Gwynne Dyer: Ukraine is not worth fighting for

With due apologies to God, Voltaire, and the Ukrainians, I must point out that if Ukraine did not exist, it would not be necessary to invent it. It is not a great power, it has no resources the world cannot do without, and it is not a “vital strategic interest” to anybody except the Ukrainians themselves. Not even to the Russians, although they are acting at the moment as though it were.

Bosnia was nobody’s vital strategic interest either. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t 100 years ago. But Bismarck warned in 1898 that if there was ever another major war in Europe, it would come out of “some damned silly thing in the Balkans,” and an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 fulfilled his prophecy to the letter.

Some things have changed since then, however. The next world war will not come out of Ukraine (which is only slightly north-east of the Balkans) no matter what happens in the next few weeks and months. Russia might invade Ukraine, there might even be a new Cold War for a while, but there will be no fighting in Europe beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Indeed, apart from the Balkans there has been no full-scale war in Europe for the past 69 years, and there was never the slightest risk that the fighting in the 1990s would spread beyond the borders of former Yugoslavia. Indeed, there was probably never a single day during the 45 years of the Cold War when either side seriously considered attacking the other.

The reason was simple: they knew what would happen next, even if neither side used the thousands of nuclear weapons at its disposal. Twice in 30 years, in 1914-18 and 1939-45, a major war using modern weapons had been fought over almost all of Europe’s territory.

On the first occasion, they lost a generation of young men. The second time, most countries from Germany eastwards lost around 10 percent of their populations killedand most of the casualties that time were civilians. Half of the continent’s great historic cities were reduced to ruins even without the help of nuclear weapons. It was a very expensive education, but the Europeans did finally learn their lesson: don’t do this any more.

That is why, even as Russian tanks drive right up to Ukraine’s eastern borders and the Ukrainian army prepares to die in a fight it knows it would lose, nobody else in Europe is getting ready for war. If the Russians want part or all of Ukraine, they can have it—and pay the long-term price for taking it, which would be very high. But nothing in Europe is worth blowing all of Europe up for.

Do not be alarmed by the fact that troops and planes from as far away as the United States and Canada are currently being sent to NATO countries that have borders with Russia. The numbers are militarily insignificant. Their purpose is simply to remind the Russians that the alliance will protect its own members should Moscow ever decide that it has also a right to “protect” Russian-speakers in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

Moscow does not actually need to be reminded of that. It has seized Crimea, and is toying with the idea of seizing more of Ukraine, precisely because that country does not fall under the NATO umbrella. And it does not belong to NATO because NATO didn’t want to take military responsibility for its defence.

That was an entirely rational decision, because the Russians clearly thought Ukraine fell within their sphere of influence. This is the first time it has been independent from Russia for any appreciable period of time in the past three and a half centuries.

Moreover, the post-Soviet governments in Kiev had been horrendously corrupt and incompetent, the country as a result is even poorer than it was in Soviet times—and the population in the eastern part of Ukraine is terrified of getting tangled up with the West because it inhabits an industrial museum whose products are only saleable in Russia. What eastern Ukrainians really fear for is their jobs, not their right to speak Russian.

All this was clear 20 years ago, and that’s when NATO decided that Ukraine’s independence would have to depend on Russia’s good-will, not on NATO’s tanks. And for 20 years Russia more or less respected Ukraine’s independence, while seeking, naturally enough, to ensure that its governments were friendly.

The collapse of the status quo is partly the European Union’s fault, for demanding that Ukraine choose between closer trade and travel ties with the EU and full membership in Russia’s “Eurasian Union”. It is even more the fault of Moscow: President Vladimir Putin has been both emotional and opportunistic. He’s scaring people, which is never a good idea.

But if he does take more or even all of Ukraine, the West will not fight him. It will just take in all the Ukrainian refugees, strengthen its eastern defences, and begin the slow process of bringing down Putin by crippling the Russian economy. That would take years, but nobody would forget about Ukraine. It is a UN member, and even China has stopped supporting the Russian position. Remember East Timor?

Comments (28) Add New Comment
Since World War II invading and annexing parts of other counties has been forbidden world wide. Only Israel has gotten away with it and even they expect to give up most of what they captured once both side's governments are ready for negotiations.

To allow counties to get away with invasions again risks going back to the pre World War II state where most counties went to war every couple of decades. We should stop Russia not just for Ukraine, but for all the other counties that may be threatened if the taboo is broken.
Rating: -32
I Chandler
"Indeed, there was probably never a single day during the 45 years of the Cold War when either side seriously considered attacking the other."

The Generals (LeMay and Co) did actually advocate preemptive nuclear war a few times while it was still "winnable" - Korea,Vietnam and China come to mind:

The American Party was very keen:

They were no longer keen by 68:
Rating: -16
"Only Israel has gotten away with it and even they expect to give up most of what they captured once both side's governments are ready for negotiations"

I really don't see the settlers just packing up and handing land back once the Israeli government is "ready" for negotiations (which would involve not electing a Zionist government, and really, when will that ever happen).

You don't have to be a foreign affairs expert to note, as damn near every FM from almost every nation who has ever tried this file has, that Israel is trying to change facts on the ground so that negotiating land for peace becomes effectively impossible.

"We should stop Russia not just for Ukraine, but for all the other counties that may be threatened if the taboo is broken."

Well, then I guess would should roll the tanks into Israel as well(or should we just wait until the Russian's elect a government that is "ready to negotiate")

Leave Israel alone, but invade Russia, for doing the same thing as Israel.

Alternatively, invade Russia, but let the Israeli's reckoning for doing what you would invade Russia for doing wait until they elect a government that will let you reckon with them (on terms they will find agreeable).

Rating: -2
Dyer was on a CBC roundtable two months before the Iraq war stating that he didn't think Bush would invade.
But who cares how many times Dyer has been wrong, he flatters the so-called progressive neoliberal and just told them 'Don't worry' -- again.
A Better commentary would be discussing the American Empire and how the Ukraine presents a 'two birds with one stone'...politically unstable EU (IMF edicts, NSA espionage, US extrajudiciality, currency leverage, questioning NATO, etc) and Russia (huge and cost effective energy provider, growing Asian and European markets, currency leverage, etc)
The US needs to wedge EU and Russia in order to protect their Empire in the long term and that is why a strong possibility for war might happen...US long term survival...which is the reason for all the wars the US has conducted in the last fifty years.
Rating: -16
Your article is full of prejudice, and it is not worth reading. And I do not need to explain more.
Shame on you.
Rating: -92
Michele Baillie
What is currently going on in Ukraine is a geo- political fight between multilevel crime syndicates (the Cabal) and the rest of us using proxy mercenaries and dupes.

Our champion in the field in this instance is Vladimir Putin and the Russian people and all those who stand behind them.
Rating: -21
Bosnia might not have been in anyone's strategic interest either, but arguably an earlier intervention could have possibly prevented the death of over 100,000 people, displacement of 2.2 million people, and the rape of anywhere between 20,000 - 50,000 people.
Rating: +11
Michele Baillie

Your points are interesting though I think there is quite a bit of difference between what Israel and Russia are doing. Russia is not engaging in the murder, intimidation, starvation, violence, chemical and radiation poisoning against Ukrainans like Israel is against the Palestinians.
Rating: -3
Pat Crowe
If Vlad wasn't President, would this be happening?
Interesting to note Stalin offered up Maiden Ukraine to Hitler in exchange for not attacking Mother Russia. A play for time much like Chamberlains appeasement but it still spells out the relationship at least from the early 20th century perspective. Ukraine is Russia's bitch. And I got no skin in this game.
Sure is some hot Ukrainian chicks though!
Rating: -26
Oleg Scherbina
If Gwynne Dyer "did not exist, it would not be necessary to invent him". Due to such people, like Dyer, imperialism exist, where evil dictators thinks they can invade any territory they want, and get support from such people like Dyer. I wish him to live in Putin's Russia and be bitten on the street by thugs.
Rating: -21
Gwynne Dyer will fight for nobody, and guess what?
who cares about Gwynne Dyer?

Without Ukraine, Russia is not a major power in the future. It is isolated and far from Europe. It surrounded by hostile countries.
Rating: -16

In Bosnia, there is no oil and there is no gas, no gold either. Bosnia, at that time, was something like Canada today, much better actually - 3 religions and 3 nations living together in piece. All that within borders of Yugoslavia(6 nations and 3 religions), which existence was convinced to death, because that country was communist, and that was automatic move by great forces, considering the break-up of Berlin's wall and breaking-up of SSSSR. There is always an interest... USA would like to see its troops in Kiev, few hundreds miles fare away from Russia - we are not fools not to see that.
Rating: -4
"Leave Israel alone, but invade Russia, for doing the same thing as Israel."

We should be boycotting both countries until they start following international norms.
Rating: +3
I, you really need to look at a map sometime. Latvia and Lithuania are both already NATO countries, and both are only about 100km or so from St. Petersburg. The US had no military presence there before this crisis started, because it didn't want to unnecessarily intimidate Russia. Now, with the crisis ongoing, the US has stationed, wait for it, 600 paratroopers in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland to exploit this advantage. 600! clearly, the US will do anything in its power to deploy troops closer to Russia. /sarcasm.
Rating: -6
Scott B.
We use our resources, our troops (who sometimes give up their lives), and tax payer dollars and therefore hours of our precious lives, for people who never resolve age old conflicts and never will. Russia can have them. It's like the bad child, that no matter what you do, never stop getting into trouble. They never learn, grow or become peaceful. Eventually you have to distance yourself from them. The west cannot police the whole world. There are parts of the world that are peaceful and have resolved their issues and remain united. They are worth protecting. Those in infinite conflict should be left to their own fait.
Rating: -4
And wattabout the Vietnam War? A typical example of US corporate imperialism that good people were forced to die for
Rating: +1
peter aardvark
In the end, it all comes down to economics. Russia went through deep poverty in its collapse, and back in 1998 it defaulted on its debts (which nearly caused a worldwide economic collapse - thanks to LTCM) Putin's years coincided with a 10fold increase in oil and gas prices which brought Russia back economically, and he's consolidated Russias control over its resources back from the oligarchs. But on the other hand using natural gas as a stick will ultimately backfire, the EU is no longer as vulnerable, but Russia desperately needs that 100 billion worth of trade. Capital is leaving Russia in huge numbers, and other than oil and gas and a bit of vodka and caviar it really does not export anything else of consequence. The EU is the largest economy in the world at 16.5 trillion, with the US at 15.5 trillion. Compare this with Russias 2 trillion, and you know that in the long run they will lose the new cold war a lot faster than the old one.
Rating: -5
I'm always surprised by some of the comments here... Dyer isn't supporting Russia. He's giving an argument why a larger hot war is unlikely. He's never been shy to criticize US policy either.
Rating: +9
I Chandler
"Ukraine is not worth fighting for"

Eric Margolis describes how Presidents turn grey and paraphrases Bismarck, "Ukraine is not worth the life of a single Prussian grenadier."

"NATO didn’t want to take military responsibility for its defence...The Ukraine has no resources, and it is not a “vital strategic interest”

Dyer makes the Ukraine sounds like Barrett Brown, who didn't even have a turkey log to offer a pot luck. Brown a journalist and satirist,is locked up in a Russian jail, might have been describing NATO in Letters from Jail - The White People Meeting:
"The neo-cons had made no inroads among the white unit; we would be spared the tumult of an interventionist foreign policy, with its entangling alliances"
Rating: -11
Hope You're Wrong
We desperately need world war---or some sort of revolution. The west is being skullfucked by the money-lending classes, and something has gotta give. The historical record shows that Government respects two things: world war veterans and money-men. Most of us can only ever hope to be world war veterans.

No World Wars = No Medicare.
Rating: -25


Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.