Georgia expert David Smith opens a piece on the resurgent militant nationalism of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev by juxtaposing the following quotations:
Germany will be either a world power or it will not be at all. – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925
Russia can either be big and strong or it will cease to exist. – Dmitry Medvedev, speech to senior military officers, The Kremlin, September 30, 2008
This is not Hitler-tainting (Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore vegetarians are evil) at its worst, but nor does it entirely escape the misleading insinuations typical of most Hitler comparisons. The quotations are indeed eerily similar, but one must go beyond the initial parallelism to ask what each statement actually means. Sure, both are expressing a rather brutish, chest-thumping insistence on national greatness, but really, where is the insight in this? Hitler wanted Germany to be great; Medvedev wants Russia to be great. Ergo, Medvedev = Hitler?
It is unsurprising that Medvedev wants Russia to be “big and strong” (you kind of have to automatically grant Russia the former, notwithstanding the failure to explicitly annex the proportionally enormous amount of territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia), just as it is a given that German dominance formed the core of Hitler’s foreign policy agenda. But assertive nationalism does not a megalomaniacal dictator make.
The juxtaposed quotations, of course, seek — at least subtly — to compel a more significant inference. The purpose of comparing to Hitler is, if not merely to impugn, to suggest that a similar path toward evil is being traveled. In this case, the implication is that Medvedev, as demonstrated by his willingness to invade Georgia, is set to go to the most aggressive lengths to establish its hegemony.
Smith finds fodder for this argument in the common second half of the two juxtaposed quotations: the all-or-nothing counterbalance that if Nazi Germany and Putinist Medvedevist Russia failed to assert themselves as major world powers, then they would, respectively, “not be at all” or “cease to exist.” As a fairly common example of rhetorical excess — Medvedev is willing to see his vast country nuked to oblivion over the retention of Dagestan? — this parallel formulation by no means indicates that Russia, in its insatiable quest to become “big and strong,” will emulate the rather foolish global domination plans of the Thousand Twelve Year Third Reich.
Germany survived Hitler, and by any rational standard, Russia will survive the considerably more juvenile ambitions of Medvedev and his sidekick.
(image from flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license)
As far as I understand it, the latest neo-Cold War spat basically boils down to this: the United States, claiming the need to defend its allies against attacks from “rogue states” (and also probably not uninterested in flexing its muscles in Russia’s sensitive backyard) plans to set up a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin Medvedev gets pissed, and threatens — the day after the election, of course — to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad, on its archaic little island of eastern European territory. Now he says he’ll withdraw Russia’s missile plans if Obama pledges to abandon the missile defense plan.
I’m not sure which is sillier: the decision to install missiles in response to an anti-missile system, or the provocation of constructing said anti-missile system before there are missiles to be “anti-ed.” This is an oversimplication, of course, but it’s also a nice illustration of the cyclical inanity of heated rearmament — and the heated argument that inevitably accompanies it.
UPDATE: Neil Leslie at The New Atlanticist blog says that both sides are totally overreacting.
(image from flickr user openDemocracy under a Creative Commons license)