Ukraine and First World War by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

On July 28th, 2014 the world will mark the centennial of First World War. In that war France and Britain were on one side while Germany and Turkey on the other. Russia in that war toggled between these two competing alliances. The war resulted in weakening of France and Britain as colonial powers as well as revolutions in Germany and Turkey that converted these monarchies into republics. Russia on the other hand transitioned from monarchy to an autocratic rule of a single party after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Middle East was divided into new nation states as an outcome of Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France. But that war did not settle the centuries old power struggle between European powers. That was achieved in the Second World War with complete demolition of German and Japanese military powers. It produced fading out of Britain and France as colonial powers. USA emerged as a new power that got engaged in a cold war with Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR).

The current crisis in Ukraine should be viewed in the context of Iraq and Afghan wars as well as centuries old European rivalries. The two contemporary wars produced an economically, diplomatically and militarily weaker USA. This means that America that is a leading power in NATO can no longer afford to engage in another prolonged military struggle with a major power in the world. It is even more difficult because European partners are struggling with economic recession; are exhausted from long wars in Middle East; and are too concerned with maintaining their own alliance in Eurozone as well as need time to convert it into a political entity. They may not be willing to revert to a power struggle with Russia that produced catastrophic wars in 18th, 19th and 20th century. American NSA and British GCHQ spying on European leaders have already resulted in trust deficit between these allies. Europe is also wary of rising tension between Japan, supported by USA, and China which could have ripple affect on their economies and inflate energy prices. Almost third of European gas needs are met through Russian supplies that go through Ukraine. Other than that lingering Syrian crisis can spread to South Europe which is another concern.

In my view a hot pursuit by America to protect Ukraine from falling into Russian sphere has the potential to finally tear apart the trans-atlantic alliance. The options available to President Obama are limited to suspend Russian membership in G8 or WTO, freezing of Russian assets held abroad and economic sanctions. All of these actions will adversely affect EU countries as well not just Russia which could force them not to support it. What can work is stationing of NATO troops in Poland and acceptance of Ukraine as a neutral buffer state between Russia and EU. Russia has already indicated that insensitivity of NATO, especially USA, to its security concerns could force it to rethink implementing the START agreement that was meant to reduce the arms race. During his first term in office President Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously pressed the restart button. It seems there was a malfunction of the button as it did not work so it seems more appropriate that they press that restart button again.

Interestingly China has so far been quite about its position on Ukraine. She may use this to her advantage by seeking American support to legitimize her claims in South China Sea. China may also seek USA’s assurances to reduce growing tension with Japan.

President Putin has a unique profile among the current cadre of world leaders. He has been a soldier, an intelligence officer, a chief of staff and a top politician. No other leader can match this profile in terms of depth of understanding of various dynamics involved in solving a crisis including political, military and diplomatic. In the Georgian crisis, President Putin has shown that he can take calculated extreme measures to protect the interests of Russia. In the Ukraine he seems to be willing to raise the stakes once again to check how others respond. In USA many foreign political analysts express that sabre rattling works on Russia, China and other aspiring powers. But they forget that other states can do the same and when the opponent is as strong as Russia then it is better for them to back down or risk destruction of balance of power that could lead to a third world war.

The other offensive initiated by President Putin is ideological. Putin has formed an alliance with Russian Orthodox Church to offer a counter narrative to Catholic, Protestant and Secular ideologies promoted by Western Europe and USA. It is meant to create an ideological divide into three blocks i.e. Catholic states led by Brazil, Argentine, Venezuela, Italy, Spain; a protestant bloc led by Britain, USA and Germany; and a secular bloc led by France & Scandinavian countries. Putin is offering a counter narrative to extreme left liberal ideas pursued by US and EU especially gay rights, institution of marriage and broken family values. This ideological struggle could strain the social order in many of these countries. Success in Ukraine could embolden Russia to develop a full frontal attack on the values promoted by West. Russia has already started developing an infra-structure for this war of ideology by creating extensive social media knowledge base, international radio and television distribution; and including culture on diplomatic agenda.

How does the crisis in Ukraine affect Pakistan? This crisis will have a direct impact on the future political settlement of Afghan crisis. Russia has already stated that presence of NATO forces beyond 2014 should be sanctioned by a new resolution in the UN Security Council rather than a bilateral agreement as these forces entered Afghanistan through a UN resolution. Recent Chinese overtures to find a regional solution to Afghanistan and rising tension in South China Sea may bring the Russian and Chinese position closer to each other. They may decide to propose a regional alliance of countries to ensure security in Afghanistan rather than allow USA military presence for another ten years. It seems that President Karzai is working on two parallel tracks. One with Iran-Afghanistan-India that could get support from Russia and the other Afghanistan-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia-Turkey which may get support from China. In this latter arrangement Turkey could guarantee accommodation of Iranian security and trade concerns. EU, USA and UK may come through in support of this arrangement in terms of providing aid and building economy.

Since the demise of USSR, it seems UN has lost its relevance in solving international crisis. USA ignored UN when it launched war against Iraq using blatant lies to build its case for war. Soon after Russia followed suit and ignored UN when it attacked Georgia to militarily solve crisis in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. America, in violation of UN charter of respecting sovereignty of other countries, has repeatedly used drones to kill suspected terrorists in Middle East, Pakistan, and Africa. Iran nuclear talks were held outside the domain of UN and Syrian crisis has been discussed bilaterally by Russia-USA. In the Ukraine crisis also there is no mention of a UN resolution. It is about time that this wasteful international body is either reformed or disbanded to give way to regional associations that might prove more effective.

There is no certainty in foreign affairs as the variables and players are too many. But it is important to outline key trends so that policy planners can take them into account in their calculations. But there is no doubt that we are living in interesting times and the world is about to enter a new phase of balance of power struggles.

What Next?

Related Articles