Next March was set to be the time to elect a new leader for Ukraine.
Since the corrupt presidency of Viktor Yanukovych was brought to an end by the Ukrainian people and Russia responded by forcibly reintegrating Crimea, the election had to be brought forward to three weeks from now. The success of these elections will have reverberations that echo not through just the rest of Europe but anywhere where democracy is prized over sheer might.
The 20th century was shaped by America’s response to two totalitarian ideologies that came from Europe and which saw democracy as their sworn enemy. First there came Adolf Hitler who took authoritarianism to new heights with his Nazi party ideology of racial purity, Lebensraum – “living space” for his Third Reich, and the systematic extermination of target groups, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals or the disabled.
Then there came the very similar, albeit class-based, ideological threat of the Soviet Union and her satraps. With an ideology that saw the perfection of mankind as occurring through creation of the Communist state, the USSR was at its core committed to the direct or indirect destruction and subversion of all democratic systems.
But then, after forty years of ‘Cold War’ on November 9th 1989 came the breach of the Berlin Wall and on Christmas Day two years later, the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thus was declared the End of History and the victory of the West.
How far away those days now seem.
It is said that geography is destiny, and for the Ukraine this is clearly true. Sandwiched between Russia on one side and the rest of Europe on the other, it bears strategic significance as the litmus-test for stability in Europe.
The deposed President Yanukovych had stalled Ukraine’s politically and economic integration with the West, specifically the European Union and NATO, after Vladimir Putin, the Russian President offered financial rewards for realigning Ukraine with the Kremlin. The Ukrainian people responded by removing him from office – much as the people of Egypt recently forced an illegitimate President Morsi out of power in Cairo. This is when Moscow had to act.
Using irregular warfare techniques honed since the fall of the USSR, Putin destabilized the interim regime and used masked special forces troops to capture the Crimean peninsula and force a rigged referendum on annexation, which brought a 97% positive result for the Kremlin so very redolent of the election results under Stalin of Khrushchev.
As events over the last week have confirmed this is not, as Putin would have us believe, about the Russian speaking people in Crimea. Russian irregular units are wreaking havoc in several Eastern Ukrainian cities and ten of thousands of troops have been deployed along the border. Moscow is on the March once more.
So what? The Ukraine is far away. We don’t have any American interests in Eastern Europe, do we?
What would the answers to such questions have been in 1938 or 1948? Or even 2000 with regard to Afghanistan and Central Asia?
Hitler and fascism were only deemed a threat to America when Hitler’s axis ally Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. That was more than seven years after he became the Chancellor of Germany and three years after he had annexed the Sudentenland and then Austria. The Soviet Union was only understood to be a direct threat to American interests after Stalin made a grab for Berlin in 1948 with his blockade of our military sectors. That is thirty one years after the October Revolution brought Lenin to power in St Petersburg. We only took al Qaeda seriously after almost 3,000 people were killed in one day on September 11th 2001, despite the fact that his organization had been involved in terrorism since at least 1993 with the first World Trade Center attack.History does not repeat itself, but Mark Twain was absolutely right when he said it does rhyme.
Putin will not go away if we close our eyes and wish him away. Slogans such as Hope and Change have nil effect on hardened former secret-policemen like President Putin. In fact, idealism and naivete are provocative and act as triggers to anyone who understands realpolitik and grand strategy.
To all out libertarian friends out there, let me be clear: this is not about some Bush-era project to invade Eastern Europe and “enforce” democracy. That stance is as informed by unrealistic idealism as any of the multilateral fantasies coming out of the Geneva talks on the crisis in Ukraine. This is about the eternal problem of the thuggish bully who if left unchecked will sooner or later threaten all.
If the elections on May 25th are subverted. If Putin again breaks the taboo of using force to redrawn borders in Europe then Washington will, by default, have sent a message to all the worlds bullies, be they in Beijing, Tehran, of Pyongyang. America is weak and democracy doesn’t matter. We did that before and it cost us dearly. If you and your family is important, the family of freedom is important.
Sebastian Gorka PhD is National Security Editor for Breitbart News.