Putin has learned a lesson from history – and so must we

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From: Stanley Solomons, Huddersfield.

HERE we go again (Mark Smith, The Yorkshire Post, April 21). Will the West ever learn from the lessons of history?

Vladimir Putin certainly does. He has taken a leaf out of Hitler’s book with his invasion of the Ukraine and the suspicion is that he will not be satisfied, despite his protestations to the contrary, until the whole of Ukraine, not just the Crimea and the Eastern part of the country, becomes part of Mother Russia.

What then? Will he try to grab other states which once formed part of the Soviet Union? If alarm bells aren’t ringing, then they should be.

Just cast your minds back to 1938. Britain and France stood by idly as Hitler destroyed Czechoslovakia which had been created out of various peace treaties and carved out of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918. His initial pretext was that the three and a quarter million Sudeten Germans who lived in the country were being subjected to severe discrimination at the hands of the Czech authorities and wanted more autonomy and a return to the German Reich, though in fact before the First World War ended they had lived in Austria which, of course, had been swallowed up by Hitler a few months earlier in 1938.

Compared to minorities in many other countries the Sudeten Germans had fared quite well. They had full democratic and civil rights, had their own schools and retained their own cultural bodies. Many of them prospered and lived in relative harmony with the Czechs and no political movement had been formed – until Hitler came to power in 1933.

In a very short time the Sudeten German Party was formed, led by a schoolteacher, Konrad Henlen, and within a couple of years the party was being subsidised by Germany to the tune of 15,000 marks a month. In his well-documented book, the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer points out that soon after Austria had been annexed Henlen spent three hours talking to Hitler in Berlin.

Now fast forward to 2014. No surprise that the Russian-speaking rebels who are still occupying public buildings in several cities in the Ukraine at Moscow’s behest will not leave them until their demands have been met. There seems little doubt that despite the so-called international deal agreed to by Russia, these rebels, encouraged by Moscow and armed by them, will stay put, making more and more demands. To stand back and do nothing as Britain and France did in 1938 would merely hand the initiative to Putin.