In March 1938, a lawless dictator obsessed with his country’s former empire invaded a sovereign neighbour under the pretence of reuniting his people. The invasion of the Sudetenland, followed by the rest of Czechoslovakia, led to the darkest days in human history. This week a lawless dictator obsessed with returning his country to supposed former greatness invaded a sovereign neighbour under the pretence of reuniting his people. Leading to who knows what.
Let’s not overstate the case. Putin is no Hitler. Comparing the Russian autocrat to the Nazi dictator betrays the unique evil of the Third Reich which, never forget, was responsible for the deaths of 24 million Russians. Yet, as the world watches aghast as Putin rehangs the Iron Curtain, there are parallels and lessons to learn.
Despite cross-party support for punitive measures in response to Putin sending soldiers into another country, the government’s “barrage” of sanctions has failed to materialise. Freezing the assets of just three of Putin’s cronies, who don’t live in the UK, and five Russian banks is hardly the thunderous “nowhere to hide” clarion call made by the foreign secretary. It’s less a big stick than a stale Twiglet.
Still, it could have been radically, tragically worse. Had the last general election seen Comrade Corbyn’s politburo turn Britain into Belarus, we would have witnessed a prime minister standing in Parliament this week parroting the perfidious position of the Stop The War coalition on the Russian invasion – endorsed by Corbyn and 13 other quisling MPs.
It alleges: “The conflict is the product of 30 years of failed policies, including the expansion of Nato and US hegemony at the expense of other countries as well as major wars of aggression by the USA, Britain and other Nato powers. The British government has played a provocative role in the present crisis, talking up war, decrying diplomacy as appeasement and escalating arms supplies.”
Harold Macmillan’s response when asked his greatest challenge as prime minister – “Events, dear boy, events” – illustrates how reliant we are on the judgment of elected leaders in times of crisis. We may be saddled with a prime minister whose judgment is beneath the standards many expect, but at least we don’t have one with judgment beneath contempt. One only wonders which side of the fence the former Labour leader would have stood 84 years ago.