Editorial: Sudetenland, take two

Andres Einmann
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Photo: Urmas Nemvalts

Two quarters of a century ago, an irreversible step was taken towards World War II, as a little piece of Czechoslovakia was offered to an aggressive Nazi Germany – the Sudetenland. Even though after Wold War I the region had remained a part of the newcomer-state Czechoslovakia, mostly German-speaking people dwelt there. For Hitler, that was enough; and, under the pretext of «defending the interests of the Germans», he claimed the parcel of land. In Paris and London, politicians were in power who, with concessions in everything and everywhere, were trying to avoid the fast-approaching war with Germany – not realising that these were the very steps that pushed Europe into a huge war.

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, again and again. We now have a newcomer-state Ukraine; her aggressive neighbour Russia; the latter’s desire to «protect the Russians of Crimea»; and, sadly, an insecure Europe sinking in froth of verbiage. The Czechoslovakia of 1938 even had mutual defence agreements with Western allies; these, as we know, weren’t too much good. From there on, one hesitates to draw parallels... as we remember what followed the deal in Munich.

One thing is certain: the Maidan Revolution is evolving into an international crisis, such as we haven’t seen since the Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990ies. The parties being great powers, the escalation of the crisis may take us to a situation where even EU and NATO member states need to feel endangered. Last weekend, national defence structures in numerous neighbouring countries in Russia gathered for extraordinary councils.

Should the Ukrainians resist, which is highly probable, a long and bloody war may commence. At that, with his aggressive and robust steps Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is doing what Maidan failed to do – uniting Ukrainians in east and west. Various oligarchs, former allies of Viktor Yanukovych, have in these recent days came public with statements underlining the integrity of Ukraine as a state. Inhabitants of Kharkiv and Donetsk do not like the rugged Maidan democracy; even so, they also have an answer ready for Putin’s rifle flaunting helpers: «We haven’t invited you!»

What, in this situation, can Estonia do? Our words have little weight; even so, our allies do listen. First of all, we’ll need to convince our allies that the action must be right now. We need real deeds, not long speeches. Be it NATO battle-ships on the Black Sea, visa-bans on Russian top officials, a wider international isolation of Russia – the main thing is sending Moscow a clear message: EU and NATO are capable of confronting and aggression. 

Winston Churchill has said: «If you are going through hell, keep going.» That’s the very path that Ukraine is on.