Can Ukraine Become A New Austria?
Can Ukraine Become A New Austria?
In this Sunday’s Washington Post, columnist David von Drehle suggests that a way out of the difficult Russia/Ukraine situation would be for Ukraine to become like what happened with Austria in 1955 and since; it formally became officially neutral, not joining either NATO or the Warsaw Pact, and has remained so since. For Ukraine, this would in effect grant Putin his demand that Ukraine not join NATO, although it would not involve pulling NATO back from such nations as Poland the Baltic states as he has also demanded.
It is easily forgotten that for ten years after WW II Austria was like Germany was initially: chopped into four zones of control, one of those in the east being Soviet, which included Vienna, but with Vienna, like Berlin, also chopped into four zones of control. In Germany, of course, at the end of the 40s the three parts of Germany plus those of Berlin controlled by the US, UK, and France, combined to form the German Federal Republic, aka West Germany, with the remnant Soviet parts becoming the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany. Such an outcome did not happen in Austria, where the parts all remained separate until Austria was unified in 1955 with the agreement it would become a neutral state.
Many today only know of this period after the war if they see Carol Reed’s film based on Graham Greene’s novel from 1949, The Third Man, with Orson Welles in it, a great film for sure. I remember visiting Vienna in 1958 and seeing lots of war-damaged buildings then since rebuilt.
That all sounds nice. There is a problem, however. In 1955 the Soviet Union had not annexed a portion of Austria, and it agreed to let the part of Austria it controlled become a part of this newly neutral Austria. As it is today, Russia has invaded Ukraine twice, annexing one portion of it, Crimea, an act still unrecognized by practically any other nation, although Belarus’s Lukashenka seems to be now referring to it as a done deal, if not officially so. And then we have the Russian-supported Donbass republics, also unrecognized as independent by anybody, not even Russia itself so far.
So, to have any sort of equivalence to Austria, Russia would have to undo its annexation of Crimea and return it to Ukrainian control as well as withdraw support for the Luhansk and Donetsk republics. Neither of these seems to be ready for proposal by Putin, especially the Crimean annexation, which was and remains popular in Russia, even if an invasion of Ukraine now looks not to be too popular. And indeed, many think the diplomatic outcome he might accept is not withdrawing, but in fact, regularizing and gaining acceptance of the status of the separatist republics.
An Austrian outcome might well be the best possible one around, but as of now, it does not look like Putin is about to offer anything that would look like what the former Soviet Union offered in 1955 in the case of Austria. This looks like mostly nice talk, but not a likely outcome.
Perhaps what’s most unlikely about this idea is the prevailing opinion among Russians (supposedly, Vlad Putin fer sure) that Ukraine is historically and ethnically part of Russia.
Ukraine – Wikipedia
(A case can be made that Russia is historically & ethnically part of Ukraine.)
So, the idea of making Ukraine ‘neutral’ like Austria will not sit well with Russia.
It’s perhaps worth appreciating that, for Russia, the situation over there is not unlike the USA after the states of the Confederacy seceded from the US, which went to war with the CSA to require them to rejoin the Union.
Also, somewhat similar to Germany’s ‘Anschluss’ prior to WW2 to join Austria to the ‘Fatherland’. Austria was compelled to become neutral after WW2 to reduce the likelihood of wars in central Europe.
Austria can afford to be “neutral” as the country is complete safe from invasion for the foreseeable future. Note that Austria’s military equipment is NATO-compatible.
Austria is surrounded by NATO countries (ignoring Switzerland and Lichenstein).
Ukraine, on the other hand, is next to the voracious bear.
I believe that the USSR insisted that Austria be neutral, perhaps because it abutted Soviet-bloc states, and the Soviets felt that having yet another NATO state on the western side of the Iron Curtain was more than they could tolerate.
In other words, if they did not get their way, they could take Austria by force.
Not entirely unlike the current situation, but this time Russia is not satisfied with neutrality.
In contrast to the CSA, Russia recognized the independence of Ukaine, starting for sure in 1991, but again very specifically with the 1994 Budapest Accord when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, with it the third largest nuclear weapons power in the world before it did so. We are talking about 30 years ago now. US never receognized independence of CSA.
Also, the whole Kieven (or Kyivan) Rus thing is a wildly off. Moscovite Russia emerged from Mongol rule hundreds of years later, no direct link. The “Kievan Rus” were actually Viking Varangians ruling over a bunch of mostly Turkic Khazars, not many Slavs of either Russian or Ukrainian type around then.
When Austria became neutral in 1955 it borderesd several nations in the Warsaw Pact with Soviet troops in them, and its eastern quarter was occupied by Soviet troops. One can still find signs in Russian in locations in Vienna. Its neutrality today is no big deal, but in 1955 it was.
Of course, the issue is that this is something that Ukraine would have to decide on itself, not be imposed by Russia and NATO or whomever, but Putin needs to figure it out that he needs to provide more positive incentives than he is doing right now. All of this stuff just makes Ukraine want to be in NATO even more, and according to the Helsinki Accords, they cannot be forced by others not to be.
I realize it was Boris Yeltsin who signed on to recognizing Ukrainian independence, and now it’s Vlad Putin who would prefer that there be a do-over. He gives the impression that he’s ready to go to war over this. Maybe he’s bluffing.
The demographic history of Ukraine & Russia is very complicated, but that only makes matters worse. Americans do not seem to be aware of the similarities I mentioned in Russian and US history in this area. But we barely have a leg to stand on here, IMO.
Demographic history of Russia – Wikipedia
In the USA in 1860, the states of the Confederacy decided to depart from the Union.
The states remaining in the Union decided to contest this.
What role did the rest of the world have in settling this? (Practically none.)
The south believed that the world needed the huge amount of cotton that they exported, which was a huge part of the pre-war GNP. The world would intercede to preserve the CSA. Not so as it turned out. Instead, it was an opportunity for them to obtain cotton elsewhere, at a profit.
The rest of the world allowed us to settle our own difference on our own. Is there a lesson in this?
In 1865, there was no likelihood of a world war over this matter. In 2022, there is some likelihood of Russia advancing west after it ‘takes back’ the rest of Ukraine.
I must admit, however, that in 2022 it looks as if the ‘world’ is willing to intervene on behalf of Ukraine, to maintain their sovereignty. At the risk of a much larger conflagration. Alrighty then! Honor may be at stake!
(Why not? There would seem to be many, many, many reasons.)
I am sorry, but I just completely reject your effort to somehow compare the US Civil War situation with this Russia/Ukraine one. I have already explained why it does not hold. I could go on at much greater length why it does not, but really do not want to waste time doing so. I suggest you look carefully at what has already been written and think about this.
Do you want to claim that the ethno/linguistic/cultural differences between New England Yankees and Confederate WASPS were as great as those now between Russians and Ukrainians (or alternatively that the differences between the latter two are no greater than those between the former two?). V.V. Putin might believe such an argument, but it is complete baloney.
You are looking for reasons to come to the aid of the Ukrainians, it would seem.
I am looking for reasons to stay the hell out of this.
Your reason appears to be that we must honor a fairly goofy pledge by Boris Yeltsin, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
“goofy pledge by Boris Yeltsin”? Are you out of your mind? This was the agreement, also signed by US and UK, that led to Ukraine giving up over 2000 nuclear weapons. Would Putin be pulling any of this, starting with his takeover of Crimea, already a violation of the Budapest Accord, if Ukraine had kept those weaapons?
I am not suggesting and nobody is that the US send troops into Ukraine to defend it. Indeed, I am supporting it promising not to ask to join NATO. But that depends on some credible promise from Putin to stick with this “goofy pledge” made by Yeltsin.
Again, on your goofy comparison with the US Civil War. Not a single nation recognized the CSA, even though UK and France were both tempted to. Everybody in the world recognizes Ukraine, which has been independent now for over 30 years. Even the most pro-Russian nations, such as Belarus and China, recognize Ukraine’s independence. We are talking about Putin just basically throwing a whole bunch of international agreements and treaties into the trash can on basically a whim.
It is in effect a much smaller world than it was 160 odd years ago, with a much larger, more densely packed population. That changes things enormously, then vs now.
It would be great if Putin were to uphold the pledge made by Yeltsin, but only a few weeks ago Putin insisted that Ukraine was ‘not a country’, so that’s where he’s coming from. Ukraine will always sit right next to Russia, and to a great extent have to play by its rules.
‘Playing by Russia’s rules’?
The North American equivalent may be US and Canada.
Canada probably plays by US rules, more than they would like.
Even though we (presumably) won’t be invading them (again!) any time soon.
160 years ago, the USA broke apart. The world allowed us to put ourselves together if we chose, or continue as USA & CSA if we wished. We were not a particularly influential country at the time, and the rest of the world did not care too much what we did.
Today, the world could do the same for Ukraine & Russia, who up until a few years ago were essentially parts of one country. If they become one country again, it is a country that will make all the other countries of Europe significantly more anxious; that is true.
It would be great to reduce that level of anxiety; that is true.
Is this worth a continent-wide conflagration, or maybe world-wide? That is a good, but difficult question.
Barkley, I have a friend, an unrepentant Texan who has resided in MA almost as long as I have, who vehemently agrees with you.
He says ‘Sure the Ukrainians speak a dialect of Russian, but they have horrible accents.’ (He is well traveled – I am not.) Therefore, they are not really that connected to Russia. (Until recently he was of GOP registration, but driven out by Trump.) We intensely disagree about this situation, just as you & I do. He also rejects my Civil War views.
My Texan friend says that the Mongol influence had a huge invluence over the ‘Kievan Rus’ inhabitants of the region, perhaps not a uniform one.
The Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus’ was part of the Mongol invasion of Europe, in which the Mongol Empire invaded and conquered Kievan Rus’ in the 13th century, destroying numerous cities, including Ryazan, Kolomna, Moscow, Vladimir and Kiev, with the only major cities escaping destruction being Novgorod and Pskov.
The campaign was heralded by the Battle of the Kalka River in May 1223, which resulted in a Mongol victory over the forces of several Rus’ principalities. The Mongols retreated, having gathered their intelligence which was the purpose of the reconnaissance-in-force. A full-scale invasion of Rus’ by Batu Khan followed, from 1237 to 1242. The invasion was ended by the Mongol succession process upon the death of Ögedei Khan. All Rus’ principalities were forced to submit to Mongol rule and became vassals of the Golden Horde, some of which lasted until 1480.
The invasion, facilitated by the beginning of the breakup of Kievan Rus’ in the 13th century, had incalculable ramifications for the history of Eastern Europe, including the division of the East Slavic people into three separate nations: modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and the rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. …
Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus’
It was often said of Poland that, positioned as they are (with borders that have changed much from one epoch to the next) between Russia and Germany, they had no reason to expect much of a stable future. With an independent Ukraine, much pressure on Poland is removed. With Ukraine back in Russian control, this would no longer the case. And indeed, it raises some issues about the future of Germany. Who’s next?
European leaders say they seek peace, and warn Russia of retaliation for any aggression against Ukraine
NY Times – Feb 10
Boris Johnson warns that the Ukraine crisis is reaching a perilous moment
NY Times – Feb 10
Russia and Belarus launch joint military drills near Ukraine’s border
NY Times – Feb 10
Europe Thinks Putin Is Planning Something
NY Times – Feb 3
The piece above seems to apply as much to the debacle between Europe & Russia than it does between the US and Europe, if not more.
The disturbing thing I heard today from my Russian wife, Marina, is that right now Russian media is claiming to its people that there are 120,000 US troops in Ukraine now with missiles and nuclear weapons. That would certainly constitute an excuse for an invasion, screamingly false as it is.
Odd that there is nothing about such rumors that I could find out on the web.
Our guv’mint must be keeping such a troop commitment secret.
“A lie can travel around the world and back again while
the truth is lacing up its boots.”—Mark Twain.
Daily Beast – Feb 12
US Warns Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Happen at Any Time
NY Times – Feb 11
Russia-Backed Separatists Conduct Military Exercises, Ukraine Warns
NY Times – Feb 11
OTOH, Always look on the bright side of life?
Ukraine foreign minister urges people to ignore ‘apocalyptic predictions’
Reuters – Feb 6