Given the context, Karl Marx may be wholly inappropriate a source to be citing as Europe rolls helplessly towards another war. But I just can’t stop myself thinking of his elaboration of Hegel’s observation that most historical events happen twice. Marx adds that Hegel should have noted that the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Certainly, there are many parallels to be drawn between 1938/39 and the drumbeats of war we hear now, louder and louder, from eastern Europe. The UK’s admirable defence minister last weekend talked of “a whiff of Munich” about some attempts by western leaders to make peace with Putin. Although, as an aside, if Chamberlain had indeed secured peace in our time he would have been hailed a hero rather than denigrated.

The British minister was referring to President Macron, no doubt, who put in many hours in a brave effort to change Putin’s course. Russia’s autocratic ruler tried to put a spin on Macron’s visit and word went out on Putin’s spin machine that it was the Anglo-Saxons who wanted war, inferring that the French were honest brokers.

Indeed, it might have been the case that Paris would capitalise more on being seen to be different from the Americans and Brits were it not for quickly unfolding events in sub-Saharan Africa. During the week, the French said they would withdraw their peace-enforcers from Mali, where for the past several years they’ve been battling islamist insurgents.

The reason that several thousand French troops are leaving is that the paramilitary Wagner Group has been invited into the desperately poor country by its military junta. What passes for Mali’s central government no longer wants the French peacekeepers, and they’ve been booted out.

The destabilisation of the Sahel is another leaf out of Putin’s deadly manual, as he exploits western weakness wherever he can. However, Putin is not always right. France is now much more likely to fall into line with almost all of NATO, which in recent weeks has demonstrated remarkable – and for Putin – unexpected solidarity.

I hold to the hope that if Putin does invade Ukraine it will be the beginning of the end of his own oligarchy. Democracy, once tasted, can be a heady brew, and may spread back to Belarus and Russia and spell the end of his poisonous reign.

Meanwhile, it’s in Munich that G7 foreign ministers are meeting this weekend, neatly underlining Marx’s most astute observation.


Any views expressed by Jeff Daniels do not necessarily reflect those of the publishers. Jeff Daniels worked as a journalist in central and Eastern Europe from 1992 until 2008.

FILE PHOTO: MOSCOW/KYIV/DONETSK (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatists packed civilians onto buses out of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine on Friday, a shock turn in a conflict the West fears is part of a plan by Moscow to create a pretext for an attack on its neighbour.