Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged city center after a Russian air raid in Chernigiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 3, 2022. Credit: Dmytro Kumaka / AP

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Is Ukraine run by Nazis?

Is Ukraine really part of Russia?

Is Russia back as a great power?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to force his unique and distorted views on the world.  Given his lies that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine, his claims require close review.  Here’s some context.

Putin said that Ukraine is run by Nazis. In most Nazi-occupied countries during World War II, some people sided with the Nazis. That was true from Norway to Poland, including Ukraine, which aided the German occupiers and provided a compliant government. Maybe that’s the background for Putin’s assertion.

But Putin fails to mention that the Soviet Union, run by Russia and sorely missed by him, had a  formal treaty with Hitler that allowed the two countries to carve up Poland. Russia’s dictatorship today is closer to old-fashioned Nazism than to Ukraine’s democracy.

Then, there’s the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide of six million Jews including Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s great grandfather and two great uncles. Zelenskyy is a Jew. And Putin wants us to believe Zelenskyy is a Nazi.

Russia deserves a “sphere of influence,” according to Putin. Despite the Soviet Union losing control of countries it occupied and oppressed, it should be allowed to dominate them as a way of protecting Russia, he says.

There are at least two problems with his thinking. First, nobody is threatening Russia. Second, the notion of geographic spheres of influence has faded over the past seven decades.

What Putin may really mean is that, without dominating countries surrounding Russia, his country is no longer the great world power it became after the Second World War. Its  population is less than half of the U.S. and  Russia’s economy is smaller than California’s. The only vestige of its superpower status is its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The alliance’s error in dealing with Putin was its failure to punish Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. This apparent appeasement probably led him to believe he could take over the entire country without much opposition. Zelenskyy and NATO have corrected that false impression and given him a nasty surprise.

Russia deserves to control Ukraine, Putin claims. It is really a part of Russia. They speak almost the same language. Tell that to many Canadians, who make sure they are not mistaken for Americans. Political boundaries have long sliced across common cultures. People have the right to decide their nationality for themselves.

When the United Nations was established in 1945, the Soviet Union wanted more votes. So Ukraine (along with Belarus) became  a founding member with its own seat at the table. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, it remained a U.N. member. Russia had already made it look like a real country.

In the years after World War II, the Cold War pitted  NATO, formed to prevent Soviet advances westward in Europe, against the Soviet Union. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and some optimistically thought the world had arrived at permanent peace. Nine years later, Putin was in power and he was not ready for peace.

Whatever the outcome in Ukraine, Putin has gambled and his country will suffer. NATO and the EU have learned that it is dangerous to allow their economies to become overly entangled with Russia’s. They will likely avoid the risk of remaining dependent on an undependable partner.

While the economic break will cost the U.S. and its allies, it could set the Russian economy back decades. Without its links with the massive American and European market and investment, it could be forced to depend on China. To a certain degree, the once great power could itself come within the Chinese sphere of influence.

The Ukraine crisis has prompted worries that Russian success could encourage China to attack  Taiwan. While Taiwan was a part of China, it has evolved into a separate nation. It is an island located in vital international waterways.

The American involvement with Taiwan is like its 1991 intervention in Kuwait. There it had a direct, oil-related interest and sent U.S. armed forces to push out Iraqi invaders. Now, the U.S. Navy is deployed in the South China Sea.

Facing Nazi Germany, some American Nazi sympathizers formed  America First. Today, Donald Trump and his most ardent right-wing followers adopt the America First name and have expressed support for Putin.

The dangers of appeasing China, with its superpower ambitions, and the overt support by some Americans for foreign despots should be warnings. Been there. Done that.


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Gordon Weil, Opinion contributor

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.