Colinial View Of The World
History recognizes two models for building empires: the garrison and the family. The former is better in the short term, but disastrous in the long; the latter is the opposite. When Spain and Portugal colonized North, Central, and South America, they utilized the garrison model. Their settlers were almost all men of military age whose purpose was to establish military garrisons that would supervise the extraction of natural resources, their processing, and their shipment back home. Women and children, if they came at all, were a “perk” available only to higher ranking functionaries. More often than not, they saw their stint in the colonies as a necessary evil, a hardship assignment, breathlessly waiting to make their colonial fortunes and use them to buy nobility titles and mansions in Lisbon and Madrid. For the absolute monarchies of Catholic Europe, Spain and Portugal, colonialism was a Big Government project, funded and directed by their central governments, which with the avarice and waste that only such governments can have, focused only on the quick buck, never looking at the big picture. France, with its better developed middle class and private sector, adopted a hybrid model of military exploration followed by the settlement of the newly explored territories by lower and middle class French families, well suited for homesteading in the cold climates of New France, a vast territory stretching from the sources of the Mississippi river in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east and as far south as the northern border of Massachusetts.
Of all the European colonial powers, it fell to England, with its Cromwellian militant middle-classness and a highly developed private economy, to fully develop the settlement model of colonization. In this model, private money, which is always smarter than government one, organized what today would be called venture-funded startups consisting of wooden sail ships and young, religiously and culturally cohesive families to settle the North American wilderness. As the Spanish and Portuguese colonies failed due to rampant corruption at the highest levels and the desire, by the young men who served there to make a quick fortune and return home, the English colonies, built on cohesive communities with a strong sense of purpose both spiritual and material, prospered. As France succumbed to a bloody revolutionary civil war and endless European entanglements, its colonies in North America were vanquished by the British and their colonial-derived military forces. As the many commemorative plaques in places like Nova Scotia can attest, it was regiments from places like New Hampshire that won the war against the French to take over Acadia, which included all of today’s Canadian Maritime Provinces, as well as most of the state of Maine.
The English colonial project in North America gave birth to the United States, the most successful political entity since the Roman Empire, while the Spanish and Portuguese colonial projects gave us the failed states of Mexico, as well as all of Central and South America. The astute reader may ask: but what about the English failed colonial project in India and the failed Dutch colonies in Indonesia? Why weren’t those duplicates of the American success? In response, I would argue that the conditions for successful long-term colonization include others, not hereto discussed in this treatise. Settlement by culturally cohesive family units, which in today’s terms could be described as totally lacking in diversity is the necessary condition, that’s true. But to guarantee success, other conditions must exist. The colonial power must enjoy long-term political stability and maritime dominance to ensure resupply for the many decades and even centuries of the colonies initial development. France, Holland, Spain, and Portugal, only met this condition for a brief period of time. Furthermore, the colonial power must be of sufficient size and wealth to properly incubate its colonies. Holland was lacking on that front; seen as a venture capital firm, it was simply too small to support its colonial startups. Distance from the home country is a factor; a short hop across the Atlantic is a joy ride compared to the tortuous and exceedingly dangerous trip around the southern tip of Africa, which (prior to the existence of the Suez Canal) the Dutch had to undertake to reach the East Indies. Finally, the population density and culture of the natives plays a big role. In the Americas, native populations were sparse, lacked cultural cohesion, and could thus be easily conquered and subdued. In India and Indonesia, with their dense populations organized around the major religions of Hinduism and Islam, were not going to easily succumb to foreign influence and domination.
The Dutch colonization of South Africa provides us with the final condition for colonial success: isolation. The Dutch, employing the settlement rather than the garrison model on the sparsely populated and culturally weak areas around the Cape of Good Hope, managed to establish there a successful and lasting colony. However, the colony’s success proved its doom. Creating economic conditions never before seen in sub-equatorial Africa, the Dutch colonies began attracting a boundless flow of Africans from the rest of the continent, becoming, in the process, a small minority in their own country with well-known consequences.
But what about Russia? In its expansion to the east, south, and west, Russia was seemingly poised to take advantage of relatively short supply roots, its own status as a major power, and, at least as far as its eastern expansion was concerned, sparsely populated and culturally marginal populations. Today it is clear that Russia blew its historic colonialization opportunity on all three fronts and is now beginning to pay the price for this historic blunder, a price that may yet prove to be fatal to its existence as a world power. In the east, in Siberia, Russian expansion was ostensibly successful and it made Russia fabulously rich: in furs, in timber, and now in oil and gas. Nevertheless, Russia has utterly failed to establish prosperous Russian cities, towns, and villages in its vast eastern expanses, with only a few notable examples to the contrary. Testaments to this failure are the current drive by the Putin government to entice Russian eastward migration by offering a “dalnyevostochnyi gectar”, a “far-eastern hectare (roughly 2.5 acres)” of free land for those willing to relocate from central Russia to the yet underdeveloped and untamed East. Additional proof of the failure of the multi-century Russian colonial project in Siberia is the fact that it is incapable even of self-exploiting its vast natural resources, relying instead on Western expertise in oil and gas in the north and Chinese manpower and organizational skills in the south.
Ukraine, however, is the most glaring Russian failure in the acquisition and maintenance of its empire and the one that is most likely to bring it down. Ukraine is the first and the most coveted Russian colony. With its access to the warm-water ports of the Black Sea, its vast agricultural riches, its deposits of coal and iron ore, and its territorial buffer against Western aggression, Ukraine is simply a must have for Russia. And yet, ever since its annexation to Russia in the 18th century by the combined efforts of Peter I and Catherine II, both of whom received the title “The Great” for their efforts, Ukraine was mistreated, neglected, exploited, and abandoned by Russia. Its population enslaved after the annexation to become serfs, a status they had not previously known, its land and its “souls” divided among the Russian nobility, Ukraine in the two centuries leading up to the Bolshevik revolution was the primary source of income for absentee landlords who bled the countryside dry so that they could live it up in the palatial gambling houses of Biarritz and Monte Carlo.
The Bolshevik era started with forced collectivization and food confiscation. Ukrainian farmers were forced to die, in their millions, so that Russian factory workers had enough bread to eat while they were building tanks for the Red Army. Barely having buried their dead from the Holodomor, the man made Bolshevik famine, surviving Ukrainians watched in horror as the tanks built by their enormous sacrifice were fleeing from the Nazi tank columns, which were neither more numerous nor better equipped. Stalin’s purges of the late 1930’s, when he guaranteed his political survival by executing every capable and experienced officer in the Red Army, that’s why the T-34s were fleeing the battlefield, abandoning Ukrainians to the unspeakable horrors of Nazi occupation. While there can never be an excuse for Nazi collaboration, the exploitation, starvation, and abandonment of Ukraine by their Russian colonial masters, sure came close.
In the wake of its crushing defeat in the Cold War, Boris Yeltsin did the right thing by extending an unconditional olive branch to the newly independent Ukraine, but alas neither he nor his policies were long for this world. The grey KGB apparatchik that came to power after him, Vladimir Putin whose paternal grandfather was Stalin’s personal cook, was suckled from early childhood on brutality and subversion as the only means to achieving geopolitical objectives. Using the old Nazi playbook of minority presence as casus belli, Putin declared that Russia had vested interests in Ukraine because its southeastern reaches, the provincial cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, were majority ethnically and linguistically Russian. The historical comparison to Hitler’s declaration of vested German interest in Czechoslovakia in 1939 based on ethnic German presence in the Sudetenland, which when indulged by the international community led by British appeaser in chief Chamberlain, led to the full scale German invasion and occupation of that small country was not lost on anyone. To prove the point, when not sufficiently opposed by the Chamberlain-like Obama, Putin took Crimea. But Putin’s ham-fisted actions, his constant playing the only play he knows from the same old playbook, a play whose consequences are well-known to everyone, may have backfired.
When all is said and done, the Russian colonial project in Ukraine failed. It failed because of Russian greed, corruption, cruelty, and bigotry. Putin’s KGB tactics are forcing Ukrainians to choose between resistance and reoccupation. Resistance is a difficult and dangerous choice; reoccupation by Putin’s Russia, a suicidal one. Ukraine is not Georgia, neither is it Chechnya. It is a large country the size of France that has short supply lines to the West by land, air, and sea. It is corrupt, for sure, and its leadership, both civilian and military, are utterly inadequate, and yet the specter of direct rule from Moscow, coupled with sufficient supplies of lethal weaponry from the West, give it better than even odds of withstanding Russian aggression.
No country can remain independent on the backs of foreign soldiers. This is a lesson well-taught by Israel; a lesson that the Poles, with their request for American mercenary troops on their soil, would be well-advised to heed. Ukrainians should not expect Americans to fight their battles, nor should America offer to do so. Yet the Russian aggression in Ukraine must be countered; Russia is not a force for good in the world, its ambitions must be curtailed. Making sure that Ukrainians have the means to do so is in America’s interest. Trump did the right thing by supplying them with those means; the rest is up to them.