By Gel Santos Relos
AS world leaders discuss options to de-escalate the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made some controversial statements — comparing Putin’s recent move to issue Russian passports to Ukrainians with ties to Russia to Hitler’s efforts to resettle Germans in the late 1930s.
“It’s what Hitler did back in the ‘30s,” said the Democratic presidential frontrunner at a private fundraising event in Long Beach, California last Tuesday, as reported by Long Beach Press Telegram.
“The Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying, ‘They’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people’ — and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”
Speaking at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on Wednesday, Clinton clarified her statements, saying that she did not mean to compare Putin to Hitler.
What she intended was to put some historical perspective to Putin’s action in Ukraine. Clinton explained that claims by Putin and other Russian leaders that they needed to go into Crimea to protect Russian minorities, were “reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities” in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Clinton said Putin wants to “re-Sovietize” nations on Russia’s periphery, and “in the process, he is squandering the potential of such a great nation – the nation of Russia – and threatening the instability and even the peace of Europe.”
Echoing President Obama’s statement, Clinton said: “I support the administration’s call for Russia to respect its obligations and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”
Such mistrust about Putin's intention is founded on history. The crisis in Ukraine has a recent precedent: Russia’s aggression in Georgia in August 2008, during George W. Bush' presidency. Like Ukraine, Georgia used to be part of the Soviet Union but has been an independent nation since 1991. After Putin's invasion in 2008, two regions of — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — have remained to be under Russian control.
"Putin's broader plan is to recreate some kind of 'Soviet Union lite,' a ring of countries under Moscow's control, with the goal of boosting Russia's geopolitical standing," wrote Ulrich Speck, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels.
If Putin gets what he wants in Ukraine, Speck says it augurs badly for other neighboring countries with Russian populations. He points to Moscow's "de facto-annexation" of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, after the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
"Beyond Ukraine, this conflict is also a defining moment for future Russian foreign policy." Speck says. "If Moscow succeeds in Ukraine, it will come to the conclusion that it can act like an empire," he added.
Obama authorizes sanctions
The turmoil in Ukraine has been fast-paced in the past days. President Obama has authorized sanctions for Russian and Ukrainian individuals and entities, who are responsible for Russia’s military takeover in Crimea or for “stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people,”and those who undermine “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Sanctions include freezing their assets and denial of application for or revocation of their US passports. Other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU) allies, however, failed to come up with a unified response when it comes to the sanctions they will impose against Russia.
Speaking from the White House last Thursday, President Obama also called “unconstitutional” the legislature-approved referendum in the Crimea region over whether people there want to remain part of Ukraine, or go back to being part of Russia.
As Ukraine’s interim president says the government is working to block this referendum scheduled for March 16, Pres. Obama reiterated the United States’ support: “Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.”
“In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” Obama said.
The Washington Post reported that after giving his public statement, Obama then spoke for an hour with Russian President Vladimir Putin — the second lengthy conversation between the two leaders this week. According to the White House, Obama explained to Putin that the steps taken by the US were in response to Russia’s “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Obama again outlined what US officials have called a “way out” for Putin, including direct talks with the Ukrainian government, the return of Russian forces to their bases and allowing international monitors to “ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians.”
On the other hand, Putin argued differently, calling the [interim] Ukrainian government the result of an unconstitutional revolution encouraged by the West.
Do the US and other countries in the West have the right to "meddle"?
Debates among those following the Russia vs Ukraine standoff have ensued, following this recent development. Even some Americans ask: Do America, the EU, and NATO have the right to meddle with what Ukrainians in Crimea want to do? They said the Legislature of the Crimea region have decided to hold a referendum, to let the people of Crimea vote, whether they want to stay in Ukraine or go back to Russian control.
What if the Ukrainians in the region choose to go with Putin? Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers told Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s Situation Room that the proposed referendum would get no recognition, except from Russia. Powers further said that if referendum goes forward and Crimea joins Russia, the United States will move forward with sanctions.
Some analysts ask: “What right do the US and the EU and other countries have to go against the wishes of the people of Crimea, if they so decide in favor of secession from Ukraine? After all, these people have had deep roots and ties with Russia before Ukraine became a sovereign state.
Playing devil’s advocate to bring out other points of view on this issue, my husband Rene asked: “Whose interest are the US and other western countries really fighting for? Are they really concerned about the people of Crimea?
He then reminded me about the story of Helen of Troy in Greek mythology. Helen was supposed to have been abducted by Paris, and this lead to the Trojan War. The Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans, after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the King of Sparta.
My husband raised this perspective: Did the Achaeans wage war against the city of Troy to ‘save’ Helen? But Helen willingly eloped with Paris, her lover. She did not need any saving. It was her will to be with Paris. Didn’t the Achaeans use the supposed “abduction” of Helen as an excuse to wage the Trojan War and serve their own interest?
ASSUMING that the referendum will really reflect the will of the people and regardless of what Putin’s real intentions are, who should determine the fate of Crimea? -