Is Ukraine Another Austria?

In thinking about the situation in Ukraine I can’t help but to compare it to pre-WW II when Adolph Hitler began the takeover of Europe:


  • Invasion of one country by another country, by force for hegemony and economic gain.
  • Invading country is led by an egocentric strongman inclined to force and supported by patriotic fervor.
  • Part of Ukraine is ethnically similar to Russia and approves the take over, like Hitler’s takeover of Austria.
  • Invading country is militarily powerful.
  • American sentiment is anti-war.
  • Immediate economic impact for America is negligible.



  • WMD’s exist and are held by both Russia and the US.
  • Ukraine is ethnically different from most Americans.
  • America is militarily powerful, and Europe’s forces are significant as well.
  • The nature of war has changed and is less reliant on cannon fodder, conscription unnecessary.
  • Russia evidences no ambitions to extend their takeover beyond this one country, and the takeover may be limited to the Crimea.
  • The UN, NATO and the IMF exist now.
  • All countries are now committed to a global economy.
  • In the internet age, world opinion is more immediate and more of a factor for both participants and observers.
  • This time there is no attack on our homeland (Pearl Harbor).

Once again, the principal question as I see it is the one of American exceptionalism and involvement. I feel sorry for the Western Ukrainians, but if the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t taught us that we can’t be the world’s policeman, then nothing can. But, that won’t stop the hawks from howling.  War can be quite a rush for those who aren’t themselves at peril in it.

When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die. — Jean-Paul Sartre

The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.  —  John F. Kennedy

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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16 Responses to Is Ukraine Another Austria?

  1. tombreyfogle says:

    I was thinking Czech Republic myself…


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ tombreyfogle,

      Czechoslovakia was a much more sinister and evil invasion. As part of the 1939 “appeasement” agreement in Munich, Britain and France abandoned it to the Nazi government. The Wikipedia page on Czechoslovakia tells what was going on:

      The eventual goal of the German state under Nazi leadership was to eradicate Czech nationality through assimilation, deportation, and extermination of the Czech intelligentsia; the intellectual elites and middle class made up a considerable number of the 200,000 people who passed through concentration camps and the 250,000 who died during German occupation.[9] Under Generalplan Ost, it was assumed that around 50% Czechs would be fit for Germanization. The Czech intellectual elites were to be removed not only from Czech territories but from Europe completely. The authors of Generalplan Ost believed it would be best if they emigrated overseas, as even in Siberia they were considered a threat to German rule. Just like Jews, Poles, Serbs, and several other nations, Czechs were considered to be untermenschen by the Nazi state.

      The people of the Crimean peninsula however appear to welcome the Russian takeover. Frankly, given all the ethnic and linguistic passions involved, I think peace would be furthered if the country could be split along those ethnic lines. Let the West go with the EU and let the world observe the experiment. I’m guessing that Crimea and East Ukraine would not turn out to be another East Germany, as some might speculate. It’s a different world now. In those days there was no internet or a global economy.


      • tombreyfogle says:

        Russians comprise 59 percent of Crimea’s population of about 2 million, with 24 percent Ukrainian and 12 percent Tatar, 2001 census data show. Russians make up 17 percent of Ukraine’s total population of 45 million. It is ethnically diverse. At best, it could be like the Austrian Anschluss. At worst, more like Czechoslovakia. You are correct – it is a different world now. Hard to tell what will happen.


  2. PiedType says:

    And Europe didn’t think the Nazis had ambitions beyond Austria.
    This is Europe’s fight, not ours. It’s time the rest of the world learned to step up and protect their own interests and not hang back waiting for us to take the lead.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ PT,

      While I surely agree that Europe has been historically lax in policing the world to protect the institutions of democracy and self-rule, it seems to me it’s because America has always shouldered that onus. After WW II and the Marshall Plan, they ceded that responsibility to the US and as we spent ourselves into deep debt, they put their own wealth into economic growth. I think it’s a hard habit to break. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in both Ukraine and Syria now that we’re actually trying to ease out of that unilateral role. What’s at stake seems to be sovereignty versus ethnicity. And, hegemony of course. If the GOP wins the next two elections I would expect the US to try to resume the policeman role, so a lot’s at stake.


  3. ansonburlingame says:

    There is a key concept associate with Ukrainian issues right now and the word is hegemony, I think. The crux of the matter, in Ukraine and elsewhere, is who controls the actions by the government(s) in power to support the goals of “external actors” (other nations or groups of nations, such as the EU).

    WWII changed the world, dramatically, with the introduction of nuclear weapons. Later the information age had an even greater impact, probably, as Jim points out. And then of course the issue of globalization of economies compounded the whole thing. Recall, to really influence another country’s economy, blockade (of the Naval type) or literally closing land borders was the chosen method to bring a country to its knees, economically. No one has tried such extremes since WWII, that I recall, blockade or close all land borders into a given country.

    But nations still have interests, vital interests. That is unchanged as is the case with Russia and Crimea. Imagine Japan deciding to align with China (at least some factions within Japan) and threatening to close all American access to bases throughout Japan. I wonder how we would react if America’s military presence in the Western Pacific was so threatened. Russia of course wants to sustain presence, even control of the Black Sea in this case.

    Look at Syria in the same context as now the Ukraine. We almost used military power in the former case, “bomb” some bases, factories, etc. in Syria. Think that is possible in Ukraine? Of course not and Putin knows that.

    Russia worries a lot about its southern borders, as well it should so worry. That region is a “Muslim” problem. The Ukraine on the other hand is a “western” problem. Georgia wants to align with Muslim power and Ukraine wants to do the same with “western” power, or so it seems to me.

    So what would YOU do if you sat in Putin’s chair? As well what could be done to prevent him from doing so?

    Think about it folks. In terms of “hegemony” Putin won a big round in Syria a year or so ago. Why should he not expect to win another round in Ukraine, now?

    Ivan (The Terrible) gave birth to the Russian Bear. Peter (The Great) introduced that Bear to the rest of the world. Lenin and the following mob gave the Bear real teeth. I wonder what Putin’s goals might be, today. He sure won’t defang the Bear and talking to him to get him to back down won’t work either, or at least has not done so for some 10 or so years now.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Agreed, Anson, hegemony is the name of the game here. The elephant in the room of course, and the difference between now and 1939, is the reality of nuclear weapons, and as far as Russia goes, that takes any major military action off the table. Putin clearly wants to reconstitute the USSR, nibble by nibble.

      You went to War College. How would you handle this if you were in the Oval Office?


  4. Totally snowed in here in NC, I’ve had little to do except listen to NPR — WAMU — and most of the programs of course have been on this. Knowing that it is all over my head, I listened especially to On Point, w/Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, and Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies and politics at New York University. All I can say is we’re witnessing an important historical moment. And Jim, I especially take to heart the last sentence of your blog.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      And speaking of my last sentence, Helen, that “war can be quite a rush for those who aren’t themselves at peril in it”, I felt outraged by a clip of Rudy Giullani yesterday in which he praised Putin for his actions and for showing “real leadership” in taking over Crimea in three days and getting legislative approval for doing so in “15 minutes”. If those are the criteria then Adolph Hitler would rank right up there in “leadership” too. And to think that man might have been president.


  5. Kseniya says:

    It is kind of funny and sad to read the posts from people living so far away from Ukraine and looking through the prism of European media. I live neither in Ukraine nor Russia, but I pretend to have more truthful point of view as I am able to observe English-,Russian-,Ukrainian- spoken media at the same time. The most strange for me is that how you try to make RUSSIA a “Nazi” one, while in Ukraine live more Nazis than in whole Europe. Real Nazis. Who wish the DEATH for some nations, but especially to all people living in Moscow (they have even a special contemptuous name for them) and to “separatists”. Ukrainians who stay for Kiev (or pro-Kiev as you call them) leave very aggressive and racist comments. For me the impression from what they write is that they are really, really brain-washed. Pro-Russians, or more precisely, people who indicate themselves as Russian ones don’t want the repeat of what happened during WWII when Nazi Ukrainians were killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. They simply want Russia to protect them. And nothing more. But the main reasons of why Putin is not “the second Hitler” are firstly that there is no national idea that can possibly unite people in Russia, secondly people in Crimea REALLY wanted to join Russia, while most of Austrians were forced. And lastly, Russians would not go for the war. There are only 70 years past from WWII. Very little time has passed since kids were working on factories for 12 hours a day for “Motherland”, since people were eating each other in blockade, since no one of males in the whole villages returned back. Russians are still not retired and even if Putin try to start a war, they will f*ck him off. They don’t like Putin too much anyway, believe me.


  6. Kseniya says:

    If you want an example of the repeat of history, please, don’t go so far away. Just compare the last conflicts where USA was involved…


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Kseniya,

      I like hearing from people nearer the conflict than myself, but your comments indicate that you are taking more from the illustration than from the post itself. I urge you to read the text.

      The reason the U. S. is upset is not that our government opposes the Ukrainian people’s desire to determine their own political affiliations but rather that political changes are being made by force rather than by the careful, timely and peaceful methods advised by the international community through the U.N. Most people in E. Ukraine who oppose annexation are afraid to even vote and some, as reported in the press, who have tried have been bloodied.

      As for U.S. mistakes in foreign involvement, I’m fully aware of them and have spoken out publicly about them, including in this blog. And so far, nobody has bloodied my head over it. That’s a significant difference, Kseniya.


      • Kseniya says:

        Don’t worry, I read the text for several times. I am more focused on WHY you have had a situation where you “can’t help but to compare it to pre-WWII when Adolph Hitler began the takeover of Europe”.

        Crimea had been not a part of Russia for only 23 years, don’t forget that. There were people against annexation – 3,5%. If even a half of them was beaten, people would know (as I said, there is not so small opposition). But we don’t know. Only USA knows. Isn’t that.. strange? Was it reported in the press, that before the referendum in Crimea there were huge meetings with posters such as “Russia we need you”, :We love Russia” and so on. And sorry, but as long as I was looking through the different materials I didn’t found any hint of agression to people being against annexation. Maybe, simply because the amount of those people was too little to affect the results of the referendum.

        I am glad you are aware and that the freedom of speech in America allows you to openly represent your points of view.


        • Jim Wheeler says:

          I am more focused on WHY you have had a situation where you “can’t help but to compare it to pre-WWII when Adolph Hitler began the takeover of Europe”.

          That is easy to answer, Kseniya. It is because of the Soviet Union’s long history of repression of minorities and assimilation of the “Warsaw Pact” countries by force, not to mention the horrendous history of East Germany.

          Have you ever read George Orwell’s “1984”?


  7. What does the picture supposed to represent? Does it represent how easily Germany annexed Austria? Is it saying it was as easy as saying “I do” in a wedding?


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I would think of it as the tyranny of military aggression. Unless there is a structure of mutual defense, e.g., NATO, strong countries can take over militarily weak ones easily. Kind of like forced marriages.


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