The New July Crisis

This summer is the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, the “great seminal catastrophe” of the last century, in the memorable phrase of the diplomatist-scholar George Kennan. As a historian who has spent much of his life studying the events of 1914, I had long looked forward to this centenary, and the necessary reexamination of the July Crisis of that fateful summer that the anniversary would bring. I did not expect it to include a second July Crisis.

Exactly one hundred years ago today, Vienna presented its fateful ultimatum to Belgrade, demanding that Serbia clarify its role in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo some three weeks before. Vienna expected their demands would be rebuffed, getting Austro-Hungarian generals the war against “Dog Serbia” that they had long craved, and so they did. That did not work out quite as planned, but then again practically nobody’s war plans did that terrible August.

Today Europe faces a new July Crisis, brought about by the Moscow-engineered Special War in Ukraine and particularly Vladimir Putin’s unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his side’s downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 last week, killing 298 innocents. Instead, the Kremlin has given the world lies, obfuscations, tampering with evidence, and worse. Anyone expecting minimal decency from the Russians has been shocked to witness drunk “separatists” (who are actually under Moscow’s control) hiding mangled corpses and sawing apart wreckage. Those better acquainted with Putin and his ilk are less astonished.

Showing their intent, Russian proxies in southeastern Ukraine today shot down two Ukrainian Su-25 attack jets: there will be no backing down by the Kremlin, in the face of world pressure, rather the doubling-down that has worked well for Putin many times in the past. His tenure has faced numerous crises that might have cut short his drive to absolute power in Moscow — the Ryazan apartment bombings in 1999, the loss of the submarine Kursk in 2000, the Beslan terror atrocity in 2004, the death of the Polish government in an air crash at Smolensk in 2010, to name only a few — yet by pushing back and baldfaced lying, Putin and his retinue held on to power. So they are again.

Those who expected anything different now were uninformed or naive. It would be wholly in his Chekist character for Putin to engineer a distraction elsewhere (Moldova ought to be on alert), and the West should be prepared for it. It was evident last year, finally, that the post-Cold War era was firmly over, as the Poles realized first, as they know the Russians too well. The Dutch, having lost almost 200 citizens on the Malaysian Boeing, are talking tough today about firmer sanctions on Moscow. This is to be welcomed but the West must be prepared for more and worse.

Putin views the West with almost undisguised contempt, as ineffectual and weak decadents set on self-imposed decline. The Kremlin expects NATO and the EU to fold, and perhaps they will. But if Moscow’s proxy war in southeastern Ukraine waxes rather than wanes now, the trajectory of this conflict will soon become difficult to predict. Kyiv has made clear that it intends to liberate its territory, with consequences that the Kremlin will not approve of and will probably resist with greater force. There is no end of painful irony in the fact that Russian intelligence has brought about this July Crisis, just as it did the last one.

We have heard for decades that another “1914 scenario” has been rendered impossible for myriad reasons: interconnected economies, no more secret-yet-entangling alliances, people are so much smarter and more civilized now, and above all nuclear weapons mean nobody would be stupid enough to risk great power war. Let us hope that the optimists are as right today as they were wrong exactly a century ago, as Europe slipped into the abyss and ten million died. The consequences of failure now are unimaginable.


28 comments on “The New July Crisis”
  1. Excellent analysis.

  2. mindweapon says:

    We’ll know we won when we have gay pride parades in Moscow. Yay!

    The world will not know peace until we have rainbow families everywhere! Hail USA!

    Here’s the ideal family, and that evil fascist Putin stands in the way of progress like this!

    1. the unutterable says:

      just go away!
      stop stinking up the comments all the time

    2. V. Uil says:

      I think you made Putin’s point more eloquently than the article. To quote “Putin views the West with almost undisguised contempt, as ineffectual and weak decadents set on self-imposed decline.”

      A cornerstone of Putin and Russia’s belief (and indeed large majorities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere) is that the West’s preoccupation with multiculturism and gays is a deep sign of decadence and decline. Perhaps there is something to the belief. After all mentioning DOMA and showing a picture of a mixed couple is somewhat out of context given the article’s focus on the awful tragedy of the Malaysian flight and the almost definite involvement of the Ukrainian rebels who are close to Moscow. And the spin off implications for Putin.

      You should be aware that globally your view is in the minority. Rightly or wrongly Putin’s view holds sway across most nations in the world. My guestimate is that at best perhaps 500 million share your view. The other 6.5 billion people – think China, India, Africa, Indonesia, the Middle East – are with Putin.

      America’s rapidly waning power and cultural influence doesn’t help. In my business travels I find over and over America (less so Europe) is seen as laughable and incompetent and is often despised. The US influence is seen as the source of all that is bad in their societies. In some quarters I am sorry to report there is even palpable glee at America’s decline.

      I mean you no harm. Good luck to you and your crusade, but please keep a broader perspective. The West’s preoccupation with trivia such as things gay rights and multiculturism plays directly into Putin’s hand.

      1. mindweapon says:

        America was a very conservative country, and we managed to remake it. Chinese and Indians will be much easier.

        This time the world!

        All Power to the Rainbow People! Death to the bourgeouis heterofascists, racial purists, and cis-scum!

    3. mkultra says:

      First God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made people who believe Uncle Vova is saving downtown Donetsk from gay weddings.

      And let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you’re right (you’re not.. to be sure) and the war isn’t about Ukrainian sovereignty but the big anti-postmodern-WEIRD-global-intellectual thing. How’s that working out for ya? If ideas matter (something I’m increasingly dubious of), how does alienating most of the world while enraging the largely socially conservative population of Ukraine help your cause?

      And let’s pretend that Ukraine did enter EU agreements unimpeded by Russia .. are you familiar at all with Ukrainians? Do you think that they’ll agree to having European bureaucrats force their social agendas on them? What net effect do you see Ukraine having on the EU agenda?

      1. mindweapon says:

        The Ukrainians won’t have a choice.

        The Freedom Assault Group, funded by Gyorgi Soros, will teach those nationalists and homophobes a lesson!

  3. fwvandijk says:

    Reblogged this on Voetnoten | and commented:
    Historische analogieën zijn link, maar 1914 en 2014 zijn te verleidelijk.

  4. Phineas Fahrquar says:

    Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
    If I were the superstitious type, a European diplomatic/military crisis 100 years to the month after the July Crisis that lead World War I would have me worried. I’m not superstitious, but Russia’s indecent, aggressive, and barbaric policy toward Ukraine and the West still has me worried. Recommended reading.

  5. genomega1 says:

    Reblogged this on News You May Have Missed and commented:
    The New July Crisis
    Let us hope that the optimists are as right today as they were wrong exactly a century ago, as Europe slipped into the abyss and ten million died. The consequences of failure now are unimaginable.

  6. 4MK says:

    The New your times is reporting that Obama has ordered veiled military assistance today,Also in Israel Kornet RPG 29s have turned up with Hamas

  7. A remarkable feature of repeated analyses of how World War I started is the relatively low role ascribed to Imperial Russia. Yet I remember being profoundly impressed with AJP Taylor’s analysis in “The Struggle for Mastery in Europe”. My recollection is that Russia had gradually been excluded from the Balkans since 1878 by the Germans and was left with only Serbia as an ally. She hoped that, when the Turks were eventually forced out of Bosnia in 1908 it would be transferred to Serbia but Austria-Hungary, which had had a protectorate there since 1878, snapped it up. The Russians were determined that any further attack by A/H on Serbia would mean war. Yet the circumstances of 1914, grounded in quasi-regicide, could not have been more unpropitious for autocratic Russia. All the other powers had firm, if not admirable, reasons for going to war, but Russia’s mobilization on 31 July, 2014, was largely grounded in a sense of wounded national pride. Without that mobilization, it is unlikely that war would have spread across the continent, and 10s of millions of Russian lives would have been spared in the 20th century.

    One shudders at the thought that the survival of much of Mankind may be in the hands of the Russian foreign ministry again.

    1. 20committee says:

      Shuddering again indeed …

  8. MarqueG says:

    Hair-raising stuff, John. Particularly interesting at the moment is how the Chinese regime is standing quietly with Putin’s Kremlin, and that low-key alliance appears to be holding together. (Gordon Chang has provided insightful analysis of the evolving internal purges and external aggression there regularly on the John Batchelor radio show.)

    Little has been said about the economic stakes Moscow sees in the Donbas region, with its heavy industry and energy resources (if I’ve managed to recall the matter correctly). This would seem of a piece with what looks to me like a wider Kremlin strategy to help destabilize (or at least do little to stabilize) the Middle East, what with Putin working loosely with the Iranians. High energy prices are good for Putin and his circle, if I’m not mistaken, and works out well for the mullahs, too.

    Can’t remember where I saw it or heard it, but Putin was supposedly both awed and annoyed at America’s chaotic Middle-Eastern warring after 9/11, and it was said he assumed that chaos in the region was all done intentionally to make energy exploration in the US more viable. By that theory, he has concluded that he can play that game, too.

    Your ongoing analysis continues to be appreciated.

    1. MarqueG says:

      With my comment still awaiting moderation, here’s a link to some of the reporting from Gordon Chang and (the principal here) Rick Fisher on aerospace cooperation between Russia and China:

      This predates the latest crisis, but it demonstrates the depths of the collaboration.

  9. califax says:

    All current dipomacy works on the asumption that Putin is a sheep that can be taught manners. But he’s a wulf. And his supporters are wulfs. he will not back down as long as he and his support are convinced that there is no other way. He decided to go to war. He’s fighting. He will only give up, when he and his supporters have to accept that he is ultimately losing the war.

    Judo fighters don’t tap out on teachings, only on submissions.
    As long as the west will not accept the difference between sheep and wulf, Putin will win.

    (Wer aufs Maul kriegt, kann schlecht verhandeln.)

  10. Mike says:

    When examining a case, does one just make assertions or does one follow evidence? Any detective or prosecutor who brings a case to the courts with the evidence provided by the US thus far, basically amounting to hyperbole and innuendo backed up by an agenda and a compliant corporate media, will be laughed out of court without the humor.

    Motive, method and opportunity. To what end would the Russians down MH17? What is their motive? Maybe the Russians shot it down to make the Ukrainians and the US look bad, to form some kind of International pressure regards the Ukraine. If this is it they failed miserably, meaning they are as dumb as hammers. Not likely. Looking at the evidence of media proclamations so far, it’s against the Russian interest to shoot down an airliner or even to be suspected of it. Bad press all around for Putin and crew, no gain in the Ukrainian war front, no financial benefit. Who else may have a motive here? The separatists? Nothing but bad press, international hatred towards them and their cause, reporters from every corner of the world crawling up their butts, men and equipment on the evening news and pressure from Putin.

    It’s an accident or some loose cannons on the separatist team you say, some stooges or bozos with a launcher, trained in a few weeks by the Russians to operate a sophisticated weapons system requiring at least a team of four, radar support, secure coms and so on? Nonsense. Kupol radar detected by the Russians near the area, which can be used to support the radar at the launch site, could be the Ukrainian military. The Russians and/or the separatists have no discernible motive to do this. Unless you can point out one besides Putins an a-hole and a monster. Evil! That word has been bandied about frequently since 9/11.

    Who does have a motive? The EU? Hardly, Russia is in their backyard, well side yard, and which country? The Germans? No. Gas, gas and more gas will trump. Dutch? Obviously not. British? Getting warmer but still no clear motive. Spanish, French, Greeks? Not unless one is on drugs, and there’s way too much trading money on the table and nowhere to go with it except into the breech if it was an EU job.

    Who was in the room at the time of the crime? The Ukrainians (US stooges since last year), the Russians and the US. Who gains (motive)? Some evidence does exist to suggest that the US has a serious motive here. Andriy Parubiy, Ukraine Minister of the Interior, a known neo-con tool. Russia and the other BRICS countries are on a roll to ditch the US dollar as reserve currency. In fact two days earlier they have begun that exact process by forming an alternate World Bank with 100 billion and working out the details to trade in other than US dollars. Visits by Putin and the Chinese in the US back yard, running all over the place from Brazil to Argentina to Cuba to Venezuela to Bolivia, threatening US dominance in this region. The Spanish air traffic controllers tweets, account since deleted, suggest an altered flight path into the war zone by 200 or so miles and fighter ‘escorts’. Why haven’t the Ukrainians released the unedited air traffic controller audio? Carlos is nowhere to be found at the moment. Russia’s new trading routes with the East are a serious threat to US hegemony and global military dominance. Pipelines. Gas. Oil. Sound familiar? All of this is circumstantial at best but consider that thousands of Americans are sentenced to long prison terms every year on a lot less than just this much.

    Let’s play theories here. The US has it’s stooges in the Ukrainian government shoot down the airliner to make the Russians look bad and hose up the trade deals, trading routes and Russia/China alliance. Obama gets out in front of the propaganda war in minutes, has not contacted Putin (as far as we know), meanwhile Merkel and the Dutch are on the phone with Putin in hours working out arrangements for an investigation. The world hates Putin, the Russians are in the toilet. The US doesn’t operate like that you say? Historically inaccurate. You already know how long this list is- at least as long as the Russians and the British lists of dastardly acts to promote the agendas of the day.

    Moving along to method, any competent advanced military could pull this off including the US, Russians, and Ukrainians. This levels the playing field in the method department. Opportunity? Who knew where the MH17 may be? Every advanced military on the planet, including the aforementioned players and the Chinese as well. So it all comes down to motive.

    Unless one is stupid a rat is in the room and smelling up the place. Maybe the black boxes being examined by the unbiased British MI6, did I forget they are a major US ally? will shed some light on the subject. Maybe not.

    The Great War, started by idiots for the benefit of other idiots. Fast forward 100 years we have gone less than one inch forward? That’s not an historical analysis, but true nonetheless. What do I know? Nothing. But I do possess an excellent fully functioning bullshit detector that’s ringing and beeping 24/7 since the MH17 went down over the Ukraine. And the last people I believe are the US media and their cohorts in the US Congress and White House. I hope you can shed some real light on this without resorting to Russia bashing or Cold War paranoia.



    1. 20committee says:

      Nice you trust the Kremlin so much.

      1. 4MK says:

        Why do you allow these idiots a voice

      2. 20committee says:

        Free speech?

  11. jim sandahl says:

    Someone here is drinking the kool-aide. Show me any proof that this is not yet another “false flag’ episode

    1. 20committee says:

      Read the media, there is your proof.

  12. mindweapon says:

    I put all my faith in the neocons. They liberated Iraq and now they will liberate Ukraine and Russia!

    Hail the Conquering Generals, our Patriotic Eagles — Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle!

    America, heck yeah! I do believe I hear a Lee Greenwood song coming on!

  13. mkultra says:

    BTW is there any plan among our diplomatic overlords to perhaps stop doing stuff like this?

  14. jibberjabber says:

    see the kremlin trolls have finally woken up to your blog. what took them so long, incompetents…

  15. Wait&C says:

    I do no support homosexual partnership but I can accept it as a way for other people to find happiness. And for this I am quite worried about the path russia has taken straight towards totalitarianism:

    First they came for the Gay, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not Gay.

    Then they came for the Foreigners, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Foreigner.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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