Putin is screaming historical parallels – is anyone listening?

One can observe two things about modern tyrants: first, they can’t resist divulging their plans; second, the world never listens.

Marx, for example, laid down the blueprint for a modern totalitarian state, complete with genocide, democide, concentration camps, suppression of every liberty, dictatorship of a small elite, confiscation of all private property, destruction of the family – the lot.

He himself didn’t quite succeed in bringing his vision to fruition, but it didn’t take much imagination to predict that any future Marxist state would.

Yet no one took any notice.

Lenin too suffered Cassandra’s fate. He honestly and with remarkable forthrightness wrote in every pre-revolutionary book of his exactly what he’d do if he grabbed power.

Well, perhaps not quite exactly: the future Red Square mummy was so reticent about the positive end of his programme (little things like the economy, food supply, medicine) that one could see he had never given the matter much thought.

The same can’t be said about the negative end. There the mummy-to-be was extremely detailed and explicit. He knew exactly which classes made up of ‘noxious insects’ should be expropriated and exterminated – not just in Russia but all over the world.

Again no one took any notice, and many feigned surprise when in due course the Bolsheviks started doing exactly what Marx and Lenin said they’d do.

Some 60 millions died in the Soviet Union alone as a direct result, which could have been avoided if civilised people had unplugged their ears and listened.

Hitler in his Mein Kampf also said exactly what he’d do 14 years before he did it. Again one can get the impression that the West was at the time governed by people needing a remedial reading class.

It wasn’t just that the West refused to believe that those wonderful people who gave the world Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Bach and Beethoven could ever do such awful things.

The West actually failed to acknowledge the ongoing monstrosities as they were going on. More than that: both the Soviets and the Nazis had a huge army of Western admirers, and only a slightly smaller one of Western agents.

Lenin was a visionary reformer, ‘the dreamer in the Kremlin’ in H.G. Wells’s phrase. Stalin was an effective, if occasionally strict, manager (which is, incidentally, how he’s presented in today’s Russian textbooks). Hitler had the backbone that was, according to many British aristocrats all the way to the royal family, so lamentably missing in Britain’s own politicians.

Reading problems were again very much in evidence. People who knew what they were talking about were dismissed as overemotional cranks; their books were left unread.

For example, the émigré historian Sergei Melgunov published his The Red Terror in the West while Lenin was still alive.

The book documents thousands of such niceties as skinning people alive, rolling them around in nail-studded barrels, driving nails into people’s skulls, quartering, burning alive, crucifying priests, stuffing officers alive into locomotive furnaces, pouring molten pitch or liquefied lead down people’s throats.

All this went on against the background of mass shootings that in the first three years of Soviet rule dispatched almost two million in a quasi-judicial way, and millions on top of that without even a travesty of justice.

Yet Melgunov was derisively dismissed. He’s a Russian émigré, isn’t he? So he has a chip on his shoulder. What does he know that those clubbable Bloomsbury chaps don’t?

In fact, the so-called public opinion in the West refused to acknowledge the Russian Walpurgisnacht until 1956, when Khrushchev himself owned up to it, tactfully omitting his own role in mass murders.

Similarly the NKVD defector Walter Krivitsky was mocked when he revealed in his book serialised in April, 1939, that in a few months Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would form an alliance.

Utterly preposterous, those Russians, what? Say anything to draw attention to themselves. A Nazi-Soviet pact? Unthinkable.

The West has form in such negligence, and there has always been a steep price to pay. In this context, we’d be well-advised to listen very carefully to what Putin has to say for himself.

The other day the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published a documented statement made by the Ukraine’s president Poroshenko to José Manuel Barroso. Poroshenko quotes Putin as saying “If I wanted to, it would take me two days to occupy not only Kiev, but also Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest.”

Putin went on to advise Poroshenko “not to rely too much on the EU”. He, Putin, could easily “influence and block any decision” made there. That second part of his claim is more readily believable than the first, but we’d ignore it at our peril. 

The general thrust, if not the details, of Putin’s threat is the same as in the statement he had made to Barroso directly.

According to La Repubblica, Putin waved aside Barroso’s timid objections to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine: “That’s not the issue. Thing is, I can take Kiev in a fortnight if I want to.”

Taking Kiev in two weeks sounds more plausible than taking six European capitals in two days, but it’s the thought that counts. And the thought that has at least crossed Putin’s mind is that no one could stop him if he wished to occupy the Ukraine and also five Nato countries.

Strategic plans for that type of action were drawn up by the Soviet General Staff as far back as the 1930s. Then it was called Operation Thunderstorm, and only Hitler’s preemptive strike managed both to delay it by four years and also limit its scale.

Since Putin’s stated objective is to resurrect the Soviet Union to its former glory, he must have had his generals working overtime on an updated version of Thunderstorm. Of course having plans and carrying them out are two different things, but history shows that the distance between the two is much shorter in dictatorships than in democracies.

And yet once again, just as Lenin, Stalin and Hitler were never short of Western admirers, neither is Putin. He’s supposed to be the sole remaining flag-bearer of Christianity, a champion of all those conservative values we in the West no longer uphold.

The Hitchenses, Bookers and Tolstoys of this world, not to mention some of my readers, are busily extolling Putin’s virtues. Why, one such chap even went so far as to describe Putin’s foreign policy as ‘pacifist’.

Come to your senses, gentlemen, before it’s too late – yet again. We’re looking at the greatest danger the West has confronted for 20 years, and a show of strength is the only way of preventing a catastrophe.

Except that we’re neither confronting the danger nor showing strength. In fact, our demob-happy governments, hoping to get fat on the peace dividend, have made sure we have little strength left to show.

We must rebuild our military power, and the resolve to use it, as fast as we did in 1940. Learning to heed what the aggressors are saying would be a good start.

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