By mid-1940, Hitler’s Germany seemed unstoppable. It had already annexed Austria, used the appeasement policies of Britain and France to dismember Czechoslovakia, and then conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. The only resistance of any note was Britain, but its chances of survival looked tenuous at best.
“Britain’s democracy is finished,” Joseph Kennedy, the US ambassador in London, reported to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 20 as France collapsed. Across the Atlantic, many officials thought the same thing. “In July 1940, very few of us in Washington believed that Britain could hold its own against Nazi Germany, even under Winston Churchill’s inspired leadership,” recalled Undersecretary Sumner Welles.
This was not an academic debate. If this kind of pessimism was justified, then the isolationists rightly insisted that any American attempt to change the outcome would not only be wrong but futile. Kennedy and others argued that Britain should settle for a “peace deal” with Hitler – in reality a humiliating surrender, since the German dictator would accept nothing less – rather than try to avert inevitable defeat. The only constructive role the US could play would be to get Churchill and his compatriots to accept this grim reality.
As Mark Twain famously put it, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Is this the case now as the world reacts to Russia’s war on Ukraine? Do even those who are the loudest in decrying the daily record of atrocities, death and destruction secretly or not-so-secretly yearn for another “peace deal” that would reward the aggressor?
Apparently there is little comparison between the situation in Britain then and the situation in Ukraine today. Finally, round after round, the United States and its allies have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia. The European Union did the previously unthinkable this week: it placed an embargo on around two-thirds of oil supplies from Russia. At the same time, the US and others continue to supply Ukraine with far more arms than seemed remotely possible a short while ago.
And yet there are worrying signs that, as the British say, Ukraine’s backers may be faltering. In other words, they may be less determined to stand firm on Russia than their proclamations suggest. On the eve of the EU meeting in Brussels, Germany’s Economics Minister Robert Habeck warned that the unity of the nations gathered there was already “starting to crumble”. To avoid a veto on the embargo by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has defended his close ties with Putin and his reliance on Russian energy for his landlocked country, the EU exempted oil delivered via pipelines. For now, at least, that means Russian oil will continue to flow west, albeit in much smaller volumes, in exchange for payments that help fund Moscow’s aggression.
Then there are the mixed signals on arms shipments. Russian forces have mercilessly shelled and bombed targets in the east, allowing them to make slow but steady advances. They devastated Mariupol before occupying it and followed the same pattern before moving to Severodonetsk and consolidating their control over much of the Donbass region.
But while Washington has indicated it will supply some of the longer-range missile systems that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has advocated, President Biden declared on Sunday that it would not “send missile systems to attack Russia.” This was very much in line with the Biden administration’s decision earlier in the war to effectively ban the supply of Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Either way, Putin could draw a conclusion: he is still feared by those trying to stop him.
He almost certainly drew the same conclusion from his 80-minute phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday. Their calls for a ceasefire and negotiations, while insisting that he pull his troops out of Ukraine, looked suspiciously like the actions of leaders hoping for an elusive “peace” deal that would have only Russia’s acceptance would obscure territorial gains. Germany and France have also been particularly stingy in providing Ukraine with military equipment. Some voices in the West are openly pushing for such a deal. An editorial in The New York Times stated: “A decisive military victory by Ukraine over Russia, with Ukraine retaking all of the territory that Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal. Although Russia’s planning and combat has been surprisingly lax, Russia remains too strong and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.”
“This is still just the beginning.”
Or, as Henry Kissinger put it in his speech to the Davos conference, negotiations must begin now, and the best Ukrainians can hope for is “a return to the status quo ante” before the Russian invasion. Implicitly, he said Ukraine will almost certainly have to give up more than the territory it has already lost after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and took de facto control of much of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly vowed that Ukraine will not play this defeatist game and renewed his call for more heavy weapons for its embattled armed forces. The Kiev Independent answer to the times and all the calls in the name of “Realpolitik” with their own glowing editorial. “Ukraine’s belief in victory is not based on hubris. It’s based on necessity,” she argued. “Any concession to Russia will sooner or later lead to another war, while Ukrainians stuck in a Russian-occupied region are tortured, raped or killed.” It ended with a ringing declaration: “Appeasement is not the voice of reason . It’s fear and short-sightedness that only makes things worse, something we’ve all experienced too many times in the past.”
Ukrainians fully understand that if they convey the feeling that they cannot win, they will condemn themselves to defeat. Churchill rallied his countrymen and then enlisted President Roosevelt’s support for a massive military supply effort, promising long-term victory, and Zelensky adheres to a similar script. He too understands that victory or defeat can be self-fulfilling prophecies. He, too, understands that he must acquire the tools to give his army a chance to get the job done. “Everyone should be a lobbyist for the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, which can hasten our victory,” he said.
Moreover, Russia’s recent achievements in the Donbass region are a far cry from what Putin intended when he ordered the invasion in the first place. The underlying weaknesses that were revealed then – and are still being revealed today – should not be forgotten. The vaunted Russian military machine is showing signs of overexertion at all levels. Britain’s Ministry of Defense pointed out this week that the Russian army was already being weakened by heavy casualties among junior and middle officers, leading to “a further drop in morale and persistently poor discipline”.
On the economic front, time may not be on Russia’s side either. Most economists predict that sanctions will have a cumulative and growing effect. In a report for the Warsaw Enterprise Institute, Agnes Tycner stated: “This is still just the beginning and economic conditions for Russia will continue to deteriorate as Putin continues his senseless war in Ukraine.”
All of that could come true if those who pledge more support for Ukraine keep delivering – and resist the temptation to pressure the Ukrainians into a suicidal deal.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-european-union-is-starting-to-crack-over-vladimir-putins-war-in-ukraine?source=articles&via=rss The European Union is beginning to crack up over Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine