Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Back to 1945

Barack Obama came to office promising a "reset" in Washington's relations with Moscow and a lighter American footprint in the rest of the world, so as to make the United States beloved again after the missteps of George W. Bush. As Hemingway wrote in another connection: "Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?" 

 Among Mr. Bush's actual missteps was to look into the reptilian eyes of Vladimir Putin and to imagine he'd seen the Russian's "soul." Alas, what he actually saw was a monster determined to rule Russia for the long term and to make it a nation that every European would once again fear, as in the glory days of Catharine II, Peter the Great, and -- above all -- Joseph Stalin. In 2008, Mr. Putin annexed parts of Georgia and thereby destabilized the country enough to ensure that it would never presume to show any independence from Moscow. (Dubya sent non-lethal aid, but in military aircraft, which may well have saved Georgia from further invasion. After all, Mr. Putin couldn't be sure just what those cargo planes carried.) 

Now Ukraine getting the same treatment: Mr. Putin has annexed the Crimean peninsula and destabilized the country's eastern provinces with his Special Forces operatives, disguised as local paramilitary forces. The gentleman in my April 25 post is Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-appointed mayor of Slovyansk. His mother was Ukrainian, his father Russian, and he is a veteran of the Soviet Red Army; before becoming a revolutionary he supposedly ran a business rendering chicken fat into soap. But what fascinates me about Mr Ponomaryov is the black hoodie he wears, with its silhouette of a trawler and the legend: Dutch Harbor: This ain't your father's fishing hole. Dutch Harbor is the westernmost "city" in Alaska, just as Slovyansk is one of the easternmost communities in Ukraine. How did Mr. Ponomaryov get from one to the other, if not via Moscow?

Europe may prove to be Ukraine write large. Just as nipping off Crimea and destabilizing the east is sufficient to terrify in Kiev, so is Ukraine's subjugation enough to terrify Berlin, which after all was virtually obliterated by the Russian Red Army in 1945. Though Dubya evidently missed it, Mr. Putin's "soul" is really that of Joseph Stalin, the most ruthless man of the 20th Century. Harry Truman saved Western Europe from Stalin in 1945, but Barack Obama is very unlikely to be so brave in 2014. Angela Merkin knows that, and she is going to tread very lightly in responding to Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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