missile crisis at the peak of the Cold War. The Soviet Union had the audacity to have an ally, Cuba, within the Caribbean that was seen by the United States as its legitimate sphere of influence. Worse than that, the Soviet Union installed a missile system there with missiles targeted on the United States. I remember the episode vividly and people spoke of the impending war. The crisis was averted by the Soviets agreeing to remove its missiles in return for the United States agreeing not to repeat its failed attempt to invade Cuba, to remove its naval blockade of Cuba and to remove its missiles in Italy and Turkey targeted at the Soviet Union. A nuclear war was averted.
Are we today in danger of a nuclear war? No probably not, but the reason is that nobody wishes to return to the rhetoric of Mutual Assured Destruction – with the appropriate acronym, MAD. Indeed, fear of that might, for a time at least, stay the hand of any direct conventional conflict.
However, the ratcheting up towards indirect and then direct conflict might gain a momentum of its own and eventually become unstoppable.
Any conflict would be complicated because of the range of persuasions among the Anti-Russian side, for want of a better description. It includes two distinct Nationalist groupings that, we are to believe, are ethno- rather than civic nationalists. However, ethno-nationalism in the Ukraine has been so cruelly deprived of the cultural and racial enrichment ‘enjoyed’ by us in the West. To them ethno-nationalism might means awareness of the imperceptible (to anybody else) differences between Russians and Ukrainians. However, the Anti-Russian alliance also includes pro-EU factions that are anything but nationalist. Of course, there might be nationalists in the Ukraine who believe that their nationalism is less likely to be repressed in the EU. They would be wrong. Furthermore, they ought to realise that the price they will have to pay for joining the European Union is the cultural and racial enrichment that we have ‘enjoyed’ progressively, for sixty years.
We Nationalists, in the West, are so aware of the genetic as well as the personal effects of internecine conflict between related peoples that we have a firm principle: there must be no more brothers’ wars. We know that Europe lost its bravest and its best, between 1914 and 1918, often before they had produced the next generation. We are still suffering from the genetic effects today.
Ukrainian Nationalists (of both parties) and Russian Nationalists must realise that they have more in common with each other than either have with the Pro-EU cosmopolitans. There must be no brothers’ wars between them and we in the West must not allow ourselves to encourage or finance them or to become embroiled in them.
1914 is not just about remembering. It about learning from the past and not re-committing the same mistakes.
*The 1996 Constitution has played its part in the crisis by making Ukrainian the sole language of the country when 33% of its population spoke Russian as their first language. Anybody wishing to stoke up alienation between the peoples of Ukraine could not have done better.