Hands clasped in friendship, Adolf Hitler and England's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, are shown in this historic pose at Munich on Sept. 30, 1938. This was the day when the premier of France and England signed the Munich agreement, sealing the fate of Czechoslovakia. The Munich Agreement became a byword for the futility of appeasing expansionist totalitarian states. (Image: AP)
After meeting with the leaders of Britain and France, Adolf Hitler concluded that he was dealing with non-entities and that he couldn’t possibly lose a war against them, forgetting not only that these countries could and would change leaders but also that the outcome of conflicts reflects not just the qualities of leaders but the resources of both sides.
Today, Russian commentator Andrey Piontkovsky says, Vladimir Putin is making the same mistake, concluding that the leaders arrayed against him are not in his league and assuming that because that is so, he and his country will not lose any conflict between Russia and the West.
When Hitler decided at the time of Munich that the leaders of Britain and France were “non-entities,” he was “at one and the same time both right and wrong,” the commentator says. “His tactical correctness led him to a series of major military successes, but his strategic mistake led to the final catastrophe” for himself and his country.
The leaders of the democratic West over the last century have not always been models of courage and support for principles, preferring instead to make compromises and deals with dictators and betraying their allies in the process, Piontkovsky says, a pattern that reflects their high value on individual human lives.
But the dictators with whom they have dealt often have not recognized the limits of their own power or the limits of their opponents’ weaknesses. Instead, they suffer from “a psychological handicap” especially “at the first stage of their political clashes with the West,” Piontkovsky says.
They view the West as irretrievably decadent and therefore they do not recognize the ways in which democratic countries, although often far too slow to anger and far too willing to use words when force would be a better choice, can change direction and use their superior resources to defeat the dictators.
Thus, they fail to see that Neville Chamberlain, who is infamous for his concessions to Hitler at Munich, would be the one to declare war on Nazi Germany when Hitler invaded Poland. And they fail to see that Britain and its allies were vastly stronger than Germany, which in most cases had to fight on its own.
In the last decade, Putin has fallen into the same trap Hitler did, Piontkovsky says. When Nicolas Sarkozy of France came to Moscow in August 2008 at the time of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, it is likely that the Kremlin leader told his comrades in arms that the French president was clearly a non-entity.
Putin’s view about the leadership of the West led him to think he could overwhelm Ukraine, and for a time, it appeared that his view was vindicated by the West’s failure to stand up to him.
To distract attention from his failures in Ukraine, Putin then went into Syria; and his views about Western leaders as non-entities were reinforced by the behavior of US Secretary of State John Kerry who for a long time played the role of “’sacred non-entity’” to Lavrov’s “alpha dog.”
But television coverage of Russian airstrikes on the people of Aleppo changed everything, including the judgments about Russia by various “non-entities.” In a matter of days, the representatives in the UN Security Council of the US, the UK and France used language about Putin and his regime that had not been heard before.
“’This is not a struggle with terrorism; this is barbarism,’ ‘absolute terror carried out by Syria and Russia,’ ‘war crimes,’ ‘Russia has become an outlaw state’ – such formulations were unthinkable for officials of such a level only a few days before.” And the New York Times followed suit with an editorial about Putin’s regime being “an outlaw state.”
It is likely, Piontkovsky argues, that in Putin’s bunker as he threatens war against a world far stronger and more opposed to him than he can comprehend, “some Russian Himmler has turned to some Russian Goering” and pointedly noted that “’Herman, the Fuehrer no longer is capable of fulfilling his responsibility as the guarantor of our holdings.’”
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