Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama vs. Geography for Putin, Stealing a Neighbor Is Its Own Reward

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama vs. Geography for Putin, Stealing a Neighbor Is Its Own Reward

Article excerpt

Igor Stravinsky, the Russian composer, said of Poland, perilously positioned between Russia and Germany: "If you pitch your tent in the middle of Fifth Avenue, it is quite likely you will be run over by a bus." Poland has been run over hard and often; indeed, between 1795 and 1918 it disappeared from the map of Europe.

Geography need not be destiny, but it matters, as Ukraine is being reminded. During its hazardous path to the present, all or bits of it have been parts of Poland, the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire, the Soviet Union and now another Russian empire. Czarist Russia, which Lenin called "the prison of the peoples," is re-emerging and has in Vladimir Putin an ambitious warden.

In last week's Kremlin address, he said, "Do not believe those who want you to fear Russia, shouting that other regions will follow Crimea. We do not want to divide Ukraine; we do not need that." The word "need" is not reassuring. It suggests that Russia's needs are self-legitimizing, and recalls the definition of a barbarian as someone who thinks his appetites are their own justification.

Speaking of which: Six months after Germany's absorption of Austria, which was quickly ratified by a plebiscite, Adolf Hitler, on Sept. 26, 1938, spoke about the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, home of many ethnic and linguistic Germans. Speaking three days before the Munich Conference began, he said: "This is the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe." On March 15, 1939, six months after Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland agreed to at Munich, Hitler swallowed the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Then his attention turned to "protecting" the German-speaking population in Poland. On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland on the pretext of responding to a Polish provocation. Ten days before, he had told senior military officers, "I shall give a propagandistic cause for starting the war, whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked, later on, whether we told the truth or not." On the night of Aug. 31, a German prisoner was dressed in a Polish uniform, killed and displayed as a casualty of a Polish attack on a German radio station.

Mr. Putin, whose lamented Soviet Union was then Hitler's ally, knows Hitler's tactics. If Mr. Putin had a sense of humor he would justify as R2P - "responsibility to protect" - his policy of bringing home to the safety of mother Russia many of the Russians residing in contiguous countries. …

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