“Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.”
Hilaire Belloc’s famous couplet springs unbidden into the mind these days. Vladimir Putin couldn’t make it plainer that he thinks it right to fight. He began by devastating Chechnyna, killing an estimated hundred thousand Chechens who were of course his own citizens. No wonder he thinks it perfectly natural to support Bashar Assad in the killing of an even higher number of his own Syrian citizens. Next he invaded Georgia, and has unilaterally incorporated into Russia sovereign Georgian territory. Nobody objects. Israel builds a settlement on the West Bank and the White House and the United Nations have fits. Putin steals another people’s land and the White House and the United Nations have nothing to say.
Now it is the turn of Crimea. A land-grab, pure and simple. Russian troops are there in force. It’s always the same argument, that they’re defending Russians. It’s always the same scenario, that they find expatriate Russians who claim to need being defended. The former pliant Ukrainian President Yanukovych is in Moscow where his presence is taken as cover for the Russian troops. In a few days’ time there will be a referendum arranged to finalize the grab.
Putin is not Adolf Hitler, not by a long chalk, but he has taken a leaf from Hitler’s playbook. Hitler claimed to be defending Germans when he overpowered Austria, Czechoslovakia, Danzig, Memel, and other points east. He had Czech president Hacha brought to Germany; he fixed referendums. Hitler told lies about Bolsheviks; Putin is telling lies about Nazis and neo-fascists.
The very first reaction of our Ebenezers in high places is that fighting is so wrong that anything that could possibly be considered resistance is also wrong. A historian friend of mine has studied the many times Obama has said that yet another anti-American head of state is “on the wrong side of history.” Which is more remarkable, the meaninglessness of the idea that history has sides, or the inbuilt patronizing sneer? In any case, it raises the white flag. Roaring Bill wins again. Next stop a move westwards, towards the Baltic republics where expatriate Russians can be worked up to demand liberation. The expression on the face of Polish foreign secretary Radek Sikorski has suddenly changed from smugness to fear that Putin will overplay his hand as Hitler did, but this time nobody intends to help.