February 26, 2022

Putin’s Rape of Ukraine: Some Plain Talk

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Vladimir Putin’s case for taking Ukraine in 2022 is weaker by far than Hitler’s case for taking the Sudetenland in 1938. In that respect, Putin has out-Nazied the Führer.

Some talking-heads and journalists who claim that the West brought this crisis on itself by allowing former Soviet-bloc republics such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and others to join NATO are both naïve and wrong. Indeed, Putin’s determination to re-establish some semblance of the old Soviet bloc is not a newfound ambition but rather a long-standing imperative. Thank goodness there is a NATO, and now a rapidly reinvigorating NATO at that, because Putin’s playbook most certainly has another chapter— “Post Ukraine Expansion.”

That these recently freed nations look to the West is a good thing. To have denied them NATO membership would have been tantamount to telling them they chose freedom and democracy at their own peril. NATO isn’t threatening Russia, and there would be no NATO if Stalin hadn’t aggressively set his sights on Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Berlin in 1948 and 1949. In many respects, Stalin created NATO. Today, an ambitious and aggressive Vladimir Putin controls Russia, and he seems to be channeling Joseph Stalin. NATO is the reality that has kept the Kremlin from grabbing back, by force, those countries that are now free and members of the alliance. None of them ever want to be part of Russia again. None.

This war has been unprovoked, and it constitutes the proverbial stab in the back. Ukraine formally agreed to unilateral nuclear disarmament in return for its freedom from Russia. Nearly thirty years ago, Ukraine was the last of the old Soviet republics to agree to nuclear disarmament. Ukraine, in effect, traded its substantial nuclear arsenal, the third-largest in the world, for formal written assurances by Russia, Great Britain, and the United States to respect the country’s territorial integrity and political independence. The language of the 1994 Budapest Agreement is unambiguous. Russia was a substantial beneficiary of that agreement. So, when Russia belligerently, reminds the West that it is a nuclear power to be contended with, it is brandishing the substantial capability it received from Ukraine in return for an agreement to respect Ukraine’s independence.

This is no small matter. Ukraine reluctantly agreed to allow their nuclear warheads to be shipped to Russia only after receiving “iron-clad” agreements from the Russian Federation and the United States and Britain that its territorial integrity and independence would be respected. The accord provided that no signatory would use force or threats against Ukraine, and all would respect its sovereignty and existing borders. Ukrainian-Russia relations have a long, unhappy, and tortured history, so the guarantees, were critical for Ukraine and, also, for the United States because we applied the most pressure for Ukraine to accept the deal.

 Russia likes to project to a gullible western audience that the Ukrainian people are Russian and that Ukraine is a contrived nation that yearns to be part of greater Russia. Really? Well, let’s take a look at what the Ukrainian people had to say about that when they voted in a nationwide referendum in 1991. For independence from Russia, 92.3%. Against independence, 7.7%, with over 84% of Ukrainian citizens voting.

Even in the eastern-most region with stronger ties to the old Soviet Union, the vote for independence strongly favored separation from Russia. In Donetsk, the Capital of the so-called pro-Russian Donbas region, 84% voted for independence. The only two voting districts where the pro-independence vote was less than 60% was in the Crimean Administrative District, which voted 54% for independence, and Sevastopol, which voted 57% for independence. No other voting district in Ukraine, and there were twenty-seven such districts, voted under 80% for independence. Nineteen voting districts voted over 90% for independence, and five voted between 80% and 90% for independence.

The turnout for the referendum was high throughout Ukraine, even in Crimea, which had the lowest turnout, at 60% of eligible voters. The Ukrainian People no more desire to be gobbled up by Russia than do the people of Poland, Hungry, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Czechoslovakia, or the former East Germany. However, all of these countries would be in Putin’s crosshairs were it not for NATO. They would all be in mortal danger.

It is worth pondering that once Putin secures Ukraine as a buffer between the Russian Federation and the West, Poland, a former Soviet bloc member, had been the buffer as determined by the old Soviet-contrived Warsaw Pact. I traveled to Biala Podlaska at Poland’s eastern border during the Soviet-bloc era while researching my first historical novel, Remember This Dream. I was about a half-hour by car from Brest in Belarus and the border with Ukraine was not much further. The border between Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine is, more or less, indistinguishable. But for Poland’s membership in NATO, there would be zero chance that Putin would stop at that border.

There was excitement and promise in the air when the 20th century faded and the 21st century was born. The bloodiest century in history had ended. The promise of long-lasting peace was at hand, and people speculated about a “peace dividend” that would change the world as we had known it. One politician after another spoke of that proverbial Shining City on a Hill.

But, Munich is the city that keeps flashing through my mind.

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12 responses to “Putin’s Rape of Ukraine: Some Plain Talk”

  1. Michael Gong says:

    Brilliant. Thoroughly researched and documented. Indisputable. Now what do we do about it? We both have grandsons conscription vulnerable. How do we stop this in its tracks?

  2. The clarity of your essay made me catch my breath. I weep for Ukraine and despite NATO’s guarantees, I have precious little hope that a wider war can be averted. Nonetheless, I’m praying for a miracle.

  3. JRB says:

    Brilliant essay, Hal. This horror show reminds me of the Jews fighting off the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, armed only with a few weapons and Molotov cocktails. The difference is that Zelensky now has the support of the free world – and shiploads of arms. Putin risks being marginalized or ousted at this point if he retreats. He must somehow save face and claim victory. Some brilliant mind has to figure out how to negotiate this illusion.

  4. B. J. Olson says:

    There has been no more more evil and dangerous man in the entire world since Stalin…than Vladimir Putin. His reason to take over Ukraine is to further enrich his own $100 billion dollar wealth and to make Russia a world leader by controlling the rare earth minerals and valuable metals in various regions of this country.

    Iron (Fe), chromium (Cr), manganese (Mn)
    Titanium (Ti), vanadium (V)
    Copper (Cu), #Zn ‡Pb
    Nickel-copper-cobalt (Ni, Cu, Co ‡Pr ‡Pa)
    Lead (Pb), zinc (Zn)
    Molybdenum (Mo)
    Mercury (Hg), antimony (Sb), arsenic (As)
    Beryllium (Be), lithium (Li), niobium (Nb),
    Tantalum (Ta), zirconium (Zr),
    Cesium (Cs), rubidium (Rb)
    Rare earth elements (REE), scandium (Sc)
    Uranium (U), thorium (Th)
    Gold (Au), silver (Ag)
    Apatite (ap), muscovite (mu), graphite (gf), talc-magnesite (1-mg),
    pyrophyllite (pp), kvanite (di), sillimanite (si), dolomite (do).
    fluorite (R), garnet (er), corundum (cor), sulfur (S), barite (ba),
    alunite (al), common salt (cs), potassic

  5. Perry says:

    The tragedy of the invasion is in America’s response, weak and ineffective.We will see an occupied Ukraine. That being said it is difficult to contain 40,000,000 Ukrainians who yearn
    for Democracy.

    A great lesson for America’s allies, Don’t count on American resolve.

  6. Stuart Goldfine says:

    Good article and I sympathize with the Ukrainians. Their fight for freedom mirrors that of Israel.

    Unfortunately with a weak President Biden, China may take advantage of his senility and invade Taiwan and then the crazy dictator of North Korea will try to show his strength again. Somebody must wake up “Sleepy Joe”.

    • JRB says:

      Stuart Goldfine, with all due respect, President Biden has done a remarkable job of rallying the EU and western allies in support of Ukraine. He has been lauded as rejuvenating NATO after TFG essentially brought it to its knees. Biden very clearly stated that he couldn’t apply the “nuclear” SWIFT option any sooner because his G7 colleagues wouldn’t agree to it. They have now slowly come around. We are lucky to have an experienced politician like President Biden at our helm right now. He is anything but “sleepy”. Why you are attempting to undermine his work now, is beyond me.

      • Stuart Goldfine says:

        To JRB,
        With an approval rating of about 35%, I do not consider that as good approval. He failed in the pullout of Afghanistan, leaving a huge amount of military equipment, huge inflation, allowing in illegal aliens into our country, huge price increases of gasoline, supply shortages, huge increase of crime rate, and a poor job of getting Americans vaccinated.

  7. Barbara Fromm says:

    It would seem that comments about Biden and issues that the US is dealing with should be set aside to present a united front and support our President .
    It sounds like a broken record of the same negative comments every week no matter what the essay deals with. It is quite a bore. Nothing constructive or problem solving suggestions!

  8. D Miller says:

    If a person favors democracy, then follow the United States and NATO. If a person favors authoritarianism, the follow Russia, China, North Korea, etc. Approval ratings don’t have any significance or relevance when confronting absolute evil and corruption.

  9. Trudie Turner says:

    I have a quote on my office wall. “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.” Teddy Roosevelt.

  10. John Halloran says:

    Excellent. Thank you for providing the history and reasons for the current rape of Ukraine so eloquently.

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