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The History Trap

When Vladimir Putin evokes the horrors of Nazi Germany to justify Russia’s criminal behavior in Ukraine, he engages in a malicious distortion of history. But Russia’s opponents must avoid falling into the same trap and resist lazy parallels, such as comparing Putin to Hitler.

NEW YORK – Speaking in Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently evoked the horrors of World War II to justify his invasion of Ukraine. “Again and again, we have to repel the aggression of the collective West,” he said with a straight face, without mentioning that the United Kingdom and the United States were the Soviet Union’s allies during the war. Then as now, he added, Russia is threatened by German tanks, forced to defend itself against “the ideology of Nazism in its modern form.”

This is of course a malicious distortion of history, cynically delivered on the site where over a million Soviet and German soldiers died during World War II’s deadliest battle. Russia is not defending itself; it has invaded a sovereign country whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, happens to be a Jewish man who lost relatives in the Holocaust. The suggestion that Nazi ideology is what drives Zelensky and his fellow Ukrainians to defend their country against Russia’s aggression is preposterous, even by Putin’s standards.

As for German tanks allegedly threatening Russia, the reason why German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dithered for so long before agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was that he did not want Germany to be seen as a military leader. Scholz came around only after US President Joe Biden reluctantly agreed to provide Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks, after months of refusing to do so.