Column: Does Putin’s Russia threaten us?

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal of March 22-23 on page A4, Hillary Rodham Clinton has likened Putin in Ukraine to Hitler before World War II. That sounds like what was suggested in this column a week ago under the title “Is Crimea a new Sudetenland?”

The comparison can only be carried so far.carey

Yes, both men have used protection of compatriots as a pretext for occupying another country’s territory, but there is a significant difference when it comes to how we in the United States need to react.

In the 1940s, especially after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, France fell and Britain was heavily bombed and threatened with cross-channel invasion.

President Roosevelt and other U.S. leaders felt that conquest of Britain would be followed by a trans-Atlantic attack. Therefore, Hitler had to be kept from crossing the English Channel.

It is hard to imagine any similar threat from Putin’s Russia. Even if they were to recapture all the areas that used to be in the Soviet Union, they would not be in a position to take us on, other than in a mutually-destructive nuclear catastrophe.

So, we do not have the same reasons to come to the rescue of any threatened east European nation like our reasons to shore up Britain’s defenses in 1940 and earlier.

As regards our sanctions against Russian leaders and its responsive sanctions against U.S. leaders like John Boehner, all they seem to accomplish is to create anger and hostility.
We need more calm talk and less shouting.

Some may suggest I am sounding like one of the 1030s America Firsters, who lobbied against our aid to Britain, lest it drag us into war with Germany.

America First was headed, among others, by a Yale undergraduate Kingman Brewster, editor of the Yale Daily News and years later president of Yale University. Charles Lindbergh was on that side of the debate, though he was largely discredited because of his German connections.

America First fell out of sight after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Germany made it easy for us to get into the war in Europe by declaring war on us right after Dec. 7, the “day of infamy.”

What we need to get across to Putin is that we will scream our heads off whenever he nibbles at another piece of Russian-speaking territory or even seek to have his government condemned in the United Nations General Assembly where there is no veto for him to use in blocking action, but we have no interest in a military showdown unless he threatens us or one of our key allies. We need to mobilize our most skillful diplomats, not our armed forces.

I have seen no picture of Putin smiling, but Russians can have a sense of humor.

There used to be a Soviet man named Romanov living in Rye on Midland Avenue near Playland Parkway; same family name as the last Czar. I knew Romanov a little from the U.N. and ran into him one day at the Rye Y. He asked me if I lived in Rye. I don’t believe anyone as shrewd as Romanov would have failed to notice that I was then the local mayor.

Another interesting encounter occurred shortly after my first appearance at the U.N. as Alternate U.S. Member of the Human Rights Sub-Commission. An elaborate reception was held one evening at the U.N. Mission of Poland, hosted by the elegant Polish man then chairing the sub-commission. He was beautifully tailored and spoke impeccable French so far as I could tell.

At the reception, the Soviet member of the sub-commission approached me and said, “You are new to the U.N. aren’t you, Mr. Carey.”

“Yes, Sir. That is correct,” I said.

“Are you from the U.S. Mission across First Avenue?”

“No, sir, I‘m not from the U.S. Mission.”

“Then are you up from Washington, the state department?”

“No, Sir, I am not from the state department,” I said, wondering if he would next ask if I was from the CIA.

The Russian’s quick response was, “Well, Mr. Carey, then just what are you?”

“Just a simple New York lawyer, Sir,” I said.

“So,” he said, “Does that mean that if I get into trouble, I can come to you for help?”

“Sir, it would be a pleasure,” I said.

“What? Does that mean it would give you pleasure to see me in trouble?”

This was an agile mind at work, and one with impressive facility in a language not his own.

We are dealing with sophisticated people, proud of their country. Let us be wise enough to treat them respectfully and seek to develop channels of communication, which can help get through the inevitable periods of annoyance, anger or worse.