I know it's cheap and tawdry to base an essay on a comment on the Daily Mail website but bear with me OK?
The Mail pointed out that the Ukraine crisis might just be the start of WW3. Personally, I think this unlikely. I doubt Russia will even Annex Kiev, but will take eastern Ukraine back into its fold. Next up is Moldova, with Russian bases in Transnitria, already swirling down the plughole of Russian annexation. Further conflict with Georgia beckons as does closer ties with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Belarus. None of this will be fought over by anyone in the West. Meanwhile the damage this will do to the Russian economy, will be immense.
By far the most entertaining comment to this story, and there are many such on the Daily Mail website, reads
I hope you are RIGHT! the west has started this, with its Liberal ways, forcing our ways on to the rest of the world whilst our own communities suffer and fail... I hope Putin wins.By someone calling themselves TheTruthHurts. However lumpen and stupid wishing a war over our "liberal ways" or thinking "our communities", which are amongst the richest and most free on earth, will "suffer and fail" might be, he has stumbled onto a Truth. Putin's Russia IS seeking leadership of socially conservative countries that reject gay rights, women's equality and all that messy democracy stuff. And there will always be a market for people like our friend above who admire a dictator's "strength" over what he perceives as a democrat's weakness.
It is precisely this Fuhrerprinzip that led Farage to suggest he admired Putin "as an operator". And there are no shortage of CyberKIPpers ranting about how the Ukrainian crisis isn't a failing former superpower meddling in its former empire, but actually the EU's fault for daring to enter trade deals with sovereign countries on its borders. Of course UKIPpers blame the EU for the rain, but Putin knows free market, liberal democracy works. He, as a former KGB operative, just doesn't know why.
But for now, Putin, and his pathetic little Lord Haw Haw, Nigel Farage, have a ready audience of people whom the world has passed by. People who reject Gay rights, ethnic diversity, immigration, women's equality and who yearn for strong rulers from an imagined past. In Britain's case, Churchill and Thatcher, and in Russia's case Peter the Great and Stalin, who're associated with the pomp and power of empire.
Of course democracies aren't weak. We are quite capable of expending enormous amounts of blood and treasure, if we can persuade the people our cause is just. Which is why free men from around the world stormed ashore in Normandy, to defeat the most odious tyranny, and why we maintain expeditionary forces round the world to this day. Indeed, we're stronger now than then and can win wars without making the Guns/butter trade-off. The US defence budget is just 4% of GDP, yet it dwarfs the next dozen or so. All but 2 of the 10 largest defence budgets on earth are NATO democracies.
It's economies that win wars. Putin's isolation from the rich, free and extremely powerful west will eventually cost the people (and more importantly, the oligarchs) money. In the short term, the Russian regime will absorb more economic pain than can the administrations in the west, but in the longer run, Putin needs German money, even more than Germany needs Russian gas. Already the isolation is hurting Russian growth, which far from the days of the BRIC boom, is forecast to grow a measly 1.3% this year. And if the Oil price falls, Putin will struggle to pay his over-manned and decrepit army.
The Annexation of Eastern Ukraine will isolate Russia, and even potential allies like China are keeping their distance, fearful over their own shared and disputed borders. This is not the Beginning of WW3. Putin's isolation and Russia's economic weakness will see to that. The friends Putin can reliably call on, fellow gay-bashers like Iran, have no power or pull. There's no alliance of powers capable of posing a threat to NATO, so long as our political will remains. The risk to the west comes with Estonia, an article 5 NATO country and member of the EU. Will we fight for a few Eastern Counties of Estonia? If we do not, NATO which has guaranteed security in Europe for so long will be finished. But there is a lot of water to cross before we get there, and I'm not sure Russia has the appetite, or even the economic and military capacity for the journey.
The Borders of Europe will be redrawn, and not for the last time. If you want historical parallels, this is probably the Galtieri Gambit, not the march into the Sudetenland. Like the Argentine general, Putin's military adventures were popular. For a while, until the cost of taking on a democracy, and rousing it to anger became apparent.