A Repeat of the Sudetenland Crisis? Russian Forces Encircle the Crimea

Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, has compared the Russian military incursion into the Crimea with Adolf Hitler’s purposeful advance into the Czechoslovak Sudetenland in 1938.

Russian forces have swarmed into the Crimea
Russian forces have swarmed into the Crimea

Certainly, Vladimir Putin’s ‘muscular diplomacy’ is not too far removed from Hitler’s defiant aggression. By using the pretext that his forces are protecting the ethnic-Russian population in the Crimea from Ukrainian malice, Putin is employing a tactic Hitler used recurrently during his expansionism of the 1930s.

Ethnic Russians make-up some 58% of the Crimean population. The German percentage of the Sudetenland people prior to WWII was probably higher, indeed 23% of the whole of Czechoslovakia spoke German as their native tongue. A case can be made by Putin, therefore, that a majority of the population of the Crimea would naturally prefer a closer association with Russia rather than Ukraine, to which the region was assigned as a ‘gift’ by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.

There is a problem with this perception, however. Just because ethnic Russians constitute a majority in the Crimea does not necessarily suggest that all Russian-speakers want a closer political association with Moscow. Whilst there were many Sudeten Nazis that encouraged Hitler’s invasion in 1938, other German-speakers had no desire to become part of the Third Reich. 

Many ethnic Germans welcomed the Nazi incursion into the Sudetenland in 1938 - something Hitler's propaganda machine exaggerated as a sign of universal support
Many ethnic Germans welcomed the Nazi incursion into the Sudetenland in 1938 – something Hitler’s propaganda machine exaggerated as a sign of universal support

Another similarity in the two cases relates to the strategic importance of the territories in question. The Crimea is home to Sevastopol and the Russian Black Sea Fleet and allows a projection of Russian power to the west and south. Putin would not want this to be undermined by a more determined, pro-Western Ukrainian government in Kiev. Likewise, the Sudetenland was of great potential importance to the Nazis. It was the centre of Czech industry, home both to vital natural resources and the manufacturing and assembly plants that produced finished goods.

Furthermore, both Putin and Hitler laid false claim to their desired territories being an inextricable component of their nation’s history. Whilst the Crimea was part of the Soviet Union and had been under the influence of the Russian Empire since the 18th century, it ha a longer association with the Muslim Tatar people. The Sudetenland, meanwhile, formed a part of Central Europe where territorial boundaries were forever changing, falling under the control of a variety of Germanic and Imperial princes before being incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Crimea's Tatar minority is largely anti-Russian
Crimea’s Tatar minority is largely anti-Russian

Whatever the similarities of the situation, it must be ensured that their conclusions are different. The international community must face down Putin in a way the Western European powers never managed against Hitler during the Sudeten Crisis. With Russia’s economy and political system in a precarious state, Putin must be made to realise that his bluster will be fruitless.

Advertisements

‘No New Sanctions for Iran’ Demands Appeaser Kerry

John Kerry has insisted that no further economic sanctions be passed against Iran by the international community, as it may derail attempts to conclude a satisfactory agreement regarding the Middle Eastern state’s nuclear programme.

Kerry is under fire over Iran from the Republicans. For once, the GOP has a point Source: Foreign Policy
Kerry is under fire over Iran from the Republicans. For once, the GOP has a point
Source: Foreign Policy

Many people are supporting Kerry’s stance. Fearful as they are of the West getting sucked into another conflict in the Middle East, they see diplomacy as a more desirable alternative. Likewise, negotiations with the Taliban are now considered preferable to extending a commitment of American forces on the ground in Afghanistan. Of course there is little consideration as to the feasibility of these endeavours.

In the 1930s, the British people were desperate to avoid another conflict. The majority of the population retained horrific memories of the Great War and were content that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain should pursue his ‘appeasement’ policy against the aggression of Adolf Hitler. No war was good news; simple. Few people, with the exception of a knowing clique in parliament, were privy to Hitler’s true nature and the ultimately inevitable failure of appeasement.

Chamberlain's appeasement policy has seen him vilified by history
Chamberlain’s appeasement policy has seen him vilified by history

Like Hitler and Nazism, the Iranian nuclear threat won’t simply vanish. The representatives at the Geneva talks on Iran’s nuclear programme are affiliated with President Hasan Rouhani, a perceived reformer in the eyes of the Western media.

However, Rouhani is not the real powerbroker in Iran. That honour belongs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his loyal Revolutionary Guards. These men want Iran to possess a nuclear weapon and have no intention of negotiating the point.

The only way of slowing Iran’s inexorable progress towards nuclearisation (short of war) is to impose further sanctions, which have proved successful in crippling Iran’s economy, the base for a successful nuclear programme. Preventing further sanctions, or even lifting some as Kerry has hinted at, is akin to accepting a nuclear Iran.

Whilst perhaps not as blatantly negligent as allowing Hitler to gobble up large chunks of central Europe without a shot being fired, Kerry and his supporters are being delusional about what can be achieved through talks alone. It may not lead us to World War Three, but if Iran attains a nuclear weapon Israel will become increasingly nervy and Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to rule out a preemptive strike against the Jewish state’s worst enemy.

Netanyahu has warned Iran that he will stop full nuclearisation by any means
Netanyahu has warned Iran that he will stop full nuclearisation by any means

Increasing sanctions may put extra burden on the ordinary Iranian citizens, yet they are the people worth riling. Fed-up with religious extremism and authoritarian rule, they are showing signs of a cultural awakening which, given increasingly dire economic circumstances, could lead to revolution. In overthrowing the deeds of 1979, they would be performing a great service to humanity.

Appeasing an ambitious, authoritarian state with an uncompromising leader does not work, as the lead-up to WWII is testament to. Diplomatic negotiations and war-mongering are equally destructive. The fate of Iran, and the Middle East, lies with its citizenry.