Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine brings back memories of 1968, when Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent troops into supposedly independent Czechoslovakia. The Soviet troops "liberated" Czechs from a Communist regime that showed dangerous signs of liberal reforms — like free speech and allowing contested elections.
The dogma that the USSR had the right to intervene militarily in any "socialist" country where Communist rule was threatened has been called the "Brezhnev Doctrine." Of course, Soviet leaders considered efforts to overthrow non-communist regimes completely legitimate.
Western observers aptly summarized the Soviet attitude expressed by the Brezhnev Doctrine as "What's ours is ours, and what's yours is negotiable." President John F. Kennedy had used similar words to describe the Soviet attitude seven years earlier.
Vladimir Putin has revived and expanded the Brezhnev Doctrine by claiming Russia's right to attack any neighboring country, like Ukraine, that used to be part of the USSR, a larger state which was dominated by Russians: "What used to be ours should be ours."
And now he has added one additional twist: incorporating occupied parts of Ukraine into Russia after staging sham referendums in which the local inhabitants voted to become part of Russia. This was the formula by which Crimea supposedly became part of Russia in 2014.
Since Czechoslovakia had never been a part of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev knew better than to try to annex Czechoslovakia.
Putin's recent actions have answered a question I raised seven months ago when Russia had just attacked Ukraine: Is Putin Bismarck II or Hitler II?
At that time I still hoped that Putin was more like Otto von Bismarck, who knew when to quit military action while he was ahead. However I noted that Putin's recent statements were beginning to sound a lot more like Adolf Hitler.
Unfortunately, Putin turns out to be Hitler II in at least one respect. He is using the same playbook that Hitler did, claiming that alleged maltreatment of Russian-speaking minorities in other countries justifies wars to bring the areas in which they live into Russia.
Putin recently staged "referendums" in portions of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces. Huge majorities of those who voted supposedly supported becoming part of Russia.
This attempt to justify incorporating those areas into Russia is an interesting new twist, one which tries to make the Russian land-grab look democratic. This seems to endorse the principle that people in an area have the right to vote that area out of one country and into another.
One doubts, however, that Putin has any intention of allowing the Ukrainians who supposedly supported becoming part of Russia to change their minds in a later referendum. In politics, people often invoke principles in an unprincipled manner, but not always so blatantly!
And of course it is impossible to take seriously any "referendum" in which armed Russian soldiers dragooned people to the polls and watched while they cast their "votes."
There might be something to be said in favor of allowing referendums to realign national borders, but this would only make sense if neutral monitors organized and supervised the voting, counted the votes, and allowed people on both sides of the issue to freely campaign for voter support. That clearly was not the case here.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. Read Professor Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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