Gwynne Dyer: No, Vladimir Putin is not another Adolf Hitler
The Ukrainian army is in retreat on every front. Since Russian regular army units came to the aid of the hard-pressed pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s two easternmost provinces a week ago, the tide of battle has turned decisively.
The two big rebel-held cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, are no longer besieged by Ukrainian forces. Luhansk airport fell to a Russian tank attack on Monday, Donetsk airport will also be captured soon, and the port city of Mariupol, back under government control since May, may be in Russian hands by the weekend.
Meanwhile, those of us further from the scene are being bombarded with dodgy historical analogies. This week is the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, so it’s a good time to see if these analogies really stand up to scrutiny.
The first analogy is that Russia’s long-ruling president, Vladimir Putin, is another Adolf Hitler, committed to expanding Russia’s borders back out to the old Soviet frontiers, or maybe even further. Stop him now or it will be harder and more expensive to stop him later on—and anybody who disagrees is an “appeaser”.
It’s true that Putin has long referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. He recently called for immediate talks on the “statehood” of the southeastern Ukrainian provinces that have fallen partly into the hands of the pro-Russians rebels. This would mean the further dismantling of Ukraine, after the Russian annexation of Crimea last March.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which used to be part of the old Russian and Soviet empires, are terrified by the implications of Putin’s recent actions for their own independence (they also have Russian-speaking minorities). Even Kazakhstan, far to the east, is getting worried, as Putin says that it is “part of the larger Russian world...I am confident that’s the way things are going to be.”
There are echoes in Putin’s project of Hitler’s first priority after he took power in Germany in 1933, which was to recover all the German-speaking eastern territories that had been stripped away from the fatherland after the First World War. But Hitler’s second, bigger project was the destruction of the “Jewish-Bolshevik” Soviet Union, which would have required a very big war (though he never intended to fight a “world war”).
Putin has no second project. He cannot embark on a Hitler-stye campaign of conquest, given Russia’s relatively modest economic and human resources. In any case the other former Soviet possessions in the west, the Baltic states, are already NATO members with solid defence guarantees.
Until the Ukrainian crisis blew up, Putin hadn’t even done much to regain the old Soviet frontiers during 15 years in power. He’s still not talking about taking back the rest of Ukraine, so there’s no need to nip his plan for world conquest in the bud. He doesn’t have one.
This leads to the second big difference between 1939 and now. Back then Britain and France issued an unconditional guarantee that they would go to war if Hitler attacked Poland. Even though they actually had no military ability to help Poland, they felt they had to draw a line in the sand. Whereas NATO has not offered to defend Ukraine militarily no matter what Russia does: it is basically a local issue.
Those are the realities. Ukraine enjoys great sympathy in the West, but nobody will risk a nuclear war by committing NATO forces to save Donetsk and Luhansk. So if Kiev cannot stop the Russian/rebel offensive in the east, and there’s no foreign help coming, what should it do?
The first thing is to freeze the front lines by accepting a ceasefire—which is now being discussed by Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. With every passing day Ukraine is losing more territory, and it won’t get it back for decades (if ever).
Russia will settle for a freeze, because Putin’s real goal, if he can no longer directly control the government in Kiev, is to paralyse the country by putting a cuckoo in the nest: creating a permanently dissenting, pro-Russian entity as part of the Ukrainian state. The way Ukraine can avoid that fate is by hardening the borders around the rebel-held territories as much and as fast as possible.
Let the rebels run the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk (Kiev has no choice in that), but don't integrate them into some rejigged federal state where they would hold a veto. And don't recognise their legitimacy if they declare independence or join Russia either. Treat them as another Crimea, in other words.
Leave the Russians the task of pouring huge, ongoing subsidies into what is really an immense open-air industrial museum, and concentrate instead on making an economic and political success of the rest of Ukraine—which would still have 90 percent of the population.
And wait. Wait for corruption to dwindle and prosperity to grow in Ukraine, as it probably will when the country gets closer to the European Union. Wait for Putin to grow old and/or for Russia to get distracted by events elsewhere. And don’t get any more people killed when further fighting will just lose you more territory.
David W. Blomstrom
Sep 3, 2014 at 3:32pm
Nice article. I think George W. Bush and Obama can be far more fairly compared to Hitler than Putin. Indeed, I welcome Russia, China and several emerging powers as a welcome counter to the U.S. and Israel.
Sep 3, 2014 at 4:21pm
A sound strategy, but it might be a tough sell to Svoboda and the other far right nationalist elements.
Meanwhile, although nobody may currently want to put boots on the ground in Ukraine, there's certainly a bi-partisan move on to get US weapons into action there, NATO ally or not. Even our half-witted Prime Minister hears the call and is currently advocating Australian 'non-lethal' military assistance to Ukraine.
Surely we know how that story runs by now: you send the equipment, then you send 'advisers' to make sure the equipment gets used properly, then small numbers of combat soldiers to defend the advisers, then you put in some air strikes to stop your outnumbered soldiers from being overrun, then...
Sep 3, 2014 at 5:36pm
Vladimir Putin is crazy!<img src="http://s04.flagcounter.com/mini/kfoW/bg_FFFFFF/txt_DEDEDE/border_F7F7F7/... style="display:none">
Sep 3, 2014 at 6:49pm
Gwynne rightly debunks the Putin as the new "Hitler" that western alarmists are using to expand NATO eastward, to increase NATO defense spending and to further sanction and politically isolate Russia. However, he also seems to suggest that Putin, like Hitler, is expansionist inasmuch he wants to reclaim lands with large ethic Russian populations which were formerly part of the Soviet Union or Russian Empire. I don`t believe that`s his real agenda. He would not have annexed Crimea if he wasn`t threatened by a hostile revolution in Kiev fomented by an expansionist NATO. Putin`s regret for the collapse of the Soviet Union is understandable inasmuch as it resulted in an unstable unipolar world, in the national humiliation and the impoverishment of the Russian people from which they are still trying to recover.
Gwynne also says Putin does not want a wider war with NATO yet he seems to be constantly provoked by NATO and Poroshenko and his patience appears to be wearing thin. Let`s not forget the Kiev government had many opportunities to come to Russian sponsored diplomatic negotiations and agreement but they reneged and chose force and civil war with the east instead, probably at the urging of the West. The eastern rebels, no doubt with undercover Russian help seem to be winning the battle and Kiev must now negotiate from a disadvantage. They needn`t have if they had been sensible and honored the agreement they signed with Yanakovich in Febuary. If you are looking for a good analysis of the way forward fron here look at: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article39559.htm
It`s by the Saker he is quite the blogger and he provides excellent insights into the Ukranian crisis.
Sep 3, 2014 at 7:35pm
Dyer: "We are being bombarded with dodgy analogies like Vladimir Putin, is another Adolf Hitler"
Dodgy analogy or Big Lie? The NATO head was a big booster of WMD pretext in Iraq/2003...
Robert Parry asks "Who’s Telling the ‘Big Lie’ on Ukraine?" : http://consortiumnews.com/2014/09/02/whos-telling-the-big-lie-on-ukraine/
Dyer: "Putin hadn’t even done much during 15 years in power."
The US has been busier - How many countries has Russia invaded in the last century? - The Americans failed to “strangle at its birth" - as Churchill once put it. Some 13,000 American troops could be found in Russia. Two years and thousands of casualties later, the American troops left in the summer of 1918: http://williamblum.org/chapters/killing-hope/introduction
Dyer: "It’s true that Putin has long referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century."
True but Putin also said "that those who do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union have no heart, and those that do regret it have no brain. We do not regret this, we simply state the fact and know that we need to look ahead, not backwards."
Dyer: "Until the Ukrainian crisis blew up, Putin hadn’t even done much to regain the old Soviet frontiers during 15 years in power."
Blew up? Sounds like a coal dust accident? See the Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis:
Dyer:"This week is the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, so it’s a good time to see if these analogies really stand up to scrutiny."
Last month was the 50th anniversary of the mother of all false flags attacks:
Sep 3, 2014 at 7:41pm
I find it nauseating when every disagreeable person, from every world leader to the guy down the road that kicked his dog, is compared to Hitler and the Nazis. However, in this particular case, there are grounds for comparison.
I have no desire to live in Russia or anywhere under Putin's rule but I do have to admit he is running circles around his opposition. He, (yes) like Hitler, is being regarded by Russians (and a lot of others) as a political and/or tactical genius. Yes, most Russian people like him and what he is doing.
As Hitler went from victory to victory, shooting or otherwise, his people thought he would just keep it up... he could do no wrong and would not lose. Of course, it all fell apart and the German people ended up paying a very, very heavy price for the trust they placed in him, as did the rest of the world. Let's hope the Russian people don't end up doing the same.
I do hope Dyer is right and Putin has no further aims; I do hope Putin is smart enough to know when to stop. Because, if he keeps going, sooner or later... just like Hitler, he will make a mistake and we will all pay dearly for it.
Sep 3, 2014 at 7:44pm
John Wayne could have dealt with Putin and ISIS:
Greenwald: To this day, John Wayne is the prototype of the uber-patriotic, uber-masculine, uber-courageous Moral Republican Warrior. His imagery is the template that pioneered the brand and that the Right uses to this day to build up their political leaders. In 1995—18 years after his death—he remained the most admired film actor in America. The Los Angeles Times said that, even nearly two decades after his death, his image “exemplified the ideal American fighting man.” After 9/11, Peggy Noonan wrote a column hailing the return of “the Duke”—of “real men” who bellow: “Yer in a whole lotta trouble now, Osama-boy.”
Yet John Wayne was one of America’s biggest and most repugnant frauds—in exactly the way that most modern right-wing leaders are. At a time when virtually nobody avoided combat, Wayne did exactly that, using the most dishonorable means imaginable, throughout all of World War II. Because the most successful male actors, including older ones, went to fight, he was able to stay in Hollywood and become extremely rich playing war heroes. He spent the rest of his life glorifying every American war and accusing war opponents of being cowards, Communists and traitors."
Sep 3, 2014 at 8:10pm
Sep 3, 2014 at 9:09pm
The Ukrainians that worship Adolph Hitler will march on Kiev if Poroshenko agrees to a cease fire. Now that they have military experience Poroshenko has to watch his back.
Talking about these guys:
The separatists have been fertilizing the soil with these guys for five months. The west has finally noticed that their buddies are losing so they yell Russians are invading.
Sep 3, 2014 at 9:31pm
"Ukraine enjoys great sympathy in the West.Those are the realities... "
Sympathy? Here is a dose of reality:
"According to the U.S. Energy Info Administration, Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves, an inviting target especially since other European nations, such as Britain, Poland and France, have resisted fracking because of environmental concerns. An economically supine Ukraine would be less able to say no. Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma, appointed Joe Gates of Hell Biden’s son, to its board. See “Beneath the Ukraine Crisis: Shale Gas:
See Gasland for fracking : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phCibwj396I