This of course should have been made very very clearly a long time ago. More than fours after the beginning of the conflict in and around Ukraine, there are still people making parallels between the actions of Hitler’s Germany in late 1930’s and Putin’s Russia actions in the aftermath of the Ukrainian revolution of 2014. Back in 2014, the most ardent defenders of the Ukrainian cause for freedom and independence, angered by the Crimean events and seeing the counterrevolutionary uprising in the Donbass turning into a hot conflict, had coined the term “Putler”. Putin was invading Ukraine and threatening the whole of Europe just like Hitler had done in 1938 and 1939. Europe once again was appearing to be weak and coward in the face of unprovoked aggression by a dictatorial power acting out of pure evil. A show of weakness by Europe would only embolden the insatiable power-mad tyrant to launch more attacks in order to gain more power and land to accomplish his imperialistic ambitions.
Four years into the conflict in the Donbass, it would be reasonable to expect this rhetoric to have toned down: Russia clearly had to plan to invade and occupy the whole of Ukraine, much less so to attack the Baltic countries or Poland. People probably have the right to be angered because, while the country was at war with the separatists in the East, the hopes of many for reforms and successful economic policies have been betrayed: “The country is at war fighting for its independence with a terrible, implacable enemy”, this the rhetoric. But the fact that the comparison between Hitler and Putin is still often made by grown up people clearly shows the inability of many to see the situation and the nature of the conflict objectively and with a cold mind. Only a couple of days ago, in front of the Verkhovnaya Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, President Poroshenko spoke of “the Kremlin’s Operation Barbarossa” and “Putin’s blitzkrieg”. These words are certainly very artfully made to galvanizes the spirits of many newly discovered Ukrainian patriots and many friends of the Ukrainian cause for freedom abroad. Grandly and pompously ringing words however do not have to be necessarily true.
No person in his right mind who has heard and seen Putin and Hitler for a minute could possibly juxtapose the two in this very relaxed way and feel ok with his conscience. Putin clearly is no saint. But he is clearly no Hitler too. Hitler came to power in 1933. His goal had always been very evident: to reassert Germany’s interests in Europe and resettle the wrongs it had been imposed with the end of WWI. After having reunited Germany with Austria in March 1938, which the Treaty of Versailles explicitly forbade, Hitler moved to dismember the newly formed state of Czechoslovakia by October of the same year. Less than one year later, when Germany attacked Poland in September 1939, WWII had started. In the process, almost the whole of Europe would end up being occupied by the Third Reich. Millions died. People were put in gas chambers. Millions of them. Women and children too. All this was happening at Hitler’s instructions. None of this is even remotely comparable to the crimes Putin may have committed. The sheer scale of Hitler’s clinically planned murders and willingness to indiscriminately impose suffering on untold numbers of people make Hitler a player of his own in the league of evil. It will be very difficult to equal his terrifying ability to spread death, destruction and chaos without remorse.
For this reasons any comparison between Hitler and the Russian leader are absolutely unfounded, nothing more than extremely potent rhetoric flamboyance, the rhetorical equivalent of weapons of mass destruction. Russia may not be a perfectly functioning democracy, but simply not being a democracy does not make a country immediately an analogue of the Third Reich. And in addition, each one of these unfounded parallels with Hitler actually diminishes the real Nazi crimes, by not recognizing the full extent of them. Kiev these days looks no way like Warszawa in 1939. People flock the streets shopping, eating ice creams and drinking coffee just like in any other European town. It does not look like a city constantly facing the mortal threat of a devilish and bloodthirsty aggressor. Saying Putin is a new Hitler (and by the way, how many times we have autocrats being called new Hitlers? It is not particularly original or brilliant, for your information) is thinking by memes, a typical form of adolescent exaggeration. It is no base in reality and does not help us to understand the war in Ukraine in any way.