Saying that Secretary of State John Kerry is right about anything grates on my nerves, but in looking at the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine, his assessment that Vladimir Putin should realize that we’re not living in the 19th century is absolutely correct.
Unfortunately, Kerry is ignoring the fact that the justification that Putin’s is using for grabbing Crimea is one that was used in the 20th century, not the 19th century.
Putin didn’t need to go that far back in history to find the playbook that he’s using. He only had to go back to 1938, just 76 years ago, and look west. Putin is claiming that he is moving to take over Crimea to protect the ethnic Russians that form a majority (approximately 60%) of the residents of Crimea. But 76 years ago, Hitler justified taking over the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia using a nearly identical rationale. Hitler wanted lebensraum, while Putin wants a warm water port for his warships, but those are really only incidental differences.
Hitler felt confident in this, since the great powers, which did not include the United States, had acceded to the Anschluss which united Austria with the Third Reich only a few months earlier.
This sounds eerily similar to the Russian takeover of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008. The United States and the European powers blustered a bit about how that was contrary to international law and so on, but that was the extent of the response.
It would appear that Putin viewed the results of Hitler’s actions in 1938 and thought that if it worked once three-quarters of a century ago, why not now? The great powers refused to go to war to protect a small country from a raving lunatic (who just happened to have one hell of an army) back then.
With Barack Obama at the helm in Washington, Putin felt fairly confident that grabbing parts of what had been the former Soviet Union from small and essentially defenseless nations would work again.
Today the world, friends and enemies alike, view Barack Obama as a weak president. He has shown that oratory is his weapon of choice, but he almost invariable avoids using any other weapons available to him.
Sanctions? Only kidding.
Military force? Well, temporarily perhaps and only after announcing when that military force will end.
Loyalty to allies or opposition to enemies? Not likely.
He might appear to be the perfect reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain except for one thing. Chamberlain was willing to carry his own umbrella.
So Crimea is a lost cause, and the policy of the United States, which amounts to nothing more than wagging a finger at Putin and saying the equivalent (in diplomatic terms) of “Bad dog!” accomplishes absolutely nothing beyond moving the meter of world opinion of the United States from being merely unreliable to being a complete laughingstock.
Since two nations have both used the same playbook (albeit with a 78 year span between performances), it would probably be a very good idea for our State Department to examine what other countries might have an opportunity to use it again.
For example, they might look at what countries share a common border but have populations with common cultural and linguistic heritages? That describes most of the nations that lie just to our south in Central and South America.
Or simply a common religion on both sides of that border. Think Sunni versus Shi’a, where country “A” is primarily Sunni and country “B” that shares a common border with “A” is overwhelmingly Shi’a.
Any of these nations could use the same excuses that the Third Reich and Russia have just used so successfully.
Any thought that “Well, they wouldn’t do anything like that” has to be measured against one of the oldest military axioms known: Never plan based on what an enemy is expected to do. Plan on what an enemy is capable of doing.
Undoubtedly Vladimir Putin knew of this axiom, but bet against it, and planned on what he expected the rest of the civilized world to do in the face of naked aggression. Sadly, he won the bet.