View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 9 February 2015

Ukraine, Russia and expansionism

Peace talks on Ukraine in Minsk on Wednesday. Like they're going to be successful. If I read various analyses on the issue, I'm beginning to hear echoes of the 1930s, when everybody was trying to pacify a certain dictator. 

In the 1930s, Hitler had promised he would make Germany great again following the humiliation of the country after defeat in World War I. In the Peace Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany was made the scapegoat for a conflagration that was the fault of all combatants. Crippling reparations were imposed on the country, which wrecked its economy and prompted a 12-figure rate of inflation. If memory serves, at one point, 4,210,500,000,000 Reichsmarks were worth one dollar.

When Hitler came to power, he flouted the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919 by re-arming Germany and invading the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland in 1936. When everybody stood by and did nothing, this opened the floodgates for further agression and expansionism by the Nazis. Peace for our time, Neville Chamberlain said in 1938. Within a year, World War II had broken out.

Hitler wanted a Greater Germany, Putin wants a Greater Russia.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in the early 1990s, Russia felt humiliated. It is Vladimir Putin's stated objective to reinstate the former Soviet sphere of influence. We can see the 2008 war in Georgia in that light, and the annexation of Crimea as well. Now, one commentator refers to eastern Ukraine as a testing ground for new Russian weaponry, never mind the 5,400 people who have since died. And if the Americans are so stupid as to arm the Ukrainians, the Russians will be able to assess the effectiveness of their weapons against the American gear. And thereby gauge how well they'd stand up against NATO. Should that come out 'favourably', we can expect further westward incursions along the lines of Crimea and eastern Ukraine into places like Poland and the Baltic States. Do not forget that there are sizeable Russian minorities in the Baltic States who are far from happy, and Uncle Vlad would be only too happy to come to their aid. It's a very dangerous situation we are in.

It is supremely ironic that this parallel can be drawn between Putin and Hitler, bearing in mind the loss of life that the Russians incurred at the hands of the Nazis in World War II - more than 20 million. It is with extreme cynicism and total disregard for human life that the current Russian government is pursuing its, well let's throw the fox into the henhouse, imperialistic ambitions. Mr Putin is not one bit bothered by the economic sanctions and the impact on his populace. In fact, he could use it to whip up further anti-Western sentiments on the home front. Today, he has accused the West of causing the Ukrainean crisis. Well, the crisis arose because his puppet (Yanukovich, the Mugabe of Ukraine) got overthrown by a popular uprising in November 2013. It diminished Putin's sphere of influence, and anyone that saw his face at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics last March will have seen how much he did not like that.

On a final note, when the incursion into Crimea started last spring, the western powers (like the Americans) should immediately have sailed their fleet to the maritime borders of Crimea and the Black Sea shores of Russia in a show of strength. Instead, we got the usual verbal diarrhoea from Barack Obama and David Cameron, best described as ineffective and causing a stink.