Bill Carmichael: Echoes of 1938 in appeasement of Putin

THIS week European leaders gathered in the hope of containing the territorial ambitions of the megalomaniac leader of a powerful and aggressive nation and to try to avoid a catastrophic war breaking out across the Continent.

Sound familiar? Certainly there are many disturbing echoes from the Munich Conference of 1938 in today’s effort by Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande to broker a peace deal in Ukraine.

Back in 1938 the aggressor nation was Adolf Hitler’s German Reich; today it is the mafia state of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

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Many fear that eastern Ukraine will become the new Sudetenland – a portion of sovereign territory effectively handed over to the aggressor nation in an act of desperate appeasement.

Perhaps Merkel and Hollande will go the whole hog and return bearing bits of paper and announcing “Peace in our time”? If so, we had better pray the parallels don’t continue. For far from stopping Nazi aggression, the Munich agreement actually encouraged it.

If Putin is allowed to gobble up a big portion of Ukraine, will his appetite be sated? Or, like Hitler, will he demand more territorial concessions – this time perhaps from the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia where, as in Ukraine, there are substantial Russian-speaking minorities?

As the death toll rises, it is hard not to feel desperately sorry for the people of Ukraine. This is a country that has experienced more than its fair share of misery at the hands of foreign invaders.

In the early 1930s, that great socialist hero Joe Stalin deliberately starved to death more than seven million Ukrainian peasants in a forced collectivisation campaign.

A few years later it was Hitler’s National Socialists who killed an estimated 6.5 million Ukrainians, including 1.5 million Jews.

Given their terrible suffering at the hands of various forms of state socialism, who can blame the Ukrainians for looking West at the prosperity and liberty delivered by free market capitalism and wanting some of the same?

Yesterday, Putin, Merkel, Hollande and the Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko announced a “road map” for a peace deal. Let’s hope the killing stops as a result.

But if Ukraine is looking to the West to help it in its struggle against Russia, I fear it will be disappointed. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron wasn’t even present at the peace talks, demonstrating our diminished role on the international stage. Our government has slashed defence spending to the bone – while finding lavish funding for the overseas aid budget – and as a result we couldn’t help if we wanted to.

The notion that the EU could provide an effective barrier to Putin’s ambitions is fanciful.

And don’t forget – because Europe has handed over energy policy to the eco-lunatics and wind farm profiteers – we are more dependent on Russian gas than ever before. What happens if Putin turns off the tap?

As for the United States being the “leader of the free world”, sadly we have instead the weakest and most ineffectual president since Jimmy Carter.

Barack Obama is a blustering braggart, full of soaring rhetoric but when the crunch comes he bottles it. He laid down clear red lines to Syria’s President Assad and then capitulated when those lines were crossed. Does anyone seriously think he will prove more determined with Putin than he was with Assad?

I hope the ceasefire holds and peace returns to Ukraine, but the sorry truth is the message from the West is loud and clear – sorry friends, you are on your own.

Simplifying taxes

I spent an entire day a couple of weeks ago on the Government’s Self-Assessment website, calculating my meagre freelance earnings and writing a fat cheque to HMRC.

So it is with a grinding of teeth that I read about fabulously rich people hiding their money in Swiss bank accounts in order to avoid paying tax – encouraged by the once respected HSBC bank and treated with kid gloves by HMRC.

Paying tax is only for little people, it appears. But don’t for a moment think things would be any different under Labour. They were in power for 12 years and did nothing about tax evasion.

The real answer is to make taxes far simpler and much, much lower. Then perhaps we could persuade even rich people to pay them.