Priye S. Torulagha
A critical examination of the factors which prompted Russia to invade Ukraine seemed similar to the reasons which prompted the eruption of the Second World War. Due to the similarity, it is necessary for Russia and the United States, and their allies to maintain caution over the Ukrainian War to avoid ushering in a 3rd World War. To understand the similarity between the two situations, it is necessary to briefly review the pre-2nd World War period and then compare it to the post-Cold War events which prompted the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Thus, the purpose of this article is to determine whether the factors which prompted the Russian invasion of Ukraine are similar to the factors which prompted the 2nd World War. It is argued here that indeed, the factors which prompted the eruption of the 2nd World war are eerily like the factors which prompted the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A Brief Review of the Events Surrounding Post-First World War and Post-Cold War Leading to Russian Invasion of Ukraine
The 1st World War was fought by members of two contending alliances in Europe, namely, the Triple Alliance (Central Powers) and the Triple Entente (Allied Powers). The Central Powers included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria and the Allied Powers included Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and Japan. The US later joined this alliance (Walt, 2003, 108 – 115). To deescalate the conflict, different armistice treaties were signed but the most significant one was signed with Germany in the Armistice Treaty of November 11, 1918.
On the other hand, the Cold war began as soon as the Second World ended in 1945. The two most powerful states at the end of the deadliest war in human history, the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) competed to have a geopolitical strategic advantage, and by so doing, attempted to divide the world into two ideological camps, the capitalistic democracy, and the Marxism-Leninism/communism. These two camps were also known as the Western bloc (US, West European, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and the Eastern bloc (USSR and its Central and East European allies). The Peoples Republic of China and North Korea, North Vietnam, and later Cuba tended to associate with the Eastern bloc due to their communist systems. The former European colonies in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas were automatically grouped as part of the Western bloc since Western European countries created them (Rourke, 1999). However, those countries, including former European colonies that did not want to join either of the ideological camps formed the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), otherwise known as the Third World. The European colonies that needed to liberate themselves militarily decided to associate with the Eastern bloc. Since the US and the USSR had nuclear weapons, they opted not to confront each other directly to avoid destroying the world. Hence, the Cold War was fought indirectly through proxy wars from about 1945 to 1990. The Cold War ended when the Warsaw Pact and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) were disbanded on July 1, 1991, and December 26, 1991, respectively.
It should be noted that the Warsaw Pact was formed by the Eastern bloc in 1955 to militarily counterbalance the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which was established by the Western bloc in 1949 to contain the spread of Soviet Union and communism (“Warsaw Pact Ends.” March 30, 2021).Thus, Warsaw Pact was designed to militarily counter NATO and vice versa.
The Similarity of the Issues Pertaining to the Post-Treaty of Versailles Leading to the 2nd World War and the Post-Cold War Leading to Russian Invasion of Ukraine
The issues pertaining to the post-Treaty of Versailles and the post-Cold War leading to the Russian invasion of Ukraine are similar in six ways. First, the Armistice Treaty of November 1918 which led to the cessation of fighting in the First World put all the blame on Germany. This matches the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, leading to the Western view that Russia lost the war. Secondly, the dissatisfaction expressed by Italy and Japan over the sharing of war booty after the 1st World seems to match the dissatisfaction of Russia over the Western failure to dissolve the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in order to equalize the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Third, the failure of the League of Nations to take appropriate action to stop Japan and Italy matches the failure of the United Nations to compel the dissolution of NATO and penalize the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Western Interventions in Afghanistan, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. Fourth, the victorious Allied Powers paid little or no attention to the feelings and concerns expressed by Japan, Italy, and Germany just as the Western allies and NATO ignored concerns expressed by Russia that it was being encircled. Fifth, the German decision to pay back in kind for the unfairness and humiliation of the Armistice Treaty and the Treaty of Versailles resembles the Russian anger emanating from the view that the West cheated Russia by failing to stop spreading NATO eastward, thereby resulting in its decision to invade Ukraine. Sixth, the Nazi accusation that those who signed the Armistice Treaty and the Treaty of Versailles “stabbed the German nation in the back” is comparable to President Vladimir Putin’s statement which referred to Russians who opposed the invasion of Ukraine as “scums and traitors,” and strongly believes that true Russians would “spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths” (Cohen, March 22, 2022).
First, due to the drawn-out nature of the First World War, both sides (members of the Triple Entente (Allied Powers) and the Triple Alliance (Central Powers)) were exhausted, and Germany called for an armistice to end hostilities. The German team, led by Mathias Erzberger met with Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander in his railway carriage in Le Franc port near Compiegne in France and negotiated. Hoping for a mutual agreement to end the war, the Germans were treated as having lost the war when French Gen. Maxime Weygand issued the Allied terms for the armistice which involved German disarmament. Having pleaded for lesser conditions to no avail, the German team signed the Armistice Treaty on November 11, 1918.
Germany was blamed for causing the war and made to feel guilty for it. The treaty obligated Germany to (a) evacuate its troops from the territories (in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg) it held on the Western Front within two weeks; (b) disarm by giving up its arsenal, including 5,000 artillery pieces, 25,000 machine guns, 1,700 airplanes, 5, 000 railroad locomotives, 5,000 trucks, and 150,000 wagons; (c) give up the disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine to France; and (d) allow Allied forces to occupy German territory along the Rhine until 1930(“Warsaw Pact Ends,” March 30, 2021).
Second, two months after the signing of the Armistice Treaty to cease military operations in the 1st World War, negotiations to finalize a peace treaty began in Versailles, France. Although about thirty nations attended, the United Kingdom, France, United States, and Italy dominated the conference. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria, the defeated members of the Central Powers or Triple Alliance and Russia were not invited. In what came to be referred to as the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of mirrors of Versailles palace, harsh conditions were imposed on Germany. It had to do the following to comply with the terms of the treaty: (1) pay $33 bn reparation for causing the war, (2) turn over the coal mines in Saar basin to France, in lieu of a plebiscite after 15 years, (3) give back the disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine to France, (4) tear down its fortifications along the Rhine, (5) respect the independence of Austria which was taken from the Austria-Hungarian Empire, (6) recognize the newly created independent state of Czechoslovakia formed from some of the provinces of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, (7) forfeit some of its territories in West Prussia to Poland,(8) give up all its colonies in Africa and China, (9) drastically downsize its armed forces, including (a) reducing its army size from about 1.9 million during the war to just 100,000, (b) reduce the officer corps to just 4,000 officers, c) hand over most of its military equipment to the Allies and it could only produce new military equipment through factories approved by the Allied Powers, (d) drastically reduce the size of its navy and could only have six battleships, six light cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats, ( e ) completely eliminate its submarine fleet, (f) eliminate the air force completely and could only maintain 100 seaplanes, and (10) those responsible for causing the war and committing war crimes to face trial (Kiger, June 25, 2019).
Reactions to Armistice Treaty and the Treaty of Versailles and the Sharing of War Booty after the First World War
First, the Armistice Treaty and the Treaty of Versailles pushed the Germans to the wall as they contributed to the collapse of the German economy since it had to pay reparations for causing the war. This provoked anger among German ultra-nationalists who accused those who negotiated and agreed to the humiliating conditions of the treaties as having ‘Stabbed the German Nation in the back” to capitulate. This sentiment resulted in the assassination of Mathias Erzberger who led the German team to negotiate and sign the Armistice Treaty. The humiliating conditions also led the nationalists to accuse the communists and socialists of betraying the German nation. The issue polarized German politics, thereby providing the opportunity for the ultra-nationalists to mobilize to take over political power. The Allied Powers (France, Britain, Italy, USA, etc.,) failed to pay attention to German concerns. In desperation, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists (Nazis) emerged on the German political scene and promised to avenge the humiliation of the German nation.
Second, Britain and France gained most from the booty garnered from being victorious in the 1st World War by taking over most German colonies, including those in Africa and elsewhere. Likewise, Germany also ceded some territories to France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Japan and Italy felt cheated and undervalued by other members of their military alliance. The perception of unfairness in the sharing of war booty laid the stage for the gathering of war storms for the Second World War.
- Japan felt that it was supposed to be the imperial power in Asia and decided to create a new world order in that part of the world. It invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931, and occupied it.
- Italy too was not happy about the manner in which war booty was shared among the victorious Allied Powers. The need to create an imperial status for itself resulted in its invasion and occupation of Ethiopia from October 2, 1935, to May 1936.
Third, the League of Nations appeared powerless and did little or nothing to stop Japan and Italy from conquering and annexing Manchuria and Ethiopia respectively. Likewise, it could not even play a balancing role by persuading the Allied Powers to tone down the conditions imposed on Germany to avoid a violent reaction. It was unable to establish a sense of fairness and equality among the states due to paralysis emanating from big power politics. The failure ignited the Second War.
a. The Second World began when Japan spread its conquering tentacles to China, thereby fueling the Sino-Japanese War which started in 1937 as China resisted the Japanese invasion of the country after taking over Manchuria in 1931 (Philips, July 24, 2018). Thus, Japan sets a new world order by attempting to change the status quo, thereby igniting the 2nd World war.
b. Amid one of the worst economic recessions that Germany encountered, Adolf Hitler emerged as the chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, following a series of elections and militant actions. He also assumed the title of the Fuhrer on August 2, 1934, following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg. He and the Nazis and other German ultra-nationalists ignored the conditions stipulated in the Armistice Treaty and the Treaty of Versailles and embarked on the massive development and modernization of German military forces. Then feeling sufficiently equipped in military technology and economic enhancement, Germany decided to take back some of the Germanic territories. It invaded Czechoslovakia by using a combination of forces known as blitzkrieg and took back the Sudetenland on March 15, 1939. It invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and easily overwhelmed the country. Since Poland had a security treaty with Britain and France, the two responded and sent military forces to counter the German invasion. This spread the 2nd World War as Japan continued its military operations to conquer Asia while Germany, in alliance with Italy, spreads its gigantic military machine in Europe and North Africa. Germany easily overran the Netherland, Belgium, and France. To pay back in kind for the humiliation that the Allied Powers, especially France and Britain imposed on Germany, Adolf Hitler made sure that the French signed the treaty of surrender in the same railway carriage that Gen. Foch had made Germany sign the Armistice Treaty. Italy surrendered after the Italians executed Il Duce Benito Mussolini. By the end of the 2nd World War, over 60 people died. Russia seemed to have borne the brunt of the war by losing millions of people to contain Germany and helped to defeat it with the Allies. The US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to force it to surrender on September 2, 1945.
Third, the United Nations was established in 1945 after the end of the 2nd World War. To a large extent, it was a resuscitation of the League of Nations. The main goals of the UN are to: (1) maintain international peace and security, (2) develop friendly relations among nations, (3) help nations to work together to improve the lives of poor people, conquer hunger, disease, and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms, and (4) serve as a center for the harmonization of the stipulated goals. Thus, the UN is supposed to work assiduously in ensuring that peace and security prevail in the world. However, this noble goal can only be achieved if there is a sense of equality, fairness, and justice in the global system. Unfortunately, these factors are lacking, hence, the UN cannot ensure peace and security apart from adopting stop-gap measures to reinforce the status quo, thereby prolonging the agony for millions of people trapped in indeterminable conflicts.
Failure of the UN to Act to Ensure Fairness, Equity, and Justice
The United Nations, like the League of Nations, has failed to ensure peace and security in the world. The failure is precipitated by big power politics played by the five permanent members of the Security Council. They prevent the UN to act in a manner that reinforces justice, fairness, and equality through veto power, as evidenced by various incidents in the world.
First, when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved on July 1, 1991, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 26, 1991, 15 sovereign states emerged from the dissolution. The UN would have been proactive in persuading Western countries to dissolve NATO to ensure new world order. The reason is that NATO and Warsaw Pact were military alliances intended to counterbalance each other during a time of bipolar (two-power balance of power) system in the world. Unfortunately, the UN did not work with the US and Western countries to dissolve NATO while the former Soviet Union dissolved the Warsaw Pact. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the failure to dissolve NATO created a military imbalance that reinforced a unipolar (one power) system where the US and its Western allies tended to dominate the world. The perception that the US and the West cheated Russia to dissolve the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact contributes greatly to the Russian anger and the decision to invade Ukraine in order to counter NATO’s eastward expansion.
Second, the UN was structurally designed to fail through the intentional reinforcement of the strategic powers of the major countries that emerged victorious in the 2nd World War. As a result, five states, including the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China ended up with veto powers in the Security Council of the UN (UNSC). The veto power allows the five permanent members of the UNSC to veto any legislation or action that they deemed a threat to their strategic interests, as indicated above. The veto destroys the democratic process for making global decisions about peace and security and ensuring human rights because any of the five members can stop any action from taking place in a global system made up of 193 countries. Apparently, the veto neutralizes the principle of democratic majoritarianism that is necessary for the resolution of conflicts.
Third, because of the veto, the UN was unable to deter the Soviet Union from invading Afghanistan in 1979. The invasion turned the country upside down and led to the deaths of thousands of people after 9 years (December 24, 1979, to February 15, 1989) of an unnecessary war. The invasion was like the US invasion of Vietnam, where again, the UN was powerless to deescalate the conflict.
Fourth, NATO carried out an aerial bombardment of the Republic of Yugoslavia, from March 24 to June 10, 1999, to stop the bloody civil war that engulfed the country, especially in Kosovo. Since the action was controversial, Russia too responded by sending forces to Kosovo to counterbalance the presence of NATO since the Serbians and Russians have historically considered themselves allies.
Fifth, the Afghans had only temporary relief from the Soviet invasion of the country because the US justifiably attacked the country in October 2001 to drive away the Taliban government, following the Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attack using commercial airlines to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and a section of the US Department of Defense headquarters in Washington DC. The Al Qaeda attack resulted in the deaths of almost three thousand people. The US launched the military attack because the Taliban allowed Al Qaeda to operate from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the US and its NATO allies, including Britain, Australia, Canada, Poland, and so forth, remained in the country until August 2021. The UN could not do much to persuade foreign powers to leave the country apart from providing rehabilitation services to the people. Again, thousands of Afghans lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands were forced to become refugees.
Sixth, the US and its allies decided to invade Iraq with the purpose of preventing Saddam Hussein from supposedly developing and using nuclear and biochemical weapons in 2003 during the height of its war in Afghanistan. Australia, Britain, Canada, Poland, Spain, and other NATO members joined the war effort. President Saddam Hussein was hurriedly tried and hanged. The UN remained silent even though there were no nuclear or biological weapons found. Iraq was devastated and thousands of people lost their lives. Even in 2022, Iraq has not recovered and neither has it been stabilized.
Seventh, NATO-sponsored a military rebellion in Libya in 2011. Eight NATO countries, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America bombed strategic targets and helped to bring down the government. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the leader of the country was killed. The destruction of Libya resulted in the proliferation of sophisticated arms throughout Africa. The arms and fighters from Libya contributed to the destabilization of several African countries, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Kenya, Uganda, and so forth. Libya has not recovered from the destabilization inflicted by NATO.
Thus, what is happening today is akin to what happened prior to the 2nd World War as the League of Nations failed to perform its duty due to a lack of political and military power to enforce peace and security. The UN too lacks the power to enforce a peaceful order since five countries have the power to veto any action that threatens their self-interest.
Eighth, just as the UN is a failing institution, the International Criminal Court (ICC) too is a failing organization. It was established to investigate and possibly prosecute individuals who commit genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression (International Criminal Court, n.d.). The ICC is expected to apply its investigatory and prosecutorial responsibilities in international law across the board against all violators, regardless of their status in the global system. Unfortunately, the ICC seems to increasingly serve as an instrument of the strong against the weak. Hence, it ignores human rights violations and wars of aggression perpetrated by the powerful states and concentrates more on arresting, prosecuting, and punishing political and military leaders of poor and powerless small states in the world. Since African countries are the weakest politically, militarily, and economically, individuals in the continent that allegedly violate human rights are easily arrested and prosecuted. Leaders of powerful states that violate the same rights are left untouched.
Another noticeable weakness of the ICC is its tendency to characterize certain states as being good and others as being bad even when they engage in similar behaviors. Hence, within three weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, speeches were being made about human rights violations and war crimes. The speediness in desiring to file war crimes against Russian leaders for the invasion of Ukraine and the lack of will to do so in other war situations have compelled the Serbians, Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, and Yemenis to wonder whether their human rights are not as important as those of Ukrainians, even though they lost more people in various military interventions than the Ukrainians. The Watson Institute of Brown University estimated that “at least 929,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan” (Cost of War, November 2021). The institute added that the above figures excluded those who died indirectly from the wars and the hundreds of thousands of individuals who suffered injuries, in addition to the millions of people who have been displaced because of the wars. Thus, the ICC seems to be playing favoritism by valuing and devaluing people based on where they come from. Is it morally, ethically, and legally justifiable to try anybody for war crimes in Ukraine without also considering the same for the other wars?
The Similarity between the Events Prior to the Second World War and the Post-Cold War Events Leading to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
As the title indicates, there is an eerie similarity between what transpired following the end of the 1st World War and what happened following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, leading to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
First, the Germans thought that the desire to end hostilities following the bloody and destructive 1st World War was a mutually agreed upon decision by both sides. Instead, the Allied Powers behaved like victors in the war, hence, instituted the humiliating Armistice Treaty in November 2018. By the time the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, the Germans knew that they were solely blamed for causing the war and held responsible for the destruction and death. This led to frustration and anger among some elements in the German population, especially among the members of the military forces. The harshness of the conditions that the victorious powers imposed to punish Germany turned it into a pathetic vegetative state. Indeed, Germany was forced into a state of economic comatose by the decision of the Allied Powers. The anger led to the emergence of Adolf Hitler, the National Socialists (Nazis), and other ultra-nationalist Germans who despised the Allied Powers and decided to ignore the conditions imposed. By so doing, they embarked on the technological modernization of the German armed forces. When Hitler and his comrades felt that Germany had developed sufficient military capability to challenge the status quo, they decided to pay back in kind for the humiliation that the German people suffered.
In flashing back to the Ukrainian situation, it is noticeable that Russia underwent a condition similar to what Germany experienced following the end of the 1st World War. Thus, after fifty years of the Cold War between the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc and the United States/Western bloc, the members of the Soviet Union decided to dissolve their commonwealth. In doing so, each of the federated republics became a sovereign state. Likewise, believing that the Cold War had ended, the members of the Eastern bloc also dissolved the Warsaw Pact on March 31, 1991.
Having done so in good faith to ensure peace and security in Europe and in the world, former President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union also signed an agreement for the unification of East (GDR) and West (FRG) Germany. In return, the leaders of the Western bloc made conciliatory statements indicating a willingness not to expand NATO to Eastern Europe. It is strongly believed that US Secretary of States at the time, Mr. James Baker, President George Bush Sr. of the US, former CIA director, Robert Gates, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, President Francois Mitterrand of France, Foreign Minister Roland Dumas of France, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union Eduard Shevardnazde, Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer of the German Democratic Republic, Britain Prime Minister John Major, and Secretary-General Manfred Woerner agreed in various high-level meetings that NATO will not expand to Eastern Europe to threaten Russia (“NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard,” December 12, 2017).
For instance, West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher said:
that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e., moving it closer to the Soviet borders” (Elbe, Spring 2010).
On February 10, 1990, West German Chancellor Kohl is quoted as saying “We believe that NATO should not expand the sphere of its activity” (“NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard,” December 12, 2017).The US Secretary of State, James Baker, in addressing President George Bush Sr, after discussing with Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze on May 4, 1990, stated:
I used your speech and our recognition of the need to adapt NATO, politically and militarily, and to develop CSCE to reassure Shevardnadze that the process would not yield winners and losers. Instead, it would produce a new legitimate European structure – one that would be inclusive, not exclusive (“NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard,” December 12, 2017).
After meeting with President Mikhail Gorbachev on June 8, 1990, in London, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assured him by saying “We must find ways to give the Soviet Union confidence that its security would be assured…. CSCE could be an umbrella for all this, as well as being the forum which brought the Soviet Union fully into a discussion about the future of Europe” (“NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard,” December 12, 2017). In late March 1991, British Prime Minister John Majors responded to a question by the Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Dimitri Yazov concerning the interest of the Eastern European countries interest in joining NATO, replied “Nothing of the sort will happen.” (NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard,” December 12, 2017; Elbe, Spring 2010).
Thus, the general framework was that NATO would not threaten Russia. Moreover, there were discussions about lessening the military aspect of NATO and transforming it into a kind of political coalition that could even embrace Russia. This meant that the US and other NATO members agreed that the organization will not be extended to embrace Eastern European countries. Perhaps, unsure that the US and its allies will keep the promises made not to expand NATO, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev warned against the danger of doing so while addressing US Congress in 1997 during a bipartisan meeting of a group intended to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He said, “You cannot humiliate a people without consequences” (“Gorbachev warns Congress against NATO expansion,” April 16, 1997).Referring to the manner Germany was treated at end of the 1st World War, Gorbachev warned that Russia should not be treated the way Germany was treated.
Second, perhaps claiming victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, in contrast to the promise made by the US Secretary of State that “the process would not yield winners and losers,” the US and its European allies admitted former members of the Soviet Bloc to NATO and continued to expand by ignoring the potential consequences. There are indications that France and Germany were not enthusiastic about extending the military organization eastward. France President Mitterrand even proposed to abolish NATO since a new order was needed in Europe.
However, there is a counterview to the narrative that the West had promised not to extend NATO membership to Eastern European countries. Those who hold this view insist that while there were general discussions about not extending membership to the point of threatening Russia, there was no formal agreement restricting the extension of NATO membership eastward. In other words, since there was no formal agreement, the West could not be held liable for breaking any promise made to Russia (Shifrinson, May 30, 2016). While the US and its Western allies insist that there was no formal agreement, the Russians strongly believed that the West made a promise and broke it by admitting former members of the Warsaw Pact and ex-Soviet republics to NATO, thereby threatening Russia. In fact, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were admitted to NATO in the late 1990s while Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia were admitted in the early 2000s (Masters, January 20, 2022).
Third, whether there was a formal agreement or not, it seemed that the view by some Western high-level public officials and experts that the West won the Cold War probably influenced the decision to expand NATO eastwards, regardless of Russian concerns. This was demonstrated by former President George Bush’s “Membership Action Plan” (MAP) to admit Georgia and Ukraine as members of NATO despite concerns about the Russian reaction in 2007 (Cohen, March 27, 2022). The decision to move NATO eastward based on the view that the West won the Cold War is reminiscent of the German feeling of disappointment that its call for an armistice was interpreted by the Allied Powers as having won the 1st World War. Former Soviet president Gorbachev noted that Washington grew arrogant and self-confident, claiming to win the Cold War, following the collapse of the Soviet Union by expanding NATO (“Gorbachev says U.S. grew arrogant after Soviet Union collapsed,” December 24, 2021). The eastward expansion of NATO led to various reactions.
a. A RAND study recognized the concerns expressed by Russians concerning NATO expansion by stating:
That said, certain factors indicate that the risks of an aggressive Russian reaction— including, under certain circumstances, a military conflict between Russia and NATO—may be growing. Russian elites increasingly appear to have concluded that the long-term goals of the United States and NATO are not compatible with the security of the current regime in Moscow. Russian leaders have noted with concern the steady conventional posture enhancements in Eastern Europe (now including former Soviet territory), ballistic missile defense systems, and the shift in strategic orientation of states that Russia views as clearly within its sphere of influence.” (Frederick, Povlock, Watts, Priebe, and Geist, 2017).
b. Thus, Russia reacted militarily when Georgia attempted to join NATO by invading it and supporting breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In acknowledgment that Russia invaded Georgia to stop it from joining NATO, Robert Gates, the former US Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, advised Western alliance members to be cautious in their response to the Russian military incursion by saying “We need to proceed with some caution because there clearly is a range of views in the alliance about how to respond, from some of our friends in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states to some of the countries in Western Europe”(Shanker, September 18, 2008).
c. The anger emanating from the view that the U.S. and the West cheated Russia by reneging on a promise not to expand NATO eastward to threaten Russia led President Vladimir Putin to say “You promised us in the 1990s that [NATO] would not move an inch to the East. You cheated us shamelessly” (Sullivan, February 24, 2022).The New York Times noted the restlessness of Russia as NATO continued to expand eastwards:
After a decade of NATO expansion into the former Communist bloc, a resurgent Russia
Is now vigorously opposing membership for Georgia and Ukraine and pressing those already in the alliance with threats should Poland and the Czech Republic cooperate with the United States on missile defense” (Shanker, September 18, 2008).
d. The danger that could follow the Russian military reaction against perceived U.S. and Western attempts to encircle Russia also compelled George Kennan, the US architect of the Western containment policy against communism and Soviet expansion, to warn that it was a huge mistake for NATO to expand towards Central and Eastern Europe. He bluntly warned of the danger of NATO expansion by stating:
expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking …” (“Noted: George Kennan on NATO Expansion. (n.d.); Goldgeier, June 1, 1999).
William Burns, the former US ambassador to Russia and CIA director reacted to the Bush administration’s “Membership Action Plan” by stating: “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite not just Putin” (Cohen, March 27, 2022).
The warnings by prominent Western personalities against the expansion of NATO to embrace Central and Eastern Europe were ignored by those responsible for crafting policy for NATO in Europe. Samuel Charap of Rand Corporation noted: “The louder Moscow protested; the more determined western capitals became to deny Russia what was seen as a veto over alliance decision-making” (Sullivan, February 24, 2022).
e. For the Russians, it seemed that any relationship between Ukraine and the West is considered the last straw since it borders Russia directly and it is viewed by Russians as a sister state. Hence, when in 2013, pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal to increase economic relations with the European Union, violent protests erupted, thereby forcing him to flee to Russia in February 2014. The Ukrainians referred to the protests as the Revolution of Dignity or the Maidan Revolution. Mr. Yanukovych was replaced by Oleksandr Turchynove, as acting president. Mr. Petro Poroshenko eventually became the substantive president in 2014 and promised to seek membership in the European Union and NATO. This created a feeling among Russians that the West removed a democratically elected pro-Russian and replaced him with a pro-EU and NATO leader. Eventually, Russians felt that the Ukrainian rebellion was instigated by the West as part of its effort to bring it into the Western strategic orbit. This compelled Ukrainians of Russian ethnicity in Eastern Ukraine to insist on seceding from Ukraine to join Russia. Similarly, ethnic Russians in Crimea too demanded integration with Russia. Russia invaded and annexed Crimea while actively supporting the Russians in Eastern Ukraine (“Conflict in Ukraine,” March 21, 2022).
Following the Russian annexation of Crimea and the active support for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainians became strident in their demand to join the Western Union and NATO to prevent Russian intervention in their internal affairs. These actions eventually led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, thereby ushering in the Ukrainian War
Based on the discourse, it is evident that the factors which prompted the eruption of the 2nd World War are similar to the reasons which prompted the Russian invasion of Ukraine. First, the Japanese and the Italians felt cheated for not being sufficiently rewarded for participating on the side of the Triple Entente (Allied Powers) to fight the 1st World War. This led to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. On the other hand, the Russians felt cheated that after they dissolved the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact to end the Cold War, the Western Alliance and NATO continued to expand eastward to threaten Russia. The Russians expected the USA and its European allies to dissolve NATO to match the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact since both counterbalanced each other militarily. Second, the conditions set under the Armistice Treaty and the Treaty of Versailles to punish Germany for causing the 1s World War were harsh and destructive to German survival. During the post-Cold War, Russia felt that NATO’s incorporation of former members of the Warsaw Pact is intended to militarily encircle it. Third, the Germans felt cheated that the Armistice Treaty and Treaty of Versailles were twisted to solely blame Germany for causing the war, instead of being used as a mutually agreed upon a formula to end the destructive war. The Russians too felt that even though they decided to end the Soviet Union and dissolve the Warsaw Pact, the US and its Western allies interpreted the act as a sign of military and strategic defeat for Russia and a victory for the West and NATO in the Cold War. Fourth, just as the Allied Powers failed to pay attention to the concerns expressed by Japan, Italy, and Germany before the eruption of the 2nd World War, the US and its European allies failed to pay attention to concerns expressed by Russia before the invasion of Ukraine. Fifth, Japan, Italy, and Germany decided to change the Status quo by launching attacks which resulted in the 2nd World War. Russia decided to stop further NATO expansion by militarily invading Georgia in August 2008, seizing Crimea and supporting rebels in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, and finally invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Sixth, it was predictable that NATO expansion eastward will trigger Russian military counteraction. In fact, former Soviet President Gorbachev and the notable American diplomat, George Kennan (the architect of US containment policy) warned about the danger of NATO expansion. The danger prompted France and Germany to hesitate in supporting the expansion of the military alliance to embrace Central and Eastern European countries but went along with the plan. Seventh, any miscalculation on the part of the US and Russia on the Ukrainian situation can lead to a 3rd World War just as events in the post-1st World War led to the eruption of the 2nd World War. Eighth, while Western experts and media tend to ignore NATO expansion as a causative factor and solely blame Russia for an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, non-Western experts and media tend to focus more on NATO expansion as the causative factor for igniting the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ninth, Ukraine became a sacrificial lamb in a war that was totally unnecessary and is paying the price for entangling itself in the affairs of superpowers.
The implications are far-reaching. First, the way Westerners/Europeans react to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the way they reacted to the invasion of Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen is quite different, thereby creating the impression that they consider the Ukrainians superior to the Serbians, Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, and Yemenis. Second, even the way the UN reacted to the Ukrainian invasions is very different from the way it reacted to the invasion of Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and the civil war in Yemen. Third, the International Criminal Court (ICC) did not threaten to investigate incidents of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the cases mentioned above but is quite eager to do so on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This indicates that international law is not being applied equally around the world. This probably contributes to the reason why most African political and military figures are easily prosecuted for allegedly engaging in human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Fifth, the Western media react toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine as if this is the first time a sovereign state has been invaded by another sovereign state, thereby, ignoring all the invasions and interventions that have taken place since the end of the 2nd World War, including those in Africa, Asia, the Americas and in the Middle East. Sixth, the stringent economic sanctions against Russia could encourage Russia to join China and other countries to develop an alternative global monetary system. Seventh, the severity of the sanctions can ignite a greater war if Russia feels squeezed. Eighth, the suddenness with which severe economic sanctions are being implemented against Russia could also negatively impact European countries to the extent of compelling some of them to gradually loosen their ties with the US and develop an independent strategic path. On the other hand, the Russian invasion could propel smaller Eastern European countries to seek full integration with the European Union, thereby isolating Russia. Ninth, Europe, like other parts of the world, has serious racial, tribal, ethnic, religious, political, and territorial problems that if left unresolved, could ignite a major war that can threaten the entire world. Tenth, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the attendant Western reaction have woken up Germany from a military slumber and might begin a vigorous military rearmament program. The German rise could also spur Japan to do the same. Eleventh, the fact that President Joe Biden of the US and the leaders of France, Germany, Britain, and other members of NATO opposed the establishment of a no-fly-zone over Ukraine, as demanded by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, is a hopeful sign that the crisis might end eventually without escalating into a 3rd World War. Of course, this depends on the avoidance of unnecessary mistakes in decision-making on both sides.
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