31 Aug 2014

Another Summer of 1939?

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Max Fisher identifies the key term in Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin just dropped the biggest, scariest dogwhistle of the Ukraine crisis: “Novorossiya.”

The word literally means “new Russia” — it was an old, imperial-era term for southern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire, and is now a term used by Russia ultra-nationalists who want to re-conquer the area.

Putin has used the word twice during the crisis. First, he used it in April, about a month after Russia had invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, subtly suggesting that the annexation was justified because Crimea was in Novorossiya and thus inherently part of Russia.

He used it again on Thursday, in an official presidential statement addressed to the eastern Ukrainian rebels that have seized parts of the country — and whom he addressed as “the militia of Novorossiya.”


Anne Applebaum, who has written a book on the totalitarian genocides committed in Europe’s Eastern Borderlands during the last century, tells us that she suddenly feels as if she is living in the Summer of 1939, and warns, on the basis of familiarity with the kinds of things which appear in the Russian press which the New York Times is never going to report, just how scary the thoughts are that Russia is thinking.

A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

But Novorossiya will also be hard to sustain if it has opponents in the West. Possible solutions to that problem are also under discussion. Not long ago, Vladimir Zhirinovsky — the Russian member of parliament and court jester who sometimes says things that those in power cannot — argued on television that Russia should use nuclear weapons to bomb Poland and the Baltic countries — “dwarf states,” he called them — and show the West who really holds power in Europe: “Nothing threatens America, it’s far away. But Eastern European countries will place themselves under the threat of total annihilation,” he declared. Vladimir Putin indulges these comments: Zhirinovsky’s statements are not official policy, the Russian president says, but he always “gets the party going.”

A far more serious person, the dissident Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, has recently published an article arguing, along lines that echo Zhirinovsky’s threats, that Putin really is weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes — perhaps against one of the Baltic capitals, perhaps a Polish city — to prove that NATO is a hollow, meaningless entity that won’t dare strike back for fear of a greater catastrophe. Indeed, in military exercises in 2009 and 2013, the Russian army openly “practiced” a nuclear attack on Warsaw.

Is all of this nothing more than the raving of lunatics? Maybe. And maybe Putin is too weak to do any of this, and maybe it’s just scare tactics, and maybe his oligarchs will stop him. But “Mein Kampf” also seemed hysterical to Western and German audiences in 1933. Stalin’s orders to “liquidate” whole classes and social groups within the Soviet Union would have seemed equally insane to us at the time, if we had been able to hear them.

3 Feedbacks on "Another Summer of 1939?"

True Blue Sam aka David Johnson

…or 1914. It sickens me to follow the-day- by-day of August 1914 while watching World War III gather momentum all around us. The news? people, and our leaders? are totally clueless that the slippery slope is sending us down, down, down.

bob sykes

Well, I agree that we are closer to a nuclear war than any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and for essentially the same reason, with roles reversed: the US/NATO/EU is the aggressor.

The application of “Nazi,” “Hilter,””genocide” to the Russians is merely proof that Applebaum and Fisher are culturally and historically illiterate bigots.

This crisis began with an overt act of aggression by the US/EU/NATO against Russia’s security. It consisted of engineering a coup d’etat to remove the Ukraine’s only democratically elected government, and it was achieved using the neo-Nazi militias of Right Sektor and Swoboda. And these are true Nazis and true genocidal lunatics.

As to the Russian lunatics proposing various criminal acts, one can find the same language almost daily in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal under the bylines such as Rasmussen (NATO head general), Cheney, McCain, etc. All of these senior foreign policy experts are proposing policies that would provoke nuclear war. All of them are hysterical lunatics.

The map above is also grotesquely wrong. Novorossiya refers to eastern Ukraine, especially the far east and southeast and not to Ukraine as a whole. That is the sense in which Putin and rebels are using the term. None of them means Ukraine.

There is a great deal of dishonesty as well as illiteracy in the Fisher and Applebaum articles. The cultural, historical and economic connections between Ukraine and Russia are much deeper than those between the provinces of many modern countries.

Russia conquered the region east of the Dnieper River in 1667. (Conquest is how all countries are/were formed, no exceptions.) The rest came somewhat later. 1667 is 40 years before the unification of Scotland and England; at the peak of New France, when Ohio and everything west of the Appalachians were French; before the establishment of the modern French boundaries around 1800 or so; more than 100 years before the American Revolution; more than 200 years before the establishment of the Italian and German states. One needs to consider those facts from a Russian viewpoint. Russia has better title to Novorossiya than the US has to Ohio. Shouldn’t Ohio be returned to the French King, or whoever has claim to the throne?

One should also consider Russian paranoia. Russia regards the positioning of NATO troops in Ukraine and Ukrainian membership in NATO as existential threats, and they will fight to prevent it. In this regard, Russia has more nuclear weapons than the US, UK and France combined, and a first use policy.

There is also talk of NATO membership for Georgia (the one in the Caucasus). Again, another flash point.

The solution to the Ukrainian crisis, and the way to avoid a pan-European war (yet again) has already been proposed by both Putin and Merkel: (1) Ukraine remains non-aligned, outside NATO, although some sort of affiliation with the EU is permitted; (2) the annexation of Crimea is recognized and accepted by all parties; (3) the ethnic Russians in the east are protected from the neo-Nazi militias of Right Sektor and Swoboda; (4) some pays for the gas the Ukrainians have already used and for future Ukrainian gas purchases.

The Putin/Merkel solutions does not envision any additional annexation of Ukrainian territory to Russia. However, if Rasmussen, Van Rompuy, Barroso, Cameron, Hollande and Obama succeed in fomenting yet another European war, there is no telling what the geopolitical future of Europe is, or even if there is a Europe.

Clive Wortherthorth

Your big bad scary “Russian aggression” story is historically illiterate. New Russia was added to the 3 year old Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to add Russians to the Western engineered anti-Russian infant state of Ukraine to gerrymander their votes in the central committee of the USSR. New Russians are indeed Russians and have been there for scores of decades, if not a few centuries. Why don’t you mention the Ukrainian hate campaign against Russian speaking people? It has involved extreme violence and began long before the “anti-terrorist” operation was begun.


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