Putin and the New ‘Iron Curtain’

Combining tyranny at home with aggression abroad.

ppOn March 5, 1946, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Formally entitled “The Sinews of Peace,” it has been known ever since as the “iron curtain” speech. He told his audience that he would offer them his “true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times.”

Churchill identified the two great dangers that menace the world; what he called “the two giant marauders, war and tyranny.” War, he stated, often results from “the designs of wicked men” and “the aggressive urge of mighty states.” Tyranny reigns when “the power of the State is exercised without restraint, either by dictators or by compact oligarchies operating through a privileged party and a political police.”

After extolling the virtues of a continued close association of the English-speaking peoples, Churchill turned his attention to “certain facts about the present position in Europe.” “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” On the eastern side of the iron curtain, the lands and peoples “are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

He called this development a “shadow” that had fallen upon the world, and he warned that the “dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them. They will not be removed by mere waiting to see what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement.” The Russians, he said, admire strength but have no respect for weakness, “especially military weakness.” “If the Western Democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them.” But he warned that if the West becomes divided or falters, “then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.”

Sixty-nine years later, a modern-day Churchill might look to the following facts and circumstances in today’s Europe. Valdimir Putin’s Russia has waged war against Georgia for the breakaway province of South Ossetia and recently signed a “border agreement” with South Ossetian leaders that Georgia condemned as a move closer to Russian annexation of the province. It has annexed the Crimean peninsula and is waging war in eastern Ukraine. Last November it signed a “strategic partnership” agreement with Abkhazia. Russian warships and military planes repeatedly have conducted military exercises near Latvian airspace and territorial waters in the Baltic, an effort, according to British defense officials, to destabilize the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Putin’s Russia has been an accomplice to Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb. It is engaged in military cooperation with China of a “systemic character,” according to Russia’s Defense Minister. Russia is currently in the midst of a $700 billion rearmament program.

At home, Putin continues to crackdown on any opposition. Boris Nemtsov, a vocal critic of the Putin regime, was murdered recently in Moscow. Nemtsov joins Alexei Navalny, Stanislav Markelov, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, and Alexander Litvinenko as Putin opponents who have been murdered or assassinated under “mysterious” circumstances.

Putin, the onetime KGB agent, told his countrymen in 2005 that,

“we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century . . . [F]or the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself."

Vladimir Putin has let loose on Europe the giant marauders of war and tyranny. Putin is one of those “wicked men” described by Churchill who has reinvigorated the “aggressive urge” of the mighty Russian state. He combines tyranny at home with aggression abroad, and appears to be erecting a new iron curtain in Eastern Europe.

At the conclusion of “The Sinews of Peace,” Churchill, referring to his repeated warnings in the 1930s about the danger to world peace posed by Hitler’s Germany, stated: “Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention.” Unless the world pays increasing attention today to Putin’s attempt to reconstitute in some form a new great Russian Empire, Europe and the world may be headed for another catastrophe that Churchill spoke so eloquently about preventing.

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