Latvia is among all the countries in Eastern Europe watching with trepidation as Russian aggression unfolds in Ukraine. When Putin annexed the Crimea, and sent his forces into Ukraine, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel might have at any stage, but did not, give this speech:
“In late December of 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a law making the promotion of separatism in Russia illegal; any action aimed at separatism in any part of the Russian Federation, or even advocacy of such separatism, has become illegal.
Since January, however, the same President Putin has done nothing but engaged in separatism – first in Crimea – which is a legitimate and internationally recognized part of Ukraine, and since then in Ukraine itself. These actions were carried out accompanied by systematic lying about Russia’s intentions and involvement, and all too quickly revealed to be lies.
Two other palpable lies have been broadcast by Putin to justify his actions. One is that he is carrying out such military activity, with thinly disguised and fraudulent referendums in areas his forces control, in order to protect Russians, or so-called ‘Russian-speakers’. This, significantly, has been a constant theme of all Russian efforts to destabilize all those countries that were part of the Soviet Union and were only too willing to leave the Soviet empire. The truth is that there is not one Russian – anywhere in Eastern Europe – who is under threat. I repeat, not one Russian is under threat in Eastern Europe, not one who needs protection from anything. Neither is the Russian language under threat; it is widely used and respected. That is the reality. But the lie continues.
The second major lie that has come with Russia’s aggression is that Ukraine no longer has a legitimate government but is now in the hands of usurpers and – most of all – fascists. Well, I am sorry, but President Putin is wrong on both counts. The Ukrainian Maidan revolution was a democratic revolution, carried out by Ukrainian citizens – including many Russians in Ukraine – against a corrupt and disgraceful government that President Putin believed he could manipulate as he liked. Putin, it seems, cannot recognise democracy, but chose to support those who tried to suppress democracy, through thuggery and criminal sniper attacks and murder. His present actions are a consequence of his failure to be able to manipulate Ukraine through his puppet.
The second claim – that Ukraine has been overtaken by fascists, is a lie, but a lie where this time the German nation itself has something to say. We know something about fascism, and something about how fascism can be stopped, and we will not be lectured about fascism by Putin, who turns out this out-of-date bombastic rhetoric about fascism when anyone or any state chooses not to go along with Russian bidding.
But the historical record shows a number of inconvenient truths about this grandstanding on fascism: we know, that one of the great crimes of the 20th century was not Nazi Germany alone, but Nazi Germany in partnership with the Soviet Union beginning World War II, when the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact in 1939 saw Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in a perfectly friendly partnership dividing up Eastern Europe between them. Starting with Poland, divided up between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, to begin World War II. Until Hitler turned on the Soviet Union in 1941, no criticism was made of fascism.
We Germans know what fascism was and Maidan was the very opposite of fascism. We also know how to stop fascism: after World War II and the harm that fascism had done to the world and not least to Germany itself, we pursued a policy of lustration, where it was impossible for any significant figure in the Nazi party or Gestapo to ever hold public office. Such a policy was not pursued when the Soviet Union was dissolved. The Soviet Union has always been acknowledged in its victory over Nazi Germany, but then it proceeded to set up its own authoritarian regimes, which were often just as oppressive as what it had overthrown.
Now, Putin must be careful his own state is not defined as having all the marks of fascism itself. Very telling here is Putin’s use of the ethnic argument – protecting Russians – that Hitler used of Germans in other countries, before World War II.
I mention these historical truths because the Russian people have been lied to terribly, and not by President Putin alone. They have been lied to for most of the last 97 years – and most significantly lied to about their own history and realities, as well as lied to about the rest of the world and its attitude to Russia. His control over the media in Russia makes this lying complete. No country has any desire in relation to Russia except to live in peace with it. The only country not wanting such a peace is Russia itself.
And finally, a piece of legislation in Russia this year that some may have missed was a law making it a criminal offence to criticise or to cast aspersions on any aspect of Soviet behaviour during World War II, including the behaviour of the Soviet Army. Anyone criticising that army of 70 years ago faces criminal prosecution.
President Putin shows appalling judgment in the laws he promotes. Or rather, perhaps the laws he passes are a good guide to his future actions. Just as the law against separatism in Russia shows the hypocrisy of promoting separatism in Ukraine, so the law on criticism of the Soviets and the Soviet Army in World War II only serves to draw attention to it and to any actions of the present Russian army in a new war. Speaking from this place, I can only say that the people of Eastern Europe, and let me say specifically the women of Berlin, have not forgotten the Red Army and its behaviour.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable and must be reversed. The fog of lies that enshrouds this aggression must be exposed for the hypocrisy it is.“
Angela Merkel, the one leader in Europe with the obvious stature to challenge Putin, did not make this speech or anything like it, but has chosen an uncertain private telephone diplomacy instead, urged keeping lines of communication open, stressed the need for good relations with Russia, and tended to see the Ukrainian situation as an internal issue only. This could have grave consequences for all of Europe, not least Latvia. Putin seems confident that Germany will not be too harsh in its response to his aggression. The danger is that, parallel to the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, we may have a Merkel-Putin pact to divide Europe into spheres of influence once again.