Vladimir Putin has chosen to make a place for himself in the annals of history and in hell next to the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Heinrich Himmler and Ivan the Terrible.
In my view, Putin’s appetite for the rich farmland of democratic Ukraine has little to do with a fear of NATO, a defensive alliance that in its 73-year history has never invaded any nation. By annexing a sovereign nation the size of Texas (and one-third the size of the Louisiana Purchase) his action is nothing less than a territorial land grab designed to reconstruct Czarist Russia, the former domain of the USSR and by addition boosting its agricultural and economic resources.
Putin’s methods in Ukraine have been blatantly deceitful, his military tactics heinous, depraved and ruthless beyond imaginings, unless one’s recollection of Hitler’s and Himmler’s villainous work in World War II is brought back to mind. So today, we are witness again to another historical reprobate.
But there are other comparisons worthy of reasons to worry. Putin lied to conceal his purposeful intentions to invade Ukraine. His foreign minister Lavrov and press secretary Peskov repeatedly denied there would be an invasion. “Russia is not going to attack anyone,” Peskov told reporters. In 1938, Hitler assured Prime Minister Chamberlain in Munich and then said in a speech that, “The Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) was the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe.” Then, of course, he proceeded to first overrun Poland, then Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia and Greece.
It’s worth noting how slowly and hesitantly the world’s leading democracies mobilized to stop him. Like Putin with Ukraine, Hitler calculated that Poland was relatively weak, and that by the time other European nations mobilized to stop him, the deed would already be done. Chamberlain thought that by appeasing Hitler with the Munich Agreement he’d avert another continental war in Europe. That turned out to be infamously one of history’s biggest miscalculations.
Caitlin Talmadge, a professor of international studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, captured the Catch-22 that Putin has imposed upon us in this past Saturday’s Wall Street Journal: “Russia is using his nuclear forces as a shield for conventional aggression. Mr. Putin is betting that despite the conventional military might of the U.S. and its allies, they will shrink from confrontation at least partly out of fear of nuclear escalation… As a result, he may feel relatively safe engaging in conventional aggression or even limited nuclear use below that threshold — demonstration strikes for example.”
If this is Mr. Putin’s new calculus for land grabs with conventional forces, threatening nuclear strikes if resisted, then NATO countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary could soon be under siege like Hitler’s dominoes fell during World War II.
Talmadge answers this Catch-22, however, with a strategy worth broadcasting to the Pentagon and NATO allies. He suggests: “As Ukrainian resistance has already demonstrated, robust conventional forces are a critical part of the answer… The key is to provide allies with defensive capabilities that don’t threaten adversaries unless they are attacked… (weapons) like drones, missiles and air defenses that can impose heavy costs… forward deployment of munitions and equipment and investment in weapons systems…” Stinger missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles along with millions of dollars of munitions now pouring into Ukraine through Poland are a better-late-than-never endorsement of that robust conventional strategy.
There also happens to be another countervailing force to Mr. Putin’s repugnant aggression emerging from this obscene use of force against a peaceful nation. If Talmadge’s recommendation of massive forward deployment of conventional weapons to future targets of Putin’s aggression is what’s needed, Putin has so incentivized the West. NATO has never been so unified as it is now and even nations like Germany and France, reluctant to move powerful defensive weapons into vulnerable European nations, are now seeing the wisdom and necessity of creating highly capable adversaries.
This man, Mr. Putin, is the epitome of evil. His absurd claims that Ukrainians are a threat because they are “Nazis” is evidence enough of Putin’s liftoff from reality, truly a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Watching the millions of refugees on their march to safety and security into Poland, Hungary and Romania is agonizing, to say nothing of witnessing the tired and hungry faces of women and children, leaving husbands and incapable elderly parents behind. With the hope of humanity and the grace of God, this will not end well for Mr. Putin.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.