A lake’s worth of ink has been spilled on the subject of the Crimean crisis already and I’m not sure I have anything of value to share, but I’ll have a go here.
Two pieces of news landed in my inbox this week that seem to me to connect to each other. One was a column comparing the annexation of the Crimea into Russia with annexation of the Sudetenland into Nazi Germany in 1938. I think this a potentially dangerous misreading of history. It seems to be a commonplace that the Second World War might have been averted if Britain and France had resisted the annexation of the Sudeten or the remilitarization of the Rhineland, and therefore the statesmen of that age failed gravely. Extrapolating from this analysis to the present leads to the conclusion that now is the time to “stand up to Putin” in a suitably aggressive way. Right on cue came the other thing in my inbox: Senator (and possible Presidential aspirant) Ted Cruz declaring that
Tomorrow it could be Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, the Czech Republic or Poland. … Meeting his [Putin’s] challenge now with strength, not appeasement, would be the best way to ensure that this does not happen.
Much as it pains me to quote from an old Marxist like Humphrey McQueen, his book Suspect History contained one of the fairest assessments of Neville Chamberlain ever written: He could not imagine Auschwitz, but he didn’t need to imagine Passchendaele. Too ready an equating of Vladimir Putin with Adolf Hitler prevents us drawing the lesson Chamberlain could have taught: leaving an authoritarian nation to its own devices may – may well – lead to bloodletting. But an aggressive and ill-considered response will virtually guarantee it.