Merkel, Ukraine, and the Second World War



By Robert van Voren

When Nazi-Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Wehrmacht swept through Ukraine with only little resistance from the Soviet Army, which had been severely weakened by Stalin’s purges and military incompetence. In their wake followed SS and the Einzatsgruppen, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians either because they were Jews or Communists or “sub-humans” such as mentally ill and mentally handicapped. Ukraine suffered heavily during the Second World War, probably most of all Soviet republics.

Yet interestingly, the tragedy of the Second World War is generally only connected to the suffering of Russia, and time and again used as an argument to explain why the country feels “threatened” and “in self-defense” feels the need to invade neighboring countries and set up puppet states. And this explanation, however false, is echoed by many in the West: we have to understand the Russians, they have suffered so much, they had Napoleon and Hitler, you need to give them a break and stop judging, they are just different.

Of course the argument is a completely faulty one. First of all, Russia itself is an imperium that has been created by conquest and subjugating other nations. Some of them, notably Siberian people, did not survive the onslaught and are extinct. Others are still recovering from decades of intense Russification. Also, many of the deaths during the Second World War are the result of decision of the “Genius” Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, who was not such a genius at all but who just didn’t care for one minute whether 10,000, 100,000 or a million people would die. For instance, hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers died in the Finno-Russian war for… nothing. The argument was used in Soviet times and it was faulty, and it is faulty now again. Russia is an aggressor and has a long history of aggression.

What is very peculiar right now is that the Second World War is again used in relation to the Ukrainian-Russian war. We need to understand Russia, because it feels challenged and it suffered so much during the Second World War. It is one of the explanations why Germany is so meek towards Russia: the guilt issue plays a major role: we Germans are still in “pay back time” because of past horrors.

But what about Ukraine? Is there no “pay back time” when Ukraine is concerned?

How is it explainable that exactly on August 23, to the day 75 years after the signing of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact which carved up Europe between two dictators and caused so much suffering, Chancellor Merkel urges Ukrainian President Poroshenko to compromise, adding that the country still has the possibility to join Putin’s Eurasian Union. As if he ever indicated that wish, and while knowing that Yanukovych’s decision to do so was exactly the reason why the Maidan movement started!

Somehow the sense of guilt does not result in a special “German approach” towards Ukraine and an extra urge to help the country to defend itself against an external aggressor. Somehow Merkel doesn’t think in the case of Ukraine that past suffering by the its people makes it more urgent to help them at the moment when another aggressor (and not ”just an aggressor” but the legal heir to the same Soviet Union with which her country carved up Europe 75 years ago) invades its neighbor like a thief in the night.

As the heir of a formerly totalitarian country that caused so much suffering in this region, she should in fact be particularly sensitive to the needs of Ukraine, a country that stands up against it’s dictatorial neighbor that thinks it can just carve out pieces of land in complete violation of all international laws and agreements that shaped the post WW2 period.

It is a shame she isn’t. Maybe somebody should give her a wake-up-call.

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