How far will Putin go?
The Fox News website ran this story, asking, “If Putin wants to remake the Soviet Union, what country would Russia target next?” and then went on to state a list of countries that were once part of the USSR.
But how far does Vladimir Putin wish to go? Why stop with the old Soviet Union?
He said in his famous paper of a couple of years ago that he regards what one could call the East Slavs – Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus – as one people, and properly living together as one, in one nation.
He has historical justification for his view. Russia itself was born, not in Moskva, which didn’t exist at the time, but in Kiev, where the first Christian King of Kievan Rus ruled, and extended his realm northward.
Belarus has been ruled from Moskva for centuries. And likewise Ukraine. The last leader of an independent Ukraine before 1991 was Bogdan Chmielnitsky, who ruled there until 1653. Chmielnitsky is honored to this day on Ukrainian currency. He is also notorious in that he oversaw in 1648 what was the largest pogrom of Jews in history until the Nazi Holocaust. 250,000 Jews were slaughtered by his forces.
After that time, the Romanov dynasty took over, and the separation of Ukraine from Mother Russia was unthinkable for centuries. That was why Nikita Khrushchev could so blithely erase a line on a map and deliver control of Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, for what difference did it make? It was all just one big happy USSR run from Moskva in any event.
But if East Slavs are brothers, why not ALL Slavs? Why not also the South Slavs who live in what used to be called Yugoslavia? Indeed, Serbia and Russia have always been close. World War I metastasized as it did because Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia after one of its nationals assassinated the Archduke and his wife in 1914. When Austro-Hungary did that, Tsarist Russia rose to Serbia’s defense by declaring war on Austro-Hungary, and thus cascaded the series of interlocking treaty obligations which led to WWI. Russia and Serbia are not only both Slavic, but also both are Orthodox, and that played no little role in Russia’s defense of Serbia. Should not Putin reunite with them too?
And what about the West Slavs – by that, I mean Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic? Historically, a major part of Poland also fell under Tsarist control for centuries, from the time of the 18th century Partitions until 1918. If Poland at one time were controlled from Moskva, why not again?
There is a legend about the unity of all Slavic peoples.
I have in my library an illustrated book of Polish legends intended for Polish children. There is a story therein about three brothers whose names were Lech, Czech, and Rus. They all lived together in one land, but decided that the land was too crowded and they had to separate and spread out, lest there be famine. Rus went to the east and established – Russia. Czech went south and established – Bohemia, more or less. And Lech went to the west, where he encountered a great white eagle at Gnieszno, and went on to establish Poland.
If Putin should reunite Ukraine and Belarus, why not Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and former Yugoslav lands like Serbia too while he’s at it?
There is a little-known fact about World War II. In the first days when the Nazis invaded the USSR, as they went through Ukraine, initially everybody greeted them as liberators, offering the soldiers gifts reserved for honored guests, bread and salt. Even the Jews did this, reportedly..
A Nazi war criminal named Erich von dem Bach-Zelewsky commented on this after the war.
I am the only living witness but I must say the truth. Contrary to the opinion of the National Socialists, that the Jews were a highly organized group, the appalling fact was that they had no organization whatsoever. The mass of the Jewish people were taken complete by surprise. They did not know at all what to do; they had no directives or slogans as to how they should act. This is the greatest lie of anti-Semitism because it gives the lie to that old slogan that the Jews are conspiring to dominate the world and that they are so highly organized. In reality, they had no organization of their own at all, not even an information service. If they had had some sort of organization, these people could have been saved by the millions, but instead, they were taken completely by surprise. Never before has a people gone as unsuspectingly to its disaster. Nothing was prepared. Absolutely nothing. It was not so, as the anti-Semites say, that they were friendly to the Soviets. That is the most appalling misconception of all. The Jews in the old Poland, who were never communistic in their sympathies, were, throughout the area of the Bug eastward, more afraid of Bolshevism than of the Nazis. This was insanity. They could have been saved. There were people among them who had much to lose, business people; they didn't want to leave. In addition there was love of home and their experience with pogroms in Russia. After the first anti-Jewish actions of the Germans, they thought now the wave was over and so they walked back to their undoing.
Why would Ukrainians and Jews both regard Germans as liberators? Much of it has to do with the Russian-Communist induced Great Famine of 10-15 years earlier, during which around 10 million Ukrainians starved to death – and millions more subsequently were sent to Siberia and oblivion.
It was a mistake for the Nazis to drive the Ukrainians back into the Russian Communists’ hands, by being even worse than the Russians were. But the fact that Ukrainians sided with Russia does not at all mean that they’ve forgotten what Mother Russia did to them in the Holomodor.
With regard to Putin’s dream of a great pan-Slavic nation, I’m afraid that ship sailed a long time ago. Ukraine does not want Russia. And any chance Putin had of bringing Ukraine over to his side vanished when he started dropping bombs on Ukraine.
In the end, let’s say Putin achieves his dream and reunites Ukraine to Mother Russia. This cost of winning the prize grossly exceeds the value of any benefit he might derive from his “victory.”
Never mind the international opprobrium and sanctions and trade cut-offs. There is the fact that Putin’s army has already suffered and will continue to suffer massive casualties. There is the fact that modern wars are horribly expensive. Hitler invaded Russia because he thought he needed Russia’s energy and mineral assets. But even if he’d won, he’d have lost, because the value of the assets wasn’t worth the cost of their acquisition. He’d have done better simply to trade for what he needed.
And if Putin captures Ukraine, he will not have acquired an asset that he can colonize and exploit. He will have captured a ruined wasteland, and will have to spend more Russian treasure to restore it to health.
Image: Victoria Borodinova, Pixabay, Pixabay License.