An awful sense of déjà vu was conveyed by Putin’s speech in both substance and form. It would seem overly provocative to suggest comparisons to Adolf Hitler’s speech declaring war against Poland in September 1939, which followed Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria through the Anschluss in 1938, of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938, and of Lithuanian Klaipeda in 1939. But after Putin’s emotional, belligerent, and self-pitying performance at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Tuesday, I went back to check the details and words accompanying the early Nazi expansion, and it almost appears as if Putin and his aides have studied the Nazi record carefully and decided to repeat its successes.
Twelve similarities stand out between the Putin speech on March 18 and Nazi Germany’s public advocacy in 1938–39.
1. Putin’s fundamental point is that nationality is defined by language and ethnicity and not by statehood or passport. His argument is reminiscent of and appears to have been drawn intellectually from the German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder and his 1772 book Treatise on the Origin of Language, which became the base of German linguistic nationalism.