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​Lessons of World War II forgotten: Will Germany be the peacemaker?

Published time: May 10, 2014 11:57
Troops from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team parachute from a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during a NATO-led exercise "Orzel Alert" held together with Canada's 3rd Battalion and Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, and Poland's 6th Airborne Brigade in Bledowska Desert in Chechlo, near Olkusz, south Poland May 5, 2014. (Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

There is a grim irony that Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, should have announced that the alliance was considering permanently deploying troops in Eastern Europe only days before May 9.

This day is celebrated as Victory Day over Nazi Germany throughout Russia and other former Soviet republics.

For through World War II, the Russian, American and British peoples were all joined together in a desperate struggle for survival and then victory over the most monstrous tyranny in recorded history. And as Western leaders at the time, especially Winston Churchill, full and openly acknowledged, by far the greatest role and sacrifice in ensuring that victory over Nazism and fascism was suffered by the Russian people and the Red Army.

The irony grows even greater as over the winter we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Kiev and the heart of Ukraine from the Nazi tyranny. Yet the current interim government in Kiev which was established, not by democratic process and lawful elections, but through a violent coup, is already moving to lift the ban on expressions of Nazism that was maintained by all previous Ukrainian governments of both the left and right since national independence at the end of 1991.

The May 2 horrific events in Odessa reminded many of its citizens of the similar tragedy in Khatyn, a village in Belarus where on March 22, 1943, the entire population was massacred by the 118th Schutzmannschaft Nazi battalion, The battalion was formed in July 1942 in Kiev and was made up mostly of Ukrainian nationalists from Western Ukraine and collaborators.

A couple of days before the Odessa tragedy, Seumas Milne writing in the British Guardian newspaper on April 30, clearly recognized the potential dangers of the escalating conflict. “The risk of civil war is … growing, and with it the chances of outside powers being drawn into the conflict,” he warned. Yet Milne saw clearly that “the role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda.”

A woman reacts as she stands near the entrance to a burnt trade union building, the site of recent street battles in the Black Sea port of Odessa May 4, 2014. (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

As predicted by many, Ukraine has suffered a complete collapse of civil order and seems to be heading towards full-scale civil war. Hundreds of dead and wounded already is only the beginning of a bloody and prolonged war which more and more resembles Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and may bring the even more horrific scenario of a direct Russia-US/NATO confrontation.

Some 69 years ago, the world celebrated its deliverance from some of the darkest forces in human history. At least 27 million Russians, Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens as well as hundreds of thousands of American and British servicemen paid with their lives in the unprecedented struggle to overthrow that monstrous power. Yet today, we are allowing our country to be sucked into a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Russia in defense of violent forces that openly revere the Nazi collaborators that tortured the Ukrainian people all those years ago.

Judging from the statements coming from the White House, Congress and the State Department, it looks unlikely that there is any consideration in these high places for compromise. We only hear about the demand for new sanctions which must ruin the Russian economy.

Appealing to moral principles in the foreign policy where cynicism is often prevailing is a pretty naïve undertaking, but if one understands that the current horror in Ukraine is only the beginning of much more devastating events, perhaps there are some people who can offer a way out of this doomsday scenario?

As Hans Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economy Research in Germany, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on May 2: “It must be borne in mind that the present crisis was triggered by the West… after killing millions of Russians in World War II and enjoying the good fortune of a peaceful reunification thanks also to Russia's support, it is the duty of Germany in particular to de-escalate the conflict with Russia.”

We live in Alice’s Wonderland: Reason and common sense have fled and the bitterly won lessons of history have been thrown overboard. Who can save us from our own ignorance and stupidity?

So far the only things we hear from President Obama are demands for sanctions, sanctions, and more sanctions against Russia. It sounds more like an invitation to dance on the brink of a very frightening precipice.

Wouldn’t it be the greatest historical irony if it turns out to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel who can do it? At least her first name sounds like an invitation to peace.

Edward Lozansky and Martin Sieff

Edward Lozansky is a Founder and President of the American University in Moscow

Martin Sieff is a national columnist for the Post-Examiner online newspaper and a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.