Do Russians Want War?

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Do Russians Want War?

Kherson, Ukraine - War with Russia
Kherson, Ukraine – War with Russia

In 1961, a Russian pop song asked, “Do Russians Want War?” The rhetorical answer was supposed to be “No!” after hearing the lyrics which reminded the listener of the losses during “The Great Patriotic War” (World War II), Russian women, and Elbe Day when Soviet and American troops met amicably in 1945. It was performed in Italy, Belgium, The Girl in Kherson, France, Switzerland and in the UK in the Royal Albert Hall.

Generalizations are always risky. Nonetheless, we cannot avoid making generalizations in this book. Do Russians want war? With the caveat that not all Russians want war, and that in fact many Russians do not want war, we must recognize the fact tha the situation in Russia was one in which the majority of Russians agreed to support their government as it embarked on the road to a major war. Russians (a majority of them), discovered that they wanted to be feared – unexpectedly for Europe, and unexpectedly for themselves, too – just as Soviet soldiers had always been feared in Europe. The invasion of Ukraine 2022 was a logical next step.

 

 

Lessons from WWI and WWII Putin never learned

 

 

After the First World War ended and the conditions of the peace agreement were being discussed, American President Woodrow Wilson proposed quite lenient terms of surrender for Germany. But France and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Britain categorically insisted on (and obtained) very severe terms, which guaranteed, as it seemed to everyone at the time, that Germany would never be able to recover economically and to become the cause of a new war in Europe. That is how the Treaty of Versailles came about in the form in which we know it. Years will pass. Volumes will be written about the fact that the Second World War began precisely because of the Treaty of Versailles, which was humiliating for Germany, and because of the unrestrained appetite of France, which sought to prevent the revival of Germany at any cost. In many respects, the authors of these books were likely right.

So, the first reason for Hitler’s rise to power in Germany was the Treaty of Versailles, which humiliated Germany and paved the way for the rise of nationalism and the ascent of the National Socialists. The second reason was an unshakeable conviction on the part of the right-wing, conservative part of the German population and the army that Germany had lost the war because of a “stab in the back” – such was the term that appeared in Germany at the time, and this stab in the back of the German army had come from revolutionaries: Communists. The supporters of this view were right in some respects. The revolutionary uprisings in Germany in the fall of 1918, which brought about the German “November Revolution,” certainly weakened the positions of the German army and government, which, by the end of 1918, were already not very strong.

It should be added here that Germany’s Social Democrats had drawn lessons from the history of the Russian Revolution of 1917. While in Russia the Social Democrats – the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries – united with the Bolsheviks to oppose a “counter-revolution” that was largely a figment of their own imagination and gave up power to the Bolsheviks as a result, in Germany the Social Democrats joined with the army, i.e. with the counter-revolution, and squashed the Spartacists-Communists. As a consequence, it was the German Social Democrats who came to power in Germany on the wave of the crushed revolution of 1918 and not the Communists.

It was a difficult lot that fell to the democratic governments of the Weimar Republic of 1919-1932 (because of the lost war and its consequences, and because of the unfulfillable financial-economic terms of the Treaty of Versailles). As a result – with Germany enjoying absolute freedom of the press throughout the 1920s – German democracy turned out to be compromised by the Social Democrats themselves, to whom the population and media, ascribed responsibility for all economic ills.

But the most important reason for the Nazis’ rise to power was a third one: the nationalist question. In the case of Germany, this issue may be divided into two strands: first, the rebirth of the German nation, the unification of all Germans within the borders of a single empire; and second, the fight against world Jewry, above all with Jews in Germany. When the Nazis, to fuel the flames of anti-Semitism, pointed to the “stranglehold” of Jews on Germany and Austria, they found enough arguments to make their case. The intellectual elite of Germany and Austria (doctors, lawyers, financiers, businessmen, the creative intelligentsia) to a very large extent consisted of Jews.

There were also ancillary reasons that facilitated the Nazis’ ascent. In the Comintern (the international organization run by the CPSU), Stalin had proclaimed the German Social Democrats to be the main ideological enemy of the international Communist movement.

One should consider this fact carefully. The German Social Democrats in the Weimar Republic were teetering under the burden of the financial-economic conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. It might seem that it would have been natural for the Soviet Union to support this weak democratic government in view of the new, growing threat of extreme nationalism in Germany – a threat, incidentally, that was not merely theoretical, but quite real. In Italy, the fascists had already come to power. Thus, grounds to see fascism as a real threat existed. According to the Communist dogmas of Marx and Lenin, furthermore, Nationalism was the sworn enemy of international Communism.

Nonetheless, Stalin forced the German Communists to unite with the Nazis in opposing Germany’s Social Democratic government. If the Communists had supported the Social Democrats, they would have had a majority in the Reichstag (the German parliament), and Hitler would have never been able to come to power, because he came to power not as the result of a revolution or coup, but legally. But Stalin gave the German Communists exactly the opposite instructions: they had to use all their power to support the Nazis and, together with them, to come out against Germany’s Social Democratic government.

Stalin’s strategy with respect to the revolution in Germany differed both from the straightforward approach of Marx and Trotsky, who expected the German working class to rise up, and from the anti-French plans of Lenin, who sought to push the Germans to create a “front on the Rhein.” Stalin wanted to destroy all centrist political groups and to leave Nazism and Bolshevism as opposing forces. He rightly believed that the main power of the world revolution was the USSR, and that the other international Communist parties played an auxiliary role.

Within the framework of such a program, during the period 1929-1939, all efforts of Soviet foreign policy and the Comintern with respect to Germany were aimed at undermining the Weimar Republic, directly supporting the Nazis’ strikes, and fomenting armed conflicts with the Republic. According to Stalin’s thinking, Hitler in Germany, and in Europe as a whole, had to play the role of the “icebreaker of the revolution,” clearing the way for the Communists. Therefore, from 1933 on, Stalin’s goal was to form an alliance with the German militarists and Hitler, and the strategy of a “united front” in Europe in 1934-1939 was for Stalin merely a cover for a policy of preparing an agreement with the Nazis.

If Stalin had planned to form an alliance with Britain and France against Germany, he would have conducted open talks with Germany and secret talks with France and Britain. But Stalin wanted to form an agreement precisely with Hitler. Therefore, he conducted open talks with Britain and France, and secret ones with the Nazi government. This was the background against which Europe was shaken by a blow that historians would later compare only with the beginning of the Second World War: the Munich Agreement.

The Munich Agreement was signed by France and Britain in order to prevent a war. This was a last, desperate attempt by France and Britain, who sacrificed Czechoslovakia, to appease Hitler and to preserve peace in Europe. By 1938, the situation that had developed in Europe was catastrophic for the Western democracies. Mussolini was in power in Italy, Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain. Austria no longer existed: as a result of the “Anschluss,” it had become a part of the German empire. In Portugal and Hungary dictators were in power.

Formally, there was a treaty between France, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. In the event of a German attack on Czechoslovakia, the Czechoslovak government could request military assistance from France and the USSR. And all Soviet history books describe in detail exactly how the Soviet Union was prepared to offer this assistance, how many divisions the USSR had, how many airplanes and tanks stood at the ready…

 

But in September 1938, no one wanted and no one was prepared to go to war over Czechoslovakia: not France, not Britain, not the Soviet Union, not even Czechoslovakia itself. Edvard Beneš, the President of Czechoslovakia, did in fact send Stalin a telegram at the critical moment, formally requesting that the Soviet Union offer such assistance under the treaty. But Beneš did not receive a response to this telegram in time. The Soviet government delayed its response. Soon, Beneš sent another telegram informing Stalin that Czechoslovakia had accepted the terms of surrender and was no longer seeking military assistance from the Red Army.

It is clear that the Soviet government had no intention of going to war with Hitler over Czechoslovakia at that time. Stalin had entered into talks about military assistance for Czechoslovakia exclusively in order to obtain Poland’s permission for access to the Czechoslovak border. The occupation of Poland was Stalin’s obsession after losing against Poland in 1920. Stalin’s anti-Polish complex comes close only to Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitic complex and Putin’s Ukraine complex. The Poles understood Stalin’s hatred well and did not grant permission to Soviet troops to pass through Poland, since it was obvious to the Poles that once the Red Army entered Poland, it would never leave. This was a lesson drawn from the history of Russian-Polish relations. France, Britain, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union exerted pressure on the Poles, but the Poles refused to allow Soviet troops to enter.210 The brutality of 22,000 Polish officers massacred in cold blood by Soviet troops a few years later proved them right. (In 2022, the reports of criminal barbarity against Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers is a direct consequence of Putin’s Ukraine obsession.

The Soviet Union did not, in fact, have a border with Germany, France, or Czechoslovakia. But why were France and Britain – which throughout the 1920s had insisted on the observance of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles – not prepared to declare war against Hitler in 1938 in response to the Nazis’ demand that Germany be given the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia that was populated largely by ethnic Germans? Why was it necessary to agree to a “partition” of Czechoslovakia?

First and foremost, because Britain and France were not prepared to appear as aggressors, as we would say today, before their voters. Europe was not ready to start the Second World War in 1938 over Sudetenland Germans, that is ethnic Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia and wished to be annexed to Germany. Nor, indeed, was Europe ready to start a war over Hitler’s occupation of the remaining part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Why go to war when Czechoslovakia itself was surrendering without resistance?

This is the point at which we should go back to Stalin’s foreign policy plans and to the man he thought of as the “icebreaker of the revolution,” Hitler. In March 1939, Hitler was not risking a major war. He knew that no one would start a major war over Czechoslovakia. Indeed, he no longer believed in a major war at all. With the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he had resolved all of the foreign policy problems that the Reich faced. That is to say, all but one: the destruction of European and world Jewry. Ethnic Germans were united within the borders of the empire. Germany’s economy was on the rise. Over time the terms of the Treaty of Versailles had ceased to exist (Hitler had simply stopped adhering to them). The property of German Jews had been confiscated. They themselves had been deprived of all rights, banished from the Reich, or arrested and sent to camps.

It was at this moment, when Hitler had obtained everything he wanted for Germany, with little foreign blood spilled, that Stalin invited him to the negotiating table. This invitation was both unambiguous and symbolic. On May 3, 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov, the head of the Sovnarkom (the USSR’s government) and a Russian by nationality, replaced Maxim Litvinov – a Jew, with whom Hitler would have never sat down at the negotiating table due to his visceral anti-Semitism – as the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

The replacement of Litvinov, a Jew, with Molotov, a Russian, was a signal sent by Stalin to indicate his readiness to begin serious talks with the German government. This signal was understood, the invitation was accepted. Hitler, of course, knew about Stalin’s Polish obsession and the Soviet government’s endless demands that the Poles give the Red Army access to pass through Polish territory. Hitler knew that Stalin wanted Poland. Therefore, Hitler could not attack Poland without first reaching an agreement with Stalin concerning the division of Polish territory.

The upshot for Poland of the pact that Hitler and Stalin formed in August 1939 was that Soviet and German troops would simultaneously attack Poland’s borders and erase the Polish state. Germany would again avoid a major war since, with the USSR taking part in the division of Poland, France and Britain would not risk fulfilling the terms of their mutual assistance agreement with Poland, and would not come to Poland’s help. Instead, they would follow the Czechoslovak precedent.

In August 1939, when after the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 it seemed to Europe that there might be no major war with Hitler, Stalin unleashed the Second World War. The fact was that Stalin knew very well why he was signing a Soviet-German non-aggression pact with Hitler, along with a secret protocol that stipulated which countries would fall under the USSR’s sphere of influence.

By August 1939, the Soviet government had a choice. Stalin could have signed a mutual assistance agreement with France and Britain. In keeping with such an agreement, if Germany attacked France – and this was the only great power that Germany could attack, since it had no borders with Britain or the USSR – the USSR and Britain would have to come to France’s aid. Without Poland’s permission for the Red Army to pass through Polish territory, the Soviet Union realistically could not in any way help France and Britain.

To be sure, the Soviet Union could have maintained amicable neutrality. But this was all that Stalin could have done. The signing of such a mutual assistance agreement between the USSR, France, and Britain would have resulted in Hitler not attacking either France or Poland. Because given the existence of such an agreement between France and the Soviet Union, Stalin would have had to declare war on Germany. This was not a risk that Hitler could take in August-September 1939.

Stalin risked drawing the Soviet Union into a war with Hitler’s Germany as early as September 1939, which would have been undesirable. Therefore, Stalin had a different plan for his foreign policy. A completely secure plan. He could sign no agreement with France and Britain and he could sign no agreement with Hitler. In this case, September 1939 would have looked somewhat better for Hitler.

In the first scenario, the Soviet Union would find itself in a state of war with Germany if Hitler attacked Poland and France. In the second scenario, the Soviet Union would remain neutral. Then Hitler would have had to occupy all of Poland and come up to the Soviet borders of August 1939, which would have created for Hitler the risk of new military conflicts, this time with the Red Army, and the beginning of a war on two fronts. It was difficult to imagine that Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany – two aggressive states headed by capricious, paranoid dictators – could coexist in peace for long. To avoid sharing a border with the USSR, Hitler could occupy only western Poland and turn eastern Poland into a buffer zone. How long such a “buffer” state might last was not clear. But at least, both in the event of the appearance of a shared border with Germany, and in the event of the creation of a buffer zone in eastern Poland, the Soviet Union could for some time not take part in the big European war and watch from the side as Hitler crushed the rest of Europe.

Of course, the main risk for Stalin was that Hitler might not begin a major war in Europe at all. In September 1939, as far as Poland was concerned, he might limit himself only to solving the “Danzig problem.” The “Danzig problem” consisted of the fact that the region around Danzig was populated by ethnic Germans. Hitler sought to reunite them with Germany. This required not only the transfer of Danzig to Germany, but also the creation of a German-national road – called the “Danzig corridor” – to connect Danzig with the rest of Germany.

Obviously, in order for these Polish territories to be transferred to Germany, it was necessary to obtain Poland’s consent. But Hitler had already obtained a successful outcome in Munich, and he planned to play out the same scenario with Danzig as he had with the Sudetenland and its population of ethnic Germans: first, to threaten France, Britain, and Poland with the possibility of a major war and to use this threat to obtain Danzig and the corridor; and then, to accuse the Poles of failing to comply with certain terms of the agreement, to enter Poland on the pretext of defending the interests of ethnic Germans in Poland, and to occupy western Poland. Ultimately, Poland would have still had “its” September 1939, but it would have come not in September 1939, but later, say, in 1940-41.

Hitler was planning on occupying western Poland without a major war. After all, didn’t Britain, France, and the Soviet Union allow him to occupy Czechoslovakia in 1939? Why should Poland be any different?

Why then, with such a plan, did Hitler still need a non-aggression pact with Stalin?

Hitler feared that Stalin, despite not having any mutual assistance treaty with France, would enter the war, cross the border of Poland (with or without the Poles’ consent), and open up an eastern front against the German army. Such a scenario would have been extremely disadvantageous and dangerous for Hitler. Consequently, Hitler could not undertake such an enormous risk in September 1939. Without signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin, Hitler could not begin a war against Poland. Hitler could begin such a war only if Stalin, for his part, would promise not to support France and Britain and not to open a second, eastern front against Germany. For Hitler, it was absolutely imperative to have a non-aggression agreement with the Soviet Union prior to beginning offensive action against Poland.

Clearly, the price for an agreement that was so advantageous and indispensable to Hitler was Germany’s consent to allow the Soviet Union to occupy a number of eastern European countries. On August 20, 1939, hurrying to resolve the Polish question, Hitler wrote a letter to Stalin in which he unequivocally stated that he planned to attack Poland and was therefore interested in signing a non-aggression agreement as soon as possible. Hitler asked Stalin for permission to send Ribbentrop to Moscow at once in order to sign a non-aggression pact and a secret protocol detailing the division of spheres of influence in eastern Europe. Stalin agreed.

For all the drawbacks of the Munich agreement of 1938, and despite the validity of all the epithets that we now bestow on this agreement when we call it “cowardly”, “treacherous”, and so on, the Munich agreement was signed by Britain and France in order to preserve peace, while the Soviet-German treaty was signed by Hitler and Stalin in order to begin a war. This was why Hitler was in a hurry. And it was in order to help Hitler to start a war in Europe more quickly that Stalin agreed to receive Ribbentrop in Moscow at once.

On August 23, Ribbentrop flew to Moscow. The Soviet-German non-aggression agreement and secret additional protocol were signed on the same day. In essence, the protocol gave Russia the Baltic States, eastern Poland, Finland, and Bessarabia (today Moldova and west Ukraine). Hitler did not ask Stalin to agree, for example, to the German occupation of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other European states. Hitler needed Stalin to agree only to war with Poland. Even during this period, Hitler still assumed he was avoiding a major war. He discussed this topic with Mussolini during a meeting on April 15-16, 1939, shortly after the occupation of Czechoslovakia. That was when the heads of the two states agreed on a date for the start of a major war: not before 1943. It was still August 1939.

On August 31, Molotov made a long foreign policy speech before the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. On September 1, the day when Germany invaded Poland, this speech was published in Pravda. The gist of the speech was that yesterday fascist Germany had been an enemy; today, it is a friend.

Stalin could have stopped the Second World War. All that he would have had to do was to sign a mutual assistance pact with France and Britain and to renounce his own plans to take over Poland or eastern Poland. Stalin would have had to do nothing more to prevent Hitler’s further aggression and a major war in Europe. But Stalin had the opposite objectives: to unleash the Second World War, to force Hitler to get involved in a major war, to use this Trojan Horse to ride into Europe, both East and West, and to conquer it. And the unsuspecting Hitler fell into the trap set by Stalin. On September 1, he attacked Poland. On September 3, during the day, first Britain and then France declared war on Germany.

On the evening of September 3, the German government sent its first urgent classified telegram to Moscow with the request that Russia start military actions against Poland as soon as possible. Why?

First, the Germans were suffering losses. Of course, these losses, as it later turned out, were immeasurably small in comparison to those of the Polish army, but all the same, for the first time in the whole history of Hitler’s aggression in Europe, the Germans were suffering losses, numbering in the thousands. Second, it was important to the Germans to prevent a situation in which the Polish army could retreat to the east, into the Soviet sphere of influence, which the Germans could not enter under the terms of the non-aggression agreement with the USSR. Third, Hitler wanted to demonstrate to Poland, and to Britain and France, that Stalin in this war was an ally of Germany, not an ally of democratic Europe.

There is another consideration that is of great importance. If Stalin had attacked Poland on September 1 or 2, it is possible that Britain and France might not have declared war on Germany at all, but that they would have done the same as with Czechoslovakia. However, this would have meant that no major war would have begun in Europe. Germany and the USSR would have reached a shared border in Poland, which they now both occupied.

It is clear that, under those circumstances, the next major war would have been a Soviet-German war, not the Second World War. Therefore, Stalin did what he did. He waited for Germany to attack Poland. This was his first move. He waited for France and Britain to declare war on Germany. This was his second move. He waited for the German government twice to send him urgent requests to attack Poland. And only after the second request did he graciously agree to begin military actions.

On September 3, 1939, the world did not yet understand what the Second World War was going to be and how it would unfold. The First World War was well remembered by everyone. It had ended only 20 years earlier, and most of the survivors of that war were still living. Those who had been 30 years old in 1918 were 51 in 1939.

During the First World War, Great Britain lost about one million people; France lost 1.7 million. France’s losses were catastrophic, and France was in no state to win a second time at such a cost. The history of the Second World War showed that France was ready to surrender, but not to fight. In 1939, France had only one goal: not to lose people in a new war. This goal was realized successfully, in part. During the Second World War, the French lost fewer lives than in the First: approximately 568,000 people or 1.35 percent of the population (as opposed to 4.3 percent in the First World War).

Britain was in a far better position. Britain was an island, inaccessible for Germany. France knew that it could not and would not fight Germany alone, therefore it waited for Britain to declare war on Germany first before declaring war itself. Britain declared war on Germany in the first half of the day on September 3. France declared war in the second half of the same day. But Britain, although it had declared war, also had no intention of starting a war. It, too, did aim to bring another nation to heel without regard to the human cost to its population. And in fact, in this sense Great Britain achieved its goal. It lost half as many lives in the Second World War as in the First: approximately 450,000 people.

By the evening of September 3, 1939, staggering possibilities opened up before Stalin. He could simply do nothing, as in August, and not invade eastern Poland. In this case, he would leave Hitler one-on-one with the Poles, the French, and the British. Of course, knowing what we know now about Hitler’s barbaric plans with respect to all mankind, this would have been ignoble on Stalin’s part, but in terms of the interests of the Soviet state and even in terms of Stalin’s personal foreign policy plans, such a solution might have been advantageous. Hitler would have had to fight with Poland. Many thousands of Germans would have been killed. A military campaign against Poland would have taken some time. France would not have been able to watch the extermination of the Poles for long without beginning military actions against Germany. After this, Britain would have also been forced to intervene to the extent of its capacities. To be sure, at that point Britain’s capacities were limited, since it had no land army for an invasion, while its air force was in an embryonic state. But on the seas, the British navy reigned supreme. This was not insignificant.

If we do not idealize Stalin but consider him an evildoer worthy of Hitler, then we can see that a non-interventionist approach described above would have also led to an outcome that was advantageous for the USSR. Stalin would be pulling Europe into the Second World War, i.e. realizing his insidious plan of the “icebreaker of the revolution.” He would obtain everything except eastern Poland, since he risked having the Germans occupy it out of military necessity. Once they had taken over the territory of eastern Poland, the Germans might not leave it again, and the new Soviet-German border would now lie along the old Soviet-Polish border of 1939. The price for such a possible – only possible, not inevitable – relinquishment of eastern Poland to Germany was that the Soviet Union would not participate in Hitler’s German campaign and that it would preserve its military neutrality in the war that would begin in Europe.

There were also other options. Stalin could have argued that the declaration of war by France and Britain against Germany changed the international conditions under which the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union had been signed, and that the Soviet government was annulling this agreement along with its secret protocol. Naturally, Hitler would have been forced to regard such a move as hostile with respect to Germany, with all the attendant consequences. Such a claim would have meant that, already in 1939, the Soviet Union would enter the world war on the side of Poland, Britain, and France. But the same claim might have forced Hitler to renounce his plans to occupy all of Poland, or just western Poland, and to seek an opportunity to settle the conflict that had begun as soon as possible, for example, with Italy acting as an intermediary. In other words, Stalin might have prevented the Second World War even after September 3, 1939.

But Stalin had no plans of stopping the German invasion of Poland and putting out the fire of the Second World War which had only just begun to spread. On September 5, 1939, in response to Ribbentrop’s query, Stalin confirmed that he was reserving the right to eastern Poland, but that he would not attack it as yet, even if the Germans might sporadically cross over into the Soviet sphere of influence for a short while.

Why did Stalin make this particular decision? First, in the event of a Soviet invasion of Poland and a rapid Soviet-German occupation of this country, the Second World War might have ended as quickly as it had begun and been limited to the disappearance of Poland from the map. This was, in fact, what Hitler had counted on. Second, Stalin made the decision not to attack Poland at once so that the Poles might resist the Germans longer and better, and consequently, so that they might suffer greater losses. The longer the Poles fought the Germans, the weaker would be their resistance to Soviet aggression. Third, if Poland had been already swallowed up by the USSR and Germany during the first days of September, would it have been worth starting a major war over this fait accompli? Finally, Stalin was in no hurry to enter a war, but wanted to allow the Germans, too, to suffer the greatest possible losses in Europe and to get drawn into a world war as part of Stalin’s overall strategy of transforming Germany into the “icebreaker of the revolution.”

 

Stalin planned to start an advance into eastern Poland only after German troops captured Warsaw. At that point, the Soviet government would declare that Poland – that “monstrous offspring of the Treaty of Versailles,” as Poland would be called in a speech by Molotov – had collapsed, and that the Red Army was entering Poland to “defend the Ukrainians and Belarusians” who lived there. On September 14, Molotov demanded that the Germans capture Warsaw as a precondition for the Red Army to begin military actions against Poland.

But there was one delicate point: the threat that Germany, having captured Warsaw and western Poland, would agree to a truce with the Polish government. Then the old problem would once again rear its head: the threat that the Second World War would fizzle out before becoming a major war. Therefore, on September 10, the Soviet government informed Berlin that it would begin military actions against Poland if the Germans, for their part, promised not to form a truce with the Poles. On September 13, Ribbentrop assured Stalin that “the issue of the need to form a truce with Poland” was “not being considered” by the German government.

In September 1939, Hitler hoped that the fuse of war would quietly smolder until he himself was ready for new, active, offensive operations in the west. This hope of Hitler’s obtained fully. France and Britain were not ready – either militarily, or politically, or psychologically – to start a major war over Poland. They were prepared to declare war, but not to fight one. Stalin hoped that both sides would get bogged down in a war in the west and that the Soviet Union would meanwhile be able to achieve its foreign policy objectives within the framework of its secret protocol with Germany. This calculation also proved correct. The French and British governments expected that, following the occupation of Poland, Hitler’s next aggressive move would be an eastern campaign, not a western one. This hope came true, although with a time lag of almost two years, on June 22, 1941.

In this way, the foreign policy predictions of all of the great European powers came true. But the situation that emerged from the realization of these predictions, which politicians in each country regarded as most advantageous to their side, turned out to be disadvantageous in the extreme for each of its participants.

We will say no more about Poland, which was sacrificed under these calculations. Poland simply ceased to exist. France and Britain, seeking to delay their entrance into the war for as long as possible and hoping to gain time, consequently gave Germany and Italy a temporal advantage in preparing for a serious military campaign in 1939-1941, against all of democratic Europe.

From a military point of view, the operations conducted by the German army between September 1939 and the summer of 1941 should be considered brilliant. By the summer of 1941, continental Europe was entirely captured by Germany and the Soviet Union. For its protection, the British Empire could count only on its navy and on the steep coast of the English Channel. It had no forces that could put up an active resistance on land.

In this whole scheme, Hitler and Stalin made only one geopolitical misstep, which at the same time became Britain’s only success: in the course of the military operations, a shared border was created in Europe between the German empire and the Soviet Union. Now Hitler confronted the problem that he needed to have foreseen and avoided, because it inevitably led to a military collision between two states, two regimes, two dictatorships.

In November 1940, Molotov arrived in Berlin for a new round of talks. The talks were difficult. Molotov demanded that Germany agree to let the Soviet Union take over Finland (which had successfully defended its independence during the winter war of 1939-1940); to occupy Bulgaria, to “establish a base for the land and naval forces of the USSR in the Mediterranean region of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles on the basis of a long-term lease”; and even to launch a joint Soviet-Italian war against Turkey, under certain conditions. In addition, the Soviet government insisted that Hitler’s Axis-partner Japan give up its oil and coal concessions to the north of Sakhalin, the island wedged between Japan and the USSR.

In response, Hitler proposed that the Soviet Union join the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan, formed in Berlin on September 27, 1940. The Germans drafted an agreement between the Tripartite Pact states and the USSR. It included two secret protocols with a long list of the aggressive intentions of the USSR and Germany. In particular, Hitler agreed that the “main territorial interests” of the USSR “lie south of the territory of the Soviet Union, in the direction of the Indian Ocean,” and that “Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union will work jointly to replace the current convention regarding the regime of the Straits, signed in Montreux, with a new convention. The new convention would grant the Soviet Union unrestricted passage through the Straits at any time for its navy, while all other countries, with the exception of the Black Sea states, as well as Germany and Italy, would in principle relinquish the right of passage through the Straits for their military vessels.”

 

Molotov’s demands that Germany yield Finland, Bulgaria, and a base in the Bosporus and the Dardanelles were ignored by Hitler. On the evening of November 25, 1940, Molotov summoned the German ambassador, Schulenburg, and handed him a response to the German offer. The Soviet government was ready “to accept the draft of a pact between four states pertaining to political cooperation and mutual economic assistance,” but with serious amendments. German troops must immediately leave “Finland, which according to the agreement of 1939 belongs to the Soviet area of influence”; the Soviet area of influence must also contain Bulgaria. “During the next few months, the Soviet Union’s security in the direction of the Straits must be guaranteed… with the establishment of a base for the land and naval forces of the USSR in the region of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles on the basis of a long-term lease.” Germany also had to recognize that “the area to the south of Batumi and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf” was “the center of the Soviet Union’s territorial ambitions,” while Japan had to relinquish its claims to coal and oil concessions in the north of Sakhalin Island. The Soviet government also insisted that Turkey join the pact between the four states, and in the event of Turkey’s refusal to do so “Italy and the USSR jointly,” on the basis of a new, separate agreement, must employ “military and diplomatic sanctions” against Turkey.

Hitler had proposed two secret protocols. Stalin proposed five secret protocols: a third secret protocol between Germany and the Soviet Union regarding Finland; a fourth secret protocol between Japan and the Soviet Union regarding Japan’s relinquishment of all claims to old and coal concessions north of Sakhalin; a fifth secret protocol between Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy recognizing the fact the Bulgaria was geographically located within the security zone of the Black Sea borders of the USSR and that the formation of a mutual assistance agreement between the Soviet Union and Bulgaria was a political necessity.

Hitler could not have given a more eloquent response to the Soviet demands of November 25, 1940 than the one he gave: on December 18, he signed Directive No 21, the plans for Operation Barbarossa, authorizing the invasion of the Soviet Union. Of course, the Soviet government did not know about this order. But Hitler’s rejection of the demands of November 25 was certainly known. Soviet-German relations had reached an impasse. There were German troops in Finland, Bulgaria, and Romania, i.e. in the zone that Stalin considered his own. A military conflict between the USSR and Germany was inevitable.

But was Germany ready for war with the Soviet Union? We know that Germany was not ready for this war (because Germany lost the war). During the fiscal year 1938-1939, Germany spent 15 percent of its national income on its armed forces – approximately as much as Britain. Hitler did not want to expand the German military at the expense of the wellbeing of the German people. This could have caused a drop in his popularity. In the Soviet Union, during the third Five Year Plan (1938-1942), 26.4 percent of the budget was designated for military needs, but in reality every year more and more was spent on the armed forces. In 1940, 32.6 percent of the budget went to the military, while in 1941 the designated amount grew to 43.4 percent.

With hindsight, we are used to viewing June 22, 1941 as Hitler’s greatest mistake. But it is evident that the offensive operations of the summer of 1941 were for him the high point of his military career. Germany’s war against the USSR was a tactical, rather than a strategic operation on Hitler’s part. Hitler did not regard the Soviet Union as a serious adversary. He planned to crush the Red Army in several months and from a military point of view he accomplished this task. He did not seek the help of an important potential ally – Japan. Given the general tension in Soviet-Japanese relations during all of the 1930s, it is likely that Hitler would have succeeded in persuading the Japanese to attack the USSR from the east. But this did not happen, and no second front against the Soviet Union was opened by Japan. Certainly, Hitler had made a miscalculation. He underestimated Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s operation to mislead Hitler and foment a war in Europe was so grand in scale that not even the greatest defeats of the Red Army in the summer and fall of 1941 could break his triumphant offensive spirit. Soviet troops still entered Berlin and established a Communist system of rule in eastern Europe. It just happened four years later than planned. And since Stalin, unlike France and Britain, did not need to win with “the least amount of bloodshed,” but sought victory “at any cost,” Soviet losses in the Second World War were not even tallied by his government.

Some seventy-five years later, the world again found itself on the threshold of a Third World War because of Russia’s ambition to revive its empire. In connection with this, we ought to recall the first sentence of the speech delivered by Vyacheslav Molotov, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, the day when Germany attacked the USSR:

 

 

Today at 4 o’clock a.m., without any claims having been presented to the Soviet Union, without a declaration of war, German troops attacked our country, attacked our borders at many points and bombed from their airplanes our cities: Zhitomir, Kyiv, Sevastopol, Kaunas and some others.

 

 

Empires take a long time to build, but fall apart quickly. After 1991, not one of these cities fell under Russian rule. The Soviet Union, which had won the war, lost these territories when the empire created by Stalin collapsed. In the end, Stalin’s policies toward Germany and Europe in 1939-1941 turned into a catastrophe for the USSR itself, which fell under the weight of insurmountable imperial problems. And this is the main history lesson that ought to be remembered by Putin, who is pulling the world into a Third World War.

 

 

Russian gas as a weapon of mass destruction

 

 

After suffering crushing defeats in the Second World War, Germany and Japan, which had been completely ruined by the destructive bombings of the Allies, in a remarkably short time restored their economic might and in only a few decades came to dominate the top of the world economy, without the help of Panzer divisions or the Luftwaffe, without aircraft carriers and kamikazes. But in order to recognize the obvious, these countries had to go through the lessons of cruel military defeats.

The Soviet government did not have to wait for crushing defeats in a major war. Neither the occupation of eastern Europe, nor support for the regimes of distant socialist countries such as Cuba or Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan, prevented the dwindling of Soviet influence in the world and the collapse of the USSR’s economic system. As in the case of Germany and Japan, military might was no guarantee for political and economic dominance. It only created the mystique of a superpower. In 1991, the CPSU relinquished power as easily as it had seized it in 1917. Soviet political influence over Europe – based as it was on a military presence and military force – ended with a crushing defeat for the USSR, comparable to the defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War.

It seemed for a while that, like Germany and Japan, Russia had learned its lessons from this defeat. After a decade of instability between 1991 and 2000, Russia presented itself to the world as a leading economic power, whose might was now determined not by tank divisions or by warheads aimed at Western Europe and the United States, but by oil, gas, and other raw materials, exported to the whole world. It turned out that exerting economic influence was more effective and cheaper than using military pressure. Russians became wealthy tourists associated with money, not with AK-47s; not aggressors and occupiers, but profitable clients, buyers, investors, spending money that had been earned from the sales of Russian raw materials.

Nonetheless, Russia’s new persona was not without its complications. Russia’s main problem lay in its absolute lack of democracy. The Yeltsin years had brought the market economy and freedom to Russia, but they had failed to create the rule of law: genuinely democratic institutions that could guarantee civil liberties, an independent and uncorrupt judiciary, or government agencies that protected Russia’s citizens. Not without help from Yeltsin himself, who had compromised himself with two Chechen wars and corruption scandals, a former officer of the KGB, Putin, came to power in Russia. The elderly Yeltsin handed over the rule of the country to him just as the elderly Hindenburg had handed over the chancellorship of Germany to Hitler.

After obtaining absolute power, Putin stopped caring about public opinion, deprived the public of any say on questions that concerned the governing of the country, the foreign and domestic policies of the state. The degree of the disconnect between the voters and the Kremlin leadership, overwhelmingly populated by former members of the KGB, was now absolute. Citizens’ opinions stopped interesting Putin, since elections were rigged, while the media was wholly subjugated to the state. The parliament, Russia’s courts and law enforcement agencies, in Moscow and around the country, were controlled exclusively by the Kremlin.

Unaccountable to the people, Russia’s leaders, brought up within the bulwark of the KGB, reverted to the old Soviet method of military pressure. In 1999, the Russian army for a second time invaded Chechnya. In August 2008, Russian troops crossed Russia’s border and invaded Georgia. For this invasion, they made use of a tactic very similar to Hitler’s. They claimed that they were defending the interests of fellow citizens residing outside the borders of the empire. Hitler defended the rights of Germans in Austria, the Sudetenland, and Danzig in this way. The Russian government defended the rights of Russian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This was the first time that the new Russia used its army for foreign expansion, and the action went unpunished. In this way, a dangerous precedent was established, and, as Russia’s economic power grew, the temptation for the Russian government to use the army against a weak adversary waxed instead of waned. For all countries bordering on Russia, the risk of a military invasion became an absolute reality.

By contrast with a classic military intervention, which the world witnessed in 2008 when Russian troops invaded Georgia, in Ukraine the Russian leadership is combining military operations with economic pressure. There is something unexpected (and cynical) about the fact that the occupation of Ukraine by Russia is accompanied by the simultaneous demand that Ukraine pay Russia billions of dollars for past, present, and future deliveries of Russian gas to parts of Ukraine that have not yet been occupied. And indeed, to those parts which have been occupied, too, since Russian gas was delivered to Crimea, and to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

It is clear that the government of Ukraine is largely to blame for accepting the absurd game Russia was playing. Greed on the part of Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs had a lot to do with it. It refused to recognize (and to explain to the population) that Russia had declared war on Ukraine, that Kyiv’s indignant lamentations about “perfidious” attacks by “terrorists” on Ukrainian regiments were the height of naivete, that talks about new terms for gas deliveries are a diversionary maneuver by the Russian leadership; that very soon deliveries of Russian gas to Ukraine would be stopped in any case, under one pretext or another, and that in such a situation the whole question should be formulated in a different way: Ukraine must present the Russian government with a bill for its military actions against Ukraine, in particular, for the annexation of Crimea. Until the Kremlin has paid this bill and until Crimea has been returned to Ukraine, all talk about Ukraine’s past debts and future payments to the Russians, include those pertaining to gas deliveries, ought to be considered unacceptable.

It is known that aggressors cannot be appeased (the classic example is the Munich Agreement of 1938). It is known that aggression must be resisted, because there is no other way of overcoming it (as evidenced by all of world history). It is known that “small, victorious wars” usually turn out to be big ones, not always victorious, and cost many human lives. If rulers and military leaders knew in advance how a war would actually end, not one war would be begun.

It is also known that it took a long time before the two most recent biggest wars in the history of mankind – those of 1914 and 1939 – began to be called “World Wars,” and an even longer time before they received their consecutive numbers – First and Second. When in March 1938 Hitler occupied and annexed Austria, no one at the time thought that this in fact was the prologue to the Second World War. Nonetheless, a year and a half later, in September 1939, the war began, although no one except for Stalin wanted a major war, not even Hitler.

If it is evident that an aggressor cannot be appeased, it is even more evident that an occupied country must not pay tribute to an aggressor for the occupation. In ancient times, in exchange for tribute money, a conquered victim (a town, city, or even an entire state) would be left alone. Today, too, there are cases in which a tribute is paid: for example, Putin pays a tribute to Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of the Chechen Republic.

In the twentieth century, the word “tribute” has not been used, as a rule, to describe relations between states. More modern words have appeared: “reparations” and “indemnity.” But these sums were paid to the victor after the end of military actions and the signing of a truce.

During military action, such tribute is never paid, since who in their right mind would pay an aggressor money to continue the war before signing a truce? It would have seemed very strange indeed if, after the September 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland, the Czechoslovak government entered into negotiations with the German government, say, about repaying Germany its debt for previously purchased railway tracks, while Germany announced that it would now sell these railway tracks to Czechoslovakia only if it received payment in advance and at double the price. Or if Germany, after occupying northern France in 1940, demanded from unoccupied southern France payment for the French government’s debts for metal shipped to France during the previous years. All of this would have seemed like utter nonsense. Not even Hitler would have imagined it.

What looked like nonsense in 1938-1940 and was inconceivable to Hitler, however, became a reality in 2014, because it was imagined by Putin. After occupying Crimea and part of eastern Ukraine, and while continuing to carry out military actions against Ukraine, Russia is at the same time demanding that Ukraine pay out billions of dollars for deliveries of gas (which Russia has long ceased to deliver).

At first, this seemed to be a propaganda ploy of the Russian government, an attempt to reduce the newly begun Russian-Ukrainian war to an economic conflict over gas. But astonishingly, on May 30, 2014, Ukraine unexpectedly paid Russia $786 million toward the settling of its debt. Gas deliveries to Ukraine, of course, did not resume after this payment. Ukraine’s debt did not decrease by much, nor was there much point in discussing it, since Russia turned on a “meter” for Ukraine, and Ukraine could not pay this debt – it could only surrender.

After receiving $786 million, Russia continued concentrating troops on the border with Ukraine; it redeployed new equipment and additional special units of the GRU and the FSB to districts of eastern Ukraine under the control of pro-Russian “separatists”; shot down a dozen helicopters and airplanes of the Ukrainian armed forces; took a number of Ukrainian servicemen prisoner; shot down a Malaysian civilian airliner, which (alas for Russia!) did not have a single Ukrainian onboard… How many “useful” things were done for only $786 million of tribute paid! People were now dying by the hundreds.

On July 21, Ukraine’s finance minister, Alexander Shlapak, announced that it cost one and a half billion hryvnias per month to fund the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) in the east, while “there [are] about 520 million hryvnias left in the reserve fund at present.” On July 24, he further stated that there would be enough money only until August 1. On July 22, the Verkhovna Rada passed President Petro Poroshenko’s bill endorsing a partial mobilization. On July 25, the government of Ukraine declared its intention to levy a war tax of 1.5 percent on incomes to finance the ATO until the year’s end. This was announced by Ukrainian Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Matviychuk: “In this way, we can obtain about 2.9 billion hryvnias that can be used toward balancing the budget.”

 

We should note that in those days, at an exchange rate of 11.8 hryvnias to the dollar, one billion hryvnias constituted approximately $85 million, while the $786 million paid by Ukraine to Russia amounted to over nine billion hryvnias. In other words, the Ukrainian government might have just as well not levied the “war tax,” which would fund the Ukrainian operation in the east of the country for only two months, and not paid Russia a tribute of $786 million, but instead used these nine billion hryvnias to fight against the aggressor in the east. Nine billion hryvnias at a cost of 1.5 billion per month would have lasted for half a year of resistance against aggression.

Instead of this, Ukraine paid Russia $786 million, deprived itself of money for its own defense, but what is still worse – it gave the Russian budget an additional $786 million to fund the war. So that the difference in Ukrainian-Russian war expenditures constituted $1.572 billion in Russia’s favor. What money did Russia use to install the Buk missile system for the “separatists” so they could shoot down the Malaysian airliner? That’s what the $786 million paid for.

On July 24, Ukraine’s Energy and Coal Industry Minister Yuri Prodan, arriving in Brussels for a consultation with Günther Oettinger, the EU’s Commissioner for Energy, announced that Ukraine was ready to renew talks with Russia and the European Commission concerning gas deliveries: “We are ready to resume these consultations and talks at any moment.” Meanwhile, Russia insisted that Ukraine pay its debt for previously delivered gas. In the opinion of Gazprom head Alexey Miller, this sum constituted $5.296 billion. It is easy to calculate how this money might be used if it is not given back to Russia. A million dollars might be paid to the heirs of every passenger of shot down Malaysian airliner; and to the heirs of every killed Ukrainian soldier and civilian. This sum would be enough for 5000 victims. Or the money might be used to continue the “anti-terrorist operation”, which costs one and a half billion hryvnias per month. In that case, this money would last for three years of struggle.

It should be noted that, in exacting tribute (payment) from his victim, Putin did not come up with anything new. This approach was used by Stalin at least twice. The first time was in Spain, when the Soviet government took the Spanish gold reserves out of Spain and never brought them back to Spain again, claiming that the gold had been confiscated to pay for the USSR’s expenditures on the Spanish Civil War, in particular, for the deliveries of arms to Spain’s Republican government. The second time Stalin forced his victims to pay for their occupation was in 1940, when the Red Army entered Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. After Romania had occupied Bessarabia in 1918, the Soviet government seized the Romanian gold reserves that were stored in Russia, 92 tons of gold transferred by Romania to Russia for safekeeping in 1916-1917. In 1940, Bessarabia (with northern Bukovina added on) were occupied by the Red Army and annexed to the USSR as part of the general agreement between Stalin and Hitler. But Stalin refused to return Romania’s gold reserves, declaring that it had been confiscated as payment for the exploitation of Bessarabia during the period 1918-1940.

 

 

Will there be a Third World War?

 

 

The leaders of the United States and Europe, of course, cannot mention the Third World War (all stock markets would crash), but they, too, knew from the experience of 1938-1939 that the distance from a triumphant blitzkrieg by an aggressor to a protracted war against the aggressor is short. Common sense told us that Russian aggression ought to be resisted already now, on the territory of Ukraine, with Ukraine as an ally, and not after Russia has conquered Ukraine and taken over the whole military-industrial complex of eastern Ukraine (for the sake of which Russia is now fighting on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians).

It was also easier to resist Russia’s aggression in Ukraine because Ukraine was not a member of NATO and there was no need formally to declare war on Russia. From a military point of view, it would be best to make preventive strikes against Russian troops (the troops of the enemy) concentrated along the Ukrainian border, but for that the people in charge would have to be Israelis, not Ukrainians.

Russia’s open aggression in eastern Ukraine was in many ways the result of Ukraine surrendering Crimea without a fight. Had Ukraine defended Crimea by taking up arms, Crimea would have still gone over to Russia (the powers were too unequal), but the “uprisings” in eastern Ukraine would not have begun with the ease and speed with which eastern Ukraine became mired in them. Like Finland in 1940, like Georgia in 2008, Ukraine would have lost part of its territory, but it would have preserved its independence and peace on the continent. Like the payment of $786 million, there remains a questionable story to be told.

Redrawing territories in the twenty-first century might seem absurd – something old and long forgotten. Before 1945, borders in Europe were redrawn constantly. It is very important to emphasize that they were not redrawn because of states uniting or breaking up: they were redrawn between neighboring states in favor of one of the neighbors. We will not cite any of the numerous examples here. But both in 1918 and in 1938-1945, the map of Europe was transformed globally. From 1946 to 1991, however, no borders were changed between European countries. And even after 1991, until August of 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, we witnessed the creation of new European and Asian states, but we never once witnessed annexations or invasions. It was precisely for this reason that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said about Putin after the annexation of Crimea that Putin lives in a different world, by which she did not mean that Putin was crazy, but that the world into which Putin is trying to push Europe back disappeared in 1945, that is, 70 years ago.

Was it worth disturbing the world order for the sake of Crimea? Naturally, no. And what about for the sake of Ukraine? Also, no. And what about for Transnistria and Belarus? Perhaps, yes, if these territories are viewed as the limit of ambitions. But that is not how dictators end up thinking. Putin does not think like a minimalist. A minimalist program, once realized, will no longer satisfy him. Indeed, at that point he will forget that there once was any idea of not going beyond Belarus. If his head started spinning from successes after Crimea, then one can imagine what will happen to Putin after annexation of Ukraine and Belarus and how great, clever and brilliant he will then seem to himself.

This will be the moment when the threat of a war between Russia and NATO will arise before us, and Putin will be convinced that NATO will not begin a war over the Baltic States, just as it will not risk a full-scale nuclear war. In exactly the same way, Hitler believed that France and Britain would not declare war on Germany over Poland, for Germany was supported at that time by Italy, Japan, and the USSR. He knew perfectly well that there was a British-French-Polish agreement providing for mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of these countries. Putin also knows that among the members of NATO there is an agreement providing for mutual assistance. But, like Hitler, he will believe that the Western democracies will lose their nerve.

The democratic world, by contrast with dictatorships, is governed by political parties through their leaders. Its governance resembles an upside-down tree – all kinds of different people try and often do influence the leaders of political parties: wives, children, donors, friends, clerical workers, public opinion, the press. There are laws, lawyers, and supreme courts. There are parliaments and even kings and queens. There is an international community. There are alliances. There are international organizations.

In dictatorships, everything is much simpler. Russia, for example, is governed by a junta – the officers of the KGB-FSB: Putin, the Ivanovs, Sechin, Patrushev. It plans an operation and gives its apparatchiks the task of formulating objectives for those who will execute it; it orders the parliament to vote “for” or “against”; it gives instructions to Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov and Russia’s UN Representative Vitaly Churkin about what to say to the international community… Even the Russian elite, which emerged after 1991, no longer has any relation to the process of governing the state, precisely because the regime in Russia became a dictatorial one, and in a dictatorship the elite cannot govern the country.

In 1938, fascism almost won in Europe. The USSR had Stalin, Germany had Hitler, Italy had Mussolini, Spain had Franco. Austria had been conquered; Czechoslovakia dismembered. Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria – dictators here, kings there… There was no place on the map left for democrats. And in democratic countries, too, Fascist and Communist parties had strong public support. Does this mean that today we are again entering into a dark period of fascism? Perhaps. Does it follow from this that European civilization, in the form in which it existed before 2014, will be destroyed by Putin? This now depends only on Ukraine and NATO.

War always means bloodshed. War always means ruined lives. It means millions of refugees, escaping from coming catastrophes. Will there be more killings in Ukraine? Yes. This is Putin’s main objective – to unleash bloodshed there. It was for this reason that he went into Crimea – not to establish peace in Crimea, but to unleash war in Europe. It would be a big mistake to believe that the Ukrainian army is fighting the Russian army as well as “militants” and “separatists.” These are propaganda terms used by the Russian government and hammered into people’s heads by Russian television for their combatants. There are people with weapons who are fighting against Ukraine. Some of them have been sent from Russia. Others have been recruited locally. It will be possible to determine the numbers of the former and the latter only after a victory. It makes no difference whether they took up arms out of stupidity, for money, or because of convictions. They are fighting for the interests of Russia – a state that is hostile (in the context of today’s armed conflict) to Ukraine. They have been lined up to kill for the sake of Putin’s interests.

It is difficult to find mentally healthy people who will say: “I want blood to flow like water.” For the most part, everyone always calls for peace. Hitler and Stalin also spoke of peace, calling Churchill a warmonger. There is a certain category of people whose words should be taken with caution, since they use speech to disseminate false information. Unfortunately, Putin is one of these people. He is not declaring war on Ukraine and Europe, just as Hitler did not declare war when he attacked his neighbors. In the end, war was declared on September 3, 1939 on Germany by Britain and France.

Russia, too, is waging its European war without a declaration, and this war is even being partially funded by Ukraine – through payments for Russian gas; and Russian television, which has complete control over the airwaves, ceaselessly revels in Ukrainian losses and mocks the helpless Ukrainians, who still are not ready to recognize that Russia’s plan is to smash and to subjugate them, like the Poles in 1939-1941. To recognize this is indeed very difficult, almost impossible. Jews also could not understand why Hitler hated them and sought to destroy them. This lack of an understanding and a rational explanation for what was happening did not save the Jews. The overwhelming majority of them perished. In the case of Ukrainians today (as in the case of Poles and Jews during the Second World War), salvation cannot come through surrender, but only through resistance, through fighting for freedom.

The economic and military might of contemporary Russia is a bluff, a public relations project, successfully promoted by several Russian television channels. In the Soviet Union, the news program Vremya (Time)on central Soviet television constantly showed Soviet tractors harvesting grain, conveyors dumping grain into trucks, flour being baked into bread, and Soviet people living happy lives. Today we know that none of this existed. There was one film camera, one tractor, one working conveyor, one truck, and actors hired to play a happy Soviet family. In reality, grain was bought in the United States and Canada. The same is true now. No one actually knows and no one says how many working airplanes and tanks Russia owns. But it may turn out that the might of the Russian army is merely a bluff of Putin’s, who even in this respect may resemble Hitler, a leader who constantly exaggerated the might of Germany and the German army.

Russia is poorer than the West. Russia is a big gas station and an enormous oil tank. When people buy Russian oil and gas, Russia has money. When people do not buy them, or buy them but not from Russia, or buy them at falling prices, Russia has no money. This is a simple truth. The whole history of the gas-related part of Russia’s war against Ukraine proves this.

If Russia had money for war against Ukraine, it would not have threatened to cut off Ukraine’s gas supply, but would have simply cut if off, on the very first day, already in March, when Crimea was annexed. One should not harbor any illusions and think that Russia is interested in the growth, wellbeing, and stability of an independent Ukraine. Russia – Putin’s Russia, which the world is witnessing – is interested in the exact opposite.

Thus far, Russia has used Ukrainian money to embark on a venture to conquer Ukraine that pays for itself, and the Ukrainian government is helping Russia in this venture. Putin also has the possibility to use this same money to buy up politicians, particularly those who decide whether or not to pay for Ukraine’s “gas debts.” Using KGB-FSB agents and influence in European organizations, Putin can exert pressure on Ukraine to get Ukraine to agree to Russian prices for gas, to agree to repay its “debts,” and to agree to pay for gas deliveries in advance.

We put the word “debts” in quotes because Ukraine no longer owes Russia anything. After the annexation of Crimea, after the start of a diversionary war in eastern Ukraine, by any international standards Ukraine owes Russia nothing. Moreover, the Ukrainian government should have instigated legal proceedings against Russia. If we calculate the damage sustained by Ukraine up to the present moment, it will be substantially larger in value than Ukraine’s gas debt of several billion dollars (according to Gazprom’s accounts).

For Putin, everything is timed to the day. No aggressor plans a long siege – only a blitzkrieg. Putin is no exception (he does not differ from Hitler in this respect, either). He rapidly conquered Crimea, held a referendum, and announced an annexation. An ordinary politician would have needed months of playing a delicate political game to accomplish the same purpose. But Putin has no money for a long siege. A blitzkrieg is all that he can afford. On the gas front, there is another blitzkrieg. It is telling that in all discussions about gas, the Russian side is always counting days: President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev, and Gazprom head Miller demand that Ukraine repay its gas debts “by the end of the week”, “by the end of the month”. The possibility of postponing the payments for a year or two is not even mentioned – because Putin has no time for this. Russia’s objective is to swallow up Ukraine. This can be done with tanks and airplanes, or it can be done with gas. The two approaches can also be combined. But tanks and airplanes cost money. Russia plans to obtain this money from Ukraine as a “gas debt.”

 

In its whole history, Ukraine has never been at the center of the world’s attention as it is now. In its resistance against Russia, it has won the sympathies of truly all of mankind (apart from its Russian part). Until now, Ukraine has resisted Russia in isolation. Of course, in a fight with such a strong adversary, Ukraine cannot win without NATO as an ally. Meanwhile, NATO is in no hurry to become an ally, fearing the risk of a major war.

Nonetheless, Putin can be stopped without a single shot being fired by a NATO soldier – through severe economic sanctions. To be sure, such sanctions will inevitably create economic problems for Europe, including interruptions in deliveries of Russian gas. But the European economic difficulties produced by the imposition of sanctions on Russia will be trifling by comparison with the problems that would ensue from a war with Russia. In that event, gas and oil prices, world stock market indices, and currency exchange rates, will no longer be of very much concern to anyone. It will be necessary to begin a major war. And if many now think that this is impossible, they are not alone: in 1938, this is exactly what the whole world thought, too.

 

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