The Germany of then, The Russia of now, and their individual 21-year long build-ups towards Global Escalation

No, I couldn’t think of a more gripping or less longwinded title for this article. Every item gets the headline it deserves, I guess – and this time the cliche proverbial saying ‘it is what it is’ seems quite fitting. To put it more clearly: what you’re looking at is a (somewhat forced) comparison between the geopolitical developments in Europe at the eve of World War II and the current Ukrainian crisis.

It occurred to me yesterday that such parallels were more likely to exist than those between WW1-Germany and current-day Russia, a comparison which heavily littered a recent (and very interesting, thought-provoking) Vox article on the subject of possible Global Escalation in our times. So I got to work and, after a few hours of picking my brain, came up with a mildly-entertaining take on my own hypothesis.

The German component in my favoured equation spans from 1918 up until 1939’ish; the Russian scenario starts somewhere in the mid-90s and theoratically ends in the not-too-distant future. That’s basically 21 years worth of tactical manoeuvres from either side of the equation. Not bad for one long night of brainstorming, is it?

(Although, admittedly, most of the ‘action’ takes place within a timeframe of only a couple of years. But, hey: ‘a 21 year build-up’ has a more dramatic ring to it than ‘a 16 month lead-in’, so let’s just leave it the way it was. This wretched headline can do without such trivial addendums anyway; it’s quite lengthy in and by itself.)
 

  • Clickable, all-in-one oversight maps that actually are very likely to confuse the reader:

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    Map 1: German geopolitics, 1918-39

     

    Map 2: Russian geopolitics, 1994-2015+

 
A few words on the basic premise, then: I tried to design and describe a chronologically-ordered set of parallels (labeled #1-6 in both maps and text paragraphs); a collection of facts & fables largely based on hindsight, with a little bit of recent experience thrown in for good measure. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a WW2-buff; and having lived/worked in Russia for a while has given me ample food for thought with regards to the population’s current mindset and its future expectations.

However, nobody’s perfect; and although people regularly call me a ‘nobody’, I’m not claiming to hold the one and only truth on this matter. Obviously some parallels are a bit far-fetched: it’s not easy fitting an unclear present + unreliable future prediction into the simple framework of an established truth that is, say, a well-researched history book on the Rise & Fall of the Third Reich.

I’m aware of the fact that my article covers a delicate subject, which is we I’ve avoided tendentious terminology as much as possible (notice that I haven’t even mentioned ‘Nazi-Germany’ anywhere, for instance). I’m not comparing ideologies here: I’m comparing geopolitical developments & tactics. Just take this article for what it is: an interesting look at some of the more noteworthy parallels between two seemingly disconnected eras and empires.

Undoubtedly the article will be updated every now and then. I welcome your input, feedback and pointless yelling about who’s a Nazi and why exactly. Let’s all just find consolation in the fact that hardly any animals were hurt during the making of this fluff piece, okay? Cool.

(The sequence of events 1 through 6 will now be explained in detail, so please click the ‘(more…)‘ link below if you haven’t done so already).


Index

  1. Restoration of military control & prestige
     
  2. Annexation ‘by request’
     
  3. ‘Culture’-based claims deemed worthy of diplomatic consideration
     
  4. Creation of artificial protectorates and ideological satellites
     
  5. Territorial claims disruptive to the existing balance of powers
     
  6. Formation of anti-western military alliances
     

  1. Back to index

    Restoration of military control & prestige

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    Map 3: Germany, 1918-36: internal revolts & occupied Rhineland

     

    Map 4: Russia, Caucasus 1994-2009: internal revolts & proxy republics

    • A major shift in the balance of powers has caused a formerly-formidable military power to fall into disarray, resulting in loss of control over its territory, which in turn greatly damages the affected power’s military prestige to the outside world
      • Germany, late 1918: Collapse of the German Empire and disintegration of the Imperial Army
      • Russia, 1991-92: Collapse of the Soviet Union and dissolution of the Soviet Army
    • Rebuilding / retraining Armed Forces to recover and gain experience over time
      • Germany:
        • 1918-1928: formation of ad-hoc paramilitary forces (Freikorps)
        • 1918-35: Arduous suppression of revolutionary uprisings (e.g. Rhenish republic (1923))
        • 1919-35: Integration of experienced Freikorps into national Reichswehr
        • 1936: Reichswehr transformed into the openly-expanding & mechanizing Wehrmacht
      • Russia:
        • 1992: Creation of Russian National Guard
        • 1994-2009: Arduous suppression of Caucasian uprisings (e.g. Chechnya (1994, 1999))
        • 2008: Military reform towards professional national army
        • 2008-onwards: Increasingly more public display of military material
    • Regained prestige through military ‘bluff’:
      • Internationally recognized territory incorporated into the ‘re-awakened’ power proper within a time frame too narrow to allow for meaningful international opposition
      • Germany, March 1936: Occupation/liberation (and de jure rule) of the Rhineland
        • Formerly controlled by UK/Belgium/France (de jure),…
        • ,…Included internationally recognized territory of Saarland (de facto ruled by proxy by France).
      • Russia, August 2008: occupation/liberation of South-Ossetia & Abkhazia
        • De jure controlled by Georgia: virtually no international recognition of newly-established Republics.
        • De facto controlled by proxy by Russia

     

  2. Back to index

    Annexation ‘by request’

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    Map 5: Germany, 1938: Anschluss

     

    Map 6: Russia, 2014: Annexation of Crimea

    • Annexation of formerly (internationally recognized) exterior territory, without active opposition from those not directly-involved
      • Germany, March 1938: ‘Anschluss’ of Austria with Germany proper
      • Russia, March 2014: ‘Reunification’ between Russia proper and the Crimean peninsula
    • Under the guise of a democratic referendum

     

  3. Back to index

    ‘Culture’-based claims deemed worthy of diplomatic consideration

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    Map 7: Germany, 1938/39: Claims on Sudetenland (left) & Memelland (top-right)

     

    Map 8: Russia, 2014: Claims on Don-bass (brown), Donetsk & Luhansk Republics (darker brown)

    • ‘Re-awakened’ power claims territory largely inhabited by a population that is ‘culturally-affiliated’ to it
    • Local citizens persuaded into consent by means of propaganda and military infiltration techniques
    • Claimed territory constitutes certain strategic / military asset(s) as well
      • Germany:
        • 1938: Sudetenland
          • Controlled by the First Republic of Chzechoslovakia (de jure)
          • Population overwhelmingly supportive of German ambitions
          • Heavily fortified line of defence for the First Republic of Chzechoslovakia
        • 1939: Memelland
          • Controlled by Lithuania (de jure since 1923)
          • Sympathetic towards German ambitions
          • Important (near-)yearly ice-free harbour facilities
      • Russia:
        • 2014: Don-bass (including Donetsk & Luhansk Republics)
          • Controlled by Ukraine (de jure)
          • Population generally supportive of Russian ambitions
          • Donetsk & Luhansk: strategic ‘sentry boxes’ connecting Don-Bass area with Russia proper
          • Important center of industry & natural resources
    • Rising tensions stress the need for a diplomatic solution
      • Directly-involved parties unable/unwilling to come up with a viable, long-term solution/compromise
      • ‘Impartial’ ‘Greater Powers’ requested to broker a deal
      • Largely non-beneficial to the de jure owner of the target area
         
        • Germany, September 1938:
           
          • Munich Agreement, Sudetenland ceded to Germany
            • Brokers: Germany, the UK, France and Italy
            • No influence on outcome from former de jure owner (First Czechoslovakian Republic
          • Creation of Second Chzechoslovakian Republic
            • Internationally recognized
            • Militarily severely weakened by loss of Sudetenland line of defence
            • Internal apathy towards ambitions of /promises made by Greater Powers
               
        • Russia, late 2014/early 2015:
           
          • Minsk / Minsk II agreements
            • Brokered by Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany
            • Restoration of full Ukrainian autonomy over the Don-bass region
            • De facto recognition of Donetsk/Luhansk seperatist ambitions
            • De facto of little influence on ground combat situation

     

  4. Back to index

    Creation of artificial protectorates and ideological satellites

     

    NOTE: From hereon out, all Russian components of the equation are largely imaginative (however not entirely unimaginable) in nature! It did not seem practical to include specific dates with any of these components, as these add nothing to the validity of the scenario (and might, in retrospect, actually devaluate this thesis by providing demonstrably-incorrect data).

     

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    Map 9: Germany, 1939: Dark brown: Annexation on Sudetenland (left) & Memelland (right)
    Yellow: Creation of Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
    Light brown: Slovak Republic

     

    Map 10, Russia 20XX: Dark brown: Annexations of Don-bass area (right) & Transnistria (left)
    Yellow: Creation of Protectorates of Eastern-Ukraine (dark, right) and Moldova (light, left)
    Light brown: Creation of Southern-Ukrainian sattelite republic

    • Previous claims granted/taken
    • Creation of Protectorates
      • (Partially) secures a center of power of a formerly-independent target state
      • Usually includes former capital / governmental seat to facilitate the installation of a proxy government
      • Artificial by design: lack of cultural coherence implies a decreased likelihood of organized military resistance internal revolt (‘nothing worth fighting for’)
        • Germany, 1939: Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia including Prague
        • Russia, 20XX*: Eastern-Ukraine (optionally including Kyiv), Moldova (excluding Transnistria, see below)
    • Granting certain ‘pre-protectorate’ areas limited autonomy (‘satellite states’)
      • Areas adjacent to above-mentioned newly-established protectorates
      • Satellites culturally/ideologically-affiliated to and (therefore) cooperative towards the ‘re-awakened’ host state: sense of unity
      • Expansion of ‘re-awakened’ power’s sphere of influence
      • Satellites provide a buffer against hostile infiltration
      • Future ‘war ally’: added defence lines, finances, manpower, resources, facilities and material
        • Germany, 1939: Slovak Republic (1939)
        • Russia, 20XX*: Southern Ukraine, Transnistria (until secession from Moldava and annexation by Russia proper has been executed)

     

  5. Back to index

    Territorial claims disruptive to the existing balance of powers

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    Map 11: Germany, 1939: Justifiable (Danzig Corridor), Opportunistic (Extended Corridor), Pre-emptive (Danzig) and Retaliatory (Gleiwitz) claims

     

    Map 12: Russia, 20XX*: Justifiable (Kaliningrad Corridor), Opportunistic (Crimean Corridor), Pre-emptive (Transnistrian Corridor), and Retaliatory (Western infiltration of East-Ukraine) claims

    • Controversial claims potentially resulting in large-scale military escalation
    • Often one-sided by nature
    • ‘Right-of-way’ claims aimed at securing annexed territory by physically connecting it to the ‘re-awakened’ power’s mainland.
      • Historically and diplomatically justifiable claims:
        • Germany, 1939: ‘Danzig corridor’ connecting the German’s state main body to the enclave of East-Prussia (1939)
        • Russia, 2015: physical connection between Russia proper and the enclave of Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg, East-Prussia), traversing a cooperative sovereign state (Belarus)
      • Opportunistic claims based on recent, not necessarily internationally-recognized territorial expansion:
        • Germany, 1939: ‘Extended’ ‘Danzig corridor’ connecting Germany proper & East-Prussia with the Memelland
        • Russia, 20XX*: ‘Crimean corridor’ traversing either Ukrainian territory or bridging disputed waters (Kertsh), connecting Russia proper with the Crimean peninsula.
    • Pre-emptive claims on territory of internationally-recognized sovereign territory within the (diplomatic) influence sphere of other ‘Greater Powers’, meant to diminish the fighting capabilities of local hostile forces.
      • Germany, 1939: e.g. The Free City of Danzig
        • Independence internationally recognized
        • Only salt water port available to the Second Polish Republic
      • Russia, 20XX*: e.g. “Transnistrian corridor”
        • Necessary to fullfill Transnistrian desire to be annexed & to police Moldovan Protecorate
        • Heavily militarizes the border between independent Western Ukraine and semi-autonomous Southern Ukraine
    • Retaliatory attacks, based on the assumption that an uncooperative nearby entity is actively engaging (or about to engage) in violent acts against those under the protected citizenship of the ‘re-awakened’ power.
      • Germany, August/September 1939:
        • Supposed violent incursion of German territory by Polish armed forces)
          • ‘Gleiwitz incident’
        • German Casus belli for invasion of Poland proper
        • Polish independence guaranteed by the UK and France
        • Start of World War 2
      • Russia, 20XX*:
        • Western infiltration in newly-established protectorates/satellites

          • e.g. coup d’état on recently-installed Russian proxy government in Kyiv
        • Russian Casus belli for invasion of Western-Ukraine
        • Western-Ukrainian independence guaranteed by the EU & the USA
        • Start of World War 3

     

  6. Back to index

    Formation of anti-western military alliances:

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    Map 13: Germany, 1939-40: Alliances with Italy, the Soviet Union (Molotov-Ribbentrop), Hungary & Romania

     

    Map 14: Russia, 20XX*: Alliances with Kazakhstan, Belarus, Serbia, Bulgaria,…

    • Germany:, 1938-40
      • Ideological:
        • Italy (1939)
        • Hungary (1940)
        • Romania (1940)
      • Pragmatic:
        • Soviet Union (1939, Molotov-Ribbentrop pact)
        • Japan (1940)
    • Russia:, 20XX*
      • Traditional/ideological:
        • Former loyal Soviet Union members (e.g. Kazakhstan)
        • Serbia
        • Bulgaria
      • Political:
        • Anti-western regimes (e.g. Venezuela, Iran)

* = potential Russian scenario

 


 
geopolitical

All-in-one: geopolitical developments between 1918-40 & 1994-2015+

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