Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently compared actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine to those of Adolf Hitler in 1938 in Czechoslovakia. Although this is hyperbole bordering on veritable absurdity, there are similarities that may explain the roots of the current conflict. In both instances the seeds of despair were planted about twenty years earlier by reckless politicians who drew maps of new countries with flagrant disregard to people’s culture, religion and language. In Germany they were driven by revenge and in the Crimea by expediency.
Germany’s 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia was ingrained in the 1919 punitive Treaties of Versailles. Under the Treaties forced on Germany by victorious France, Britain and the USA, the Sudetenland was handed to the earlier created country of Czechoslovakia to make sure Germany would not start another war. As a result three million Germans found themselves under the suppression of Czech rule. Shortly after Hitler came to power, someone asked at a dignitaries dinner in London, “Where was Hitler born?” “At Versailles,” replied Lady Astor.
Similarly, the Crimean dilemma emanated from the breakup of the Soviet Union. The future leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia and Kazakhstan, in a coup d'état to oust Mikhail Gorbachev and after consuming undefined quantities of vodka and being in an advanced state of intoxication, hastily created a few new countries. Millions of Russians were trapped in those new lands, most of them in Ukraine.
Crimea had been part of Russia since the 18th century, when the Russians wrestled the region from the Ottoman Empire in a bloody war, was given to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine as a gift by Khrushchev in 1954. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, it became part of the new Ukraine. The Russians that composed 60 percent of the population found themselves under the tyranny of the minority. The Russian language was banned, Russian books, newspapers and television programs were forbidden, and Russian-language movies needed to be translated into Ukrainian before being shown.
Making matters worse, the Russians have never accepted Crimea as part of anything but Russia. Every square meter of Sevastopol’s land is soaked with Russian blood spilled in numerous wars for this strategic corner of Russia. This is the Russian heritage; it is Leningrad on the Black Sea.
Unfortunately, our untutored president and his secretary of state are not students of history and do not understand the underlying roots of the current conflict. Obama’s rhetoric, despite eloquence and indignation, is unfortunately not matched by a commensurate grasp of reality. His position is irrational, inconsistent and dishonest. “The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the constitution and violate international law,” Obama said. “We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders” he continued.
What constitution is the president referring to? Could it be the constitution of the Soviet Union, which was violated when the state of Ukraine was created out of the “single indivisible Soviet Union”? Or perhaps the president is talking about the Ukrainian constitution? In this case his argument does not hold water, because Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, in violation of the Serbian constitution, was in fact supported by the United States and upheld by the International Court of Justice and, therefore, formed a legal precedent for Crimea.
It is also not clear what democratic leaders Obama is talking about. Could it be the grisly gang of Ukrainian nationalists and followers of Stepan Bandera, whose precursors were involved in mass killings of Jews, who overthrew a legitimate government and took power in Kiev literally behind the barrel of a gun? Yes, Yanukovych’s government was incompetent and corrupt. But that does not justify its violent overthrow. Using the same standard, our government should have been overthrown long ago, but instead the president was re-elected. Which just confirms one of Winston Churchill’s famous dictums: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.”
And what about “beyond the days when borders can be redrawn”? Isn’t that what the Obama administration is doing by pressuring Israel in order to accommodate a Palestinian terrorist state? During a recent round of political talk shows, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “You don’t just invade another country on a phony pretext in order to assert your own interests.” It is apparent that cognitive memories have escaped the members of this administration and the history lessons of recent incursions into Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan have never been learned. This president and his secretary of state, either unable or unwilling to differentiate the truth from spin, exhibit the virtuoso’s gift to say anything, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, in an effort to defend their indefensible position.
If we strip away the rhetoric, the media drum, and the theatrical performance before the teleprompter, we will be forced to recognize that it is not about international law, fairness or historical precedents; it is about power and prestige. The United States under Obama wants to be an international gendarme, prosecutor, judge, and executioner. However, in the world of political chess, the former community organizer has been consistently losing to the former KGB colonel. The Obama-Kerry amateur team was outclassed by the Putin-Lavrov side of well-educated and highly competent professionals, and found itself in a position called Zugzwang. This is a situation in which a player has to make a move but any possible move will worsen his position. Putin could only smile watching Kerry chasing Lavrov around Europe in an agony of impotence. Impotence because Kerry refuses to understand that the conflict has reached a point beyond the capacity of diplomacy; Kerry has nothing to offer Putin that Putin does not already have. The only thing Obama and his Western allies have left is issuing threads, obviously unaware of the KGB motto: threats are a weapon of the weak against weaklings. Hence, Putin will just ignore them.
Unlike Obama, Putin has been well prepared for it. Early on he recognized that America’s drive to socialism would require enormous spending on social programs, which in combination with continuous wars will eventually deplete the US treasury and weaken American resolve. While America was spending on food stamps, welfare and solar energy, Putin was spending billions on modernizing the Russian army. He also worked hard to increase the West’s dependence on Russian gas and oil. Since American friend Pakistan, despite the billions of dollars in financial aid, does not allow the passage of military materiel over its territory, Russia became the major supply route for the American army in Afghanistan. Cancellation of the shuttle program made American space exploration dependent on Russian rockets. Putin skillfully exploited American weakness and political chaos in Kiev to make his move.
The first phase of Putin’s comprehensive strategy to rebuild the Russian Empire is almost complete with the de facto annexation of Crimea. Phase two is not difficult to predict. Ukraine will be divided into three autonomous regions: Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Western Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine, with the capital city of Kharkov, will include Lugansk, Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov provinces. Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, with its considerable industrial capabilities, will become part of Russia. Western Ukraine, with the capital city of Kiev, will be adopted by Western Europe and become a black hole for billions of dollars and euros. Unfortunately, civil war is likely to erupt between the “democratic” factions of Ukrainian nationalists, who are motivated not by concern for stability but rather by the billions in financial aid.
This time our president cannot say he has not been warned. Nevertheless, warned or not, there is nothing he can do about it.