Comparing Ukraine and Afghanistan

In just a few days, the war between Russia and Ukraine will have lasted a year since Moscow launched its special military operation (invasion) on 24 February 2022.

It is perhaps suitable to look at this war in several ways. One is to compare the situation in Ukraine with that in Afghanistan. Now and in the past. Many have suggested there is some similarities. Let us take a look.


Afghanistan has sometimes been called the Graveyard of Empires.

From misadventures of ancient Persian and Macedonian/Seleucid imperial ambitions to the Russo-British “Great Game” of the 1800s, to both the Soviet fiasco (1979-1987) and the American debacle which ended in 2021, the mountain people of the land we call Afghanistan today have proven to be baffling and difficult to deal with.

Fascinating as it is, let us save a look at the history and the ways of mountain people for another time. Suffice to say that although some modern pundits and political and military observers pooh-pooh the idea, the Soviet war there clearly contributed to the fall of the Soviet Empire. And American political (and military) leadership’s failure to learn the hard lessons of history resulted in trillions of dollars of treasure and lives lost and ruined, and perhaps the zenith of American imperial power.

Afghanistan’s people, have been victims time and again of the great powers (and their own internal conflicts between tribes and religious groups). The people are an incredible mix of tribes, but share religion (Islam) in common, and the attitude of mountain people around the world.


On the other hand, Ukraine, like its neighbors in Belarus and Poland, is anything but a land of mountain people. It has rather, over the millennia, been seen, not a graveyard of empires, but a highway of imperial armies ranging back and forth, from Scythians and Huns and Mongols to Vikings and Germans. Unlike Afghanistan, to some degree Ukraine is a birthplace of empires: modern Russia coalesced around Kiev (aka Kyif) as Kievan Rus, which expanded to modern Russia, first as an empire and then the Soviet Union. But it can also be seen as a graveyard of empire, now and then.

Ukraine is a generally flat land, though with many rivers, but still a “high-speed avenue of approach” in military terms: it expedited Russian involvement in the Balkans during the long campaign to drive the Turks Ottomans) out of Europe, and of course the German-led invasions of the 20th Century. (Napoleon had gone further north in 1812.) And modern Ukraine itself is an imperial power to some degree. A third of modern Ukraine was actually Poland and Lithuania for centuries. When Poland was partitioned by three empires 1772-1795, that part of today’s Ukraine was a part of Russia and Hungary! Just as the Crimea (a Tartar khanate for centuries which had been annexed by Russia) was Russian from 1783 to 1954 when Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine. With those lands came many captive people – not Ukrainian in language, culture, or heredity at all.

With the end of the monarchy of the Russian Empire in 1917, Ukraine declared independence from the Empire in 1918 and then fought a civil war inside the “country” for four years before Moscovian Communists took control of the Ukraine and it was made a member republic of the Soviet Union.

Communist rule for 70 years, together with civil war, manmade famines, the 2nd German invasion (1941-44), and other factors created something of a “Ukrainian” identity in the last hundred years – similar to what has occurred in Israel and Palestine in the last 80 years. They are very much artificial groupings of very different peoples. Resistance to Communism, and partisanship for and against Germans and National Socialists have further divided the country’s population.

Although the West (both governments and media) claim that Ukraine “won” its independence in 1991, there was no great effort that can be compared to the United States, or Texas, the Dutch, or Greeks, in winning their independence. It was more a default result of Soviet collapse. Still, the Ukrainians certainly seem to have suffered a lot more in the last 110 years than even the Afghans.

Comparing the two

So why is there a comparison? A lot of the talking heads poohpooh the idea of the “graveyards of empires.” Yet both regions (perhaps it is an exaggeration to call them “countries” or “nations” really) have been that for centuries, if not millennia. And not just one empire at a time. Ukraine, in some eyes, may help bring down both what is left of the “Russian Empire” and the American one – and perhaps even speed the collapse of the European Union (yet another kind of empire), all at once.

Both are on the frontiers between very different cultures and geopolitical regions and so natural points of conflict. Both the mountains and the vast plains offer their own battlegrounds, not just of military conflict but of social conflict and economic problems. Both have been abused by neighbors and empires; their people killed, enslaved, deported, and robbed blind. And indeed, both pretend to be nations when in reality, they are frankly tribal (in the case of Afghanistan) or very close to tribal (looking at language, ethnicity, and related things in Ukraine).

And none of the populations of either country seem to have a moral compass. There is little or no sense of what is truly, objectively right or wrong. Just what benefits “me” and “my family” and “my tribe” at the expense of anyone and everyone else.

This means that, regardless of religion, these people, in these regions, have less capacity for gaining and enjoying liberty. Not impossible, but requiring them to truly change their attitudes, their understanding, and their actions. It is possible, and many people have been working for decades, if not centuries, to do this: to teach (and yes, even “preach”) and proclaim liberty. But it is a hard task.

Still, even if only 1 or 2 percent can see what is needed, and work to do it, is there not hope even for Ukrainians and Afghanis?

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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1 Response to Comparing Ukraine and Afghanistan

  1. Eric says:

    Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay .


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