Vladimir Putin: Columnist
Patrik Etschmayer writes that
Mr. Putin is just
the latest autocrat to smell fear in Europe.
The Dictator Challenge: Europe's Ultimate Test (News, Switzerland)
of aggression commands that the attacker persevere as long as potential gains exceed
the costs. … That Russia feels harassed may well be, but
it isn't as if NATO invaded Poland, the Baltic States and the former
Czechoslovakia. It was the mistrust fostered by 50 years of occupation that
turned half the continent into a prison and pushed the former 'brotherly states'
from Russia into the arms of America. … Putin is a power politician who smells
weakness, a man who internalized Soviet expansionist thinking in his youth and never
forgave the West for the Soviet collapse. … If Europe doesn't know what it
stands for, it will inevitably be crushed between the power blocs rather than
being one itself. The dictorship problem will likely prove the European Union's ultimate test."
The claim of the autocrat was clear: Our fellows in
neighboring countries are being threatened and harassed. His nation was in political
and economic distress after a bitter defeat a good two decades earlier, and its
place in history which was hard-won over centuries - was endangered.
Unrest in neighboring countries which, not too long ago, still
belonged to his own country's territory, were a welcomed excuse for covert or
open intervention and, under the pretext of liberation, even the annexation of
entire countries. The subsequent referendum, in which the “liberated” peoples
were permitted to register their undoubtedly entirely “free” vote in support of
the recently-executed occupation, while at home a conformist press portrayed
the aggressor as a defender of traditional values opposed to Western decadence, was all part of an instrument for disguising the use of brute force.
But pressure on the dictator-come-autocrat grew: Because of
homegrown problems like corruption, party nepotism, an inefficient economy and
the cost of conflicts in his self-declared region of influence, there was no option
other than a major success. While the economy gradually shrank, the army and its
weapons arsenal expanded.
Previous partners were irritated, old enemies' suspicions
confirmed, and tensions rose. While some counted on confrontation,
others wanted to negotiate. There are always agreements, peace plans and hope. But
the logic of aggression commands that the attacker persevere as long as potential
gains exceed the costs - all the more so with the doves seeking to cuddle with
Finally, however, even the last of the appeasers had to
acknowledge that there were no fine words that could justify breaching every
peace treaty and agreement. We all know the result: On September 3, 1939, war
was declared on Hitler's Germany. So began the great dying, first in Europe and
Are we again in the initial phase of a similar horror? The
war in Ukraine has taken on proportions that prohibit any use of euphemisms.
Particularly in Germany, a debate has taken shape that could make your head
spin. At this point, it is supposedly Russia which is being forced to practice forward
defense in its neighbor. Mind you - within borders that Russia recognized in
1994 [the Budapest
Memorandum]. But these commitments have been forgotten.
That Russia feels harassed may well be,
but it isn't as if NATO invaded Poland, the Baltic States and the former
Czechoslovakia when the Warsaw Pact fell apart. It was the mistrust and even
disgust fostered toward Russia by 50 years of occupation that, together with
the Iron Curtain, turned half the continent into a prison which, with an almost
centrifugal force, pushed the former “brotherly states” away from Russia into
the arms of the remaining global hegemon, the United States of America.
The impotence of Central Europe, which confronts Russian
aggression with hand wringing while at the same time (barely) retaining a
military commitment from the United States, is self-inflicted. The peace dividend
of 1989 was thrown away, diminished when European unification became more of an
economic than a political project with member states being more interested in
outdoing one another than compromising in the interests of the whole and strengthening
Europe. So what was potentially the largest economic power in the world mutated
into the economically and politically self-obstructive bureaucratic monster unwittingly
and increasingly left behind.
Even if it's bitter to hear: the European Union, with its
depoliticized politics and skim-milk version of its ideals, has created a power
vacuum at its borders. It has disappointed many of its neighbors with dithering
and indecision when it comes to standing up for democracy, the rule of law and freedom
beyond its economic sphere.
Posted by Worldmeets.US
Even within the E.U. there is dwindling confidence in the
project. When just a few miles from Berlin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is working to establish
a Magyar [Hungarian] version
of Belarus just a mustache away from Lukashenko, the E.U.
has more than a little credibility problem to contend with
Putin recognized this weakness. A resolute Europe that from
the start and with no ifs or buts not only negotiated but provided support for
Ukraine and threatened consequences would not have allowed this to turn into a
war. Nor would such a Europe have had to contend with an ally who, instead of acting
with tact, actively intervened.
Putin is clearly no Hitler. He is a power politician who smells
weakness against the wind 500 kilometers away, a man who internalized Soviet
expansionist thinking in his youth and never forgave the West for the collapse
of the Soviet empire in 1989. Reestablishing the former world power is the central
motivation of his actions. Putin smelled weakness and indecision in Europe and
took the reins in his hands. Moreover, what's happening in Ukraine will be decisive
for the Baltic States and certain regions of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Romantics who see Putin as a counterbalance to the United States
forget that Russia does as little to defend the freedom of others as the United
States would do with the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in
Europe or potential arms shipments to Ukraine. Let's remind ourselves one more
time: Nations have no friends - they have interests, so Europe should go beyond
lip service, be clear about its interests and put its stake on the table.
If, on the other hand, Europe doesn't know what it stands
for, it will inevitably be crushed between the power blocs rather than being
one itself and collapse from self-doubt. The dictorship problem will
likely prove the European Union's ultimate test.