It was a prelude to Hitler’s annexation of all of that country in 1938 and turning it into a German “protectorate.”
Western allies, Britain and France shamelessly acquiesced to it in a notorious Munich conference, which historically became a synonym for political spinelessness, and which Winston Churchill, a stern critic of prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, called “an unmitigated disaster.”
Putin’s move into Crimea was not entirely unexpected. It was common knowledge since the 1990s that the “lease” of Sevastopol navy base to Russia meant that Russia de facto owns Crimea. The government in Kyiv was in no position to refuse the so-called lease. And it is powerless today to resist Russia’s latest move into Crimea.
Notice what US President Barack Obama was saying as the invasion was under way: “If Russia intervenes militarily, there will be costs (consequences).” What kind of consequences? “The US will join international community to condemn the intervention.”
What Obama may have forgotten is that the United States, along with Britain and Russia are obligated, under an international agreement made in 1994, to “protect and respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”. That’s when Ukraine’s President Leonid Kravchuk,, under relentless pressure from the United States and others, turned the nuclear weapons on its territory over to Russia.
Ukraine’s new prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has actually invoked this international agreement as he appealed to western powers to help resist Russia’s ongoing intrusion into Ukraine’s territory. According to the Financial Times, Feb. 28, “Western diplomats are now scouring the text (of agreement) to check whether they are obliged to intervene in the country to prevent it from breaking up if Putin does so first”. Guess what they will conclude. Most likely it will be a Chamberlain call.
In fact, most opinion makers, The New York Times among them, have repeatedly stressed that the US and EU have “limited options.”
And so, what is Ukraine to do?
First, understand that the international agreements are not worth the paper they are written on unless honoring them is seen as vital by a signatory wielding real power. No such luck in this case. It follows that Ukraine is on its own, and the question becomes what it must defend in the present setting to save itself as a free and independent country and not fall an easy prey to Russia’s evil empire. Or, putting it another way, what it should jettison so that the heart of the country can live as an independent Ukrainian state.
It is time for Ukrainian leadership to be honest with itself -- in the words of Volodymyr Vynnychenko, prime minister of Ukrainian National Republic almost 100 years ago. It should be obvious by now that the cultural split between the Ukrainian heartland and the pro-Russian southeast cannot be bridged. In Putin’s words, Ukraine with its fuzzy national identity is not “a real state”. A shrewd observation? Not really. Almost anybody, east and west knows it. He knew that Russia can chip away at it in many ways.
Looking at Russian invasion in Crimea and at the latest turmoil fostered by pro-Russian majorities in the Donbas and Kharkiv, only dreamers can believe that these regions can be defended. Or should they be? Hopefully, cool heads in Kyiv will prevail. If these regions are lost, it is not the end of the world. If the majority there wants to secede, why agonize over it? In fact, many say “Good riddance,” albeit not out loud. Not yet. And there is something to be said about the gas imported from Russia for the eastern rustbelt that gives Russia a huge leverage over Ukraine.
Actually, it is a fair bet that the Kremlin may hesitate about secession of some areas in eastern Ukraine. They are a drag on Ukraine, a source of turmoil, and a way to provoke civil war.
The best silver lining for a Ukraine without these regions is that it would have a substantial pro-Ukrainian (sic) majority, and would be more like one nation with a clear identity.
Boris Danik is a retired Ukrainian-American living in North Caldwell, New Jersey.