Between October 1853 and February 1856 Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia fought Russia and Greece in the Crimean War. The conflict was waged on the flimsy pretext of whether the eastern Orthodox Churches or the Catholic Church should control Christian sites in Palestine.
The real reason Britain and France provoked the conflict was to contain Russia which, taking advantage of the decline of Ottoman Turkey, was pushing south towards Constantinople.
Or, as the historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote: "The Crimean war was fought for the sake of Europe rather than for the Eastern question; it was fought against Russia, not in favour of Turkey ... The British fought Russia out of resentment and supposed her defeat would strengthen the European balance of power."
If you substitute the words "Ukrainian independence" for "the Eastern question", and "America, the UK and the EU" for "the British", this is an uncomfortably accurate description of what is happening in Ukraine today.
By the time the dust settled in 1856 the Light Brigade had charged to their doom, Queen Victoria had invented the Victoria Cross, Florence Nightingale had become an international heroine, and between 365,500 and 700,000 people had been killed or died of wounds, starvation and disease.
Large parts of "the Ukraine" - or literally "the borderland", which had been absorbed into Russia in 1783 - were devastated during a brutal campaign marked by failures of leadership and widespread incompetence on all sides.
And the result? Russia was briefly contained under the the Treaty of Paris in 1856 but was on the move again within a decade. Hundreds of thousands had died in vain.
Today, as 100,000 Russian troops are massed on Ukraine's border, President Biden dares Vladimir Putin to invade, and NATO members are shipping "lethal supplies" to Kiev by the plane load, you have to ask how, after almost 170 years, it has come to this again.
The latest conflict is the fall-out from two world wars, the collapse of the USSR, and the recent emergence of many former Soviet satellites as independent countries; in some cases for the first time in centuries.
When the then pro-Russian president was overthrown during the Ukrainian revolution of 2014 Vladimir Putin backed an independence movement in the Crimean peninsula which has a large ethnic Russian population. This culminated in the seizure of government buildings by disguised Russian troops on February 27, 2014, and led to the self-declaration of a breakaway Republic of Crimea a little over a month later.
The nascent state of Ukraine, then only in existence for 23 years, lost a large chunk of territory and population almost overnight. While the conflict between Ukraine and Russia over Crimea is ongoing, the current hot button issue is the push for Ukraine to enter NATO.
While NATO has always had an open door policy and membership would make a lot of sense for Ukraine, Russia sees this as a deliberate act of provocation and an attempt at encirclement by the west.
This is not an unreasonable view, even if we decry the aggressive posture Russia is taking to express it. Since 1997 many former Warsaw Pact members including Albania, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland have joined NATO.
Although a few patriotic Australians enlisted in British units and saw action in the first Crimean War, none of the young colonies sent troops to the fray.
We were fortunate enough to sit it out. In the event war does start, the Australian government would be well advised to do the same this time around.
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