“..we let it go…”
We are close to the Putin endgame in Ukraine. On Wednesday troop-filled trucks flying Russian flags were seen in eastern Ukraine’s cities. The politically fractured and under-trained Ukrainian military sent toward Donetsk and other cities this week is no match for the camouflaged special-ops forces Russia has there, or the 50,000 Russian troops and fighter jets near the eastern border.
The West didn’t lose Ukraine, an independent nation of 45 million people. It simply let it go. According to this newspaper Tuesday: “The White House reiterated that no lethal assistance was planned” to help Ukraine defend itself. The U.S., however, did send ready-to-eat meals. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s comments were antiseptic: “The Ukrainian government has a responsibility to provide law and order.” It is fitting that churchgoers the world over this week are hearing the story of Pontius Pilate.
That the historic implications of Russia’s re-subjugation of Ukraine seems to be largely an abstraction to the current president of the United States is no surprise. Recent American Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has called this confrontation Cold War 2.0. But this implies one understands what Cold War 1.0 was.
When the Soviet Union’s tanks rolled into Hungary in 1956, Barack Obama wasn’t born. He was seven when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. He may be president, but he isn’t alone.
In Western Europe and the U.S., the Cold War, which lasted from 1947 until 1991, is barely taught in schools. It’s just a phrase for most of the young and a dimming memory for others. The West’s intellectuals often diminish the significance of the Cold War. They say it didn’t matter much, that the Soviet Union unwound on its own. No small number of these thinkers were half-sorry to see this “flawed” experiment in income-equality fail.
Now some of the same arbiters of history are saying the conflict in Ukraine is the West’s fault, again. What drove Mr. Putin into Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine was the needless historic hurt the West did to Russia’s vestigial interests by expanding NATO’s membership eastward.
Let’s look at what the phrase “expanding NATO’s membership” means. In 1999, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO. In 2004, it took in Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania. That list is fraught with historic significance. These are the nations that Winston Churchill in 1946 named the Iron Curtain countries. All were communist and all inside—another antiseptic phrase—the Soviet Union’s “sphere of influence.”
If you tried to leave an Iron Curtain country, you could be imprisoned or shot. It may be that Cold War 1.0 was in large part about the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Soviet Union, but for the tens of millions who lived in Eastern and Central Europe, it was about 50 years of paranoia, imprisonment, shattered careers, moral compromises and daily obeisance to the Soviet Union, aka Russia. Whenever one hears that we in the West have been unmindful of Mr. Putin’s “historic” interests in Ukraine, one wants to suggest for further reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” or Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless.”
The dictators who ran the so-called Eastern Bloc countries for the Soviets had names like Ceausescu, Honecker, Jaruzelski, Hoxha and Kadar. It seemed as if they would rule behind their Iron Curtain forever because the Red Army to the east had their backs. Then in the 1970s, a determined internal opposition developed. They had names like Havel, Walesa and Wojtyla. Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, called “the Polish pope” because he fought there against the unfree society designed by Vladimir Putin’s predecessors.
Now the battle for Ukraine is ending without much more than a yawn in Washington, London, Paris and most ironic of all, the Berlin that the Cold War divided in two. In 1947, President Harry Truman, a Democrat, began a year-long allied airlift to supply Soviet-occupied and isolated Berlin. The Berlin airlift broke the blockade. Nobody running the West would do that now.
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Iron Curtain countries chose to be democracies and turned to the West. Now, 25 years later, Vladimir Putin has demolished democracy in Russia and is proposing Potemkin-village votes in Ukraine held under the barrel of a gun.
Earlier this month, Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, said, “If there is a thing such as NATO’s border that needs diligence it would be Poland’s eastern border.” He knows that pressure from his neighbor in the east will come after Ukraine. What remains of NATO now is a good question. Mr. Putin gave his answer in Ukraine.
The post Cold-War West stands un-led by the American president. Vladimir Putin famously believes the U.S. and Western Europe in 2014 are filled with self-indulgent populations who can barely lift their eyes from an iPhone screen to see a European nation swallowed. Yes, it does look like Cold War 2.0. The videogame.
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Henninger: Cold War 2.0, the Videogame – WSJ.com.