Is it not somewhat alarming to notice the parallels between Russia’s recent aggressions in Ukraine with the German dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938? If in fact history has a way of always repeating itself than civilization’s alarm clock cannot be ringing more obvious than it is right now. Forgive me for sounding overly pessimistic but the recent events in far Eastern Europe could not be more telling had they not been choreographed personally by the participants that occasioned the debacle of Munich, in that tragic Autumn of 38’.
Vladimir Putin’s forceful seizure of the Crimea has an unmistakable resemblance to Adolf Hitler’s mendacious annexation of the Sudetenland; one of the last straws that plunged Europe into the abyss of world war nearly eight decades ago. Yet the Sudetenland was not enough for the German dictator and once Hitler realized the ease at which the western world surrendered that strategically important borderland of Western Czechoslovakia he simply walked into the rump of the defenseless state and annexed the rest, without firing a shot.
|Russian Special Forces operative in the Crimea|
Putin has already won his Sudetenland and although the Crimea’s strategic importance to the mother country dwarfs in comparison to the importance of 20th Century Czechoslovakia’s western borderlands, the danger to the rest of Ukraine cannot be more apparent. We are already witnessing the second phase of the Ukrainian tragedy playing out before our eyes with the nationalist agitation being whipped up against Ukrainian authority in the fractious eastern half of the nation by the Kremlin’s agents/provocateurs. Putin’s fifth column proxies have made a Russian military intervention all but certain in the strategically important Eastern Ukraine.
Perhaps this newest development should be considered Ukraine’s Sudetenland parallel. Because once the strategically important, mining and industrial territories in the Donetsk Basin are confiscated by the Russian military, Ukraine, for all intents and purposes, will cease to exist as a viable, sovereign entity. It’s mostly agricultural western territories will be impotent to sustain an economy required by its remaining population. Thus if Ukraine cannot defend its eastern frontier from the proverbial Russian hordes poised just across the border, than it will have forfeited its ability to guarantee the safety of its remaining citizens. By securing the eastern half of the nation Putin will be facilitating nothing less than the complete evisceration of the Ukraine. And he will have done it without enduring, in all likelihood, a lengthy and costly fight for the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
This is exactly what Putin aims to accomplish. Being the shrewd opportunist that he is the former KGB strongman glimpsed a perfect occasion to exact a humiliating defeat on his wayward, former comrades in Kiev for orchestrating the downfall of the Kremlin’s favorite Ukrainian son, Viktor Yanukovych. To Putin and most other Russian hardliners who aspire for the glory days of Soviet power, the Crimea was bequeathed in 1954 to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a gift to perpetuate the historic bonds between Slavic neighbors and communist comrades. According to Putin, those celebrated bonds were abruptly terminated when the popular Euromaidan movement endeavored to overthrow the pro-Russian Yanukovych regime and then installed a blatantly Russophobic government in Kiev.
So why would Putin and his Kremlin cohorts stop there in the Crimea when the real prize that would consecrate Russia’s return to its former Soviet past lies just hours away from the Russian-Ukrainian border. Similar to Hitler’s foray into Germany’s eastern neighbor in 1938, Putin now sees a ripe opportunity to permanently bring the wayward Ukrainian republic back into the Kremlin fold. He might be gesturing for a diplomatic solution to appease the rest of Europe yet Putin knows that he merely has to undertake a swift military expedition into Ukraine’s eastern provinces and the fate of that nation will be sealed indefinitely. A quick military campaign could be over before Europe’s diplomatic corps has a chance to negotiate a cease-fire and Russia’s military juggernaut need not even venture west of the Dnieper River.
But unlike Hitler’s daring diplomatic coup in 1938, the obstacles to Putin’s territorial ambitions are far more ambiguous. While Hitler’s military advisors fretted anxiously over France and Britain’s possible military response, Putin has the luxury of dealing from a position of nearly unhindered strength. He knows there is little that Europe’s main power brokers can do to thwart a military intervention. Hence America’s military might is equally neutralized short of nuclear weapons but does anyone really believe the USA would risk a potentially catastrophic nuclear exchange over the fate of a nation it has had diplomatic relations with for barely 20 years. Correspondingly, I don’t believe economic sanctions carry the same type of weight that might thwart a leader with Putin’s determination; not when half of Europe relies on Russian natural gas exports to run their own beleaguered economies.
Since all of this seemingly points to a Russian fait accompli over the future of Ukraine the only question that remains is to whom should posterity identify as the new appeasers of the 21st Century version of Munich. In 1938, Britain’s Neville Chamberlin took center stage as the Nazi regime’s unequivocal enabler of a foreign policy hell-bent on world conquest. However, in this day and age Downing St. no longer carries such considerable weight. Likewise Paris has significantly shrunk from its formerly omnipotent post as chief purveyor of international diplomacy. Thus by default, Washington and Berlin have been cast as the western world’s chief guarantors of continental peace and prosperity in a suddenly perilous Europe living in the shadows of a highly unpredictable and defiant, Soviet revival.
Maybe the bigger question that begs to be asked is not whether American President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel should be construed as the modern-day embodiment of Neville Chamberlin and Edouard Daladier rather can the two allied leaders stand united in their determination to reassure the Kremlin’s next probable targets in Moldova, Poland, Bulgaria or the Baltic States. These nations stand directly in the firing line of Vladimir Putin’s quest to resurrect the Soviet Union. Indeed if history does always repeat itself and Vladimir Putin has undeniably resigned himself to procure a bigger and more menacing Russian Empire, than Ukraine is but the first of many more dominoes that must fall if Russia is to regain its glorious, former Soviet past. And like 1938 Munich, the world will have gained a mere temporary reprieve by appeasing a despot with more substantial ambitions.
|Ukraine Pres. Oleksandr Turchynov|
Probably the one country with the most to fear from a resurgent Russian Empire is Poland. The leaders in Warsaw know all too well the dangers in appeasing a regime with clearly external, territorial ambitions. And like their precarious geo-political and military position after 1938 Munich, it will probably take more than just a few public pronouncements by the leaders of the Western World on their behalf to comfort the Pole’s reliance on foreign entities to preserve their territorial integrity. Barring any unforeseen and unlikely military intervention in Ukraine by the west now might be the best time to begin bolstering Poland’s defenses by committing to a large-scale NATO buildup of conventional ground and air forces on Polish soil. This is probably the only way Russia will realize NATO’s resolve in checking the Kremlin’s encroachment on its western neighbors. More importantly, a sharp line drawn in the sand at Poland’s eastern border by the NATO alliance, right now, might be the only way to regain the Kremlin’s respect and allow it to reassess their growing insubordination in the international community.