One question among many that may not be answered for many months or years is why the Russians decided to invade and if so were they anticipating the strength of Ukrainian resistance? Why was their human intelligence so poor? In general terms, the lack of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014, and perhaps more importantly an ingrained belief that a Ukraine in which one out of six Ukrainians is an ethnic Russian and that many eastern Ukrainians would welcome a Russian “liberation” from what many Western observers viewed as a country permeated with official corruption.
Since I wrote my piece on the Russians using Syria as a test bed for the war in the Ukraine, https://wp.me/p2oiqJ-3VT things appear very differently. The seemingly more professional Russian army has not been evidenced in the war so far. The military reforms sought by the former minister of defense, Anatoliy Serdyukov have not been properly implemented and the same basic aliments that have plagued the Russian army since WWII, and many even during that war are still relevant and embarrassingly so. I leave to those more familiar with the war of the ground in terms of tactics and strategy to keep us informed on that but I will concentrate on the human aspect of this war, factors which have afflicted the Russian army since WWII.
The first one is that the Russians have long considered the Ukrainians “little Russians” And many have assumed that the Ukrainians would see them as their “big brother” as did then Serbians in the Kosovo war of 1998-1999. NATO intervened on the side of the Kosovo Albanian Muslims using air bombardment including B-52’s to force the Serbs into a negotiated agreement resulting in the creation of an Albanian Muslim Kosovo. The Russians saw themselves as defenders of the Serbs against an anti- Slavic coalition led by the United States. The Pan-slavic ideology is an old one. Like the pan-Arab movement that resonated in the Middle East in the 60’s and 70’s , that advocated a united Arab World ( especially pushed by the wannabe leader Abdul Nasser) pan -Slavism was once a very visible ideology especially in Russia. It includes some 14 nations, including the east Slavs; Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Although it is no longer a front page ideology, traces of it are still powerful in Russia. Hans Kohn in his book, Pan-Slavism; It’s History and Ideology, quotes a poem written by a Ukrainian during World War II indicating the indissolubility of Ukraine from Russia. ( The Ukrainians furnished the second highest numbers of troops to the Soviet war against the Germans ).
“The Ukraine lives for using the songs that we sing, in the stars and the willow trees along the rivers, and in the beat of our heart. How can we love other peoples, if we do not love our Ukraine. We are nothing without her, like the dust of the fields, or smoke, eternally driven away by the winds”
In fact all the great Russian writers, with possible exception of Turgenev, were anti-Western, especially Dostoyevsky, who believed in a southward expansion of the Russian empire, writing, “ all our hopes lie more in Asia than in Europe: in our future Asia will be our salvation.” Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet and considered to be the soul of Russia was vitriolic in his denunciations of the West. He like most Russian intelligentsia considered the Europeans as looking down on them and like all of them resented it fiercely. He believed that “Russia was the mother of the Slavs.” Even those more recent Russians of world-wide fame such as Solzhenitsyn, who spent time in Stalin’s gulag, bitterly criticized the West in a famous speech at Harvard in 1978. He and Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter who fled from Russia retuned to it in later years. In fact much of the Russian consciousness of their history and “exceptionalism” is both a a result of and a reaction against Western influences. The “westoxification” railed against by so many in the Islamic world is also a feature of the Russian intelligentsia, who are constantly reminded of their inferiority in many areas of a civilized and developed society.
Given this attitude which has permeated Russian society for centuries, accentuated in recent years by the rather asinine handling of the Ukraine question by American and European diplomats and opinion makers, it was just pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire. This inept handling of the Ukraine question, was summarized very well by Kissinger in an article in 2014, in which he advised that Ukraine should be a bridge between Russia and the West, not an “outpost.” He went on to argue in the Wall Street Journal that “to treat Ukraine as part of an part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West, especially Russia and Europe- into a cooperative international system.”
Basically, Kissinger and the former American ambassador to Ukraine, Jack Matlock, saw the American push for the Ukrainians to be part of NATO, as making the present war inevitable. The problem today we have amateurs running our foreign policy who have never read history to understand it and are more interested in the opinion of the Washington Post and NYT, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair. Moreover we led the Ukrainians into a false sense of security in 2014, when Clinton assured the Ukrainian government that in exchange for giving up their extensive ownership of nuclear weapons.
So The Ukrainians have demonstrated with blood and much courage that do not want to be part of the new Russian empire and in their short span of independence have demonstrated beyond doubt that the Pan- Slavism of the Russian regime is dead, just as the dream of some great Pan Arab empire, a reconstitution of the Ommayad empire is dead.
In addition to the Hans Kohn book, I have used National Identity in Russian Culture ed. Simon Franklin, and Emma Widdis, and The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism by Isaiah Berlin plus Russia by Dmitri Trenin. A great historical survey of Ukrainian history is The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy.