From Russia’s long history of economic isolation to Putin’s Hitler-like tactics, a special Ukrainian edition of this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst
The U.S. government and its allies have imposed new economic sanctions on Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. In a White House address on Thursday, President Joe Biden said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
“At the end of the day, the people who will pay for this are Russians, ordinary Russians,” said Kristy Ironside, assistant professor of Russian history at McGill University. “They have definitely endured these kinds of crises before.” She spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about the country’s long history of economic isolation and what these latest actions will mean for the Russian people. This is an edited transcript of their conversation. [Listen Here]
Donald trump was supposed to have changed the world, robbing America not just of its luster but of its allies’ trust. Here was a president of such gauche ignorance and hostility, it seemed impossible that American power would ever be seen in the same light again. For Europe, in particular, Trump’s jingoistic belligerence was poised to be an adrenaline shot to the heart, Pulp Fiction–style, jolting the continent out of its American dependency.
And yet, here we are, facing the first serious threat of invasion in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and it’s as if nothing has changed. The story of the Ukraine crisis so far has been about many things: blackmail; realpolitik; appeasement; even, apparently, Western provocation regardless of the facts. But, here in Europe, the one thing it very much has not been about is American decline. In fact, from here, the story of this latest crisis is of the reestablishment of America the Good, America the Bold, America the Supreme—and, by extension, Europe the Weak. [continue reading]
As Russian troops amass on the approaches to Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens are bracing themselves for war. “Emergency kit” is a phrase I hear used more and more among my friends and acquaintances all over the country; the question on everyone’s mind is whether there will be an attack. I have been asked this numerous times over the past few weeks and I cannot provide a satisfactory answer. The only thing I am sure about is that every bit of moral, political and military support that Ukraine gets from its friends and allies makes an invasion less likely. The crisis erupted on December 17 when Russia presented the west with an unexpected ultimatum. Its list of demands included a commitment in writing to halt any further eastward expansion of Nato, the removal of multinational Nato troops from Poland and the Baltic states, and the possible withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe. Most crucial was that Ukraine never be allowed to join the alliance.
The demands were considered non-starters in Washington and found unacceptable by all members of Nato. The result is that we now find ourselves locked in the most intense diplomatic confrontation between east and west since the end of the cold war. [continue reading]
Michael E. Ruane
By 1939, parts of Czechoslovakia had already been carved off and taken over by Nazi Germany, which claimed that millions of ethnic Germans were being persecuted there. The previous September, European powers, seeking to avoid war, had acquiesced and done nothing. But six months later, German troops were massed on the Czech border, as Nazi leader Adolf Hitler railed and threatened the county with destruction. On March 15, 1939, the sickly Czech president, Emil Hacha, was in Hitler’s study surrounded by the Führer’s henchmen.
“Hitler was at his most intimidating,” historian Ian Kershaw wrote in his 2000 biography of the Nazi leader.“He launched into a violent tirade against the Czechs.” The Nazis needed to take over Czechoslovakia to protect Germany. Hacha must agree or his country would be immediately attacked and Prague, its capital, bombed. [continue reading]
Vladimir Putin’s excuse for his senseless attack on Ukraine is “denazification.” With a straight face, the president of Russia claimed that he needs to replace a neighboring democracy with his own foreign tyranny in the name of World War II. He also referred, as he has several times, to an entirely imaginary “genocide” of those who speak Russian in Eastern Ukraine. In fact, speakers of Russian enjoy far greater freedoms in Ukraine than they do in Russia.
The very government that Putin has vowed to topple makes this clear enough. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, is himself a Russian speaker. Just before the Russian invasion began, he gave the best political speech given in Russian in many a year, turning directly to Russians and asking them if they really wanted war. He also referred to the grotesque Nazi charge, pointing out that Ukrainians had died by the millions in World War II fighting the Germans. “Tell it to my grandfather,” he said, “who fought in the infantry of the Red Army and died a colonel in independent Ukraine.” [continue reading]