THE COLUMN: 'Not Worth the Bones of a Single Grenadier'

Michael Walsh26 Sep, 2022 5 Min Read
What has the Ukraine got to do with us?

Otto von Bismarck, Germany's Iron Chancellor and the man who united most of the German states into a unified Second Reich in the second half of the 19th century, once famously observed that Der ganze Balkan ist nicht die gesunden Knochen eines einzigen pommerschen Grenadiers wert. "The entire Balkans aren't worth the sound bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." The joke being that a) the Balkans had always been an intractable mess and always would be, b) Pomerania itself had a long history of being conquered and reconquered by Prussians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Swedes, and Pomeranians were regarded as lousy soldiers, and c) a Pomeranian is a breed of small yipping dog. 

Bismarck was right about the Balkans, but he might as well have been speaking of the Ukraine, a troubled land (its name means "borderland"), oft-conquered, rarely independent, generally restive, and almost always miserable. Like the Kurds, the Ukrainians are for reasons of geography basically a people without a country, long dominated by Russia both in its czarist and Soviet incarnations; indeed, Russians regard the Ukrainian capital of Kiev as an essential part of the Motherland, celebrated in both architecture and music by Viktor Hartmann and Modest Mussorgsky: 

The Ukraine won its independence after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. As part of the deal, the Ukrainians were persuaded/coerced by Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, among other signatories to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, to surrender the nuclear weapons stationed on their soil. The key point for Russia was that the Ukraine, as a buffer state between itself and the West, should never be allowed to threaten the Russian homeland. The Russians, with their tenuous hold on a vast continental empire, the biggest nation on Earth, have long memories of foreign (particularly Teutonic) invasions that stretch well before Napoleon won his pyrrhic victory at Borodino and then had to retreat from a burning Moscow, destroying the Grande Armée. The idea was that Russia wouldn't threaten its former Warsaw Pact states and in return NATO wouldn't edge up to Russia's borders.

You say Kyiv, they say Kiev.

The West, of course, welshed on the deal, and has gradually been impressing other satellite countries near Russia's western border into the service of a now-explicitly anti-Russian (as opposed to anti-Soviet) North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Albania and Croatia in 2009 and, more recently, the military powerhouses of Montenegro and North Macedonia. More are likely on their way, including Finland and Sweden, historically both enemies of Russia. The Ukraine clearly wishes to join NATO as well, especially latterly, under its president Vladimir Zelensky—but at the moment is prevented from doing so by among other things a law passed under its own former government in 2010. 

The biggest cheerleaders for the Ukraine in the current war have turned out to be, surprise, Joe Biden and his always-wrong, America Last foreign policy establishment, headed by secretary of state Anthony Blinken, a retread from both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Biden and his noxious family have long used the Ukraine—the most corrupt country in Europe—as their personal piggybank and money laundromat, and in the recent past he has openly boasted about his ability to legally blackmail Ukrainian officials into doing his bidding. His word as a Biden!

But then, why wouldn't he? As a bloviating senator of nearly half a century, Biden is thoroughly accustomed to never being held responsible for a single thing he says. He's dined out on the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident for 50 years, blithely accusing the other driver of being drunk, which he wasn't, among the many, many other malicious lies he's told. He casually slandered good men like Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas and never lost a moment of sleep over his scurrilous remarks. Biden is emblematic of our parlous politics, the worm in the rotten apple who has finally made his journey from the calyx to the pedicel and emerged into the sunlight, a doddering old fool, vacant-eyed (except when animated by hatred), slack-jawed, wandering aimlessly in search of another hand to shake or another pocket to pick, which as a lifelong politician is all he knows how to do. 

Now, however, he's actually dangerous; presidential pronouncements have consequences. The definition of Irish Alzheimer's—you only remember the grudges—fits him to a T. In his Fredo brain, never very impressive to begin with, he's focusing his animus on Russia because that's the country that most threatens to bring the whole Biden house of cards down around his head. He knows that even the Praetorian Media, which throttles bad news (especially about the louche Hunter, of which there is a seemingly endless supply) in its cradle, won't be able to protect him forever, that he's got two years before his improbable and wholly regrettable presidency is over, and that his choleric chickens will eventually come home to roost. 

And so, with Vladimir Putin calling up the reserves to bolster his faltering invasion (or reclamation) of at least parts of the Ukraine, Biden and his brain trust are turning the conflict into a proxy war between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. Never mind that the American military has finally reached the limits of its tolerance, and is cracking under the stress of wokism being imposed upon it from above. It's in no position to fight even a proxy war, much less engage in a nuclear exchange with Russia, but that's exactly where this is heading if the president doesn't stop recklessly shooting off his mouth:

It would help if the castrati in Congress would at least pretend to try and rein Biden in, but under the "leadership" of a malign Chuck Schumer and a rapacious minority leader, Mitch McConnell, not to mention the superannuated, bibulous speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the first branch of government has taken its lead from the second branch under Biden and is only in it for the money, of which it plans to take all it can get. Declare war? Restrain the powers of the presidency? Stop the march of the spending bills? Surely you jest: don't you know there's still a Covid emergency on, no matter what the man behind the prompter says?

In the meantime, billions and billions of freshly printed greenbacks flow to the Ukraine, where Zelensky conducts a photo-op war that, strangely, never includes any first-hand footage from the front by the American news media. Then again, media mopes are even lazier than Congresscritters, so if they don't see it on Twitter or TikTok, it's not news. They're all Taylor Lorenz now, and they don't care who knows it, as long as their bosses don't find out.

Live! From Kyiv! It's World War III.

Putin is a man who has watched his country shot out from underneath him, the Soviet sphere of influence dramatically reduced, NATO encroaching across his western frontier, his country's birth rate falling, and the once-vaunted Red Army apparently taking a licking from Ukrainians armed by a consort of nations that includes Great Britain and the old "principal enemy,: the U.S.A. So it's well to remember that Russians are used to being pushed to the last extremity before ferociously snapping back and eviscerating their tormentors, whatever the cost to them.

In 1410 the Teutonic Knights were annihilated by a combined Polish-Lithuanian force at the battle of Tannenberg, in the same part of Prussia as Pomerania. In 1943, the Wehrmacht's frozen Sixth Army surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad. And in the awful winter of 1812, Napoleon's dreams of total European conquest died in the snows of Eastern Europe as well. It's a bad neighborhood filled with guys a lot tougher than Joe Biden and Tony Blinken. The Ukraine-Russia war is not our fight, and isn't worth the strong bones of a single American soldier or civilian. Let's hope they—and we—don't have to learn that the hard way. Just ask Napoleon.

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, was published by St. Martin's Press in December 2019. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, published on Oct. 18, 2022.

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15 comments on “THE COLUMN: 'Not Worth the Bones of a Single Grenadier'”

  1. You must be doing something right. The trolls are out in force. I don’t agree with everything in the article, but the gist is correct. GHWB and Clinton left us with some bad choices. You are also correct, while I wish the Ukrainian people well, it isn’t worth an American soldiers papercut to defend them.

  2. "the Sudan" and "the Lebanon" are archaic terms as is "the Ukraine" and have been for several years. I agree with many of your writings, but you're off base here and your history is faulty. Ukraine is an independent country warts, corruption, and all, but a recognized nation invaded by a foreign power. The 1991 declaration settled that matter. I despise Biden and believe him to be a doddering fool with visions of dictatorship. But let's not get lost in the weeds here. I stood on the East German border many years ago and watched the Russian border guards. And yes, they were at times Russian. Putin needs to be stopped. I hope the European powers can step up more. If they don't their countries are next in line.

  3. I think there's a meme on the Right that Russia and Putin are misunderstood: that we could have been friends, presenting a united Christian front against the Muslim barbarians and godless Chinese, and that it all went wrong when we sided with the Muslims in the Balkans against the Russians' little nephews in Serbia in '99.

    This view has always struck me as more than a little solipsistic, and vastly overstates the degree to which US policy and politicians influence events in the rest of the world.

    The reality is that Russia has a thousand-year history of being ruled by brutal SOBs. The collapse of the USSR called for great men, and the universe instead gave us Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin, i.e. Dopey, Tipsy, and Nasty. Gorbachev was a fool who when posed with a real-life Trolley Problem chose to allow the USSR to fail peacefully, while Yeltsin dreamed of a more humane future for the Russian people but didn't have the genius of strategy or character to take it there, and so the torch passed to a new tsar, same as the old tsar.

    Putin and his simps might say that a peace-loving Russia only wanted a reasonable buffer, but given the record, only a fool would believe it. Those who knew the bear best--i.e. the former Eastern bloc--got themselves into NATO as fast as they could precisely because they knew that Tallinn or Vilnius could easily be the next Grozny. The Ukraine may be thick with Beltway bagmen, but that's not why the peoples of former Soviet states and satellites clamored to join NATO long before Obama rescued Biden from a long-overdue retirement, nor is it why they still do. Even the Russophone residents of Donetsk don't seem to want actual Russian rule so much as they wanted a different Ukrainian crook in Kiev.

    While Putin may see the collapse of the USSR as a great tragedy, it is not the West that has held Russia back from greatness since then. The West bought Russia's natural resources without limit, and opened their markets to every Russian export from smoked fish to software. It's not Brandon's fault that almost every penny of profit from that went to Italian cars, London homes, and Swiss banks rather than to pave roads outside Moscow.

  4. I don't doubt that GHW Bush and Clinton failed Yeltsin which opened the door to Putin, but there's a reason why so many former Warsaw Pact countries actively sought NATO inclusion, and there was a real Holodomor that was not forgotten among Ukrainians, all of them countries that were under the boot of their Soviet Russian oppressors for decades.
    And it wasn't just about NATO, it was about moving Ukraine and other states wanting to move closer to Europe by joining the EU. I mean, that's really why Putin invaded in 2014, right? His guy Yanukovych failed (even with a $15 billion bribe) to move the country into economic alignment with Putin.
    I think it's relevant to acknowledge that those nations have agency, especially in light of Putin's 2008 partial invasion of Georgia. Whether it's Soviet Russia or Putin's Russia, it's still Russia.
    Fast forward to 2022, NATO was never an issue when the Russian enemy was occupying two regions, it was an excuse by Putin to try to control a country like he controls Belarus, IMO. I mean, wouldn't entry to NATO automatically trigger Article 5? It could never happen.

  5. This article is pure nonsense. No, the US did not "welsh" on any deal. Honestly, this is just warmed over Russian propaganda points. No, NATO does not threaten Russia in any way. No, "billions and billions" of dollars are not being sent to Ukraine with no oversight. As a matter of fact, the equipment being given to Ukraine is being "leased" to them. No, Ukraine is not corrupt - Russia is. Russia basically installed a puppet regime in Kiev after 1991. They then installed the typical Russian corruption and Oligarch schemes in order to suck Ukraine dry. Of course, they installed their own Ukrainian Oligarchs, who were prepared to betray their country. In 2014, the Ukrainians got rid of the Russian puppet government, and Putin went nuts. He invaded Crimea and tried to infiltrate Ukraine with his security services. He paid off many Ukrainians to spy for him. His Oligarchs inside Ukraine tried to get rid of the Ukrainian government. When the first Ukrainian president did not move fast enough on getting rid of the Russian sponsored corruption, they got rid of him and installed Zelensky, who promised to get rid of it faster. But rooting out corruption is a ten year long process. This is why Ukraine wants EU membership, because the EU has strict anti corruption measures that each country must comply with. You may hate Biden all you want, but don't run around here pretending you are some kind of American when all you do is repeat discredited Russian talking points.

  6. Don't make this a left-right US domestic issue. Putin's aim, which he's been open about, is to reestablish Peter the Great's empire with himself as Tsar. Ukraine was, at worst, unwilling to practice realpolitik about Crimea. Putin's proposed new Russian empire includes not just Ukraine but Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and at least parts of Finland and Poland. There is no moral justification for any of this, it's just naked 19th-century-style irredentism. Russia doesn't deserve anyone's sympathy. Putin has chosen to live by the sword, and that means it may come to dying by the sword. So be it. Maybe the future holds a Russia aggrandized with the eastern half of Ukraine, or maybe it holds a rump Moscow sandwiched between a reborn western-oriented Republic of Novgorod and an independent Ukraine. That's up to the Europeans, but no part of Russia is worth the strong words of any western writer who should believe in freedom and self-determination.

  7. Just complete ignorant and ahistorical nonsense. Trolling disguised as knowledge. Your regular use of "The Ukraine" kind of gives your game away.

  8. Well, a persuasive article except for the glaring omission - Russia gratuitously and without any cause invaded Ukraine a few months ago. And the example of our resistance/aid to Ukraine will go a long way to dissuading China from invading Taiwan and taking control of the world's top-tier computer chip production. That's worth the bones of a few Pomeranians, dogs or men, and we're not even risking American bones.

  9. The Budapest Memorandum contained no provisions about NATO and such, so there was nothing for the US to welsh on. Gorbachev himself acknowledged that the US made no promises to his nation about NATO expansion.
    The memorandum does contain a signed promise by the Russian Federation to "respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine" and Putin welshed on that.

    1. I saw your comment on Instapundit as well. You're presenting a literal-minded point and missing the larger essayistic and contextual point. Russia hoped to neutralize the Ukraine, a la Finland in the past, but we decided to push NATO right up to their western borders anyway. The mishandling of the end of the Cold War by Poppy and Clinton is a national disgrace for which we are still paying.

  10. Pomeranians were considered among the *best* soldiers in the Prussian army (for example, see Duffy's masterpiece, "The Army of Frederick the Grrat"). The quote was originally Frederick the Great's, recycled by Bismarck.

    The notion that Russia was "forced" to invade is ridiculous. Ukraine was toothless and alone until Vlad broke the Budapest Accord in 2014.

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