Staunton, September 1 – Seventy-five years after Hitler began World War II in Europe with his invasion of Poland, Vladimir Putin has begun another war in Europe with his invasion of Ukraine. And both the pre-histories of these conflicts and the behavior of the two aggressions are “very similar,” according to Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov.
Writing on Grani.ru today, Sokolov points out that World War II became possible not only because of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which allowed Hitler to avoid a two-front war from the start but also by the Nazi leader’s use of the notion of “oppressed German minorities” and efforts by England and France to avoid a conflict (grani.ru/opinion/sokolov/m.232549.html).
Putin has also invoked the supposed “oppressed status of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine” to justify his military actions, Sokolov and he has cleverly exploited the desire of Europeans and the West more generally to avoid any conflict with Moscow that might harm the economic and political well-being of the latter.
There are important differences, of course, not least of all in the status and attitudes of Russians in Ukraine as opposed to Volksdeutsch in Poland and elsewhere. Unlike the Germans 75 years ago, Russians in Ukraine were not suffering any deprivations and overwhelmingly opposed being absorbed by Russia.
And there are differences as well between Hitler’s use of force and Putin’s. Hitler openly and shamelessly used his forces for his invasions. Putin and his regime, in contrast, Sokolov points out, have tried to hide what they are doing and when they cannot hide it they have simply lied about what is going on.
“But a fact remains a fact: the Russian army has gone into the territory of Ukraine. Russia is the aggressor. And Russians must recognize that [their] country has attacked a neighboring country and that today, Ukrainians are in the position of the Poles in September 1939.”
Given what he had achieved by his covert and successfully if not plausibly denial efforts in Ukraine over the past six months, “why then did Putin [finally] send in the regular army?” the Moscow commentator asks. The answer is simple: Putin “does not like to lose and the Ukrainian army’s seizure of Donetsk and Luhansk was considered in Russia and the world as [his] defeat.”
Today, on the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, there are “no fewer than 10,000 soldiers of the regular Russian army” who have invaded Ukraine and are fighting there, Sokolov says. And they are having success because Ukrainian commanders did not think that Putin would send in regular army units with their advanced weaponry.
The future course of military actions there “depends on Putin’s behavior,” the commentator says. If he keeps the Russian forces at their current level or only boosts them slightly, the Ukrainians can hold on for several months but “then they will inevitably be forced” to sue for peace given the exhaustion of their military capacity in the absence of outside aid.
The best Kyiv can hope for in that event will be the creation of a new “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine, one which Moscow will be able to exploit against the Ukrainian government as it has done up to now with Transdniestria against Chisinau and Abkhazia and South Osetia against Tbilisi.
And at the same time, he writes, “Putin will continue to destabilize Ukraine including with diversionary and terrorist methods hoping to bring to power in Kyiv a marionette pro-Russian government,” Sokolov says.
But “there is another still more dangerous variant” possible, he continues. “Putin could use a larger group of Russian forces up to 50-60,000 men.” In that case, “the Ukrainian army could resist no more than a month after which the territory of Ukraine would be occupied by Russian forces and some kind of Kremlin puppet would sit in Kyiv.”
Either of these variants would have “catastrophic consequences for the existing system of international relations,” he says. “Under the threat of aggression, almost as in 1939 would be all the post-Soviet republics and Eastern Europe.” To prevent that from happening, “the West has very little time remaining.”
But to date, the actions of Obama, Merkel, Holland and Cameron “recall more the behavior of Chamberlain and Deladier at Munich” than they do those like Churchill who called for standing up to Hitler. And it should be remembered that in September 1939, neither England nor France provided direct help to Poland even after Hitler invaded.
“In part,” Sokolov says, this was because “they knew about the secret protocol to the Soviet-German pact and that the Red Army would very shortly invade Poland” as it did 16 days after Hitler sent his forces in.
“It is possible that today the will of the West is to a certain extent paralyzed by the fear of a broad-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, which in fact has already begun.” Even though Europe and the US have finally acknowledged that Putin has sent his troops in, they have failed to respond immediately but only said that they will do something if Putin doesn’t stop.
“If the European and NATO continues to be slow in responding on these vitally important issues, they risk becoming a powerless League of Nations which was not able to ward off World War II,” Sokolov concludes.