As I write, news reports tell us that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent. More than 150,000 troops have gathered along Ukraine's border. Russian President Valadimir Putin claims to be defending ethnic Russians and to want a diplomatic solution, but this sounds eerily like Adolph Hitler's attack on the Sudetenland region of Czechoslavkia.
Putin sounds eerily like Adolph Hitler...
In a written response to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, dated September 27, 1938, Hitler complains of "the founding of the Czechoslovak State and the establishment of its frontiers without any consideration for history, or nationality. The Sudetenland was also included therein, although this area had always been German and although its inhabitants, after the destruction of the Hapsburg Monarchy, had unanimously declared their desire for Anschluss (annexation) to the German Reich. Thus the right of self-determination, which had been proclaimed by President Wilson as the most important basis of national life, was simply denied to the Sudeten Germans."
He then declared that, in his opinion, the League of Nations and Czechoslovakia had failed in its obligations to protect the rights and culture of Sudetenland citizens. "From day to day it became more evident that the Government of Prague was not disposed seriously to consider the most elementary rights of the Sudeten Germans," he said. "On the contrary, they attempted by increasingly violent methods to enforce the Czechization of the Sudetenland."
He said, "the German Government at first did not intervene in any way in this development and maintained its calm restraint even when, in May of this year, the Czechoslovak Government proceeded to a mobilization of their army, under purely fictitious pretext of German troop concentrations."
Hitler claimed the Czech government was mistreating Germans...
But Germany's patience had run out, he argued, as Czechoslovakia had shown itself to be uncompromising and negotiating in bad faith. "This was clearly shown by the course of the negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the Sudeten German Party with the Government. These negotiations produced the conclusive proof that the Czechoslovak Government was far removed from treating the Sudeten German problem in a fundamental manner and bringing about an equitable solution."
Stating conditions for the residents of Sudetenland "have become completely intolerable," Hitler claimed "political persecution and economic oppression have plunged the Sudeten Germans into untold misery." This had led, he said, to 214,000 Sudeten German refugees who had to leave their "ancestral country and flee across the German frontier, because they saw in this the last and only possibility of escaping from the revolting Czech regime of force and bloodiest terror."
Hitler explained to FDR that "these are the facts which compelled me in my Nuremberg speech of September 13 to state before the whole world that the deprivation of rights of 3 1/2 million Germans in Czechoslovakia must cease, and that these people, if they cannot find justice and help themselves, must receive both from the German Reich."
Hitler threatened Czechoslovakia in September of 1938, having just annexed Austria into Germany a few month earlier. Having annexed their southern neighbor, the Nazis held a "retroactive vote" in which allegedly 99.73% of Austrians voted in favor of joining the German nation.
Putin presents himself as the protector of ethnic Russians in Ukraine...
In 2014, Russian President Putin similarly annexed the Crimean Peninsula region of Ukraine. Afterward, the Russians too held a vote claiming that 86% of residents favored incorporation into Russia.
Today, Putin presents himself as the liberator of oppressed ethnic Russians inside of Ukraine.
In a letter released, by the Kremlin, on July 12, 2021, entitled "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians," Putin argued that "Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of the ancient Rus... bound together by one language, economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and- after the baptism of Rus- the Orthodox faith." He said "the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy." He blamed external circumstances and anti-Russian forces for this division of Russian territory and, like Hitler's sentiment about the creation of Czechoslovakia, argued that Ukraine is an artificial country built upon seized Russian lands.
After the invasion of Batu Khan, Russia found itself divided with the southern and western territories becoming part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the 14th Century, Lithuania's ruling elite converted to Catholicism and in the 16th Century, Lithuania merged with the Kingdom of Poland to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Polish Catholic nobility, according to Putin, were granted large landholdings in former Russian territory and "the process of Polonization and Latinization began, ousting Orthodoxy."
"As a consequence," Putin said, "the liberation movement of the Orthodox population was gaining strength in the Dnieper Region... supporters struggled for autonomy from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth."
Over the course of the lengthy war between the Russian state and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, some of the ruling elite would switch alliance, Putin said, but "for the people, that was a war of liberation." After the signing of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1686, "the Russian state incorporated the city of Kiev and the lands of the left bank of the Dnieper River, including Poltava region, Chernigov region, and Zaporozhye. Their inhabitants were reunited with the main part of the Russian Orthodox people. Their territories were referred to as 'Malorosia' (Little Russia)."
Putin claims Ukraine is an artificial state...
"Malorosians," Putin wrote, "in many ways helped build a big common country- its statehood, culture, and science. They participated in the exploration and development of the Urals, Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Far East. Incidentally, during the Soviet period, natives of Ukraine held major, including the highest, posts in the leadership of the unified state. Suffice it to say that Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, whose party biography was most closely associated with Ukraine, led the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) for almost 30 years."
But, Putin also finds fault in the Soviet Union, and Bolshevik leaders.
"Many of the republics established by the Bolsheviks' supporters did not see themselves outside Russia," he said. But, these leaders "basically drove them out of Soviet Russia for various reasons."
Putin reasons that the Soviets were determined to further their international struggle, by erasing national borders and ethnicities and by diminishing the influence of "chauvinist Russia." In 1922, the USSR was created "as a federation of equal republics."
"In early 1918, the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic was proclaimed and asked Moscow to incorporate it into Soviet Russia. This was met with refusal," Putin said. "Vladimir Lenin insisted that they act as a part of Soviet Ukraine... The territories of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic later formed most of the regions of southeastern Ukraine."
Through a lengthy list of further examples, Putin illustrated his belief that "modern Ukraine is entirely the product of the Soviet era. We know and remember well that it was shaped- for a significant part- on the lands of historical Russia."
Although, as a student of history, I appreciate the lesson and in-depth explanation of his viewpoint, my response is So What! Putin, himself, acknowledged that "some part of a people in the process of its development, influenced by a number of reasons and historical circumstances, can become aware of itself as a separate nation at a certain moment." Just because they share history with Russia does not mean that Ukrainians wish to be a part of Putin-Land.
Although flawed, they have developed a democratic system and national identity that many are proud of. But, that does not mean that there are not others who, due to ethnicity and religion, culturally identify more with Russia. So, what is the answer to averting war? As the overriding theme of FightingFascism.com is that constitutional federalism can provide peace, by protecting the individual rights of all citizens, I would normally argue that the citizens of eastern Ukraine should have the right to vote. They could vote in favor of a constitutional federal republic as part of Ukraine, for a confederal arrangement with Ukraine, or for annexation with Russia. What is important is that the vote be legal and fair, so it is a true expression of the people's will. It should be scheduled far enough in advance that everyone is aware of their voting options and the impact on their lives. International observers should be present to confirm election integrity. The vote should reflect the will of the people without undue influence from Putin's Russia, Ukrainian officials, or the West. Self-determination is the goal.
Eastern Ukrainians should vote on their future...
But, as Putin has officially announced his recognition of the eastern Donbas provinces of Ukraine as independent, I fear it is likely too late to prevent an invasion and lives will be lost. But, I think a vote should be the position of America, NATO, the European Union and international community at large. This position reflects our democratic values and, hopefully, may be enough of a win for Vladimir Putin to convince him not to invade. Since he seems to be following the path of Adolph Hitler, though, I fear this may not be a realistic outcome. I pray for the health and welfare of all citizens in Ukraine, who are being bullied by a megalomaniac bully who feels that his interpretation of history is more important than their lives. Heil Putin!
Samuel Griswold is a lifelong student of history and politics, whose studies have given him unique insights into the true nature of totalitarianism in all of its aspects... Fascism, Communism and Socialism. As an American Jew, who lost relatives in the Holocaust, he's lived by the pledges "Never Forget" and "Never Again." But, for him, these pledges mean to never let the policies that led to the Holocaust happen again. To prevent fascism from thriving, we must know how to see and define it. That is the purpose of FightingFascism.com, to draw attention and rally opposition to current fascist policies and governments.