The heads of state of three great European powers – Germany, France and Italy – arrived in Kyiv this week, and unexpectedly re-enacted one of history’s most tragic farces.
In 1938, the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and his French counterpart Edouard Daladier betrayed Czechoslovakia by handing Adolf Hitler a portion of that country in a bid to avert a second world war.
These Janus-faced men offer Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and his people strong words of support. But I have also strong reason to believe they urge Mr Zelensky in the same breath to cede land to the neo-fascist Vladimir Putin, the Hitler of our time.
They offer token weapons to the president, but withhold the massed ammunition and weapons he badly needs, without which Ukraine cannot roll back the Russian invasion.
Why do they behave like this?
Well, just like Chamberlain and Daladier before them, they do so because they claim to believe in peace. Perhaps soon, in an unsettling historical inversion, it will be Herr Scholz who returns to some German airfield to declare ‘peace in our time’ for this century.
1938, Munich conference. From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany
But he will be just as wrong as the appeasers who came before him. ‘Land for peace’ has never worked – and will not do so now. In 1938, Hitler assured the Western powers that the Sudetenland, a Czechoslovakian province that then bordered Germany, was his only goal. The first result of the betrayal in Munich was to condemn three million Czechoslovakians to a forced and unhappy union with Nazi Germany.
The rest of their country fell to Nazi bondage within six months; and soon after that Poland, and then much of the rest of continental Europe, witnessed the swastika fluttering over its rooftops. This, in essence, will be the fate of Ukraine – and then Europe as a whole again, should these latest shameful efforts succeed in pressuring Zelensky to trade Ukraine’s lands in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donbas for ‘peace’.
Putin, however, is even more impatient than Hitler before him. In his megalomania, he has already compared himself to the Russian tsar Peter the Great.
His goal, like Peter’s, is the expansion of Russia’s borders by force. Ukrainian heroism and ferocity have so far prevented Putin’s armies from seizing Kyiv, but make no mistake – it remains his goal. Happily, Mr Zelensky is no pushover – and will not take kindly to the weasel words that the men of Berlin, Paris and Rome are whispering in his ear.
He has proven his personal valour by rallying his nation against the neo-fascist invaders, and in the dark days of February he remained defiantly in Kyiv, at immense personal risk, as Russian hit squads attempted to decapitate his country.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in 2022
The Ukrainian army and the population as a whole have shown grit and courage despite overwhelming odds.
That is why Zelensky will never listen to the appeasers.
What’s more, Britain, America and Poland are clear-eyed in their understanding of Putin’s threat to Europe. They know that his absurd lies about ‘protecting’ Russians in Donbas are a pretext for his profane crusade to rebuild the Russian Empire.
They know, too, that if Putin were to seize Ukraine, then the Baltic nations, Poland and Moldova would be next.
Eventually, of course, the Nazis came for Ukraine. The entire country became one of the war’s bloodiest battlefields as the Red Army’s troops perished in their millions defending it. And just as she did during the last great European war, Ukraine will again free herself from the invaders’ yoke.
But she must be given the time and the support to do so – and not pressured to become another Czechoslovakia in this modern reproduction of a tragedy from the last century.
Together, we can destroy the fascist Russian threat before it sinks all Europe into total war. Czechoslovakia was a missed opportunity to strangle Nazism in its cradle. Today, it is only by giving Ukraine all of our support – military, political, and economic – that we can break the cycle of the past.
n Alexander Temerko is an energy investor and councillor at the Institute of Economic Affairs