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Game of Empires

Only for a while did quiet fall upon the Ukrainian cities that had, just days earlier, been the fields on which had fallen rioting anti-government demonstrators and police of the now-ousted government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. It seemed as if the Russia-leaning forces of the eastern and southern areas of the country had lost to the Western European-leaning forces of the western areas.

Eastern and southern Ukraine are more Russian in ethnic composition. Those regions are also home to relatively wealthier people who are, by and large, more comfortable not merely with Russia as the country's economic partner, but also with the style of governance embodied in Russian President Vladimir Putin, the "strong man" leader who dispenses with the niceties of democracy and the rule of law as needed to maintain both his own power and the power of the nation in world affairs.

The west is home to the less well-off Ukrainians, people of somewhat more diverse ethnicity and more willingness not merely to look to the West—to Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States—but also to embrace the politics and ideas of fascism, a word used hyperbolically in American politics but one that has real, palpable, and resurgent valence in Europe.

That is not to say that the ethnic, political, and ideological lines in Ukraine are clearly and simply laid out on a map. Quite a few wealthier urbanites in cities like Kyiv saw better prospects for their future with the European Union, and plenty of people in the western regions are scared to death of the Lviv-based fascists, whose provenance goes straight back to Adolph Hitler’s Ukrainian henchman, Stepan Bandera, and his fellow monsters.

It is as if two opposing forces from the first half of the 20th Century, Soviet-style communism and German-style fascism, have reanimated to lock horns in the early years of this century. The first clash, which seemed to end about a week ago with a country-wide victory for the West, is now becoming yet another round of fascism trying to plow Russia asunder and instead running into a resolute, powerful, and unyielding wall.

Ukrainian fascists?—Meet Stalingrad.

What looked like a clean, short revolution shoving Russia aside is now turning into something considerably less impressive for the Svoboda Party and their prospective Western European financiers.

Russian troops and war machinery are now flowing into Ukraine via its southern flanks in Crimea. Harkening back to 2008, when Russia annexed Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Republic of Georgia, Russian legislators are already laying the groundwork for annexing Crimea from Ukraine.

This is just the beginning. In response to more or less genuine calls from pro-Russian citizens of eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin will direct troops to mass on the northern border of Crimea. The interim government in Kyiv will then face the prospect of waging a war it cannot win, or allowing the prosperous eastern part of the country to secede, joining the Crimean south in the new, post-Soviet Russian empire.

Western Europe will bluster, but it has no taste for a real, gruesome, and financially debilitating war against Russia. In the end, the European Union will settle for its lesser gain, the poor lands of western Ukraine, dominated politically by a particularly ugly brand of the neo-fascism that has been spreading across Western Europe in recent years.

For his part, U.S. President Barack Obama has declared that “there will be costs” if Russia intervenes militarily in Ukraine. Aside from the fact the Putin has nothing but utter disdain for the current occupant of the White House, Mr. Obama has neither the political capital nor the strategic vision to engage in anything more than demands backed by relatively valueless economic sanctions against Russia.

In the end, Obama will be open to accusations from his political opponents that he handed Ukraine over to Russia without a fight, even though, if he had actually (and foolishly) sent troops into Ukraine as part of some NATO force, he would have been accused of fighting a costly, debilitating, and ultimately futile war against a nation that the Western media long ago forgot is still a real, live, industrial-strength empire led by a man who is perhaps the epitome of so much that was evil about the Soviet era.

Vladimir Putin, most unfortunately for the West, is also the epitome of so much that was and still is so powerful about the Russians that they can, as they did in the 20th Century, shape the course of history and the landscape upon which opposing empires play their game of chess against it.

Welcome to the 21st Century. It will look quite a bit like the 20th Century. On the bright side, video quality—unlike domestic governance and mainstream journalism—will be much better.

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