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Russian Revisionism and Western Conciliation: How WWII and Ukraine Are Interlinked

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

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By Daniela Belinschi

The Second World War began as a result of German and Soviet revisionism, alongside the West's conciliation strategy. With the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation carried on with the expansionist policies of its previous two iterations, with the war in Ukraine being the apogee. In this context, revisionism and conciliationism have resurfaced, echoing the repercussions witnessed 84 years ago, with the former revealing the same vulnerabilities.

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Faltering Western Conciliation in WWII

The Kellogg-Briand Pact forbade using force to settle disputes, yet it was impossible to avert World War II. Hitler's ascension to power gave the revisionist views more momentum, but Stalin was also involved through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

At the same time, Western countries adopted an appeasement strategy in an effort to prevent a global conflagration. The West's attempt at conciliation ultimately backfired, which calls its effectiveness into question.

Neglected Claims and Insufficient Sanctions

Modern-day Russian affairs took the form of a continuation of Soviet policies. Its strategy succeeded surprisingly well up until February 2022. Transnistria and Abkhazia (1992), which are current separatist areas with Kremlin-controlled governments, were the first neglected but important claims. South Ossetia came next in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.

Despite some international protests and the imposition of modest restrictions in the case of Crimea, the violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity committed by Russia went largely unnoticed.

This lack of attention and response from the international community raises the question of why these actions were not met with stronger condemnation or effective measures to prevent further aggression.

The West's pacifism spiralled out of control once again, giving Russia the opportunity to (re)establish its sphere of influence over Eastern European countries.

The absence of economic sanctions, particularly given that gas sales in Europe are a major source of income for Russia directed in military investments is the dominant factor behind the possibilities of invading Ukraine in February 2022.

Thus, regardless of a somewhat different setting, we see the same policies in action as they were in the lead-up to WWII. The events that unfolded in Munich in 1938 bear resemblance to those that occurred in 1992, 2008, and 2014. The lack of prompt actions, which came only after the invasion of Ukraine, contributed to the outbreak of the war in 2022.

As a result, it has triggered an energy crisis, soaring inflation, and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. The inflation can be attributed to disrupted supply chains, increased military spending, and reduced economic productivity.

If Russia's claims had been vigorously rebuffed from the very start of its expansionist policy, the current war in Ukraine could have been averted or at least its duration could have been reduced.

Energy independence from Russia is an important measure to reduce the resources Russia can invest in warfare. If these sanctions had been implemented earlier, their effectiveness would have been significantly greater.

International organisations such as the UN and the OSCE, along with other actors in international relations, must impose stricter limitations on arms imports and restrictions on international economic transactions.

These actions were delayed by more than a decade in an effort to prevent further destabilisation and the potential for conflict escalation, allowing Russia to continue exerting its influence and exacerbating the conflict in Ukraine.

Addressing Revisionism: Post-War Challenges

Now that the situation has gotten out of hand, it is of utmost importance to effectively manage the upcoming challenges. The failure to prevent the war has resulted in a range of pressing issues that impact not only the directly involved parties but also those indirectly affected, particularly from an economic standpoint.

A change in government in Russia could bring about positive transformations. However, there is no certainty that Putin's successor will hold democratic values and possess the ability to restore prosperity to the Russian population.

The democratic crisis permeates all aspects of the state's functioning, rendering it ineffective. Until the downfall of the Putin regime, it is important that international organisations and institutions, as well as governments, take decisive actions.

Accelerating the EU's energy independence from Russia is seen as a major step in the area of limiting Russia's access to resources for war. However, this will take until at least 2027.

Regarding Ukraine as well as other countries like Moldova or Georgia, European integration emerges as the viable solution. For Ukraine, the assistance provided by the EU is indispensable in facilitating post-war rehabilitation. In the case of Moldova and Georgia, EU membership would not only foster economic progress but also curtail Russia's political influence.

By retrospectively analysing the effects of conciliationism, both prior to World War II and in its contemporary form, it becomes evident that Europe has failed to effectively curb revisionist tendencies.

International collaboration and joint efforts must be stressed as we negotiate these difficult issues in order to achieve enduring peace, democracy, and prosperity, with European Integration being a crucial concern.

Sources: Harvard University, The Guardian, World Economic Forum, Yale Law School Library

Written by Daniela Belinschi

October 2023

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of MJPE or its Board. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the MJPE concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.

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