Firstly, long time no blogging from your regular(ish) author. It will take a few entries to “get back into the saddle” no doubt. As such, a rather long, yet shallow and less than nuanced entry to get matters going once more. Prepare for some less than erudite rambling, but hang in there dear readers, hopefully the entries will get better over the next few days and return to their previously barely acceptable standard – or not!
An entire month has past since the last entry written here by your author. Heartfelt thanks to MWDabbs for stepping into fill the void whenever it was possible, whilst a somewhat personal trek across the Mediterranean nations, visiting locations where Grandfathers fought in trenches throughout WWI, and ending up in the UK visiting places like Bletchley Park where your author’s Godmother (and Aunt) worked during WWII – or not WWII, but the continuation of WWI if we consider the words of Marshall Foch in his commentary upon reading the Treaty of Versailles “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” an accurate and insightful statement.
In short, a personal homage of sorts, honouring and remembering family clan members, now departed, for their sacrifices upon the 70th anniversary of the end of war in Europe took place. It is an adventure the invoked strange, previously unacknowledged, or perhaps better said, under-acknowledged, feelings. No doubt other readers have had similar experiences for those that have embarked on such a personal journey. Nevertheless, it was something that it was felt had to be done with the recent passing of the most elderly family clan member at 96 years of age colliding with such a marked international anniversary.
In keeping with this personal adventure, and continuing with the WWII theme recently embarked upon by the “stand-in author” and considering the many comparisons swamping the social and commercial media of Messrs Hitler and Putin, (and no such comparisons will you find within this blog), and associations of Auschlus, tactical and propaganda parallels proclaimed, acknowledging Mr Putin’s public change of attitude toward the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact etc., – perhaps a little time should be spent – albeit superficially – comparing the political and diplomatic responses in the years prior to WWII officially commencing by the Europeans (and US) and comparing them to the action taken (or not) now. (Not that WWIII is likely to arise from Kremlin actions in Ukraine (or its neighbourhood) unless things are allowed to spiral out of control very swiftly and the law of unintended consequences takes root in chaos.)
WWII was also labeled “The Unnecessary War” by Winston Churchill when President Roosevelt was seeking a name for WWII. There was, if Churchill’s suggested name is to be believed, a mammoth amount of unnecessary death, destruction and injury. Indeed, the annexing and/or severing of parts of nations and “enslaving” part of its populace, notwithstanding all the desirables that can be carted away, hardly ever comes close to the recouping of costs of war. Pillaging and plundering do not usually change the bottom line from red to black!
If “unnecessary” be the case, then there is a significant amount of failed diplomacy and/or political catastrophe that be responsible for allowing WWII to happen.
Contemporaneous correspondence and speeches clearly identify that there was an almost consistent theme of missed opportunity from almost 1919 until 1935/36 to avoid war – yet war was not avoided. Thereafter there were yet further opportunities to delay the war, though probably not avoid it, allowing France, the UK etc., time in which, to some degree, a reversal the policy of disarmament per agreed international instruments could and should have occurred.
Suffice to say, numerous treaties between 1919 and 1939 were broken, thrown under a bus, created, circumvented, undermined (eg: Anglo-German Naval Agreement 1935), and simply ignored both bilaterally and collectively, when breaches were made and/or discovered – mostly justified in the name of “peace” (at all costs).
The good faith and integrity that underpins all international instruments vanished amidst stormy domestic political circumstances within France which had an ever-changing political line-up, a willing and deliberate blindness of the UK political leadership under the MacDonald, Baldwin leaderships, not to mention immense and sustained pressure on France to disarm despite the Versailles Treaty insuring, on paper, its right to military superiority over Germany – regardless of known illegal and considerable German rearmament. This pressure on France continuing far beyond Germany’s surpassing of parity with the UK air forces in the mid 1930’s, and its blatant general large scale militarisation deep into Chamberlain leadership.
After all, collectively, the UK and France until about 1937 held the belief that together they could handle Nazi Germany whilst continuing to disarm individually. Peace, and with it security, at all costs and by all methods was the aim – and pacifism ruled the roost as the policy to achieve it, even if appeasement of the aggressor was the easiest route to travel at the expense of (some) others.
Disingenuous interpretations of what was offensive and defensive weapons and military numbers abounded within the understandings and interpretations of the Treaty of Versailles. Similar disingenuous conversations are no doubt occurring regarding what is, and is not, lethal defensive weaponry for Ukraine. Is a Javelin anti-tank missile a defensive weapon? Is it necessarily lethal, or whilst disabling a tank, is it only occasionally lethal? Does it depend upon whether it is fired from a Ukrainian soldier within a fortified line, or an advancing soldier retaking stolen ground? In short, does it depend upon whether the man with his finger on the trigger is stationary and holding his ground, retreating, or attacking? Is there truly any lethal weapon that is entirely and exclusively only able to be used defensively and cannot be used in acts of aggression, no matter how less than optimal such use would be? Semantics is where the European “powers” found themselves then, and quite possibly where the European nations find themselves now over such decisions.
The Rhineland issues were more or less accepted without political or diplomatic fuss – and certainly without significant consequences.
Mussolini gave Nazi Germany a signal as to European (and the League of Nations) weakness when they collectively slapped on deliberately ineffective sanctions upon Italy following its actions in Abyssinia/Ethiopia/Africa – That the sanctions were deliberately weak, was in order to try and prevent Italy swapping sides and joining with Nazi Germany – Do something, but not enough to annoy The Duce. As history shows, that attempt failed.
The unanswered creation of Manchuria in China by Japan, also sent signals of an unwillingness to tackle clear violations of territorial integrity by the “powers” of the day. The September 1931 invasion of China by Japan on the pretext of “local disorder” met with no response by the “powers”. If the UK had maintained its understandings with Japan, instead of severing them at the US request some years earlier, perhaps this incident and the accompanying signal of collective inaction to the dictators in Germany and Italy may have been avoided. Perhaps not.
Events in Austria? “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Auschlus”, Hitler 21st May 1936. “Those aren’t our little green men?” Mr Putin, February 2014.
After Germany’s puppet. Mr Henlein failed to galvanize sufficient local support in Sudetenland, more coercive and direct bullying tactics were required to achieve and eventually “salami” Czechoslovakia (with no little help from Hungary, Italy, and Poland by its own hand) met with no robust response either – other than collective and individual tutting.
Hitler’s 20th February 1938 speech stated “It was the duty of Germany to protect those fellow Germans and secure to them general freedom, personal political and ideological”. A repeated meme within Mr Putin’s “Russian World”. During the early months in The Donbas conflict, echoes perhaps of the early days of Sudetenland, when considering Pavel Gubarev’s equally failed attempts to mobilise the vast majority of the locals, akin to the attempts of Mr Henlein in Sudetenland, forced a more robust, coercive and direct bullying intervention by the respective puppeteers.
In 1938, the European “powers” simply accepted Sudetenland – anything other than doing so may well have brought forward a war they were not prepared for. Consultations and collective tutting, but no sanctions, no threats of sanctions, and no remotely hostile acts. Previously wasted and misused time was being bought with European space – unfortunately for those within that effected European space. Ukraine now pays a similar price.
Indeed the Czechs had no input into the agreement of its “salamiing” amongst the “powers” seeking peace at any costs, and considerable pressure was put upon it to accept the result in the name of continental “peace”. It’s dismemberment perhaps being ably assisted by France wriggling out of its guarantees to the Czechs “in the circumstances” obliged under the Locarno Treaty. A notable act of integrity and honour was that of the French General Faucher, so affronted by the French actions/inactions, that he left the French Army, and took up Czech citizenship should fighting begin.
The Baltics, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia that were also party to French obligations under the Locarno Treaty, rightly trembled.
The message ultimately sent by France failing to robustly uphold its obligations and commitments, undoubtedly being received in similar fashion to that of those now looking at Ukraine and pondering the wisdom of nuclear non-proliferation/disarmament, or the robustness of existing security treaties previously unquestioned. It is probably fair to say that whilst the Baltics, Poland and Romania are hardly trembling today, Kremlin actions in Ukraine have certainly caused their “unsettling” – though those responsible for the security pacts within which they sit have tried, and vocally reaffirmed, their preparedness to honour obligations to them, unlike 1938.
However, when push comes to shove, what should we expect? Indeed, what faith in Article 5 if it is ever tested in the Baltics? What exactly constitutes an act of aggression sufficient to activate Article 5 these days? More importantly – what doesn’t?
Further, is there a common understanding and position taken by all European nations regarding the interpretation of Minsk? The Kremlin and the US undoubtedly have their own interpretations of Minsk – but they are single actors where positions are more easily reached. What of the collective European capitals? Do they share an interpretation of Minsk? How closely aliened is it to the Ukrainian or US interpretation of Minsk? How accepting are they of the Ukrainian interpretation of Minsk? What next, as and when the Ukrainian border is not returned to Ukrainian control and secured? 1930’s styled acceptance and appeasement, simply no further action whilst maintaining existing measures (which most including The Kremlin would interpret appeasement), or a meaningful response?
Ukraine, now of course, following the interpretation of Budapest Memorandum, knows very well what it feels like to have those “powers” whom give assurances, being quite prepared to wriggle out of the spirit of such documents, abiding only by the narrowest politically expedient possible legal interpretation of the actual text.
Ukraine, unlike 1930’s Czechoslovakia, has however, been most certainly included in talks by the Europeans and USA over its own possible “salamiing” at Russian instigation. Indeed, whilst western reaction has been slow, reactionary and generally meek, unlike events leading to the commencement of WWII, there has been a unanimous decision not to recognise any annexations or proclamations of independence from the very outset that would undermine the officially recognised territory of Ukraine, and numerous international instruments too – and thus, some form of action/reaction.
Indeed, the USA, perhaps due to, and in penance for its rather expedient interpretation of the Budapest Memorandum, not withstanding witnessing international law being cast aside by The Kremlin, has been politically and diplomatically engaged from the very start in Ukraine when armed Kremlin aggression presented itself. The same cannot be said of WWII – though it has to be said President Roosevelt did, in January 1938, try to intervene politically and diplomatically to prevent the war, by offering to host and partake in a conference between the UK, France, Germany and Italy – an attempt shot down by Neville Chamberlain who was pursuing his own plan to separate Italy from Germany by de jure recognising Italian annexation of Abyssinia in return for a change in Italian alignment. The rebuttal to President Roosevelt was sent in Chamberlain’s 12th January letter, despite the previously isolationist US quite possibly being able to radically change the equations of the dictatorial European powers involved – an equation the US did indeed, eventually change when it entered the war.
As mystifying as Chamberlain’s actions were (and remain), at least the UK was at the forefront of seeking solutions (even if at peace at any cost and thus poor solutions). Today, a sign perhaps of the continuing slide in the UK’s ethics and integrity – not to mention clout – upon the international stage, whilst diplomatically the UK may well remain a solid institution within the walls of UK Embassy Kyiv, respected and engaged with by the Ukrainian elite, politically no attempt to lead the way was made over Ukraine. By default both France and Germany were left to pick up the leadership gauntlet and make a political and diplomatic leadership stand with the US.
As an (interesting) aside, during the ten day period your author was in the UK (5 – 15 May), Ukraine was mentioned but twice on the BBC news. Firstly when reporting (for about 30 seconds) upon the Russian military parade which “took place in the shadow of events in Ukraine”, and secondly a 15 second acknowledgement of FM Lavrov/Secretary of State Kerry call for “all sides to show restraint”. That was it – Nothing else. A dozen words over 10 days, and through a Russian lens – Pitiful!
(Equally as shocking, Syria and Yemen got no mention whatsoever during those 10 days either. International news via the BBC for the UK domestic audience has clearly decayed far beyond anything approaching “meaningful”, following the long coma it has suffered since Tony Blair began to muzzle it in the wake of the Iraq debacle and David Kelly affair. The dumbing down of the nation via the public institutions continues. The two main and repeated international news stories being reported by the BBC news were the second Nepal earthquake, and the saving of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean by the flagship of the UK navy, accompanied by the fact the UK will refuse to take any migrants despite EU proposals to “share the burden”. Apparently there was no other international news whatsoever of any importance!
Back on topic, despite Von Ribbentrop telling Churchill face to face in 1937 that Nazi Germany intended to enter and annex Belarus and Ukraine, the then UK political leadership continued to believe one broken promise after another regarding territorial claims issued by Herr Hitler at the expense of nations far closer to Germany. Quite how and why such statements by Von Ribbentrop were ignored, and quite how the UK political leadership expected Nazi Germany to invade these nations without going through others en route is a matter of some pondering.
A shelf-life of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact there obviously was from the moment it was signed – Another agreement made to be broken. To the point however, in 1937, there was again no meaningful political or diplomatic action taken to dissuade Germany from such an adventure. The UK and France “consulted” – nothing more.
In 2014, both the US and Europeans did at least make known more sanctions would follow if further territory was taken – albeit when this year further territory was taken in Debaltseve, no further sanctions came. Perhaps unsurprising, as many onlookers recognise the European unity over sanctions has possibly reached its limitations, and rather than disunity over new sanctions, retaining unity over existing sanctions is the better face to show the world. We may soon see if The Kremlin will once more call the EU bluff, either prior to, or immediately after the Riga Summit, or prior to, or immediately after, any successful renewal of sanctions as they expire, in the belief that no new sanctions will come having stretched Euopean “unity” to its collective lowest common denominator limitations. Second guessing any US reaction however, may yet keep the Kremlin somewhat corralled despite any European anticipated failures at extensions or expansions.
The prevailing policy in the 1920s/30s was”Peace at all costs”, “Never again”, and all that. Appeasement. Rapprochement between France and Germany – as time passed, years became decades, public attitudes changed – after all a once great Teutonic nation, perhaps should not be as repressed as the Treaty of Versailles set out to do. Some slack/appeasement, in the name of “peace” and liberal forgiveness, could/should be afforded – and ultimately was, despite numerous very concerned and vocal voices of erudite statesmen from many nations.
Thus, a (former) European “great nation/power” under an all-powerful domestic dictatorship, determined to return to that “great power” status on the world stage after a significant defeat, casting aside international agreements and obligations, annexing nations, redrawing national boundaries under the guise of “race/common peoples” by coercion, bullying and military intervention, rearming/militarising, mobilising, attempting to justify illegal and thus illegitimate action, whilst making promises and further committing to obligations it fully intended to break (and was expected to break by many) along the way, was met with almost absolute appeasement in the name of “peace”. Meanwhile the other “powers” of Europe sought to, and did – appease and “understand”, whilst they themselves continued to disarm/seeing no requirement to rearm or upgrade, until far too late to prevent a then inevitable war – knowing full well a Germanic march and annexation of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus was upon the immediate horizon as they had been told by Germany in 1937.
Then, as now, should any rearming take place, the cry from the aggressor is one of “unfriendly actions”, and spun to the effect that its own large scale rearmament was thus preemptive and justified domestically having foreseen such events. Then, as now, great lengths are being taken not to upset the (perceived previously humiliated) aggressor to the detriment of the immediate victims, as well as European collective security and cohesion. However, now, unlike then, the victim Ukraine, is getting a good deal of support (if not still enough considering the gargantuan tasks it faces) – other than that of the lethal military kind. Even far more generous (in time, money, political and diplomatic energy) support however, is not likely to be enough to undo what has already been done – at least any time soon – perhaps never. It may yet also prove not be enough to prevent further losses either. Time, as it always does, will tell.
“Humiliation”, a familiar (and convenient) theme for those that would equate Germany losing WWI with the Cold War as a similar humiliation to those now running The Kremlin perhaps – with some general commonalities in actions and attempted justifications for the illegitimate responses some may proclaim too.
Continuing, the use of funded and supported political (fascist/allied/sponsored) parties in nations such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rhineland etc., in the 1930s occurred, as well as the external promotion and insertion of puppets in various nations domestic politics – something occurring again today many will note. Thus Europe has, in recent history, been here before. Can it deal with it any better (or worse) this time?
Perhaps in the context of Ukraine, the most notable event of the Spanish Civil war was not Germany taking advantage of it to practice its first air-raid, but that of Mussolini’s 5 Italian Army brigades that were there – and publicly accepted to be there by many – as “volunteers”, rather than as the Italian Army they so clearly were and privately acknowledge to be by many. Again there was no robust response from the European “powers” against a European dictator. This time around when confronted by “volunteers”, the Kremlin military presence and equipment has been publicly and formally called out by politicians, academics and diplomats (though not the BBC news).
Without going on and on, the numerous pre-WWII historical dots similar to those dots of today, the numerous justifications used to excuse the illegitimate as we see on the European continent today with regards to international obligations, and the wiggling out of assurances given as again seen today, the appearance/perception of appeasement (to some) once more, and the fairly rare occurrence of a national leader deliberately publicly lying to his peers (and the public by extension), and admitting to doing so (Yes those “little green men” were ours really – but you all guessed correctly eventually), the question to be asked is whether the same diplomatic and political mistakes are being made once more – or if not, are being handled in a manner that may yet have disastrous results through timing, tone, robustness, and scale etc?
The illegal annexation of Crimea was met with sanctions – albeit they were late in coming and not as robust as they perhaps could and should have been given the seriousness of the incident and the sacrifice of fundamental international legal instruments at The Kremlin alter of expediency. Further sanctions followed occurrences in Donetsk/Luhansk, which may or may not have come without the shooting down of MH17, but if Mr Navalny and numerous concurring academics are to be entertained, such meek sanctions did prevent further rapid expansion into Ukraine by The Kremlin. Maybe so – at least in part, though there are certainly other contributory factors and considerations that can make a similar claim.
Mr Putin, perhaps, is not as capable of bluffing the Europeans as Herr Hitler was between 1933 and 1939 – or perhaps the Europeans have managed to remember, if only just, the lessons that some noticable response was, and remains necessary to avoid a 1930’s rerun.
However, containment if it has indeed been achieved by (in part) sanctions, does not mean reversal of Kremlin policy and small military adventure in Ukraine (thus far), just as it didn’t reverse Mussolini’s Africa policy and small military adventure there.
As the Russian Federation is but a shadow of the USSR, obstructionism, coercion, limited but widespread meddling, bribery, blackmail and corruption are the far more likely weapons of choice than overt large scale military occupations or war.
The diplomacy and politics of 2014/15 in response to military adventurism on the European continent has seemingly, thus far at least, stopped the rot – but it does not mean the returning of any occupied territory is likely any time soon either. Indeed, it may be that just as the swallowing of the Rhineland resulted in an deliberate period of “digestion” by Nazi Germany before pushing onward, Crimea and what has currently been occupied in The Donbas also requires a period of “digestion”. There may well be a long, long way to go before The Kremlin reaches its political limits/tolerance with regards to its acceptable costs for military adventurism and political/social/economic interference in Ukraine (and other neighbouring States).
How to insure European unity and Ukraine (as well as other Russian neighbours) can withstand Kremlin aggression in whatever form it comes for as long as it takes to rise out the storm?
Thus the issue of time and timeliness arises.
To whom time and timeliness is most beneficial depends upon the length of time and events within. If we expect Mr Putin to be sitting in The Kremlin following another reelection a few years from now, we can be certain Messrs Hollande, Obama and in all likelihood Mrs Merkel – by deciding not to stand again – will have left office. If President Poroshenko is to be a single term president as seems likely at the time of writing, a new (though unlikely to be pro-Kremlin) Ukrainian President will also be in office. Perhaps the UK will have left the EU by then too (though hopefully not).
Whilst Ukraine (less the occupied territories) may (or not) get slowly stronger by the day, the EU and the “historical powers” within it may indeed suddenly get politically weaker – even if current sanctions “unity” manages to last for several more years and withstand a few significant national elections. That said, it seems highly likely the US will return a more robust US President when it comes to its foreign policy, and perhaps one that will take a harder line against Kremlin mischief.
Whether time will best serve a Kremlin dictator or messy and unpredictable democracies remains to be seen. Which has the long term ability (and will) to remain steadfast on their current course in unpredictable global and regional winds – and will Ukraine make the best use of that time internally to reform and consolidate, making it a far more difficult proposition to Moscow than it faced when initially casting international rule of law aside in 2014?
Will the Europeans eventually arrive at a common understanding of what the CSDP is, to which they have obliged Ukraine to adhere to and engage within via the Association Agreement?
Will the EU at the forthcoming Riga Summit change/adapt its EaP – rightly with the individual EaP nations as the focus, or wrongly to that of “accommodating” Russia at the expense of the EaP nations? Will Ukraine and Ukrainian issues dominate the EU’s EaP policy arena to the detriment to Moldova or Georgia?
Can or should the lessening of support for EaP nations reforms be accepted? Reforms themselves are hardly “anti-Russia” even if The Kremlin is not keen on its neighbours creating and eventually consolidating the pillars of democratic nations.
As a result of the EaP Summit, and in its aftermath, will there then be a period of putting together a genuine Russia Policy that accommodates the EaP national policies – or will it sadly be the other way around?
Concessions are not necessarily appeasement, but a natural part of any negotiation. Appeasement is a process of yielding to belligerent demands at the expense of justice, ethics and honour. Currently it appears prima facie, the current crop “western” politicians and diplomats are doing today, far more than their predecessors did for Austria, Rhineland, Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in the prelude to WWII when faced with an aggressive, militarised, (and apparently humiliated) European “power” that is not the same as them – and has no intention of being like them either.
The question remains however, whether their efforts are enough to end an on-going – albeit contained – conventional war on the European continent without appeasement? Thus far, clearly not.
Tomorrow, hopefully less rambling and a more insightful entry – Well, hope is one of the last qualities to abandon the human spirit after all!