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Why 1938 Really IS the Right Analogy for Ukraine Right Now

Image via Wiki Commons.

A far away country of which we know little. Peace in our time.

Thankfully, these crass sentiments have not been uttered, at least officially, to seal the fate of Ukraine. The far away in this case refers to the distance from the epitome of civilization, the decaffeinated latte-sipping political cafes of Washington, London and Berlin.

Putin has Europe’s energy supplies in a chokehold and Europe has neither the appetite nor the warm clothing, made in hot humid sweatshops, to do anything constructive. The U.S. is mid-pivot to Asia and the European arena just does not do it for Pentagon planners anymore.

Putin, regardless of what Angela Merkel may think, is not unhinged. He has pulled off two remarkable military successes. Georgia, the Olympic war of 2008, is now largely conveniently forgotten in the west. That six-day war, and it was a brutal conflict, was never about South Ossetia or Abkhazia. It was primarily to ensure that use of the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti was never an option for an enlarged NATO.  Mission accomplished. I was in Georgia during those blisteringly hot August days. A Russian officer politely requested that I take shelter under a tank to escape, as he put it, the sun. I complied. Two hours later I was released. The roadblock were I had been stopped was a half hour’s drive from Poti. And Crimea, a far away part of a far away country, the new Sudetanland, is not, primarily about Ukraine. It is, though, about Europe and  in part, to remind the Latvias and Estonias of this world that Russia still matters. But it is also to tell the Poles and Czechs to tread warily. And if this leads to a greater sphere of influence for Moscow, or at the least a hesitant, nervous Europe looking over its shoulder, then so much the better.

At home, if Putin’s adventurism can enforce a siege mentality, us against them, then, to use the terrible vernacular favored by HR personnel, it is a win-win situation.

These are not the actions of a man unhinged. They are cold and calculating and from his point of view highly successful. What future historians may refer to as the The Crimea Question can easily be resolved. Putin would prefer to keep a military presence in Ukraine, just look at divided Georgia, but he can leave in the morning. He has made his point. Russia can do as it pleases. But his focus is not on the Crimea, it is on Eastern Europe, the forgotten front not of a Cold War but a Cool War.

Vaclev Havel was always quick to remind journalists that central and  Eastern Europe had incubated two world wars. He bemoaned Obama’s lack of willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe and was deeply pessimistic of Russia’s intentions and Europe’s lack of fortitude. 

Putin’s horizons stretch far beyond the Crimea. Putin has obtained parliamentary approval for troop deployments not just in Crimea, but Ukraine as a whole. Moscow, which regards the new authorities in Kiev as fascists, could send troops to "protect" Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine As an indication of intent, it does not get much clearer. The Russian parliament, in its full rubber-stamping capacity, has given the green light to the military occupation of a sovereign nation. 

He is not a war monger, but he knows he can take advantage of a situation and Europe, unable to respond coherently to Russia’s aggression, presents a golden opportunity for Moscow to rattle its sabers.

The world, we are told, eerily resembles the troubled days of one hundred years ago. Emerging powers challenging established ones, small territorial disputes that could escalate but maybe a comparison with 1938 would also be valid.

Twice in six years Russia has seized land from two of its neighbors. For the West these are far away countries. The original far way country was Czechoslovakia. The question being asked in Prague, Warsaw, and other capitals is how close they are now from the latte sippers in Washington, London and Berlin.