Marbella, Spain – Here in Spain’s sunny south, you wouldn’t know that a new world war over Eastern Europe threatens. In fact, rumor has it that none other than Vlad Putin is house-shopping in this glamorous resort.
Easter is Europe’s most important holiday. While churches are empty, restaurants, clubs and boutiques are packed with visitors and residents. Northern Spain is racked by record unemployment and a deep recession, but armies of British, French and German tourists are back in the south and the mood is upbeat.
To Spaniards, the dangerous fracas over Ukraine seems remote and unimportant. Western Europeans are taking this nasty business calmly. There is none of the media hysteria and patriotic drum beating found in North America. No one that I’ve met thinks Ukraine is worth a war, even a small one.
To paraphrase the great statesman Bismarck, Ukraine is not worth the life of a single Prussian grenadier. I recalled this famous maxim at dinner the other night here in Marbella where I’m a house guest of the Bismarck family, which is reunited here for Easter.
Prince Bismarck would never have allowed Ukraine to boil over and set the United States, its appendage NATO, and Russia on a collision course. He would have been horrified to see Washington foolishly making enemies of Russia and China at the same time. Divide your enemies and set then against one another was the essence of Bismarck’s brilliantly effective diplomacy. Had Kaiser Wilhelm II retained Bismarck as his premier foreign policy advisor, Germany may have avoided blundering into the horrors of World War I.
President Putin keeps bringing up history to justify his assertive policies towards Ukraine and Crimea. This annoys Americans, who know little about history and refuse to accept Russia as a great power- and certainly not as an equal.
Recently, Sen. John McCain, the voice of America’s ignorant right, sneered that Russia was merely “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Gas stations do not produce the likes of Tolstoy, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, or the very smart Vlad Putin. They do, however, produce puny intellects like McCain.
Just as Russia provided the US with a diplomatic exit from blundering into a war with Syria, so the Kremlin is again offering Washington a way out of the Ukraine imbroglio.
That way out consists of a Ukraine-wide referendum to allow each region to determine whether it wants to align with Europe or Russia. Russian must be made a second official language. Most important, the US and NATO have got to halt their daft plan to set up bases in Ukraine and bring it in the alliance. These bases will enrage Russia without boosting NATO’s power.
In fact, NATO’s would-be bases in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Baltic, are a major military liability to the alliance which is incapable of defending them if the Russians get really angry.
Speaking of history, it’s also worth recalling past efforts to weaken Russia by detaching Ukraine, its most important center of agriculture and coal. In 1917, after the collapse of the Romanov dynasty, Russia sued for peace. The result was the rapacious Treaty of Brest-Litowsk in which the Germany and Austria stripped away Ukraine, parts of today’s Romania, and the Baltic states from Russian control.
Ukraine was briefly independent during the 1920’s Russian civil war. Stalin crushed Ukraine’s independent farmers, murdering 6-7 million in a 1930’s holocaust. To no surprise, invading German troops were greeted as liberators by many Ukrainians. But Hitler decided to turn Ukraine into Germany’s granary and its people into serfs.
The US and NATO are now trying to impose a second Brest-Litowsk on Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia can not return to being a world power. Stalin undid Brest-Litowsk. Vlad Putin is determined that the punitive eastern version of the “Versailles Treaty” will not be again imposed on Mother Russia. Pity the poor Ukrainians caught between the crushing millstones of East and West.
After the 1878 Congress of Berlin that Bismarck organized to sort out the great power’s conflicting claims to the volatile Balkans, the Iron Chancellor observed that no one had asked the locals involved their opinion. Fast forward to today’s Ukraine where Bismarck’s wise advise still rings true.