Staunton, February 18 – On August 22, 1939, Adolf Hitler explained to his entourage why he thought he could get away with mass murder by saying that “nobody talks about the Armenians nowadays,” despite the fact that they had been the victims of a mass murder only 24 years earlier.
Hitler’s sweeping cynicism in this regard is increasingly relevant to an evaluation of what is going on in the world today with its ever shorter news cycles and even shorter attention spans. Now, to give but one horrific example, although it has been less than a year, almost no one speaks anymore about Crimea and Russia’s brutal occupation of that Ukrainian peninsula.
And in this brave new world, some leaders have concluded that whatever they say or do will be forgotten in the press of events, with some insisting that it must be in order to move forward, others saying that it is at least partially true, and still others using the tried-and- true argument that “everybody does it” as if that is a justification.
No current leader has exploited this reality more often than Vladimir Putin and nowhere has he made statements of such cynical fraudulence as with regard to Ukraine. The latest of these came yesterday in Budapest, and it deserves to be remembered, like the Armenians, like Crimea, and like so much else, although it will be subsumed by the onrush of events.
Professing himself to be “more an optimist than a pessimist,” Putin said that he “hopes the agreements achieved in Minsk will be observed by both sides and that we will be able to move along the path of resolving this difficult conflict,” once again denying the obvious: his responsibility for the war and the presence of Russian forces (tass.ru/politika/1774622).
Putin then expanded on that theme saying about the difficulties the Ukrainian forces find themselves in by saying that “it is always hard to lose and it is always a misfortune for those who lose especially if you lose to people who had been miners or tractor drivers,” another way of denying the presence of Russian troops and his responsibility.
“Nevertheless,” as TASS pointed out, the Kremlin leader called on Ukrainian forces to focus on “the main task of preserving the life of people” by allowing them to “return to their families” and thus “realizing the entire plan agreed upon at Minsk. I am certain,” Putin continued, “this can be done. There is no other way.”
With regard to those accords, Putin said that “perhaps not everyone has yet focused on the extraordinarily important fact that the Ukrainian side, the official authorities in Kyiv in essence agreed to conduct a deep constitutional reform in order to satisfy demands” for “autonomy” or “federalization.”
“But there is another side” to this, Putin continued. “If the representatives of the Donbas agree to take part in this reform, this will mean that we are witnessing a definite move forward in the direction of Ukrainian statehood.”
There are obvious problems with Putin’s remarks in addition to the obvious one of denying his own and Russia’s role in all this. On the one hand, he suggests that Ukraine has committed to something but that the Donbass rebels will only agree to take part in this charade as it suits them. So much for the idea that he talked them in to signing on to the accord.
And on the other, Putin makes it clear that he has no clear understanding of the words he uses. Autonomy is not federalization is not decentralization, but the Kremlin leader doesn’t care. All he wants is to weaken Kyiv but to do so in a way that some Western leaders will genuinely accept as a way forward.
Then Putin praised the German chancellor and the French president for their “great role” in finding a compromise, one that he suggested could be “strengthened by a corresponding resolution of the UN Security Council” as he indicated Russia has proposed, thus ignoring all that was taken out of that resolution so that Moscow wouldn’t veto it.
The Kremlin leader then expressed his conviction that the ceasefire is holding and spreading, despite all evidence to the contrary, and that what is going on in Debaltsevo was “entirely predictable” given that Ukrainian forces were surrounded and must either fight to try to break out or surrender.
Putin suggested they would fail and should surrender to save lives. He did not say anything about not using Russian force against them. “Our common task consists in saving lives” lest a failure to do so deepen the divide “between the official authorities and the Donbas militia,” yet another effort by the Moscow leader to level the difference between a state and bandits.
One could go on with this Putin speech and so many of his others, but the important thing is to remember his lies and his belief that he will always get away with them and the actions that follow because so many will want to ignore them in the name of looking to the future. Hitler counted on that too, and the result was not peace but the Holocaust.
All of us must remember the Armenians, the Jews, and all the other victims of vicious authoritarian regimes – victims who now include the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians whose peaceful lives were upended and in many cases destroyed by Vladimir Putin’s actions as covered by Vladimir Putin’s lies.