Staunton, August 14 – Fifty-four years ago this week, the East German government began building the Berlin Wall to stem the tide of people fleeing that regime’s oppression for the West. That action came to symbolize the division of the world that the USSR had imposed and re-energized the West to resist and ultimately turn back Soviet imperialism.
In 1961 and for many years thereafter, communist propagandists in an eery foreshadowing of the terminology that the Putin government uses about its actions in Ukraine called the Berlin Wall “the Anti-Fascist Wall” and said it had been erected to prevent people from the West from coming into the communist paradise.
At the time, Western governments dismissed such nomenklatura as Orwellian, absurd and a confession of the bankruptcy of communist ideology; but even more, they recognized that Moscow wanted to act on the basis of what it claimed were “understandings” rather than on the basis of “law” and “legal agreements.”
And thus the Berlin crisis of the Cold War era presaged the way in which Vladimir Putin has acted in Ukraine, Yevgeny Ikhlov argues on Kasparov.ru. The question remains whether what the Kremlin leader has done will mobilize the West as did his Soviet predecessors (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=55CCBFA919C72).
The Moscow commentator argues that “the root of the Berlin crisis lay in the confict between the efforts of the Western allies to follow the norm of law (treaties and agreements at the end of World War II) and the Soviet attachment to understandings” – theirs and not necessarily shared by anyone else.
“Stalin and Khrushchev considered that according to ‘the understandings,’ occupied territory must belong to the victors. The US approached the issue from the right of the German and other peoples to self-determination,” Ikhlov points out, again an eery foreshadowing of what has happened between Russia and Ukraine in the last two years.
According to the Russian analyst, “the Berlin crisis arose as a result of the successful attempt of the Kremlin to do away with the allied agreement on the regime of control over Germany by replacing the zones of control it established with the right of each to dominate and rule its own space.”
“Similar contradictions led to the current Ukrainian crisis,” Ikhlov says. “Yeltsin indulgently watched how Kyiv moved between Moscow, Brussels (Berlin) and Washington. Putin decided that Ukraine must become what Stalin wanted to see Germany be – a weak and rickety state divided by regional and communal contradictions.”
“According to Putin’s understandings,” the commentator argues, despite the agreement of a “temporarily weakened ‘Great Russia,’” to Ukraine’s sovereignty, in fact, “the eastern half” of that country is in Russia’s zone of influence. The Maidan revolution showed that Ukrainians didn’t accept his view and so Putin acted to impose it.
And he wanted and still wants the great powers to impose this on Ukraine and is not dissuaded by the fact that “90 percent of Ukrainians do not want to be in ‘the Russian world,’” any more than his Soviet predecessors were affected by the proof positive the flight to the West via Berlin showed that “90 percent of the residents of the GDR, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic … clearly preferred Western values to communist ones.”
Like Shakespeare’s Shylock, the Kremlin “demanded its pound of flesh from the debtor.” But the Ukrainians fought rather than surrendered even as “Moscow remained true to itself because it is convinced that it can be only an empire.” And what Putin really sought was that “people would kill and die in the Donbas for the right to be Putinists.”
The division of Berlin by the wall in 1961 led to a rapid reduction in the level of military tensions that had existed in the middle of Europe from 1945 until that time, Ikhlov suggests. Moreover, it allowed President John F. Kennedy to “find a new moral impulse for the West,” something that elevated its goals from consumer freedoms and “combined for the West Germans the ideals of freedom, ‘the Western choice,’ and German nationalism.”
The USSR in contrast by insisting on its “understandings” in place of international law thus suffered a major defeat because the Berlin Wall meant that the East-West contest shifted into “the realm of the philosophy of democracy,” one in which “the Soviets had no chances to win whatsoever.”
Putin’s effort to divide Ukraine “has helped [President Barack] Obama to find a new moral impulse for the West, going beyond political correctness and combining for Ukrainians the ideals of freedom, ‘the Western choice,’ and Ukrainian nationalism.” Putin has thus like his Soviet predecessors pushed the issue into an area he cannot hope to win either.
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