Yesterday, I watched Russia's president Vladimir Putin deliver a major speech, live on TV. In it, he sought to justify the actions of the Russian government over the past few weeks, particularly with regards to the Crimea and Ukraine. Referring to past injustices, as so many dictators have done before him, Putin stated that Crimea's return to Russia was righting a past wrong. He said that Russian forces had been present in the Crimea in accordance with existing treaties, omitting to mention that the Russian forces could only be present within prescribed limits around Sevastopol. Some 16,000 troops are spread out all over the Crimea, in clear contravention of the relevant treaty. It is clear for all in the know that these troops are Russian; wearing Russian fatigues and carrying Russian weaponry. More worrying, he said that the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, anybody remember that?) was an injustice. The Russian leader, under loud and frequent applause, openly asserted his policy aim of reuniting the former Soviet republics under Russia's banner. In a previous post, I have stated that the removal of Yanukovych as Ukraine's president removed Putin's ally from Kiev, something he was not prepared to tolerate.
Adolf Hitler sought to reunify German speaking areas of Europe into the Vaterland, using that as justification for the annexation of the Rhineland in 1936, the Anschluss with Austria exactly 76 years ago this month and the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia in 1939 to join the Sudeten Germans to Hitler's Reich. Vladimir Putin uses the protection of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere as justification for violating international law.
However, this is not the 1930s, and Vladimir Putin cannot, and should not, be compared to Adolf Hitler. We can expect more of the same. This is the second occasion in about 6 years when an incursion or infiltration into a neighbouring state by the Russian Federation has not been matched by military action from the West. I'm not advocating the use of force (I never do), but particularly Barack Obama has done an awful lot of talking - but not a lot of acting. The Russian bear may change its face, but in essence, has not changed its character.