The following are excerpts from an article titled “Look Back at Weimar and Start to Worry about Russia” by Professor Niall Ferguson published in the Daily Telegraph January 1, 2005. Mr. Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University and a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.
In his Daily Telegraph article Professors Ferguson discusses similarities between the Germany of the 1930s and Hitler’s rise to power with that of Russia and Putin’s actions to consolidate his power. Of special interest to Balts is Putin’s and Hitler’s use of their ethnic brethren in the neighboring countries to exert political presure on those countries to achieve their imperial goals.
Look back at Weimar – and start to worry about Russia.
Hitler’s power was consolidated after 1933 by the emasculation of both parliamentary and federal institutions. Putin has already done much to weaken the Duma. His latest scheme is to replace elected regional governors with Kremlin appointees.
Hitler’s regime also rested on the propaganda churned out by state-run media; Putin already controls Russia’s three principal television channels. And Hitler believed firmly in the primacy of the state over the economy. The Kremlin’s systematic destruction of the country’s biggest oil company, Yukos – like its effective renationalisation of the entire energy sector — suggests that Putin takes the same view and that, like Hitler, he regards both private property rights and the rule of law with contempt.
Hitler’s arbitrary rule made him a mortal danger to many Germans. But what made Hitler such a threat to the rest of the world was his desire to extend Germany’s power beyond her own borders. Here too, Putin fits the bill. Just ask Viktor Yuschenko, the Ukrainian presidential candidate opposed by Moscow, who was mysteriously poisoned. Even if the Kremlin did not order Yushchenko’s murder, its overt interference in the Ukrainian election was a shameless attempt to reassert Russia’s Soviet-era influence over Kiev…
Nor is this the only example of attempted Russian intervention in the affairs of former Soviet republics. Putin opposed, vainly, the Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s campaign for a third term in office. And he was hostile to the so called “Rose Revolution” in Georgia that replace the old Soviet autocrat Edward Shevardnadze with the pro-Western Mikhail Saakashvili.
Faced with such insubordination from former Russian satellites, Putin has no hesitated to play the separatist card. He has sought to encourage Abkhazia to secede from Georgia. In Moldavia, he has favoured autonomy for the enclave of Transdnisstria. When eastern Ukrainians started talking about dividing the country in two rather than concede victory to Yushcenko, you didn’t need a degree in Kremlinology to know who was feeding them their lines.
This is where the resemblance between Russia now and Germany in the 1930s seems especially apt. Back then, it was possible for Hitler to point to large German populations in Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland to justify his demands for territorial expansion. Today, the Kremlin can, if it chooses, play much the same game with the Russian minorities in Kazakhstan (where Russians are 30 percent of the population), Latvia (just under 30 percent), Estonia (23 percent), Ukraine 17 (percent) Moldova (13 percent) and Belarus (11 percent). Somewhere in that list could lurk the Sudetenland crisis of the 2010s.
We must all hope that events in Georgia and Ukraine will inspire a democratic revolution in Russia itself. But the Weimar parallel is not encouraging. Germany’s descent into dictatorship wen in states: there were three more or less authoritarian chancellors before Hitler, each of whom sought to rule Germany by decree.
The question that remains open is whether Putin is just a more successful version of one of these authoritarian warm-up acts, or a fully fledged Russian fuhrer. Either way he is fast becoming as big a threat to Western security as he is to Russian democracy.