My Take

Lesson of 'Munich' resonates in today's Crimea

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 4:37am

It's the first world war centenary this summer so it's been open season for commentators hunting for historical analogies. Here's an alarmist historical comparison for the faint-of-heart about Russia and Crimea today. Forget 1914. Think 1938.

A disgruntled European power moved to annex a region of another country using as its cover the need to protect its ethnic brothers who had allegedly been victimised. While Western countries recovering from a great financial crisis huffed and puffed, that power continued defiantly to extend its hold over the region. Its own citizens and their ethnic brothers in that region cheered wildly for the motherland.

Oh, we may add that the same power was moving ever closer to a rising Asian power, which also had some territorial grievances and/or ambitions of its own. The above description seems to fit the Sudetenland emergency in former Czechoslovakia with Germany under Hitler as well as the current crisis over Crimea with Russia. The ethnic Germans, loosely called Sudetens, were ecstatic over Germany's occupation then as are the ethnic Russians now rallying for a referendum in Crimea to secede from Ukraine. So I am surprised there aren't more people who start screaming "Munich!" Perhaps Western pundits and hacks realise they have cried wolf too many times. Saddam Hussein or Ahmadinejad, anyone? Or they tend to be more restrained when writing about Western than Asian leaders.

Still, the more sympathetic Western comments about Vladimir Putin have a shade of the 1930s. Russians are understandably concerned about their brethren in the Crimea, some wrote. Putin, they say, has the larger strategic aim of countering the aggressive eastward expansion of Nato and the European Union into Russia's traditional backyard since the Soviet collapse. Similarly, enlightened Western opinions believed at the time that Hitler's rearmament and re-entry into the Rhineland before the Sudetenland crisis was an understandable attempt to reverse the unjust terms of the Versailles treaty.

Of course Putin's Russia is not Hitler's Germany. But while "Munich" has been much used and abused, it may still offer instructive lessons today if we are careful about it.