Sorry Senator, Putin is No Hitler

Beware of historians bearing false analogies.  Politicians, too.

Tell that to Senator Angus King (I-ME).  King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee, appeared on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on February 8 to warn of Vladimir Putin’s baleful intentions towards Ukraine.

King posed the rhetorical question: Why is the US concerned about Russia, a country half a world away?  King had the answers: “Number one is 1938.  If Putin is allowed to go into Ukraine without serious opposition, what about Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, [and] the other countries that are on his border.”

This was the Domino Theory and a Hitler analogy wrapped up in one.  Analogies to Hitler, which have grown threadbare with overuse, have been made with respect to leaders as diverse as Ho Chi Minh and Saddam Hussein.  Hawks love the Hitler analogy.  It’s easy to see why.  If the latest bogeyman is as bad as Hitler then he must be stopped now before he becomes too powerful.  The Hitler analogy is meant to shut up anyone who points out that countries like Iraq, Iran, Russia, and China pose no threat to the US.

“A Guy with Nukes and No Friends”

How apt is the Hitler/Putin analogy?  Hitler held power for twelve years, from 1933 to 1945.  Beginning in, yes, 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia.  German Panzers then rolled into Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, Greece, and France.

Hitler also invaded—but did not hold—the North African countries Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.

By 1940, the Luftwaffe was knocking at Britain’s door.  In June 1941, Hitler invaded Soviet Russia.  (Hitler failed to conquer either country.)

By contrast, Vladimir Putin has a piss poor record as a conqueror.  Putin, who became Russia’s president in 1999, has held power almost twice as long as Hitler.  During that time:

+ Russia attacked Georgia, a former Soviet Republic, in August 2008. Georgia remains independent, although it lost the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which declared themselves as independent nations.  Georgia regards them as Russian-occupied territories.  Angus King told Andrea Mitchell that Putin is out to reconstitute the old Soviet Empire.  If so, Georgia is an unpromising start.

+ Russia prised Crimea loose from Ukraine in 2014 after invading. Russia annexed Crimea following a questionable referendum of Crimea’s residents.

+ Since 2014, Russian-backed separatists along with regular Russian troops have been at war in the Donbas region in Ukraine’s east.

+ Since 2015, Russia has aided and abetted Iran and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in slaughtering the Syrian people.

Hitler would laugh.

I ought to point out that I am referring to aggression—the use of force—not to Russia’s efforts to influence countries in a pro-Russian direction.

*  *  *

Senator King had another rickety historical analogy to pull out of his…hat.  King reminded Andrea Mitchel that in 1992 Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world.  King said that Ukraine “gave up their nuclear weapons in exchange for a guarantee from Russia and others of territorial integrity.”[1]  King contended that Russia invading Ukraine would give other countries (King named Iran and North Korea) the idea that giving up nukes is an invitation to invasion.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi learned this lesson the hard way.  Gaddafi abandoned Libya’s nuclear bomb program in December 2003.  Eight years later, in October 2013, Gaddafi had been overthrown and killed after being sodomized.

Senator King was projecting.  It wasn’t Russia that swept into Libya after Gaddafi dropped his nuclear ambitions.  Gaddafi was overthrown by Libyan rebels backed by US-led NATO bombing of Gaddafi’s forces.

Nobel Peace Prize winner President Barack Obama took the US into the war at the urging of his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.  Hillary mourned Gaddafi’s passing with the words “We came, we saw, he died.”  Terrible shame she didn’t get to be president.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un remembers Gaddafi’s downfall.  Kim knows that the US would never have invaded Iraq had Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear arms.  Kim has no intention of joining Gaddafi and Saddam six feet under.

President Joe Biden was right when he called Putin “A guy with nukes and no friends.”  That’s a much more apt description than the Hitler of the 21st Century.  Putin is not going to overrun Europe; there is a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.  Putin has asked for guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO and that NATO will halt its expansion eastwards.  These are reasonable requests and are no more than what Secretary of States James A. Baker III promised Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, under the first President Bush.  The US and NATO should grant Putin’s wishes.


[1]  Senator King was describing the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (actually three memoranda) on Security Assurances signed by Russia and the US and UK.


Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at