Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Minsk Accord

I can't remember where I read that Édouard Daladier, upon returning from Munich after signing the Munich Accord with Hitler and seeing his plane met by cheering crowds hailing the preservation of "peace," turned to an aide and said, "Quels imbéciles!" I doubt that François Hollande will be met by cheering crowds when he returns from Minsk, but he is no doubt as lucid as Daladier about the agreement he and Angela Merkel have just reached with Vladimir Putin.

At Harvard last week, I heard the French ambassador, Gérard Araud, denounce armchair warriors (perhaps he was thinking of John McCain?) who are willing to "die to the last Ukrainian" for a cause about which the adversary cares much more deeply, and in which he has a much greater interest, than one's own side. I have no wish to join the McCains of this world, and I am not prepared to die, or see my sons die, "for Donetsk," even knowing in retrospect that to "die for Danzig" or the Sudetenland would have been the right choice.

Still, and despite all the differences that make the analogy with 1938 suspect, and despite the slipperiness of all historical analogy in such matters, I can't help feeling that this isn't the end, that Putin will not stop with the Donbass any more than he stopped with Crimea (where I did believe, mistakenly, he would stop). His method, now well-honed, has been working only too well, and has made him remarkably popular at home (where the US is now seen as "the enemy" by nearly 80 percent of Russians).

Hollande would therefore be well-advised to avoid trumpeting victory, as Sarkozy did after he returned from another face-off with Putin over Georgia. I recognize the justice of all the arguments that say Ukraine is different, a substantial fraction of its population wants to be Russian, speaks Russian, and wants no part of the EU, for example. I think the EU and NATO made a mistake with their overtures to Ukraine, which is economically unprepared for EU membership and for which a NATO presence would be as militarily unpalatable to the Russians as Soviet missiles in Cuba were to the United States. The integration of Ukraine with Russia in the Soviet era was strong, and indeed, even today, the Russian ambassador to the US is Ukrainian by birth.

All that said, Europe has not seen this kind of naked military aggression in a very long time. It is unsettling to witness its return in a period of deep economic crisis and tension within the European Union.

Finally, we do not yet know what the US reaction to the European accord will be. It is hard to imagine the US going through with its threat to arm the Ukrainians, who must now refuse any such aid or break the agreement with Russia. But the impossibility of acting will only embolden McCain and his allies to scream louder than ever: for the American va-t-en-guerre, the fact that there is no question of his advice being acted on only increases the temptation to ever-greater ferocity. The war cries of the impotent are as effective a remedy for what ails them as injections of testosterone.