I think it is safe to say that if Thucydides was alive today, his views on the current situation in the Ukraine would be enlightening. His first acknowledgement would clearly be to ridicule the claim that any it is about democracy, self determination, terrorism or any of the other silly reasons trotted out ad nauseam.
Looking at ‘The History of the Peloponnesian war‘ we can see an analogous event in the issues surrounding the Athenian actions in the Corinth–Corcyra conflict, which led to the reopening of hostilities between Athens and Sparta. In fact Russia makes a very good analogue for Sparta in this incident, and the USA for Athens (with the Delian league being quite comfortably the EU).
Thucydides makes it clear that Athens decision to back Corcyra in this conflict was not based on anything such as honour, democracy, humanitarianism etc. Had it been, then Athens would have sided with Corinth. Corinth (a member of the Spartan league), had previously assisted Athens by voting against war with Athens. The Corcyrians were also technically the aggressors in the Epidamnus issue having besieged the city on behalf of an expelled group, who were anti-democratic. Instead, according to Thucydides, Athens made the decision based on the following points
1) Corcyra was on the sea route to Italy, and more importantly – Sicily. As such, Corcyra was a major strategic prize as an ally. From Corcyra you could dominate this sea route.
2) The Corcyrian Navy was powerful, and would be a far better ally then an enemy.
3) The war between Athens and Sparta was only a matter of time given their competing interests, and mutual suspicions. Two big dogs in a small park will eventually fight. If you don’t believe this, then recall the vote in which Corinth halted war against Athens.
Athens chose Corcyra for reasons of realpolitik. Not for reasons of sentimentality. It’s not that hard to understand really. Corcyra offered strategic benefits in the form of a naval ally and access to strategically important ground. This was important in relation to the bigger picture – war with the Spartan league.
Here is a map of ancient Greece prior to the Peloponnesian war complete with the territorial influence of Athens and Sparta mapped out. (Corcyra is the island Kerkyra, Corinth is Korinth – click on it to expand)
Note the Greeks used Triremes, so they had to hug the coast and make short bursts across open sea. Hence the importance of Corcyra. The ship routes are the lines in red and blue.
So why does the average person in anyway think that the Ukraine is about democracy, or any of the other silly reasons? People over 2,000 years ago figured out this was utter bunk.
Taking this rationale to the present time, what would Thucydides have made of the situation in the Ukraine?
I think he would have come to the following conclusions.
1) The Ukraine contained the port of Sevastopol which is the only major warm water base Russians had access to. The strategic prize from removing this from the Russians would have been immense. The removal of the port from Russian access would be immediately beneficial in relation to the situation in Syria. Here is a map of the black sea region complete with Sevastopol highlighted. .
2) War with Russia is inevitable given the energy situation of the USA, EU and the mistrust engendered by Russia’s increasing strength. Positioning prior to this eventuality is vital.
3) The removal of the Ukraine from Russian influence would hurt the popularity and prestige of the Russian establishment. This would facilitate the eventual balkanisation of Russia.
Most of the above is fairly understandable, however the inclusion of Syria may need a little explanation.
As with the Athenians and Spartan issue, there are short term strategic goals, and longer term strategic goals.
The long term strategic goal is the dismemberment of the enemies alliances and power bases. For the Athenians this would be the dismemberment of the Spartan empire (as the Spartans eventually did to Athens). For the USA this is the removal of the Russian satellites, and the break-up of Russia (see Yugoslavia for the dry run).
In the short term, the issues at stake between Russia the USA and the EU are dominated by energy – natural gas in particular. Russia has a lot of it, and the EU is very dependent on it.
This gives Russia leverage and income. To remove this leverage and to financially damage Russia, alternative natural gas supplies are being sought. The two main sources available are 1) Central Asia and 2) Qatar.
Central Asia (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan etc) are largely out of the question, and I will post on that issue at a later date. As for Qatar, the UK already gets a vast amount of its energy from Qatar via liquefied natural gas shipped in tankers. The other way to get this gas to the UK and to Europe would be through a pipeline. The only problem is that any pipeline would need to go through either Syria or Iraq to get to Turkey and onward to Europe. Iraq is out of the question as the Iranians now dominate the place, as for Syria – Assad is the barrier in that department. Here is a map so you can see the road block formed by Iraq and Syria. Qatar is the little purple country east of Saudi Arabia.
To add extra fun to the party, Qatari gas comes from a gas field called the South Pars/ north Dome gas field. Here is a map of the field (the little red pool).
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the field is shared by Iran. It may surprise you to know that Assad actually did agree for a pipeline to transport this gas through Syria to Europe, unfortunately for the USA and the EU it was from the Iranian portion of the field, which would have supplied control of a large portion of the EU’s gas supply to Iran (as well as Russia again).
So in summary, Assad has refused a pipeline from Qatar through Syria, but has agreed to one from Iran (which would work in concert with Russia to keep the prices Europe would need to pay high). Russia and Iran therefore allied with Assad against the USA and the EU who want to remove Assad to facilitate the gas from the South Pars- North Dome field being supplied through it’s puppet state Qatar. The USA and EU tried to remove Russian access to Sevastopol to reduce its ability to influence affairs in Syria, and for longer term strategic concerns, and failed.
So nothing to do with Democracy, humanitarianism or any other reason; it’s all due to Gas supplies to Europe, influence and longer term United States hegemony.
The current strategic objectives that are still outstanding are points 2 and 3- disconnect the rest of Ukraine from Russia to hurt Russian prestige and to encourage other separatist movements (Dagestan, Chechnya etc), and strategic positioning so that the USA and EU have access to territory on the borders of Russia (in particular the port of Sevastopol).
Athens and Sparta all over again.