For weeks now, Vladimir Putin and his spokespersons have been protesting that Russia has no intentions of invading Ukraine. Though it may just be grandstanding to get Western attention—and perhaps a few concession—by playing the only face card he has; a beefy military.
Reactions n the West have been generally nervous, but it is only in the last few days that the Americans have declared the window for a Russian invasion is now open.
Three weeks ago, our blog На Запад! (Westward Ho!) provided both a context for this and a prediction of likely action. A second blog a week later My Beautiful Landrette-ski suggested effective financial measures to restrain Putin and persuade him to back down. While most sensible people want de-escalation, there have been no signs of diplomacy making any headway in this.
UK leadership has lately supported NATO and the American line that invasion had become a real possibility. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s comments that “Russia will get bogged down, as it did in Chechnya and Afghanistan” betrays a poor grasp of the different military and geographical factors that apply to Ukraine.
Now, Ben Wallace has waded into the debate and is receiving some stick for making an analogy with the situation that obtained pre-WW2 when German threats against Czechoslovakia were thought to have been solved by diplomacy at a conference in Munich in September, 1938.
“It may be that Putin just switches off his tanks and we all go home, but there is a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West.”—UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, The Times, February 12th 2022
But might he be right? Apologists have already stepped in to say this was intended to highlight the possibility that Putin my be no more sincere in his diplomatic smoke-screen than Hitler was. Any reader of Mein Kampf should not have been surprised at this. Similarly, anyone following Putin’s writings on Russians and Ukrainians being “one people” should similarly not be surprised.
For the parallels in the two situations 84 years apart are more extensive than diplomatic bluff. Consider:
- Egotistical dictator whips up popularity by declaring he will reassert lost glory of an empire of which they had once been proud
- Dictator picks on adjacent, weaker country that is struggling to establish identity, having only existed as a sovereign state for a couple of decades
- Dictator protests that “lost” territories in the weaker state include many native-speakers who are being “repressed” by indigenous nationalists hostile to them
- Despite fielding a professional army that poses no threat to the dictator, the weaker state is militarily indefensible, being surrounded on three sides
- Dictators increase status in the world by rattling sabres. This means massing on the border, while decrying others as aggressors force this defensive posture.
- Slicing off a border area where most native-speakers live destabilises the weaker state and makes the rest even less defensible.
- Once you roll in, distant allies of the weaker state may protest but it’s a fait accompli they have no choice but to accept.
For “Soviet Union”, substitute “German Empire”; for “Ukraine” substitute”Czechoslovakia”; for “Russian minority” substitute “German minority”; for “Donbas/Lubyansk/Crimea” substitute “Sudetenland”.
Only point 7 has yet to occur. Hitler waited six months before taking over the rump Czechoslovakia in March 1939. It’s doubtful Putin has that kind of patience.
“The Western democracies are worms; I saw them at Munich.”—Adolf Hitler, 1938