LONDON – With Crimea voting for secession, the upheaval in Ukraine is fueling an increasingly charged atmosphere between Russia and the tandem of the United States and the European Union. Are American and European leaders being cast in a Russian remake of the 1938 Sudeten crisis?
Immediately after Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to the ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. First, he demanded the Sudetenland’s cession to Germany, gaining relatively easy agreement from British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his French counterpart Édouard Daladier.
Hitler then immediately raised his demands to include German military occupation of the area. Deeming the issue “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing,” and thus not worth defying Hitler over, Chamberlain and Daladier accepted the occupation by signing the Munich Agreement. In doing so, they strengthened Germany considerably and emboldened Hitler – with catastrophic consequences.
To be sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin is not Hitler, Russia is not Nazi Germany (or the Soviet Union, for that matter), and the world does not face the same apocalyptic scenario that unfolded in 1939. Nonetheless, there are some important parallels between the Sudeten and Crimean crises.