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Another Anschluss in Crimea
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Many Americans have trouble understanding modern Russia or leader Vladimir Putin. That’s in good part because they have little or no understanding of Russia’s history or geopolitics.

“The Soviets Union will return” I wrote in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR deprived the Russian imperium of a third of its territory, almost half its people and much of its world power.

A similar disaster for Russia occurred in 1918 at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Defeated by the German-Austrian-Bulgarian-Turkish Central Powers in World War I and racked by revolution, Lenin’s new Bolshevik regime bowed to German demands to hand over the Baltic states and allow Ukraine to become independent.

As soon as Josef Stalin consolidated power, he began undoing the Brest-Litovsk surrender. The Baltic states, Ukraine, the southern Caucasus and parts of “Greater Romania” were reoccupied. Half of Poland again fell under Russian control. Stalin restored his nation to its pre-war 1914 borders, killing millions in the process.

In the 1930’s, Adolf Hitler was tearing down the equally cruel Versailles Treaty that left millions of ethnic Germans stranded in hostile nations and deprived Germany of its historic eastern regions. Hitler claimed his invasion of Russia was motivated by Germany’s strategic imperative to acquire farm lands so it could attain food security.

The Central Powers – notably Germany and Austro-Hungary – could not produce enough food to feed their growing populations. Imports were essential.

A major cause of the defeat of the Central Powers was mass civilian starvation caused by Britain’s naval blockade that cut off grain imports, a crime under international law. Hitler said he had to acquire Ukraine’s rich farmlands for national security – a term we often hear today. Like American today with oil, Germany insisted it had to be food independent.

Germany’s march east began in 1938 by Anschluss (reunification) with Austria – 76 years ago this month. Czechoslovakia’s ethnic German majority in the province of Sudetenland soon followed.

Today, we are seeing another Anschluss with the reunification of Ukrainian-ruled Crimea with Russia.

Crimea was detached from the Russian Republic in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev after a drunken dinner and given as a grand (but then empty) gesture to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Khrushchev was a Ukrainian Communist party boss who had participated in Stalin’s murder of 6-7 million Ukrainian farmers.

This is the first step in President Vladimir Putin’s slow, patient rebuilding of some of the former Soviet Union. What triggered his move was Washington’s engineering of a coup against Ukraine’s corrupt but elected pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich.

The minute Ukraine fell under western influence, Putin began moving to detach Crimea and rejoin it to historic Russian rule. Or misrule: Crimea and the Caucasus was the site of the holocaust of up to 3 million Muslims of the Soviet Union who were ordered destroyed by Stalin, among them most of Crimea’s Muslim Tatars.


No western leaders should have been surprised by Crimea. Nations still have strategic sphere of influence. In 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev refused to use force to keep the union together and allowed Germany to peacefully reunify. In exchange, US President George H.W. Bush agreed not to expand NATO’s borders east, and certainly not to Russia’s borders.

But at the time, Washington regarded Russia as a broken-down, third world nation beneath contempt. Bush senior and his successor, Bill Clinton, reneged on the deal with Moscow and began pushing Western influence east –to the Baltic, Romania and Bulgaria, Kosovo and Albania, then Georgia, across Central Asia. NATO offered membership to Ukraine. Moscow saw encirclement.

Having serially violated Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, it was inevitable Moscow would riposte. This writer, who extensively covered the Soviet Union, strongly advised NATO in the early 1990’s not to push east but to leave a strategic buffer zone in Eastern Europe to maintain peace with nuclear-armed Russia. The opposite occurred.

The western allies have committed the same error over Ukraine that they did over Czechoslovakia in the mid-1930’s: extending security guarantees they could not possibly fulfill. As of now, it looks like Putin’s gambit over Crimea will work and there is nothing the West can do about it but huff, puff and impose mutually negative economic sanctions.

By moving twelve F-16 fighters to Poland and warships to the Black Sea, a Russian `lake,’ Washington has provided enough military forces to spark a war but not to win it. Anyway, the very clever Putin knows it’s all bluff. He holds the high cards. Germany’s Angela Merkel, the smartest, most skillful Western leader, is responding firmly, but with caution, unlike the childish US Republicans who appear to be yearning for a head-on clash with nuclear-armed Russia.

Washington’s pot-calls-kettle black denunciations of the Crimea referendum ring hollow given the blatantly rigged votes coming up in US-dominated Egypt and Afghanistan.

Moreover, too few in Washington are asking what earthly interests the US has in Ukraine? About as much as Russia has in Nebraska. Yet the bankrupt US is to lend $1 billion to the anti-Russian Kiev leadership and risk war in a foolish challenge to Russia in a region where it has nothing to be gained.

Except, of course, for the US neocons who have played a key role in engineering the coup in Kiev and this crisis. They want to see Russia punished for supporting Syria and the Palestinians.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Ukraine 
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  1. maharbbal says:

    err… the Anschluss gave Germany control over a reserve of gold IIRC ten times more plentiful than what used to be in the Reichbank in Berlin and over the most important financial center in E. Europe, in other words a real cash cow.

    Not sure to see the parallel with Crimea.

  2. On the one hand, Americans don’t know Russian history, on the other, Stalin “murdered” six to seven million Ukainians?

    The first statement is true–most Americans don’t know any history, including their own. The second statement is proof of the fact, and also an example of what ideologues in the US have been substituting for Russian and Soviet “history” for long decades.

  3. Germany was entitled to unify with Austria, which mostly welcomed it, ditto Russia and Crimea. There the facile parallels end. The US/NATO has been the one expanding empire, and the US, as attested by the make up of its government and lobby groups, is very largely under the power of Zionists/Israel Firsters, both neocon Jews and nutcase Evangelical “Christians.”

    That is, the policy of the US government has nothing at all to do with the national security interests of the United States at this point. Its Middle Eastern policy is dominated by Jewish Zionists, and that in turn affects the calculus of every other decision.

    Russia and Iran are and should be natural allies of the US – but for Israel.

  4. I agree with the central analysis of this article with one caveat. Not all of the former Warsaw Pact countries rightfully belonged in the Russian orbit in the first instance. Poland and the baltic states were always more western than eastern in identity. While Bulgaria always had a cultural/religious affinity with Russian, the same cannot be said for Rumania.

    But your point is taken. NATO has no place in Georgia, Ukraine, Belorussia, etc. If the Russians and the Kazakhs, have a border dispute, we need to limit ourselves to tut tutting. If the Russians invade Latvia, that is a very different matter.

  5. mulegino1 says:

    An outstanding summary of the situation, Mr. Margolis.
    However, there is one small point of disagreement: Hitler, so far as I know, did not claim he invaded Russia for the primary purpose of gaining farmland or lebensraum; his immediate rationale for launching Operation Barbarossa was the fact that Stalin, from all appearances, was preparing the most massive invasion forces in the history of the world to strike Europe sometime around midsummer to fall of 1941.
    From his own and Ribbentrop’s meetings with Molotov in November of 1940, it was evident that Moscow was hell bent on devouring Eastern Europe (particularly Romania, the chief source of Germany’s oil) as well as reoccupying Finland, and it was only at the conclusion of these failed talks that he gave the go ahead to prepare for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
    Of course, Putin is not Stalin and contemporary Russia is not the USSR. If there are any historical figures in Russian history that Putin should be compared to, I believe it would be Alexander II and/or Stolypin.

  6. Dieter says:

    mulegino1: in principle you are correct but your use of terms such as “hell bent” are a bit over the top. The Stalin regime still feared Germany in 1941 and was extremely cautious, even on the day when Barbarossa began, to avoid irritating Hitler who was well informed on this point (but had extremely poor intelligence on what his armed forces were eventually up against).
    As far as I understand the situation Hitler attacked because he correctly feared that waiting would be in favor the Stalin regime. He understood that the USSR would eventually master the production of the goods which it got from Germany but that Germany would never be able to compensate for the foodstuff and ores which it got from the USSR even if it occupied all of Europe including Spain, Italy, and Sweden. Moreover there were far more Russians than Germans. The Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was unbalanced in principle.

  7. mulegino1 says:

    Dieter: You make some valid points. However, it was evident that the Soviet forces were deploying for a massive invasion of Europe.
    In the spring of 1941, the Stavka’s First Strategic Echelon was deploying in offensive formations in the Lviv and Bialystock salients and in the Carpathians; much of the Stalin Line was being destroyed, mine fields were being cleared, bridges de-mined, huge forces of paratroopers were being prepared along with an enormous glider force (which could not survive the winter weather intact). Most of the air force in the west was sitting on tarmacs wingtip to wingtip within close proximity to the border.
    The enormous encirclements and huge numbers of p.o.w.’s taken in the first few weeks of Barbarossa would, in my opinion, not have been possible if the Red Army had been deployed for defense.

  8. jack_kane says:

    Heh, Anschluss… Not only is the comparison far-fetched, it is also offensive to Russians, amidst whom veterans of the Great Patriotic War, as they call it, still live to tell stories of the perpetrators of the actual Anschluss.

    There is no comparison between Nazi Germany and modern Russia. The former was dictatorial, militaristic, expansionist, contemptuous of international law, and obsessed with ethnicity. The latter is democratic (Putin was popularly elected and has the almost universal support of his population), focus on internal development (since Russia’s main short-term goal is to climb back out of the mire of the economic catastrophe of the 1990s), defensive-minded (has not really waged an offensive war since the late 19th century, barring the foray into nearby Afghanistan), eminently respectful of international law (as Putin never tires of correctly pointing out), and reasonably multi-cultural (Russians and adherents to the Orthodox Church comprise about 80% of the population respectively).

    What is true, however, is that the Anschluss was popular, as is the current move for Crimean secession. The diplomatic and political contexts of the two events, however, cannot be more different. The Anschluss was the culmination of Hitler’s program for the assembly of a homogenous and hegemonic ethnic German state. The Crimean affair, however, appears to be a generally unwanted diplomatic problem for the Kremlin, caused by the spectacular incompetence of Ukraine’s government and the meddling of foreign powers. If Putin refuses to take the Crimea, he and Russia will lose unacceptable amounts of prestige; and if he does take the Crimea, he and Russia will have to suffer through a diplomatic crisis of the kind they have been trying to avoid for the last 10-20 years. There may be a middle path, a way out of the conundrum. But it would depend on the quality of Kiev’s governance and diplomacy, which is now low to non-existent. Putin has the next move, let’s see what he does.

  9. jack_kane says:

    Perhaps the issue of Russia’s defensive posture requires a bit more elaboration, even though one feels that it is almost tautological to argue that a nation that has been invaded by Napoleonic France in 1812, Victorian England & France & Piedmont in 1853, Imperial Japan in 1905, Imperial Germany and Austria in 1914-1918, and Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1941, and dismembered under American pressure 20 years ago, is defensive-minded.

    Two episodes from the last century require particular attention – the Winter War of 1939-1940, and the Soviet reacquisition of chunks of Eastern Europe prior to Barbarossa.

    The cause (and, in this case, not just the pretext!) of the Winter War was Stalin’s desire to secure the safety of Leningrad by a little “borders adjustment.” As a parallel, imagine that, say, New York or Chicago lies within artillery range of Cuba… Now, Moscow offered swaths of grade-A frozen wastes in exchange for a minor retraction of the (massively fortified) Finish borders in the vicinity of Leningrad. Finland, at the time fairly fascistic like the rest of Eastern Europe, refused. Stalin invaded, took what he wanted at the price of unbelievable casualties, and – critically – left Finland alone. No regime change, no nothing. The Finns realized that, to some extent, they had been let off the hook, and pursued of a weird policy of benevolent hostility during the siege of Leningrad. For example, the Finnish shelling of Leningrad was so half-hearted, that AFAIR Hitler had to reprimand Helsinki. The Russians did not forget this kind gesture, and let Finland off the hook for a second time after the war. Russo-Finnish relations have been relatively decent ever since.

    Regarding the reacquisition of the Baltic States, Poland, Galicia and Bessarabia, I think Mr. Margolis sums things up rather nicely in saying: “Stalin restored his nation to its pre-war 1914 borders, killing millions in the process.” Was that not what Lincoln did? The parallel is not perfect, but I think it suffices to make the point.

    One last remark: When the “Big Three” cut up Europe like a birthday cake at Yalta, Stalin frankly admitted that he just wanted a “buffer zone” in Eastern Europe. It is useful to recall that one of Stalin’s main contentions with Trotsky was the issue of expansionism – Stalin wanted to fortify and develop Russia, while Trotsky wanted to ravage Europe like some kind of a 20th century Genghis Khan. Stalin was fundamentally defensive-minded (though he was also a thug and did not hesitate to take what he could take). One excellent illustration of Stalin’s good faith in making the Yalta agreement can be found in the post-WW2 Greek civil war. Moscow agreed to leave Greece in the Anglo-American sphere of influence. So when the Greek communists, who were very popular (having resisted the Nazi occupation) and very strong (with half a decade’s worth of experience in guerrilla fighting) rebelled, Stalin simply cut them off, and allowed the Anglo-American-backed forces to assert control.
    Moscow could have taken Greece. But it didn’t, because it respected the Yalta agreement, and because it had more pressing tasks at hand – such as the rebuilding of Russia.

    Today, Moscow can take the Crimea. But does the Kremlin really want that, or has Putin’s hand been forced?

  10. Excellent point, Jack. Unlike Barry Soetoro (aka Obama) and his predecessor, Bush, Jr., Vladimir Putin is an excellent student of European (especially Russian) history. Bush, Jr. and Barry are also quite ignorant of US history as well; otherwise, they would have never launched wars of aggression against countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, etc., which they have never truly defeated. Afghanistan was never conquered by any outsiders, simply because of its hostile terrain and the warlike tribes that inhabited it for centuries.

    Putin holds the high cards; so, any sanctions Barry and his EU “partners” may launch will only backfire on them. He is capable of shutting off the natural gas supply to Ukraine and most of the rest of Europe, who are totally dependent on Russian gas, in retaliation. He could also freeze all US assets in Russia (Russia has no such assets in the US). This reaction Barry & Co. are ignoring due to their blind hubris and stupidity, since they’re blind to the angry reactions they will soon receive from their respective public. This will be especially true of Europeans, when they find themselves without the necessary gas to heat their homes.

  11. Sanctions have been imposed. The Russian response will be cautious, subtle, and effective over the long term, setting up the next “situation” in which US and western aggressiveness will be redirected back against the aggressor. Neither Washington nor London know what they have now got themselves into. The Germans and the Italians know but are still playing it cozy. At this point there is no reason for the Russians to stop short of deconstructing NATO as whole, which, by the time this is over, many of the Europeans will welcome.

    China no doubt abstained after consulting with the Russians and being told to do so as the more subtle course.

    It push comes to shove it is still possible to turn Afghanistan into another Dienbienphu.

    The US and the Europeans are in way over their head.

  12. Given the likes of Hitler, Churchill, and Roosevelt, it is disingenuous to call Stalin a thug. In that company he was closer to a Russian Orthodox Saint, though in fact his early education and culture were Roman Catholic.

    Zhukov, the greatest modern commander after Napoleon and a rigidly open and honest fellow, left an extremely positive picture of Stalin, and his role in WWII, in his memoirs when it was not popular to do so.

  13. windy says:

    “Moscow offered swaths of grade-A frozen wastes in exchange for a minor retraction of the (massively fortified) Finish borders in the vicinity of Leningrad. Finland, at the time fairly fascistic like the rest of Eastern Europe, refused.”
    Nonsense- Finland had a center-left government at the time. Finland offered to concede a smaller area on the Karelian Isthmus, but wasn’t prepared to cede the other Soviet demands including a military base in SW Finland and several islands in the Gulf of Finland, and negotiations soon broke down.
    Why Finland didn’t trust in Stalin’s intentions is a matter of some debate, but the reports of repression and deportations filtering in from Soviet Karelia through the 30’s probably didn’t help. The Baltic states did give into similar Soviet demands in 1939, and soon after were occupied for their trouble.

    “Stalin invaded, took what he wanted at the price of unbelievable casualties, and – critically – left Finland alone. No regime change, no nothing.”
    You don’t think the “unbelievable casualties” could have played some role in that decision? Regime change (likely followed by annexation as in the case of the Baltics) was the original plan – a puppet government for a “Finnish Democratic Republic” was set up for this purpose. Shostakovich was commissioned to compose a suite for the eventual victory parade in Helsinki.

    “The Finns realized that, to some extent, they had been let off the hook, and pursued of a weird policy of benevolent hostility during the siege of Leningrad.”
    The Finns hardly felt that they had been let off the hook- the loss of nearly a tenth of the territory generated extreme bitterness, and so they took advantage of the German attack and set out to reclaim the losses (to make the intent clear they called it the “Continuation War”). Holding back from Leningrad was not going to make up for this in Soviet eyes, and they extracted heavy reparations from Finland after the war. The post-war relations were also more tense (at least under the surface) than you make them out to be.

  14. I’m still waiting for Germany to “man up” and start pushing back against what they must recognize as total neocon insanity. Unless there’s incriminating pictures no one has seen, I simply cannot understand why Merkel continues going along with half-baked ideas and policies that are obviously not to the benefit of Germany or the rest of Europe.

  15. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Welcome to Kosovo War and Tony’s Blair doctrine from his speech 1999 in Chicago.Well this is just beginning of the using own Medicine.. and it taste yak ! at this point UN is dead ( it was dead earlier in official 1999 Humanitarian Bombing of Serbia )

  16. The reference above to Blair’s Chicago speech in 1999 is right on target, from which this passage:

    “Twenty years ago we would not have been fighting in Kosovo. We would have turned our backs on it. The fact that we are engaged is the result of a wide range of changes – the end of the Cold War; changing technology; the spread of democracy. But it is bigger than that.

    I believe the world has changed in a more fundamental way. Globalisation has transformed our economies and our working practices. But globalisation is not just economic. It is also a political and security phenomenon…”

    Interestingly, once you penetrate the code, Blair was giving the game away, wasn’t he–and not only in regard to Yugoslavia, but also in regard to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now the Ukraina.

  17. WAH says:

    To equate the “Anschluss” of Austria with the Crimea is not quite fitting. There are substantial minorities in the Crimea, while Austria is 100% German populated and was always a part of the German nation, as evidenced by their rulers (Habsburg) being the emperors of the HRE of the German nation for over 300 years. The only reason Austria was not integrated into the reconstituted German Nation in 1871, was that their ruling house (Habsburg) did not want to accept the choice of a new ruling house (Hohenzollern), even though such a change was customary in the original HRE of the German Nation.
    The Crimea comparison is comparable to the Kosovo, where there is also a substantial minority (Serbs) now left in the breakaway province – probably against their will.
    If one wants to advocate “self-determination”, one has to define down to what level it makes sense.
    I would not object if everybody would just leave me alone to self-rule my 6 acres.

  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I always thought that Mr. Margolis is a bright and perceptive reporter but his comparison of the referendum in Crimea with the Anchluss in Austria puts him at the level of Hillary Clinton. Austria in 1938 was a relatively peaceful and neutral country and the Nazi invasion dragged her into the union with her Nazi neighbour. The opposite happened in Crimea. This peninsula was tied to the Neo-Nazi Ukraine which is ruled by gangs of Bandera followers – Banderovtsi. People in Crimea voted to be part of Russia, a country which gives them protection from Neo-Nazis.

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