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Archive for February, 2023

Not another Chamberlain moment

Jens Stoltenberg recently said that Russia made a strategic mistake by underestimating the strength, will and ability of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian armed forces, to defend themselves and that it also neglected the determination of NATO and its allies and partners to support Ukraine. And about the support that is being given to Ukraine, it is impossible not to mention the European Union (EU), particularly symbolized in the firm conduct of the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and of the High Representative/Vice-president Josep Borrell Fontelles.

Nonetheless, we should reflect on the reasons for Vladimir Putin’s underestimation of the NATO and EU resolution on supporting Ukraine. Is there any reason why such a miscalculation has happened? To answer this, it is necessary to review what happened in the last 15 years. How can we classify the Western response to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War? A quick and affirmative reaction is not an adequate description at all. The same can be said about Russia’s annexation of Crimea. So, prior to Russia’s Ukraine invasion the Kremlin evaluated us in Georgia and Crimea, and it is highly likely that Putin’s assessment of the West’s stance on what Russia was doing in its so-called Near Abroad was one of indifference or little concern. Since Russia has not been the object of firm international censure for its military actions in Georgia and Crimea, it is understandable that the Russian authorities have interpreted such position as the prevailing one in future acts of aggression within their area of influence. As such, to a point it is plausible that the Kremlin expected little reaction from NATO and EU with its Ukraine invasion.

History is our greatest teacher. We must learn their lessons and avoid repeating past mistakes. For that purpose, it is necessary to remember what happened. From a historical perspective, is it possible to draw comparisons between Hitler’s and Putin’s expansion policies?

We know what Hitler’s tactics were. The pressures and intimidations on the Austrian Government are well known. And it should be remembered that in the case of the Sudetenland, through local supporters (led by Hitler’s trusted man, Konrad Henlein) acts of subversion were carried out with the aim of provoking justification for a German military intervention. Was not the same methodology observable in Georgia and Crimea? Who were the Kremlin’s friends in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoyty. And in Crimea? Sergey Aksyonov. And are there similarities between the arguments presented for the interventions on foreign soil? Without a trace of doubt. In both cases, peace operations, minorities protection, ethnic non-discrimination and genocide prevention were reasons invoked (now the Kremlin added denazification).

In a way, we should acknowledge that the atrocities committed by the Third Reich happened with the acquiescence of the western powers. The concessions made to Hitler had the effect of boosting the creation of the Greater Germanic Reich. And Neville Chamberlain unwillingness to let go his appeasement policy played a role in that outcome.

History may not be on the move again, as Arnold Toynbee would say, but there is no doubt that it has a tendency towards repetition. Once again, we are faced with a simple choice: defend or compromise our values and principles. We have ignored the warnings for too long. All those, including Henry Kissinger, who say that we must find a way to save Putin’s face are wrong. Any concessions given to Putin will only motivate him to go further down the path of absolute disrespect for the international order.

Now that we are finally reacting – both the firmness as the intensity and scope of the sanctions being imposed on Russia are unparalleled to what happened in 2008 and 2014 – the last thing we need is another Chamberlain moment. If our position weakens, Putin will do whatever and wherever he likes. Concerning Europe, this is what the Kremlin desires: Russians want to be in, throw the Americans out and keep the Germans down.

In times of uncertainty, there can be no doubt about the measure of our resolve. There is only one answer against those who uphold totalitarian ideas: an unequivocally reaffirmation of the democratic principles. We must demonstrate our awareness of democracy and freedom costs and our willingness to defend them.

It may take time and it will not be easy. It will require sacrifices. But the price will be much higher if Ukraine falls. There is a difference of substance between knowing the price and the value of anything. Both democracy and freedom are priceless.

If Ukraine falls, we are next.