D-Day and Ukraine crisis

Is it any lesson from the D-Day, but maybe also from the process that led to D-Day, we could learn in the light of the current situation regarding Russia as some people suggest that maybe we are entering a new phase in the international relations, are the West and Russia just allies of circumstance? Read few comments.

Martin Michelot, Program and Research Officer, German Marshall Fund of the United States

If you simply look at WWII and the end of it, I am comfortable with saying that the “West” and Russia (I still want to integrate Russia in the West, but for the sake of easiness, will keep it like this) were allies of circumstance in fighting against Nazi Germany. History since shows that there has been true collaboration only when the interests were similar – ie. reduction of nuclear weapon arsenal, for example. If you take the Cold War out of the mix, most other events show that Russia has more often than not been at odds with the values and established order that the “West” tries to project – Iran, Georgia, Syria, and of course Ukraine are only the most recent examples of this. Russia is quite content with playing spoiler on the international scene, and in doing that also rejects the legitimacy of the established international norms and institutions (see their opposition to the idea of R2P, for example).

Can we change it: for time being, I don’t think that it is necessarily a desire of the “Western” leaders, and it certainly isn’t the wish of Putin (I am saying this out of a personal analysis). Western leaders are faced with important responsibilities in showing how the norms their predecessors have set up are still relevant today, and how they can apply to the cases of spoilers/revisionist states such as Russia, but also Syria, NKorea. It’s a great and momentous challenge for them because it is exactly these norms not being upheld – in Syria for example, but also Libya, where Russia did not recognize the legality of the FR-UK-US/NATO operation – that have led to the situation where Russia feels that they are no longer legitimate, and that they can play by their own rules. So for me, here, the real question is: how can we get Russia interested in these rules again? And what will Russia’s position fundamentally change to the stability of the world? Also – one real question for me: what happens after Putin? Who takes over? And when will the oligarchs start getting mad at him for putting them in a position where they can’t make business as they normally could?

These are the values – the ones edicted by international norms – that have kept US and Europe together since 1944. And that now create a gap b/w Russia and the “West”. The two relationships are barely comparable! We share common interests and values – NSA scandal, for me, is a mere speedbump in a relationship that has always had ups and downs.

Kurk DorseyAssociate Professor of History, University of New Hampshire

I think two things might be relevant for your article.  First, American historians like Will Hitchcock at the University of Virginia, in his great book The Bitter Road to Freedom have recently been examining why the French in particular have a different view of D-Day from Americans.  We remember that we liberated France.  They remember that we also bombed France.  So when the US talks about liberating countries even in this century, we are talking about something that the liberated might see differently.  We in the US tend to think about soldiers’ sacrifice while forgetting the civilian cost of war.

The other important connection is that the liberation of Europe was accomplished by countries who did not have common interests other than beating Germany.  Great Britain wanted to protect its imperial position, Canada wanted to prove its importance on the world stage, the United States was moving toward a position of world leadership based on free access to markets (we forget that the Bretton Woods meeting, which set up the World Bank and IMF also took place in June 1944).  And of course, none of that would have mattered without the Red Army, which did more fighting than anyone against the Germans, which has influenced the way Russians see issues in Europe ever since.  So the major countries can cooperate if the issues are big enough, but that cooperation might well be fleeting.  Still, I think that D-Day without Bretton Woods would have just been a big battle.  The two events together marked the beginning of the US commitment to a certain model of world affairs, particularly in Europe.  That commitment has, in my opinion, generally been good for the world, but it is also increasingly shaky in the US (and in some parts of the world).

Christopher CokerProfessor of International Relations, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics

I would say is that as we celebrate the greatest amphibious operation in history (which could well have gone wrong, and if it had it would not have been launched again – the US would have dropped the bomb on Germany instead of Japan) we know today what we refused to admit until the end of the Cold War that 90% of German soldiers were fighting the Russians at the time, and that the Russians lost 27m people (citizens and soldiers) in the war. This explains why Putin thinks the loss of the Soviet empire was the greatest geopolitical ‘tragedy’ of the (20th, and we are insufficiently insensitive to Russians fears

We are also critical of Germany for being ‘soft’ on Russia (see Merkel’s lacklustre performance at the G7 on further sanctions) but the Germans have a cultural affinity with Russia, and the reconciliation between the 2 countries is remarkable (and much more deep rooted than the Franco-German or Anglo-German reconciliation). Cf with China/Japan.

Robert AysonProfessor of Strategic Studies, Victoria Universityň

I see D-day, the events which lead to it, and the events which followed, as rather unique in modern European and world history. While Putin’s Russia has done some unacceptable things, including the carving off of Crimea and the intimidation of what is left of Ukraine, I think people are tending to be drawing parallels to Hitler’s Germany rather too swiftly. The Nazis posed a threat to European order and security, and to western values, on a scale and level of seriousness that Putin does not. Germany occupied large parts of Western Europe before D-Day, and had also declared war formally on the United States. In 2014, Putin’s Russia is violating some of the norms of international conduct, but he does not threaten Europe to the same degree or in the same way. And even if he was to threaten a NATO member country, the response is unlikely to plunge the world into a Third World War. What is happening today is serious, but I do not think it will require or justify the sort of massive allied response we saw on the French beaches in 1944. I think we will see Putin continue to intimidate, coerce and cajole neighbours, but I think he lacks the military resources and the ambition to come close to repeating what Hitler attempted.

Part of your question refers to an alliance of convenience between the West and Russia. That was certainly the case in the Second World War, were Stalin’s Soviet Union ended up on the same side as the US, Britain and the other allies. This was a marriage of convenience based on a common enemy. And it ended rather quickly once Hitler was defeated (and after the defeat of Japan). Today I don’t think there is any marriage of convenience between the west and Russia. Putin and his colleagues in a Russia see the west as a competitor politically, with the expansion of NATO and the EU having come too close for their liking to the Russian border. If there is a marriage of convenience today it is between Russia and China, who don’t like each other, but who jointly oppose western dominance and what they see as American hegemony.

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