As the world stands at the brink of war, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be following the previous strategy of another dictator.
When Adolf Hitler rose to power by becoming the German Chancellor in 1933, his main goal was to abolish the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler, backed by the Nazi Party, began strategizing how to reclaim ethnically German territories liberated by the treaty after the Great War.
In July 1934, Austrian and German Nazis attempted a coup in Austria but were unsuccessful. Undeterred, Hitler became bolder in his strategies.
On March 7, 1936, Hitler moved forces into the demilitarized Rhineland (German-speaking parts of Belgium and France), a direct violation of post-World War I agreements. This action brought condemnation from Western Europe, but no nation intervened or interceded. Hitler saw an opportunity.
Back in Austria, the Nazi Party engaged in a fierce propaganda blitz in an attempt to win German-speaking Austrians to their cause. Hitler’s big lies worked. On March 12, 1938, military forces moved into Austria, securing German annexation.
Inspired by these victories, Hitler and the Nazis were not satisfied. They wanted to “liberate” all German-speaking lands from “occupation.” They turned their attention to the Sudetenland, a swatch of German-speaking lands in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler threatened war across Europe, leading Britain, France, Italy and Germany to sign the Munich Agreement in September 1938, allowing for German annexation of the Sudetenland. But Hitler did not stop there. By 1939, he moved into the Bohemian and Moravian regions of Czechoslovakia.
Hitler still was not finished “liberating” lands, casting his gaze squarely on Poland. By the summer of 1939, Europe was on the brink of another war. Then, on Sept. 1, 1939, German forces broke through Polish forces to take Warsaw.
And with that move, World War II was underway.
What the world is witnessing now with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Russian-speaking lands strikingly parallels the strategy of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany prior to World War II.
In March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. The West denounced the invasion and annexation but did very little.
The United Nations passed a resolution supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and denouncing the annexation, but strong words have never ultimately stopped dictators. The United States placed economic sanctions on Russia, but dictators often use those as propaganda to support their larger objectives.
In 2012, presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested Russia was the main international concern for the United States at that time. His opponent, Barack Obama, chastised Romney, saying, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
Obama felt terrorist groups from the Middle East would be the biggest concern moving forward, but the ensuing years have proven that Romney was right to be concerned about Russia.
Now, Russia is moving to annex more of Ukraine. With Russian troops now moving into portions of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists that Putin declared to be independent, he has set the stage for a full-blown invasion. The Russian president believes his troops will be welcomed as liberators, securing a foothold in Eastern Europe for a pro-Russian agenda.
And, again, the West uses strong language, passing resolutions and issuing sanctions. However, if history has taught us anything about brutal dictators, it is that resolutions and sanctions will not stop them.
Who is to say that Putin will stop with Ukraine? Will he move to “liberate” other places where Russian culture is prevalent, such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and parts of other countries?
It may seem unfathomable, but history has demonstrated what dictators will do when they are convinced the world is against them. In addition, history has taught us what will happen when world leaders do not take these threats seriously.
After the 1938 Munich Agreement, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain reported to his fellow citizens, “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
One year later, those same citizens would lose two years of sleep because German planes bombed them during the Blitz.
As a follower of Jesus, I cling to his words right now, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
I encourage you to join me as we pray for world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Let us pray for humanity’s better angels to prevail and peace to descend upon the world.
We must also heed another teaching of Jesus when he declared, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
We must not be naive to the reality of dictators and their schemes. We must always seek peace, but we must always remain alert and ready to intervene for those shackled with injustice. Peace must be our top priority right now, but we cannot accept peace without justice.
We may very well be on the brink of war but let us not forget that humanity still possesses the ability to do the right thing.
Therefore, may the peace of God descend upon the world, and may the peace of Christ find its way into the hearts of people. Until then, let’s keep God’s wisdom about us with our ultimate goal being peace with justice.
CEO of Good Faith Media.