Is Putin like Hitler?

For a strong opinion on why Russian annexation of the Crimea cannot be accepted, see Jana Puglierin, “Wir dürfen die Annexion nicht hinnehmen,” Der Spiegel, 1. April 2014.

Die Akzeptanz für Putins Annexion der Krim ist erstaunlich. Der Regelbruch darf kein Präzedenzfall werden, sonst ist es mit dem Frieden nicht nur in Europa vorbei.

A German minister’s comment that Putin had used the same methods in seizing and annexing the Crimea as Hitler had used in annexing the Sudetenland has created much consternation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

See:

(1) “Hitler-Vergleich: Schäuble verteidigt Äußerungen zur Ukraine-Krise,” Die Zeit, 4. April 2014.

“Ich bin doch nicht so blöd”: Finanzminister Schäuble versucht die Diskussion um seinen angeblichen Nazi-Vergleich zu entschärfen. Die Empörung darüber hält allerdings an – Moskau beschwert sich offiziell über die “Provokation”.

Schäuble defended his comment as taken out of context by the media. The quote which caused the uproar is reproduced below:

“Schäuble hatte bei der Veranstaltung zu Wochenbeginn Parallelen zwischen Russlands Vorgehen auf der Krim und der Annexion des Sudetenlandes 1938 durch Nazi-Deutschland gezogen. Mit Blick auf ein mögliches Szenario hatte er den Schülern gesagt: “Das kennen wir alles aus der Geschichte. Mit solchen Methoden hat schon der Hitler das Sudetenland übernommen – und vieles andere mehr.”

(2) Jan Fleischhauer, “Außenpolitik à la Putin: Gebt uns das Elsass zurück!” Der Spiegel, 3. April 2014.

“Folgt man Putins Logik, sieht die europäische Landkarte bald ganz anders aus: Erst holen wir Deutschen uns die Siedlungsgebiete in Belgien zurück, dann reden wir ein ernstes Wort mit den Franzosen.”

(3) “Putin’s seizure of the Crimea and Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland: The comparison is accurate,” The Trenchant Observer, April 1, 2014.

Although the statement by Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is absolutely correct on the merits, the comparison of anyone with Adolf Hitler remains highly disturbing for many Germans.

There are still those in Germany who, if only at a subconscious level, do not want to be reminded of Hitler’s crimes, or of the fact that like Putin today Adolf Hitler gained popularity from violating international law and annexing the territory of other countries.

Demonstrating the point about Putin’s propaganda machine made below, Russia responded to Schäuble’s quoted statement by telling the new German ambassador in Moscow that the statement was an impermissible “provocation”. After invading the Crimea and annexing it to Russia, Putin and his propaganda machine know no shame.

Of couse, the actual comparisons that have been made have related to the methods used by Hitler to annex the Sudetenland. One might add the annexation or Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938.

The outraged responses to any comparison of Putin and Hitler serve an important purpose, however.

They open up the question, “In what ways is Putin like Hitler?”

Putin has actively supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, thereby incurring international criminal responsibility as an accomplice to such crimes.

He has committed the international crime of launching an armed aggression against a sovereign state, the Ukraine.

He has annexed territory of another state seized through the illegal use of force in violation of Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, and peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens) from which there can be no derogation even by agreement between states.

He is the “butcher of the Caucasus” responsible for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Chechnya.

He has suppressed fundamental human rights in Russia, including the right to a free press and freedom of expression, and the right to a fair trial before an independent court.

He has invaded the territory of Georgia in 2008, and maintains Russian troops on Georgian territory today.

Finally, Putin is like Hitler in his use of propaganda. This includes “The Big Lie”. As Adolf Hitler is quoted as saying, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

Putin’s use of propaganda in relation to Russian aggression against the Ukraine and its seizure and annexation of the Crimea has employed the tried and true techniques of Hitler’s and Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda machine, as further enhanced by Soviet leaders from Lenin and Stalin up to the days of glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev.

As a formern KGB operative, Putin’s mastery of these propaganda techniques should not come as a surprise.

Nor should we be surprised by the lies being pedaled by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who assured John Kerry and the world that Russia had no intention of violating the territorial integrity or political independence of the Ukraine just days before its military takeover of the Crimea, or the repetition of the lies of Russian propaganda by U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the U.N. Security Council.

Russia has the propaganda toolbox, and has been using all of its tools in connection with Syria, first, and now the Ukraine. That represents a great similarity between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

The Need for Further Inquiry: “Is Putin like Hitler, and how?

So, the comparison between Putin and Hitler is an interesting one, and one which merits both close examination and deep reflection.

Hitler tore up the League of Nations Covenant by invading other countries, symbolized by the seizure with German tanks of the grounds of the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague in May, 1940.

Putin, if his aggression against the Ukraine is allowed to stand, threatens to overthrow the postwar political and legal order based on the United Nations Charter of 1945.

Putin seeks to subordinate the sovereign will of the Ukraine by bargaining with other states over its internal constitutional arrangements, under threats of further aggression from an estimated 40,000 troops (or more) massed on the border with Ukraine and equipped for a rapid military incursion into that country.

Russia also seeks to subordinate the sovereign will of Ukraine by raising the price of gas exports in violation of existing concession agreements between the Ukraine and Russia, which provide for discounted prices as payment for an extension of the Russian lease on Crimean installations and the stationing of the Black Sea fleet on its territory.

The Russian rebuttal of this argument is particularly cute: Since the Crimea now belongs to Russia (as a result of its aggression!), it no longer needs to honor these agreements. In other words, a legal obligation in an agreement with another country can be extinguished by invading that country and appropriating the territory and assets which are being leased.

So, let the reader inquire and reflect on the question, “In what ways is Vladimir Putin like Adolf Hitler, both in the methods used to forcibly annex foreign territories, and in other ways?”

Whatever the taboos in political discourse may be in Germany, or elsewhere, at the end of the day readers should bear in mind the truth of an old aphorism:

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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