Lessons from Hitler’s 1936 Playbook



On Saturday, Sept. 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered an interesting perspective of the crisis in Ukraine in his address to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly. He declared that the crisis was the result of a coup in that country supported by the United States and the European Union. Lavrov somehow forgot to mention the fact that Russia has sent troops and heavy weapons into eastern Ukraine in support of pro-Russian rebels who have taken over a number of cities. He also claimed that the Russian annexation of Crimea earlier this year was, in fact, the choice of the largely Russian-speaking population there.

Today’s events have a somewhat startling similarity to ones that tool place almost 60 years ago. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler declared that he sought to unite all the people of German speech and culture into one nation. As he marched his armies into the Rhineland and then annexed Austria, the Allies (Britain and France) did nothing. Hitler’s next move was to “reclaim” the Sudenland. This was a territory on the border of Czechoslovakia inhabited by a German-speaking people. It is as if Putin was reading from Hitler’s playbook.

Vladimir Putin is not a Marxist purist, like Lenin or Stalin. He is a hardcore Russian nationalist. His one goal is to reunite what the Soviet Union once dominated and rebuild that infamous empire. Putin has been acting upon his goal by using Russia’s military, immense resources of natural gas and other forms of energy, and the threat of nuclear war, but his main weapon is actually information.

In the beginning of September this year, at the NATO summit in Wales, General Philip Breedlove, the military alliance’s top commander, declared that Russia is waging “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.” Now, General Breedlove was not just speaking of the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. He was talking about the fact that Putin is trying to reinvent reality, creating mass falsehoods that translate into political/military action.

In his desire to annex Ukraine, Putin has given the huge wedge of southeastern Ukraine the name Novorossiya. Novorossiya, which literally translates to New Russia, was an historical term of the Russian Empire in 1764-1873 to denote an area north of the Black Sea. People who live in that part of the world today never thought of themselves as living in Novorossiya, let alone bearing allegiance to it. And just like Hitler before him, Putin realizes that history can be changed. Russia media are showing maps of its “geography,” while Kremlin-backed politicians are writing its “history” into school textbooks. There’s a flag, even a news agency, and several Twitter feeds.

Winston Churchill sounded the alarm and called the democratic world to action against Hitler. Who will do so today? President Obama has not made one decisive move, and both Britain and Germany have ruled out the use of force to stop Putin. While his country is in economic shambles, Putin behaves as if he rules the Earth. He may very well use the threat the world is feeling from ISIS as a way to cover his ever-expanding reach. President Obama and the United States must step forward and take real action against Putin’s dream of reconstructing his empire.