Most Ukrainians and their supporters in the West have focused their ire on those Western politicians and commentators who have not condemned Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine and his Anschluss of Crimea, viewing such people and their arguments as the greatest threat to the chance that Ukraine will recover its territorial integrity.
But in fact, the most serious threat to the future of Ukraine comes not from them but rather from the increasing number of officials, commentators and businessmen who take the position that former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner does in an interview published in today’s “Novaya gazeta.”
The Russian journalist who interviewed him chose as the title of the article “Bernard Kouchner: ‘I condemn Putin. But …’” That reflects the weariness of the West to stand up to Russian aggression, the lack of patience among Western elites, and the desire to “turn the page” in relations with Moscow. And it is precisely this that is the greatest threat to Ukraine.
Kouchner says that people say that Putin must return Crimea to Ukraine, but “he will never return it!” To say that he should is “unrealistic,” and it is time to “stop fantasizing. It is necessary to try to find a compromise,” especially since the European Union does not have the same interests that the Ukrainians do. Ukraine must do this.”
“We have said that the seizure of Crimea was a bad thing, something scandalous … True, it is scandalous. Putin acted by force. And I condemn this,” Kouchner says. “But there are scandalous things which we tolerate or act as if we don’t notice and agree on compromises. There are many such things, especially in the Middle East.”
And “in Crimea, we also could do this.”
This is exactly the same logic that informed those who sought to appease Hitler in the 1930s, and it is the one on which dictators have long counted, that individuals and countries will find a way to excuse the actions of such leaders if they are not directed specifically against themselves.
But both at the international level as Hitler’s behavior before, during and after Munich showed, and at the domestic level as Pastor Niemoeller warned, such an approach carries within itself a threat to those who adopt it unless and until they are forced to act by a direct attack on their countries or their persons at a much less propitious time.
Unfortunately, Western leaders have failed to call Putin’s actions what they are – acts of aggression – and they, especially under pressure from easily bored publics and vitally interested business communities and driven by their own desire to show that they can make “peace in our time” are increasingly adopting Kouchner’s position.
Yes, what Putin has done is bad, but we should look the other way and find new ways to cooperate. The Kremlin dictator is counting on that, and Ukrainians and their supporters should recognize that this position and not that of the open apologists for Moscow are the real threat to Ukraine – and ultimately to far more than Ukraine as well.