Ukraine as a new Silesia?
Putin and Frederick the Great
1st July 2022
Putin spent too much time in East Germany. What he learnt he has applied to Ukraine. The KGB posted him in Dresden between 1985-1990, apparently as a translator. Dresden was in an area devoid of West German television signals, and therefore was known as the ‘Tal der Ahnunglosen,’ the ‘valley of the clueless’. Dresden was also the main seat of the Russian army in East Germany (1945-1990). However, Dresden is a chief example of the military strategy of Frederick II of Prussia, ‘Frederick the Great’ (1740-1786). He avoided Dresden during his attack on Saxony in 1760 but brought great destruction to the city. He often went around cities rather than conquer them in order to make field advances. This was the case when he invaded Silesia on 16 December 1740. By 9 January 1741 he had conquered Breslau (Wroclaw in Poland) and therefore the whole of Silesia was part of Prussia.
Putin imagined Ukraine as a modern Silesia. Frederick the Great thought he had a natural claim to Silesia because the region spoke the same language but was culturally part of Austria. When the ruler of Austria, Charles VI had died in October 1740, Frederick did not recognize his successor Maria Theresa of Austria. In the same way, after Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz became the new chancellor on 8 December 2021. Two months later, Putin attacked Ukraine.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a worldwide conflict. Frederick the Great with his invasion of Silesia provoked not only the first Silesian war, but two others. The third one is known as the Seven Year war (1756-1763). In the US it is known as the French-Indian war, focusing on a local theatre. The treaty of Paris which settled the war (1763) saw the largest ever acquisition of territory by any country by treaty: the United Kingdom gained Canada and India. Pitt the Elder, later prime minister of the UK (1766-1768), famously said: ‘Canada will be won on the battlefields of Silesia’. Unlike Prussia then, Russia now appears to have no allies and to have started something which is out of its control.
Frederick’s misjudgement about Dresden was noticed by Napoleon, who even owned a bust of the king of Prussia. Napoleon attacked, besieged, and occupied Dresden in 1805 to prove Frederick had been wrong on this occasion. He respected Frederick the Great so much that he went to visit his tomb in 1806 and said: ‘if he were alive today, we would not be here’. East Germany considered Frederick the Great as a great strategist and model for subsequent German armies. He was studied in the military academies of the East German Army and Putin, in his formative years in East Germany, lived in a world which considered Frederick as the military strategist par excellence. The respective merits of Frederick the Great and Napoleon were studied by Clausewitz, an officer of the Prussian Army, in his work ‘On War’ (1832)
Putin seems to have used Silesia as a model for Ukraine. He thought he was achieving goals like the First Silesian War (1740-1742). Putin forgot that Frederick won the war because of two miracles: internal conflicts with the enemy coalition in 1759 and the death of the empress of Russia of 1762, followed by an unexpected ceasefire. The NATO summit of Madrid makes any miracle to save Russia almost unimaginable. Countries like China and Iran are not military allies but seem to be taking over the Russian economy to the detriment of the Kremlin and the welfare of the population. Putin is not Frederick the Great and Ukraine is not Silesia. Let's hope this is not start of a worldwide war.