Prince Charles was right. Vladimir Putin is like Adolf Hitler 28

Krievijas prezidents Vladimirs Putins uzrunā 18.Starptautiskā ekonomiskā foruma dalībniekus Sanktpēterburgā. Foto: ITAR-TASS/LETA
Edward Lucas

 

In the bleak years of the 1930s, Winston Churchill was a brave and lonely voice, warning Britain and the world of the danger of Nazi aggression in Europe.

As the Putin regime in Russia dismembers its neighbours, we have Prince Charles, defended by Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and leader of Britain’s currently most unsuccessful political party, the Liberal Democrats. The heir to throne’s private remark that Vladimir Putin was behaving like Adolf Hitler has made headlines around the world, and provoked furious scoldings from propagandists in Moscow and royal-bashers in Britain.

Admittedly, the heir to the throne is hardly the oracle of our day. The scores of often hectoring “black spider” letters he sends to government ministers are a timewasting abuse of his position. His views are often eccentric — such as his obsession with homeopathy.

They are all too often expressed in a querulous, even petulant manner.

Many find his mother’s approach better. She maintains an absolute veil of silence over her private views. Other members of the royal family, such as Princess Anne, are in public life, but devote themselves to commendable charitable causes, on which they from time to time express forceful views. Nobody complains about that.

But Charles was not making a speech about foreign policy – which would indeed be none of his business. He was chatting privately to Marienne Ferguson, a 78-year-old who fled Poland before Hitler (together with his ally Stalin) dismembered that country in 1939.

The prince was being friendly, sensitive and pertinent. Younger royals might learn something from him. So could other world leaders. They are unwilling – or outright scared – to highlight the parallels between Vladimir Putin’s regime in the Kremlin and the Third Reich.

Ten years of dirty money washing through the West– including the City of London in Britain — has created a powerful fifth column – not unlike the Nazi sympathisers of the 1930s.

Many in the West simply see Putin as a strong leader, a counterweight to an overweening America, or an antidote to the decadence of modern life.

They overlook his regime’s sleaze and viciousness. The private lives of senior Russians hardly make the Putin regime look like a bastion of moral probity.

Others are simply scared. Europe is pitifully dependent on Russian gas, at least for the next few years. Sanctions, or buying energy from elsewhere, would endanger our fragile economic recovery.

Shamefully, Britain’s most important company, BP, is enmeshed in the corrupt heart of Putin’s regime, through its shareholding in his favourite oil company, Rosneft.

World leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, America’s Barack Obama, or our own David Cameron, flinch from confrontation. They know how bad things are in Russia.

Their intelligence services tell them about the nationalist frenzy which now has the country in its grip. They know about the mischief and meddling of Putin’s spooks and goons abroad – including in the heart of NATO and the EU.

But they will not speak out. We impose pinprick sanctions. We are unwilling to bolster our defences. We keep hoping that dialogue will work and that confrontation will be unnecessary.

That did not work in the 1930s and it will not work now.

Clearly Putin is not Hitler.

He does not persecute Jews. His regime assassinates its opponents selectively, rather than murdering them on a mass scale in gas chambers and killing fields.

But the Austrian corporal and the German-speaking ex-spy share troubling similarities too.

Both bear furious historical grievances. Hitler wanted to avenge the Versailles treaty, which punished Germany’s for its defeat in World War One. Putin believes the West tricked and encircled Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In truth the collapse of communism was a liberation for the Russian people, who suffered grievously under Soviet rule. But Putin calls it the “geopolitical catastrophe” of the last century.

Both leaders stoke and exploit paranoia. Hitler blamed Jewish bankers for Germany’s woes. Anti-Westernism is the fuel that fires the Putin regime.

Just as the League of Nations – the forerunner to the modern United Nations – failed at the hands of Hitler and his Italian fascist ally Benito Mussolini, Putin plays divide and rule within NATO and the EU.

Both Hitler’s German and Putin’s Russia are expansionist powers. Hitler forced Czechoslovakia to give up the German-speaking Sudetenland, leaving a rump state ripe for takeover. Putin has seized Crimea and sponsors separatists in eastern and southern Ukraine. Russian pressure risks making beleaguered Ukraine – which is trying to hold a presidential election on Sunday – a failed state.

Both Hitler and Putin base their thinking on race – or ethnicity as it is more fashionably termed now. Hitler wanted to unite the Volksgenossen NB INITIAL CAP AS IT IS GERMAN NOUN (“racial comrades”) of German-speaking Europe into the Third Reich.

For his Putin wants to unite sootechestvenniki (“compatriots”) into a new “Russian world”.

To be sure, the German stranded by Versailles had grievances aplenty, just as do Russians who woke up in 1991 to find they were living abroad. But that is what happens when empires collapse.

Resolving ethnic grievances by changing borders and breaking up countries led to disaster in the 1930s. It risks World War Three now.

Like Hitler, Putin has used race-based grievances to whip up a nationalist frenzy at home.

Other countries’ rights or interests are irrelevant. Putin thinks Ukraine is a “territory, not a state”. Hitler believed that Czechoslovakia and Poland had no right to exist.

Both men have splurged on rearmament. Hitler built battleships and warplanes and turned the Wehrmacht into the most formidable fighting force in the world.

Putin has put money into modern missiles, propaganda and special forces.

The similarities between Putin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany are troubling – and growing.

Though Soviet propaganda used to decry Hitler and Fascism as the ultimate evils, the Kremlin line is now changing.

Sensationally one of the Russian regime’s top propagandists, Andrik Migranyan, has even said that Hitler was a good leader until 1939. If he had only stopped then, wrote Mr Migranyan last month, the Nazi chief would be remembered as “a politician of the highest order”.

Such views overlook the persecution of Jews, the burning of books and the establishment of concentration camps – all of which were well under way by 1939.

The royal family needs no reminding about what totalitarian rulers can do. The Bolsheviks murdered British royal relatives – the Romanov Czar Nicholas II, his wife and children — after the 1917 revolution.

Prince Charles’s beloved grandmother, the Queen Mother, witnessed first-hand the appeasement years of the 1930s, when Britain tried to deal with Hitler through diplomacy not deterrence. The royal family also know the shameful sympathy to the Nazis showed by Edward VIII, the uncrowned king who abdicated in 1936. They shared the suffering and danger of Britons during the Blitz and rejoiced with them when peace returned to Europe.

Our royals also know that victory in 1945 brought no relief for the captive nations of eastern Europe. The Yugoslav, Romanian and Bulgarian royal families – all friends and relatives of the Windsors — had to flee their countries’ new communist rulers.

Nick Clegg’s family knows history too. On his mother’s side, his Dutch forebears quailed under Nazi occupation. His paternal grandmother , Kira Engelhardt , was a Russian baroness. Had she not fled Soviet rule, she would have all too likely met the bestial fate the Bolsheviks meted out to aristocratic women.

So it is a pity that the Lib Dem leader, while defending Prince Charles’s right to hold a private conversation, turned so mealy-mouthed on the parallels between Nazi Germany and modern Russia. He did not want, he said, “to start comparing one period of European history to another”.

Why on earth not? History indeed does not repeat itself. But as Mark Twain said, it often rhymes.

The events of recent months are particularly sinister and troubling in the light of European history of the 1930s. The heir to the throne understands this. But our politicians won’t speak about it.

Where our Winston Churchill?

Autors ir The Economist žurnālists, rakstnieks un arī grāmatas “The New Cold War” autors

 

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