Germany’s Adolf Hitler has been incarnated in Russia’s Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The world beware.
The Holocaust Encyclopaedia, a publication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, summarises Nazi Germany’s responsibiity for the outbreak of World War II.
It says: “Adolf Hitler came to power with the goal of establishing a new racial order in Europe dominated by the German ‘master race.’ This goal drove Nazi foreign policy, which aimed to: throw off the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles; incorporate territories with ethnic German populations into the Reich; acquire a vast new empire in Eastern Europe; form alliances; and, during the war, persuade other states to participate in the ‘final solution.'” An important aspect of Nazi goals, the publication adds, was to control Lebensraum (living space) in Poland and the Soviet Union, populate it with Germans by enslaving or expelling the “inferior” Slavic population, and make Jews disappear entirely from all German-dominated territory.
Two elements of Hitler’s world view stand out: first, its violently vicious ethnocentricity, and, second, its megalomaniac sweep. The results led to the worst war in human history till then.
Russia’s Putin displays both psychological characteristics of Germany’s Hitler.
Putin’s insistence on empowering Russians would have been but natural had it been limited to the borders of Russia, but the Russians whom Putin has in mind are like the Germans whom Hilter had in mind: They are blood-brothers tied forever to the native soil of the mother country. In a sense, Hitler’s emphatic German-ness declared that Germany exists wherever Germans are. Putin’s revanchist Russian-ness declares that Russia exists wherever Russians are.
That insistence was manifested in Moscow’s invasion and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, and its predictable recognition of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states this year. What ties the three breakaway Ukrainian territories to Moscow is the presence of Russian-speakers there. Just as shared German ethnicity allowed Hitler to fabricate an ethnically plausible reason for German expansionism, shared Russian ethnicity is providing the manufactured basis for Russian territorial revisionism today.
Expansive ethnocentricity, which permits armies to cross borders as if they should not exist, unites Hitler and Putin.
So does the astonishing sweep of their revisionist world views. Germany revolted against the existing word order in part because the punitive provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, imposed prohibitive economic costs on the German population. Likewise, the implosion of the Soviet Union was followed by the imposition of a neoliberal (read American) economic order that impoverished swathes of the Russian population and encouraged the emergence of Western-oriented policy elites whose economic and social prescriptions echoed the Washington Consensus on the financial ordering of the post-communist world.
Like Hitler, Putin is not a communist: In fact, both are emblems of anti-communism. However, just as National Socialism — out of which the term “Nazi” comes — was a rejection of Western capitalism, Putin’s economic blueprint for Russia necessitates the rejection of any consensus formed in Washington, Brussels or Berlin.
In its place, Putin is offering Russia (as Hitler offered Germany once) an opportunity to refashion a new world order in which Moscow would be a price-setter in international relations, not a price-taker.
This ambition borders on megalomania. Russia’s economy, which is dwarfed by that of China, the other recalcitrant in international relations, is in no position to replace the existing global order — except through war that forces the West on the economic defensive. Historical lessons are pertinent here. The emergence of the Bretton Woods system preserved the liberal Western imprint in global affairs after the ruinous World War II. Unless the West folds up for good this time around, Russian adventurism in Ukraine (and possibly elsewhere) will meet the same fate as its German precedent in World War II Europe: global defeat.
To say the least, there are few takers for Russian hegemony today, indeed, fewer than there were for German hegemony once.
So much for Hitler’s Putin or Putin’s Hitler. Why should the world beware?
It should because Hitler succeeded in unleashing World War II. Could Putin initiate World War III?
Why not? Even world wars begin unsuspectingly in places of limited global importance. But then they spread, everybody else is caught inexorably in the expansion of conflict, and nations which did not have even the most remote connection with the provenance of war get ensnared by its spread.
Ukraine might not be of particular importance to, say, Botswana. But Botswana is very much a part of the global trajectory of change that includes Ukraine. Therefore, it is essential for Botswana or Mexico or Malaysia or Singapore to treat what is happening in Russia’s periphery as a warning to what might occur in their regions one day.
To do less would be to let Putin become a successful Hitler. What is required is to stop Russian tanks in their aggressive tracks. It does not matter whether nations support America or Britain or France or Germany. They are mortal countries: There is nothing God-given about their foreign or economic policies. There is nothing God-given about Russia, either. What matters lies here and now.
Here and now, a Russian victory over Ukraine would spell the arrival of a new world disorder that will not stop in Europe. Asia, Africa and Latin America would be engulfed by state lawlessness in the months and years to come.
The world needs to mediate quickly a diplomatic solution to prevent going back in time to 1945.