I've always found the flow of history fascinating (abstracted from the names and dates I can't remember). Whether one believes in the cyclicality of history or just the enduring nature of human psychology: there seems to be a regular pattern in which conflicts start.
As a completely unaligned observer of history unfolding around the Ukraine, I now only speculate whether the nature of the world has changed enough to avoid war.
If not, it seems clear the cycle is turning. An aggressively expanding economic and political power is moving into the Ukraine in a direct effort to enhance its position and to displace a declined economic and political power whose sphere of influence and open markets have been seriously diminished. What might one historically expect to be happen?
The first step in a conflict would be a war of words with each side believing all that it is doing is right and fair, and that the other side is or, at least, is close to evil and ever-malignant. I don't know about Russia, but it seems clear that the political leadership in the EU and the USA are imbued by this belief and I suspect that the people's attitude ranges from agreement to disinterest, with minimal potential for sympathy.
I claim to be an unaligned observer, because in Russophobic Poland, I feel I am subject to a constant bombardment of anti-Russian propaganda. I cannot help but suspect that this is little different from what I would have experienced about Germany before the first and second world wars. Having been brought up shortly after the latter, I am naturally Germanophobic, so I know that the emotion goes beyond either logic or common sense even when there is nothing to provoke it, whilst it spontaneously springs to the fore at any provocation. I am suspicious of everything I hear.
Whether the EU/USA emotions date back to the communist period or before, it is clear that the emotional barriers and the war of words exist and extend back to well before the Ukraine became an issue. It is unquestionably there. Who is right and wrong isn't even a question to be asked as both sides know, but have a different knowledge.
The next element for a war would be the strengthening of economic barriers between the groups beyond that normally found between competing economic blocks. The EU and others began this process over the Ukraine, with Russia immediately raising the game. Both sides doubtless believed that they were right and justified in their actions. Certainly this was the EU reaction. I particularly liked one personal example. When Russia put an embargo on the import of Polish products, the Polish Agricultural Minister said that the Russians had "shot themselves in the foot". Isn't just as logical to say that that Poland, in supporting the EU and USA measures, had shot itself in the foot? However, the EU measures were justified whilst the Russians were not.
As a result of tit-for-tat sanction, the economic situation in Russia is rapidly going into and recession. What might one expect to happen if the diminished block in this contest, already feeling threatened, finds the prosperity it had or even only hoped for gets stripped away by the actions of an expanding power? It seems that the EU and USA hope that Russia will accept the need to change to align with their model in some way. Is it likely that a troubled opponent will give up and accept everything its enemy wishes?
The final step before war seems to be military border actions in one form or another. I don't know what the Russians are doing on the Ukrainian border. I assume that something is happening there, but my sources are pro-EU and not to be trusted too much in current circumstances. (Fabricated claims of military interference has it's own traditions in the run up to wars.) EU political support for the pro-EU Ukrainians against the pro-Russian elements has been so overwhelming, that the Ukraine had already become a border area and is not neutral ground. The EU has effectively claimed it as part of its own. Indeed, the activities by pro-Russian separatists indicate that they, at least, have accepted that the allegiances have now no place in today's Ukraine.
The EU will no doubt, in its righteousness, draw a distinguishing line between its political support and Russian military support. I doubt whether the flow of history would care: its people's feelings rather than technicalities which matter. I was however interested in the article at http://www.rp.pl/artykul/15,1136140-Pierwsze-tiry-MON-z-pomoca-dla-zolnierzy-w-drodze-na-Ukraine.html in one of Poland's papers. It says something like:
"The first lorries of humanitarian aid from the [Polish] Ministry of Defence for Ukrainian troops are on their way to the city. ... Our assumption is that the humanitarian aid went into Ukraine on Sunday - said Defence spokesman Jacek Sońta. He said that the Ministry will provide Ukrainian soldiers with 320 tons
of extended validity food, blankets, mattresses and bedding. ... These items will be shipped to the base near Lviv; where the lorries will be unladen and return to Poland. Further distribution is dealt with by the Ukrainian side - said Sońta. Help from the Polish Ministry of National Defence is the result of an agreement between the Polish and Ukrainian [Governments?] on 14 August. All the gifts come from military stocks."
Some time ago, I had seen a newspaper report of Polish humanitarian aid for the pro-EU anti-government protesters encamped in Kiev being allowed into the Ukraine. It seems clear that the EU has therefore been directly involved in political developments in the Ukraine and is now directly supporting military action against pro-Russian elements. The EU is directly involved in anti-Russian activity in the Ukraine.
The Polish press is doing its bit. If you want to help the war effort you can do so. The same newspaper article gives bank account numbers for apparently genuine humanitarian aid charities, but you can directly help the war effort:
Fundacja Otwarty Dialog (The Open Dialogue Foundation) collects funds, amongst other things for dressings, helmets and bulletproof vests for Ukrainian soldiers. Payments can be made into a special account: 56 2490 0005 0000 4600 5911 3255, quoting "bronezhylety"
I've no idea what the future holds, but the classic conditions for war seem to be there. We always seem to be surprised, but there isn't really any reason to be.
A footnote. I think Hegel's History of Philosophy identified the role of exceptional individuals who shaped the course of history (Julius Caesar and Napoleon seem likely examples). Could there be such a person now? I was impressed by Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski's support for the uprising against the Ukrainian pro-Russian government. He was so aggressive and assertive that I thought of him fantasising that he was standing on the top of the barricade, flag in hand, like some French Revolution (or some Polish revolt) leader. He even seemed to drag the leaders of other EU countries along behind him. Moderating Sikorski's position still led them to harden their own. He is now a candidate for EU Foreign Minister.