Hitler’s anschluss and Putin’s: Similarities and differences

Left: Hitler announces the Anschluss of Austria on the Heldenplatz, Vienna, Austria on 15 March 1938. (Image: Wikipedia) Right: Putin speaking in occupied Sevastopol to celebrate 18 March 2014 anschluss of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine conducted by Russian military and special forces. May 9, 2014 (Image: kremlin.ru)

Left: Hitler announces the Anschluss of Austria on the Heldenplatz, Vienna, Austria on 15 March 1938. (Image: Wikipedia)

Right: Putin speaking in occupied Sevastopol to celebrate 18 March 2014 anschluss of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine conducted by Russian military and special forces. May 9, 2014 (Image: kremlin.ru) 

Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Politics, Russia

Seventy-nine years ago today, Adolf Hitler issued the law on the unification of Austria and Germany, an event subsequently known as the Anschluss, and one that both resembles and differs from what Vladimir Putin did in the case of Ukraine’s Crimea, according to two Ukrainian experts.

Yuri Shapoval, a historian at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, points to some essential differences. Hitler, at least since 1924, had insisted that Germany and Austria were “one family and needed to be united” and his military occupation of Austria was preceded by talks with Vienna about that.

Vladimir Putin behaved very differently, the historian told Radio Liberty’s Vitaly Portnikov.

“In the 2000s, [he] denied in every possible way his territorial claims against Ukraine, declared that he respected the state borders and had no intention of taking Crimea, let alone by military means. Thus, what happened in 2014 was completely unexpected for the entire world.”

A UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office graphic contrasting the Scottish and Crimean referendums.

A UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office graphic contrasting the Scottish and Crimean referendums.

Yaroslav Shimov, a commentator for Radio Liberty, adds that “a large part of the population of Austria then was genuinely pleased because a majority of Austrians considered themselves at that moment Germans. And under the influence of propaganda and the specific circumstances in the history of the Austrian Republic, they considered that unification” would not be a bad thing.

Shapoval points out that “there was practically no reaction” by the Western powers to the Anschluss.

“They considered [it] as a means of pacifying Adolf Hitler. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared at the League of Nations that one must not encourage small countries with promises about their defense if in reality there are no such plans to provide it.”

“In essence,” the historian continues, “Vladimir Putin today is counting on a similar fatalism on the part of the West. But one must not give him Crimea in order to ‘pacify’ him because then [his aggression] will never end. [Existing] international sanctions suggest that the West still is not inclined to repeat its earlier mistakes.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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