Democrat Worries About 1930s-Style Appeasement in Ukraine

By Patrick Goodenough | August 18, 2014 | 4:27 AM EDT

A pro-Russian rebel rides on an APC in the town of Krasnodon, eastern Ukraine on Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

( – A Democratic lawmaker said Sunday that allowing President Vladimir Putin to keep Crimea and possibly other parts of eastern Ukraine on the grounds of protecting ethnic Russians would be akin to appeasing Hitler in 1938.

“If you don't stand up to a bully early on, you are going to have to stand up to them later on,” House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said on Fox News Sunday.

“I don’t like comparisons to Hitler, but in 1938, some of the people said, ‘Well, just give Hitler Czechoslovakia. Just give Sudetenland. He’s worrying about protecting ethnic Germans, if we do that, everything will be all right.’ And we saw what happened.”

“Now some people are saying, ‘Well, just give Putin Crimea or maybe a little bit of eastern Ukraine – he’s protecting ethnic Russians,’” Engel said. “You can’t allow this bully to do that.”

“I think the way we deal with Putin now is going to set the stage for the next 25 years because he’s going to be around for a long time. And if he thinks we’re paper tigers, he’s going to continue to move with impunity.”

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists raged in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, another Ukrainian fighter plane was shot down, and Moscow denied new claims that it was dispatching equipment and troops to its allies.

Fox News’ Shannon Bream cited a new opinion poll in which 74 percent of respondents said President Obama has not been tough enough on Russia, up from 66 percent last March. Seventy-seven percent said Putin does not take Obama seriously.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), also appearing on the show, criticized the administration’s handling of the Russian leader.

“I keep hearing administration officials saying that they want to offer an off-ramp to Vladimir Putin,” he said. “He’s not looking for off-ramps. He’s looking for on-ramps.”

Johnson said the U.S. should have complied immediately with requests from the Ukrainian government for small arms and ammunition – requests first made by interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House last March – and should now also be showing very visible and firm support to President Petro Poroshenko.

“You really do have to achieve peace through strength, and we’ve got to beef up NATO.”

Johnson recalled that Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski in June said his country’s relationship with the U.S. was worthless – “and could actually be a counterproductive, because it creates a false sense of security.”

“That’s the wrong way for our allies to be thinking of America, but, you know, because of … the weakness we have shown, that’s the how our allies are starting to view us,” he said.

“We have to turn that situation around, we are going to show far greater strength of resolve.”

The crisis that has dragged on all year saw Putin annex Crimea last March after a Russian-backed referendum opposed by the West. From the Kremlin’s point of view Crimea’s incorporation into the Russian Federation is now a fait accompli even though most of the international community does not recognize it.

Putin then turned his attention to other parts of eastern Ukraine, charging that ethnic Russians were facing discrimination and needed protection. In subsequent fighting between the Ukraine military and separatists more than 2,000 people have been killed, according to the U.N.

The crisis took a shocking turn on July 17 when a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. An international investigation is underway, but an early U.S. intelligence assessment said flight MH17 was shot down by separatists, likely using a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile system.

Despite several rounds of U.S. and European Union sanctions, Putin has neither backed down nor pressured the rebels to do so, and in recent days U.S. administration officials voiced concern about the possibility that Russian troops amassed near the border could invade.

There has also been a standoff between Ukraine and Russia over the fate of a convoy of trucks, said by Russia to be carrying humanitarian supplies for residents of Ukraine but viewed by Kiev with deep suspicion.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by phone Friday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, who according to Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby “guaranteed” that there were no Russian military personnel involved in the convoy. Shoigu also pledged that the convoy would not be used as a pretext to intervene further in Ukraine, Kirby said.

Crisis talks were held in Berlin Sunday involving the Ukrainian, Russian, German and French foreign ministers but ended with no breakthrough reported.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow