Contemplations of a Southern Curmudgeon By Jason Stuart
In Eastern Europe, a powerful, aggressive and increasingly nationalistic nation occupies and slices off a piece of one of its weaker neighbors, claiming it is doing so to protect the “rights” of people with ethnic and cultural ties to the aggressor nation.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Western world fret, scold and wag fingers with an air of incredulity about what is transpiring, utterly unsure how to react and unwilling to believe that such a thing could happen in the modern world.
Back in the aggressor nation, a smarmy dictator sits confident and self-assured in his strategic brilliance, certain in the fact that he has perfectly gauged the weakness and fractiousness of the Western leaders he has so skillfully outmaneuvered.
Having won this round, the dictator then turns his power-hungry gaze to other neighboring nations which contain people with ethnic and cultural ties to his nation and whose “rights” also need protecting.
Every American and Western European has read in their history books at some point in their schooling about the exact scenario described above. You know the rest of the story.
Now, we may be watching it happen again.
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has ripped a page straight out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook, and he’s running it with gusto in the Ukraine.
The similarities between what Germany did to the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and what the Russians are doing in the Ukraine’s Crimea right now are both eerie and disturbing, so much so that it’s like watching a historical reenactment in which only the dates and names have been changed.
Now it is fair to say that the Russian people have not been gripped, as a whole, by something as sinister as Nazism.
Nor does Putin really strike me as being as outright evil as Hitler. He seems a lot sneakier, which makes him more like Stalin, which ultimately makes him potentially no less dangerous than either of those 20th century monsters.
There are also, without enumerating them here, any number of differences in how the crisis in the Ukraine came about and is playing out versus how the crisis in Czechoslovakia did.
But at its core, the Russian incursion into the Ukraine’s sovereign territory is being made with the exact same justification Hitler used to occupy a chunk of Czechoslovakia in 1938.
If you’re still not sure, check your history books and compare what Hitler told the world about the Sudetenland with what Putin is saying about why Russian troops are pouring into Crimea.
It makes this an exceedingly dangerous situation.
Because history instructs us that if Putin succeeds without serious reprimand in splintering the Ukraine based on his justification of “protecting the rights” of ethnic Russians, he almost certainly won’t stop there.
The developments in the Ukraine are making other former Soviet republics extremely nervous. And with just cause.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all of which have significant populations of ethnic Russians, are understandably gravely concerned about what’s going on.
And we should be too.
Putin is taking a gamble by trying to claim Crimea from the Ukraine, but it’s a calculated gamble based on his assessment that Western leaders – particularly American’s – are too chicken to do anything about it.
The weak, ineffectual response that the West has given so far will only reinforce Putin’s arrogance and belligerence. So we threaten to boycott the G-8 summit? Putin is surely quaking in his boots over that one.
The West’s leaders seem truly befuddled that such a thing could be happening in modern day Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said over the weekend that she thinks Putin has suffered a “break from reality.”
But it’s the West – not just our leaders, but our entire societies – who are suffering the break from reality.
We’ve grown soft, and we just don’t want to believe that aggression, even evil, can still exist in the world, at least not in the “civilized” world. Like Neville Chamberlain in 1938, we have somehow deluded ourselves into the belief that all anybody really wants with us is peace, and that if we just talk softly and don’t poke the bears, they’ll leave us and everybody else alone.
The world is not, however, that kind of utopia.
I believe Putin’s been biding his time for this exact set of circumstances. I’ve thought him a danger to Europe, America and the world at large since he first reared his balding, smirking head.
He has all the signs of being a classic megalomaniac, the kind of ruthless, power-mad dictator who is willing to use the cloak of nationalistic fervor to rile his people into thinking the world is against them and drive them headlong into a war he secretly covets to fuel his own selfish desires.
Now, the crisis in the Ukraine has provided him with the opportunity to see just how far he can really push, with the all too real possibility that his true endgame is to push it right off the rails and into catastrophe.
With a militarily weak and ineffectual Western Europe and an America bogged down and war-weary from over a decade of fighting global terrorism, Putin probably believes now is the time to make his move.
Throw in the fact that America is paralyzed by its own internal squabbles and government gridlock and led by a president who has consistently shown to be out of his depth – if not outright inept – in foreign policy matters, and I’m guessing Putin thinks he can do pretty much whatever he wants without serious repercussion.
Of course there will come a breaking point, which Putin also surely knows and perhaps secretly hopes to arrive at before America and the rest of the West gets some stronger, more pragmatic leadership. Unfortunately for the poor Ukrainians, that probably won’t happen soon enough to help them.
And if Putin gets his way in the Ukraine and then turns his attention to the Baltic States, watch out.
They’re NATO members, a fact Putin despises and which gives him all the more reason to want to bring them back under Russian hegemony. Attempting to do so would almost certainly lead to war with the West. Then again, given the West’s current feckless and flaccid leadership, maybe not.
If that doesn’t do it, then if a year or so from now the tanks start rumbling across Poland, then, well, you know the rest of the story.
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.