Commentary: Putin and Russia, the Ukraine, and Appeasement by the West

Boris Wischnewskij recalls, in an Op-Ed in the Süddeutscher Zeitung on August 14, Winston Churchill’s terse note to Neville Chamberlain upon the latter’s return from Munich, where he had agreed to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland. Wrote Churchill:

“You had the choice between war and disgrace. You have chosen disgrace and will get war.” (Translation from the German)

See Boris Wischnewskij (Gastbeitrag), “Putin unter Druck: Unterschätzte Macht des knurrenden Magens,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 14. August 2014 (07:21 Uhr).

“Die Beliebtheit des russischen Präsidenten stützt sich auf TV-Propaganda. Doch sobald die gar nicht so wohlhabende Mehrheit begreift, dass man vom Mitfiebern nicht satt wird, dass man den Kühlschrank nicht an den Fernseher anschließen kann – dann wird Putin in den Umfragen abstürzen.”

Wischnewskij concludes his article, which analyzes how Putin’s popularity could fall as the economic effects of his aggression are felt, with a comment on the West’s attempted appeasement of Putin, following Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea. He writes:

Als Russland nun dabei war, sich die Krim zurückzuholen, reagierte der Westen schlapp, man versuchte, Putin zu beschwichtigen. In diesem Frühling fühlten sich manche russische Oppositionelle an 1938 erinnert, an den sogenannten Anschluss von Sudetenland und Österreich, an das Münchner Abkommen.

Churchill schrieb 1938 an Chamberlain nach dessen Rückkehr aus München: “Sie hatten die Wahl zwischen Krieg und Schande. Sie haben sich für die Schande entschieden und werden den Krieg bekommen.”

An diesen Satz muss ich in diesen Tagen öfter denken.

As we follow the progress of the 280 trucks dispatched from an army base near Moscow to deliver “humanitarian assistance” to Luhansk, Donetsk and the Donbass, we need to bear in mind that since the invasion of the Crimea we have witnessed from Putin and the Russians an unbroken chain of lies, broken promises, and war propaganda bearing little relation to the truth. At the same time, the irregular forces Putin dispatched to the eastern Ukraine are responsible for a lawless reign of terror in areas under their control.

We have absolutely no reason to believe anything Putin or the Russians say or promise. Any undertakings with them must be made subject to strict outside monitoring and verification.

The Trenchant Observer

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"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.