Wednesday, August 12
Укр Eng
Log In Register
19 August, 2014  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

Between Munich-2 and the Truman Doctrine

Russian aggression against Ukraine has forced the world to choose between two ways of handling the aggressor. Each was tested in the 20th century

On the one hand, there is the policy of “pacifying the aggressor” which culminated in the Munich Agreement signed between European democracies and Hitler’s totalitarian Germany 76 years ago. This choice, as is known, led to catastrophic consequences for Europe and the world which ultimately had to pay a much bigger price for subduing the aggressor than would have been necessary in the case of early reaction. On the other hand, there was the positive counterpart in the form of “containment policy” initiated in US President Harry Truman’s doctrine in 1947. This policy minimized the price the democratic world ultimately paid for putting the totalitarian USSR back in its place, even though the Soviets could have caused much bigger problems than the Nazis (see Lessons of history below).


On 16 July 2014, both the USA and the EU decided to expand sanctions against Russia, but in both cases the decisions were too weak. Neither Brussels, nor Washington moved to the third level of sanctions that would involve sectoral restrictions. America introduced its sanctions against a number of companies representing Russia’s military industrial and energy sectors. The EU leaders expanded theirs to include new individuals and companies, but the list is to be published only by the end of July. Part of U.S. senators and EU supporters of a stricter stance on Russia immediately criticized the adopted documents for their impotence and inefficiency. This is no surprise, considering how even Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev publicly ridiculed them saying that “such sanctions have never forced anybody to their knees”.

However, the Russians seemed to have lost all guard after the “weak” decisions of Washington and Brussels: their fighter jet downed a Ukrainian SU-25 military plane in the border area, and they transferred the powerful Buk-M missile system to the terrorists in the Donbas. Their radio conversations intercepted by Ukraine’s security services show that this system came together with a professional Russian military crew. The Malaysian flight they downed on July 17 upset the balance of power between the “hawks” and the “doves” in the USA, the EU and across the world, forcing the international community to re-assess Russia’s military invasion in eastern Ukraine.

RELATED ARTICLE: Rebecca Harms: European leaders and US President Obama have to be clear that they do not accept the zigzag policy of Mr. Putin

At the very least, the world media have finally accepted the fact that Russia is actively supplying terrorists in Ukraine with modern heavy artillery and trained military personnel. On 19 July, British Prime Minister David Cameron said in his article in The Sunday Times that it was time for the EU to put its outrage over Moscow’s supplies of heavy weaponry to Russian terrorists in the Donbas into actions.  We watched for too long as many European countries were unwilling to see consequences of the events in eastern Ukraine, he added. The Foreign Affairs Minister of the Netherlands, a country which suffered the most from the MH17 catastrophe, also noted that this tragedy opened Europe’s eyes to what was happening in Ukraine. Holland and its close allies in Benelux can now be expected to demand more severe actions against Russia.

The problem is that this may lead to not only greater pressure on Russia, which has enough strength to hold out, but also a desire to immediately put an end to warfare as a self-contained goal and thus freeze the current conflict in the Donbas. After the downing of the Malaysian plane, Angela Merkel said: “[The] events show that we need to find a political solution. I do not see an alternative to talking with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There are hardships in our partnership, and we need to overcome them.” This position is convenient for Putin. In a video address made public on the night on July 21, he said: “Russia will do everything in its power to have the conflict in eastern Ukraine move from the current military phase to the phase of discussion at the negotiations table through peaceful and exclusively diplomatic means.”

Thus, there is a real danger of preserving the status quo with the Russian terrorists maintaining their control over large swathes of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, including their biggest cities, such as Donetsk, Makiivka, Luhansk and Horlivka. Another Transnistria of sorts. At the same time, some in the EU advocate cementing the situation by sending the  UN peacekeeping mission whose function is, as is known, to draw the conflicting sides apart. Andreas Schockenhoff, deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU faction in Bundestag (which is also Merkel’s party), spoke in favour of bringing a U.N. peacekeeping force involving German troops to Ukrainian territory and establishing a truce under the auspices of the world community. Supporters of Munich-2 can be found also in the United States. Jacob Hailbrunn wrote in The National Interest that the future of Ukraine had to become the subject of discussions between Germany, Russia and the USA and that a new Berlin Congress was needed, like the one held in 1878.

RELATED ARTICLE: Turning a Blind Eye

The policy of “pacifying the aggressor” and Munich-2 – naturally, in a modified version – have a strong support base. There are enough forces in the EU that are ready to swallow the annexation of Crimea and turn terrorists-controlled Donbas territories into another Transnistria, while pretending all the way that nothing serious has happened and continuing to make money on joint projects with Russia. In this case, they will benefit from two other factors: Ukraine will continue to be a buffer zone between them and the restless Russia (a “bridge” in their rhetoric, even though a victim cannot a priori be a bridge for the aggressor); having a frozen conflict in its territory, Ukraine will not actively push for full EU and NATO membership. Just like Western leaders held naïve confidence in Hitler back in 1938, these forces hope that Putin will stop in the Donbas and will not attempt to take over entire Ukraine or step up his expansionist efforts against other states in Central and Southeastern Europe, including aggression against the Baltic States. However, the logic of revanchism is universal for all times and peoples: its carriers do not stop on their own, and the sooner they are stopped, the lower the price that has to be paid.

Light at the end of the tunnel

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though, and this light comes from the USA. Its Congress passed in two readings a law on counteracting Russian aggression which was submitted for consideration back in May. (It is now going through the most important preparation stage in the Foreign Affairs Commission after which it may be adopted conclusively.) It can be viewed as an attempt of the guarantor of worldwide security to return to the Truman Doctrine. The document recommends to the U.S. President stepping up cooperation of the American army with the armed forces of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia and increasing U.S. and NATO involvement in the security of these states. The law suggests granting MNNA (Major Non-NATO Ally) status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as most exposed to pressure from Russia. Legislatively fixed back in 1989, this status sets priorities for the U.S. relations with such countries, including possible participation in joint defence initiatives, military research, anti-terrorist actions, supply of certain types of weapons and joint efforts in space projects. Such important American allies as Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Pakistan all have this status.

RELATED ARTICLE: Damon Wilson: “Permanent neutrality and “Finland status” are bad ideas for Ukraine’s own interests”

By granting MNNA status to Ukraine, the United States would be able to support its Armed Forces and supply modern American weapons, such as anti-tank and air defence systems and small arms, as well as ammunition, armoured and high-wheeled multipurpose vehicles, bulletproof vests, etc. This would send a very strong signal of support “by actions rather than words”, elevate our bilateral relations to a historical high and show who our friend is in an hour of need.

Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that NATO as a bloc is also prepared to consider including non-members into its security space. According to Klimkin, the borders of this union will be determined at a NATO summit in South Wales in early September.

Meanwhile, there is growing fatigue with the EU’s leaning towards Munich-2 and increasing realization that only the USA and its traditionally most consistent allies perceive the situation more or less adequately (but still not seriously enough). Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov recently wrote that only quadrilateral negotiations involving Ukraine, the USA, the EU and Russia are acceptable. Not two or three sides, but four. This is not to “let tenderhearted Europeans soften their hearts and again ‘understand the situation’ in the poor Putin regime has found itself”. Verkhovna Rada Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, who recently complained that the West offered nothing more than verbal support at a time when Russia was taking over the Crimea, noted that it was due to the attempts some Western politicians made  to cut a deal with Putin and help “pacify the aggressor” that Russia became increasingly impudent and that it was time to “not only feel sympathy for Ukrainians but also help us militarily and technically and … start supplying us with modern weapons and military equipment.”

These are not the last people in the government, but they do not define Ukraine’s foreign policy. In his recent interview for Hromadske TV, Klimkin, who is implementing President Petro Poroshenko’s foreign policy, made a series of interesting statements. Despite diplomatic caution, he offered a quite candid assessment of the EU and NATO: “Despite the fact that I am such a classic and dyed-in-the-wool supporter of European integration, the EU is an inertial structure, while NATO can react to challenges very quickly. … The EU consists of 28 countries and it is … always the least common denominator affected by a multitude of different considerations. … Meanwhile, the USA has a strategic vision of this world and a clear global understanding of how the values and interests it understands and has clearly defined there need to be protected. … There are countries that want to morph the conflict settlement into a gradual, soft and convenient process. But we have studied conflicts and conflict cycles starting from Transnistria in great detail… We will not let putting what is happening into a format that is convenient to someone. It has to be convenient only to us.”

Nevertheless, the problem is that, even given political will to reject “other people’s scenarios”, the current government continues to build its foreign policy strategy based on an illusion of a “multipolar world”, a desire to sit on several chairs at the same time and avoid making a clear geopolitical choice. “We have Turkey, China and the Asian dimension,” Klimkin insists. “If we play the either-or game, we will definitely lose. I do not agree, with all due respect to Zbigniew Brzezinski, that Ukraine’s issue can be resolved only by way of compromise between Ukraine, Russia and the US… We need a real decision and compromise between the USA and Russia.”

RELATED ARTICLE: What Remains of the Empire

However, it is, in fact, clear that the outcome of both “compromises” which, in Moscow’s view, can only lie in Ukraine’s non-aligned and neutral status for now, will be another wasted opportunity for military and political integration with the USA, NATO and the adequate states in the Baltic-Black Sea region. The compromise itself will continue for as long as it will take Moscow to get ready to break it once again. In general, Klimkin’s interview suggests that, despite his personal critical assessment of the EU’s ability to withstand the Kremlin’s expansion, Kyiv orients itself, above all, towards Berlin and the Berlin-Paris axis, even though both countries are more or less obviously leaning towards Munich-2 and cannot even stop supplying Russia with powerful weapons, to say nothing of imposing sectoral sanctions.

Excessive attention to the position of countries patently advocating a Munich-2 scenario prevents Ukraine from more closely integrating militarily and politically with the only world power that can contain Putin’s aggression in the current circumstances – the USA and its allies in Europe (Britain, Poland and Sweden). The top priority task for Ukraine in terms of national security and territorial integrity must lie in consistent efforts in the American-British direction which would not only bring modern weaponry badly needed by the Ukrainian army but also eventually lead to the deployment of air and missile defence systems in Ukraine’s territory, modern military aviation jointly patrolling Ukraine’s air space, the navy protecting Ukraine’s coast and, in the future, the presence of a limited contingent American and British ground forces.

Both the Ukrainian political elites and society need to immediately get rid of the self-suggested illusions of the past decades when, under the influence of Russian and Old European propaganda, we viewed continental Europe and the EU as a priority in our geopolitical orientation, while taking a cautious stance on the actions of the US and its allies in the international arena. The EU remains our top priority in terms of economic integration, but in the security dimension, which will have a decisive role for Ukraine for decades to come, it will be insignificant. The key EU countries have shown on multiple occasions – and are likely to continue to show – their complete inability to protect Europe’s borders against the expansion of a revanchist Russia. Hence the possibility that they make conclude another Munich Agreement with Putin at the expense of Ukraine and its territorial integrity.

RELATED ARTICLE: Andrey Illarionov: “The aggression against Ukraine will inevitably end in a redrawing of Russia’s borders”

Lessons of History

With an interval of just 10 years, the democratic world offered two fundamentally different reactions to the threat posed by totalitarian regimes aspiring for worldwide domination. The pitiful nature of the first one led to a death toll of dozens of millions and colossal ruination during the Second World War. The reason was that the European states did not react to Hitler’s revanchism in a timely manner, hoping to avoid a “big war”. In March 1938, with adequate reaction from Britain and France lacking, Hitler annexed Austria – just like Putin annexed the Crimea in March 2014. Encouraged by such easy booty, he increased pressure on Czechoslovakia pretending to want to protect the German-speaking population in the Sudeten region, an industrial border area in Czechoslovakia with a high concentration of such people – just like Putin is doing now in the Donbas. Initially, autonomy – federalization in the case of the Donbas – was demanded. In September, Hitler instigated an armed uprising in the Sudeten region – just like Putin did in May 2014 in the Donbas. After it was suppressed, Hitler started threatening military invasion – just like Putin did in response to the anti-terrorist operation in Ukraine. Great Britain and France agreed for the Germans to take control over the disputed region. On 29-30 September 1938, representatives of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, but not Czechoslovakia, met in Munich – just like the supporters of Munich-2 suggest doing now with Ukraine – and signed the Munich Agreement giving the Sudeten region to Germany. Despite all his assurances, Hitler did not stop there and conquered the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, opening the way for further aggression, this time against Poland and those same Western states.

The USA took a totally different approach after the Second World War when Stalin’s totalitarian empire became a threat no smaller than Hitler was. In 1946-49, extremists from the local puppet Communist Party of Greece, who controlled northern territories and boycotted elections to the national government bodies – just like the terrorists did in the Donbas in 2014 – launched military action against the legitimate government of Tsaldaris. They received financial and military aid from the Soviet Union through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The latter also provided support and shelter. At the same time, Stalin demanded that Turkey hand over control over the Black Sea straits presumably for monitoring warships of the third countries that entered the Black Sea. The real goal was an opportunity for expansion in the eastern Mediterranean region. In the summer and autumn of 1946, the USSR increased its military presence in the Black Sea, and its warships started manoeuvring near Turkey’s territorial waters. The same was simultaneously happening in the occupied Balkan states near the borders with Turkey and Greece. The latter turned to the USA for help. Greek Prime Minister Tsaldaris flew to Washington. The American elites realized the danger inherent in Soviet control over these countries from the viewpoint of its further expansion and supported Truman-sponsored law on providing powerful financial and military-technical aid. President Truman delivered a speech that went down in history as the Truman Doctrine. It called for containing Soviet expansion as a totalitarian threat to the democratic world and supporting free nations that resisted being subjugated by an armed minority or through external pressure. In the 1947-48 financial year alone, Greece received US $300mn (the purchasing power of this sum would be many times higher now) and Turkey US $100mn. The USA sent its aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt to the region and started supplying arms to both countries. By 1949, the government forces in Greece defeated the pro-Soviet fighters in the north, while the Kremlin realized it was pointless to put pressure on Turkey and tried to cut a deal with it. But it was too late, and in 1952 both countries joined NATO. The containment doctrine tested in the region also proved successful in defending South Korea against Sino-Korean military aggression in 1950-53 supported by the USSR. Stopping Soviet expansion at an early stage saved the world from the uncontrolled spread of the red plague and a global war. Eventually, the Soviet Union was destroyed at a much lower cost than Nazi Germany.

Related publications:

Copyright © Ukrainian Week LLC. All rights reserved.
Reprint or other commercial use of the site materials is allowed only with the editorial board permission.
Legal disclaimer Accessibility Privacy policy Terms of use Contact us