We have long discussed the authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin whose history of beating protesters and striping away press freedom was put aside briefly for the Olympic ceremonies. However, Putin appeared to be eager to stop the love fest and turn on Ukraine. For history buffs, however, there is something a bit unnerving in Putin invading a neighboring country to protect Russian-speakers who are welcoming the troops as protectors. In case the Sudetenland does not come to mind, Poland is now mobilizing troops along the border to bring the historical analogy home for the rest of the world. While I believe that this crisis will be contained and Putin is not ready for a wider war, it is no accident that the blind nationalism and authoritarianism would lead to expansionism. Ukraine is not the Sudetenland and Poland is no longer using horses to repel tanks. Putin’s desire for control of this port and Lebensraum may not be as easy to hold as it was to take.
Putin has already secured approval from the Duma to send in troops into Ukraine — notably not just the Crimea but the whole country. (I will note that our own Congress — both Democrats and Republicans alike — showed no more independence in approving the Iraq invasions. Indeed, some like Hillary Clinton are now frontrunners for the next presidency). Hitler cited the close ties to the region of Czechoslovakia and their common language as an excuse for the invasion while German-speakers in the country welcomed the occupation. To make the analogy even more interesting, this is the anniversary of the German invasion of March 1939.
The analogy has not escaped Poland which released the following statement: “History shows – although I don’t want to use too many historical comparisons – that those who appease all the time in order to preserve peace usually only buy a little bit of time.”
Putin’s move is a clear violation of international law. There was no serious unrest and no attack on Russian forces or territory. There was not even a basis for a preemptive attack in anticipation of such violence.
The combination of the invitation for invasion in the Crimea with today’s march in Moscow calling for invasion seems a case of history repeating itself.
Of course, the jitters of the world are not helped by the fact that this is the location of the Crimean War between 1853-56 between Russia and France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. Russia lost.
I do not see a major role for the United States at the moment. Our involvement is only likely to trigger even greater insecurities that are so prominent in Russian history over its borders. While people in Congress are screaming to “get tough,” any direct intervention would be a domestic political move and serve no one’s interest in the Ukraine.
None of this history is likely to phase Putin who remains as he once was: a humorless, self-infatuated KGB Lt. Colonel. The one promising fact is the crashing of Russian stock. It will be interesting to watch, in a much more economically connected world, how the likely market pressures will affect Putin’s calculations.