Thursday, March 6, 2014

Putin: be careful what you wish for....

Earlier in this space, I compared the Russian 'incursion' into Crimea with Kruschev's installation of missiles in Cuba, from which position, through some high-level diplomatic manoeuvres with the Kennedy White House, Russia backed down. Kennedy in the west, is seen as successful in providing an honourable escape from the crisis for Kruschev, and agreed to remove American missiles from Turkey, as part of the settlement. In that argument, I was nudging Obama to claim his "kennedy spine" by showing strength through diplomacy.
There are others today who consider the Russian 'incursion' (notice the avoidance of the word invasion in almost all reports, perhaps as a gesture to help in the de-escalation process itself, perhaps in recognition of the fact that so far, no shots have been fired) more analogous to Hitler's invasion of Austria, given the similarity of his words "to protect the German citizens living there" to Putin's words, "to protect Russian citizens living in Crimea". The argument is not, apparently, that Putin is behaving like, or should be expected to behave, as Hitler did, and begin the process of an all-out European conflict.
However, there are scholars whose view is that should Russia swallow Ukraine, then the EU is finished. In his nuanced and insightful piece on CNN, Yale historian Timothy Snyder, currently living in Vienna, expresses this thesis, and in his piece he references a Russian historian, Andrei Zubov, who because of his expressed views on the similarity of Putin's and Hitler's actions in Crimea and Austria respectively, has been fired from his post. It is the courage and the insight demonstrated by Zubov that especially demand our respect and our notice.
Here is a brief quote from the Snyder piece on the CNN website:
The Russian historian Andrei Zubov, for example, has published a sophisticated comparison between Putin's seizure of Crimea and Adolf Hitler's annexation of Austria, seeing both as the beginning of a chain of events with fatal consequences not just for the subjects of the aggression but for the aggressors themselves. (From Timothy Snyder, If Russia swallows Ukraine, the European system is finished, special to CNN, March 5, 2014)
The world, and especially Putin's Kremlin, would do well to reflect on the ousted historian's premise of the potentially dangerous and explicitly ironic potential of the downside to the aggressor in both today's events and those in Austria in 1938-9.
If Putin is indeed attempting to shake the roots of the European Union, especially what he considers its values, and especially those values that he considers corrupt, including the human rights of the gay and lesbian population, and he persists in what could become an attempt to swallow Ukraine, he might one day wish he had not even considered his ambition to re-establish the glory that was once Russia. Even a peaceful 'incursion' that prefers "talk" to "war" could land Russia and the whole of Europe in a predicament that even the ambitious and cunning and czar-like Putin would regret. And firing the historian that expresses that view is a certain sign that someone somewhere inside Russia does not like Zubov's pungent pen and ink, and his incisive mind.

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