Putin’s speech announcing the annexation of the Crimea on March 18, 2014 (above, source: BBC) differed refreshingly from Hitler’s analogous speech at the Vienna Heldenplatz on March 15, 1938 after the Austrian Anschluss (below, source: Süddeutsche Zeitung): no wild gesticulating, the conspicuous presence of orthodox Rabbis and turbaned Imams in the audience.Unremarked by most commentators, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Crimean Annexation speech yesterday contained a coded offer to Germany for a watered-down version of the Putin Doctrine outlined in our previous Creditanstalt Intelligence Bureau report.
But first, let us analyze why Putin chose to announce this watered-down and irredentist version of the Putin Doctrine to a captive Russian audience in the Kremlin rather than the full universalist Doctrine, as originally planned, in a Russia Today (RT) television interview, as we previously reported based on informants close to Edward Snowden. During an emergency session with his closest advisers on Monday afternoon, Putin was confronted with the following serious objections:
- After the on-camera resignation of Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl in protest against Russia’s Crimean policy, state media could no longer rely on Western hirelings to stay on script, however lavishly they are paid. Therefore, the interview on RT with Larry King and Gerhard Schröder was now ruled out and a Kremlin setting with all imperial trappings was substituted.
- Announcing a unilateral and unconditional doctrine of altruistic self-determination sacrificing existing Russian territories (i.e., Chechnya and Kaliningrad Oblast) without reciprocal quid pro quos from other powers would make Russia a “sucker state” instead of just a rogue one.
- The irredentist faction went even further and argued that Russia should exploit ethnic self-determination exclusively in its national interest following the highly successful model pioneered by Hitler 1936-39 (remilitarization of the Rhineland 1936 in violation of the Versailles Treaty, 1938 Austrian Anschluss, and annexation of the ethnic-German Czechoslovakian territories (“Sudetenland” and Munich Pact), occupation of rump Czechoslovakia 1939). By playing on revanchist national pride of a Russia humiliated and powerless after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin could unleash a wave of domestic patriotic fervor such as he last enjoyed during the Second Chechen War (or indeed Hitler enjoyed 1936-9).
- The more internationalist faction countered that the last step in the Hitlerian irredentist program—the “liberation” of Danzig and the invasion of Poland—led to the Second World War and left today’s Germany, even after reunification, significantly smaller than even under the Versailles Treaty 1920 (and with incidentally over 27 million Soviet war dead and millions of ethnic Germans ethnically cleansed from Eastern Europe), so that this was a dangerously slippery slope.
- The irredentist faction countered that by proceeding in small increments and never crossing NATO’s red line explicitly, the unwillingness of Russia’s divided opponents to make a military stand could always be exploited and a general war avoided.
- A compromise was reached that Russia on the one hand would annex the Crimea in a “bloodless” fait accompli in violation of its 1994 Budapest Memorandum obligations to respect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, while on the other extend a coded olive branch to Germany and divide the NATO sanctions front.
I believe that the Europeans, first and foremost, the Germans, will also understand me. Let me remind you that in the course of political consultations on the unification of East and West Germany, at the expert, though very high level, some nations that were then and are now Germany’s allies did not support the idea of unification. Our nation, however, unequivocally supported the sincere, unstoppable desire of the Germans for national unity. I am confident that you have not forgotten this, and I expect that the citizens of Germany will also support the aspiration of the Russians, of historical Russia, to restore unity.But hidden in his introductory remarks is this obscure reference:
Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.CIB Kremlinologists puzzled at first over this quasi mythological allusion until they connected it with the above statement about German reunification and realized that it represents a coded offer to return Königsberg to Germany in exchange for German recognition of the Crimean annexation. After all, Königsberg plays the same role in German history under the Teutonic Knights as Khersones in the Crimea does under the perhaps mythological Prince Vladimir in Slavic history, the one being the origin of the Christianization of the Prussian tribes and Lithuania, and the other of the Kievan Rus. At this very moment experts in the German Foreign Ministry are poring over this offer and whether it can be reconciled with Germany’s obligations to its NATO partners and its own checkered experience with irredentist self-determination.
A medieval basis for Russian-German reconciliation? Prince Vladimir being baptized in Khersones in 988 (left), Emperor Friedrich II sending off the Teutonic Knights in 1236 into Prussia (right). (Picture source: Wikipedia Commons)
Or will a failure of Russian-German understanding lead to renewed tensions? Teutonic Knights preparing to invade the East. (Film still from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 masterpiece Alexander Nevsky. Source: The Guardian)