German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed an analogy between the annexation of Crimea and Nazi Germany’s prewar seizure of Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia after her finance minister drew a parallel with Russian tactics.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier today compared the risk of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine with Nazi Germany’s 1938 military occupation of Sudetenland to “protect” ethnic Germans. Merkel was asked whether she would compare Adolf Hitler’s move with Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“I view the annexation of Crimea as a stand-alone case,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin at a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall. “We have our hands full at the moment, since this is very clearly about a violation against international law -- and that’s what counts today.”
Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine earlier this month, citing the need to protect its own citizens and Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The move has provoked the biggest crisis since the end of the Cold War, with the Kremlin criticizing both the European Union and NATO.
The Nazi comparison clashed with Merkel’s statement earlier in the day that she perceived that a “process of reflection has begun” in the Russian government as the threat of intensified sanctions looms. Merkel upbraided what she called President Vladimir Putin’s outdated “either-or” mentality and said the annexation of Crimea was illegal.
“In the end, the only reasonable path is that not only does Ukraine belong closer to Europe, but we would also like to have Russia closer to Europe if it plays by the rules,” Merkel told students at a high school in Berlin.
Schaeuble, who was also speaking to students visiting the Finance Ministry, raised the threat of sovereign default in Ukraine and the risks that would arise should the government not be able to pay police or customs officials.
“Nobody will be there to maintain order,” Schaeuble said. Should such chaos ensue, Russian authorities may reason that “now we have some fascists threatening the population; now we have to protect them. We all know this from history. Hitler took over the Sudetenland with such methods,” Schaeuble said.
Hitler’s government exploited ethnic tensions within Czechoslovakia to occupy Sudetenland, dominated by the region’s 3.5 million ethnic Germans. The incursion was sanctioned by the Munich Agreement -- signed by Germany, the U.K., France and Italy -- after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain pursued a policy of appeasement in an attempt to avoid war.
War broke out the following year after Hitler seized the Czech territories of Bohemia and Moravia and invaded Poland.
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