In 2018 holding their breath like it’s 1938
As the western powers fail to form any proper response to the Crimean annexation by Russia, it feels awfully similar to the appeasement politics of 1938 with the Munich Agreement surrendering Sudetenland to Nazi Germany in the hopes that angry Hitler would not start yet another world war of destruction. In this sense the past seems to repeat itself; a paralyzed west scared of escalating the big angry bear, gives in to its demands while slowly losing the balance of power.
In September 1938 Nazi Germany took control of Sudetenland, a piece of then Czechoslovakia with a majority German population. Hitler proclaimed his cause to be just because of the German speakers and ethnic Germans living there. Hitler created the ‘Sudetendeutsches Freikorps’ or Sudetengerman volunteer corps which was trained and armed by Germany tasked with attacking Czechoslovakia and responsible for a hundred deaths and two thousand abductions to Germany. The Sudetengerman volunteer corps began by surrounding customs houses and attacking them, while the Czech border guards were ordered not to fire back to avoid escalation. The volunteer corps occupied more and more local government buildings and planted the Nazi flag on them. The entire strategy was a mix of actual volunteers armed by Germany, German troops and propaganda. Hitler claimed that Czechoslovakia was a client state of France and would be the point of attack into Germany, and similarily he emphatized the ‘national right to self-determination’ of the ethnic Germans that was supossedly surpressed by Czechoslovakia. In the most northern part of Sudetenland elections were held and unsurprisingly 97.32% voted for the Nazi NSDAP.
The west with its scars of the last world war still fresh did not want to escalate the situation into another world war, and appeasement politics was born. It was thought that just giving Germany Sudetenland would be the end of Hitler’s expansion, as he himself had promised: ‘the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe.’ he said.
With the German invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia, the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’ was born along with the first ‘Slovak Republic’, newly proclaimed countries that in reality were German vassal states only recognized by the Axis powers.
Fast forward to February 2014, Russian troops without insignia, also known as ‘Little Green Men’ surrounded Ukrainian government buildings and military bases. They were intially called ‘Volunteers’ by the Kremlin, but a few years later Putin proudly admits they were Russian troops. After these soldiers had occupied Crimea, an illegal referendum was held in which citizens could either vote to join the Russian Federation or become an autonomous republic, without a possibility to remain the way it is already. 96.77% allegedly voted to join the Russian Federation, and the Republic of Crimea and Russian Federal City of Sevastopol were proclaimed as new regions of Russia.
Similarly to the annexation of Sudetenland, it was not enough, and Russian backed militias and Russian soldiers started fighting in the eastern regions of Ukraine; the Donbass, afterwhich the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic were proclaimed. Here too ‘referundums’ were held with an alleged 89% and 96% voting for independence, respectively, despite an ethnic Russian population of less than half the population which makes the referendum questionable at best.
Crimea was not enough, and it’s likely that Donetsk and Luhansk will not be the end of the conflict either. Seperatists and Russian nationalists have openly called for the establishment of ‘Novorossiya’ or New Russia seen below, which will most likely be the next objective. Not only would this connect Russia directly to another EU and NATO country and increase their control of the Black Sea(cutting off Ukraine in the process), it also connects Russia with Transnistria; an unrecognized state between Moldova and Ukraine with backing from Russia and to this day Russian peace-keeper troops are in the region.
The entire Ukraine strategy is indirectly laid out by General Valery Gerasimov, on a Russian website:
‘’In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template.
All this is supplemented by military means of concealed character, including carrying out actions of informational conflict and the actions of special operations forces.’’
— General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces and first deputy Defence Minister, appointed by Putin.
The western response has mostly been sanctions. While these sanctions combined with falling oil prices have badly hurt the Russian economy, it has not stopped them from continuing their operations in the Donbas as well as their online propaganda war. More action is needed to stop Russia from taking all of ‘Novorossiya’ and creeping ever closer to the EU and NATO, while blaming the west for ‘provocation’.
Of course, too much of a military reaction could trigger a World War 3, but too little could result in an annexation of all of Ukraine and potentially other border areas or at least Novorossiya.
So what is the solution? Appeasement doesn’t work, and agression might cause World War 3. It is a very difficult question, but this essay would be pathetic without providing an alternative.
In short, sanctions were a good thing and should be increased every time the Russian state commits an act of agression again. It is of great importance for this act to be something tangible that can be shown to the public without doubt, as fighting against the RT propaganda machine will be a difficult task. Aside from more sanctions, the stance of NATO and the EU should be made clear to the Russian government without giving them any doubts about the western response. This would require the western governments to form a collective stance, a red line so to say, that will be met with (proxy)-war should Russia cross it.
Much of the Russian GDP comes from it’s oil and gas production, and quite some European nations are still largely dependant on Russian oil and/or gas. Decreasing Russian oil and gas imports needs to be a main goal for the EU for two reasons. First, it decreases the leverage of the Russian government. They have shown to be capable of using this leverage to achieve their geopolitical goals in Ukraine for example, where Russia threatened to cut off the supply of gas in one instance, and double the price in another. It is very difficult to be at war with a nation that you buy 90–100% of your gas from especially considering Ukraine’s cold winters. Second, reducing oil and gas imports would further chip away from the Kremlin’s budget which is a key factor of lowering their influence without escalation. Hopefully this would be accompanied by lower oil and gas prices which would further strain their budget and maybe force them to decrease military and propaganda spending.