Staunton, June 8 – There are few place names more disturbing to those who live between Europe and Moscow and to those who care about human freedom more generally than Yalta, the site where near the end of World War II, Western leaders agreed with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on the division of post-war division of Europe.
That makes it all the more worrisome that a Russian analyst has concluded that what just took place in Normandy on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was a “silent” Yalta, one in which whatever spin is placed on it once again divided the continent between Europe and where Russia rules.
In an essay on Slon.ru, Aleksandr Baunov argues that European anger Russia over Ukraine are not as great as many have suggested. “If Putin were the Hitler of today, and Ukraine the ally [of the West] in the struggle with him,” Western leaders wouldn’t have had him there. They cared only where Putin stood.
As Baunov points out, “Putin came to Europe, sat, spoke a little, said hello, met, and was photographed. This means that there won’t be anything more. Everything has ended. If everything remains approximately the way it is now, there will not be a third world war or a second cold one.”
“A New Yalta – albeit again in an incomplete form – took place in Normandy: A silent one in case it has to be denied.”
Putin, of course, viewed the whole thing “with condescension.” At a ceremony commemorating a time when countries were prepared to oppose evil with tanks, everything had been “degraded to the level of a ballet,” one in which “the difficulties of protocol,” of determining who stood or sat next to whom took precedence over substance.
In an important respect, the Normandy commemorations highlighted “the paradox of our time.” Europe today is quite comfortable and feels close to the country that caused World War II but still feels apart from a country that was on the side of those who defeated the Axis, a division far deeper than about communism or about Ukraine.
Indeed, Baunov continues, “the problem of the contemporary world lies in the fact that we did not have a new Yalta after the cold war. Not in the sense of again dividing Europe but rather in that Russia was a victor country against communism along with England, America, France, and at the same time with Czechoslovakia, Poland and so on.”
That might have offered an opportunity for the integration of post-communist Russia into the world, but it didn’t happen. As a result and largely as a result of a great deal of “inertia,” “the West decided that having defeated communism it need not stop” and Russia, despite also winning from the fall of communism, fell as well.
As a result, he says, “it has been at times difficult for us to distinguish where one ends and the other begins, where Russian authoritarianism ends and where Russia begins.” And that is made still more difficult by the insistence of some in the West that Moscow is turning back to communism.
The problem is not just communism, he argues, because “Russia had problems with Europe even before” its communist period. “Europe’s big psychological problem is that in the depth of its soul, it feels closer to onetime fascist Germany, with its cafes, clean cars, and flowers in the windows, than it does to Russia, fascist with iron doors but no flowers.”
For Europeans, “Nazi Germany was a prodigal son of its own civilization, while Russia is simply an alien one. That has made it much easier for Europe “to distinguish Germany Nazism than to distinguish Russia from communism.”
The current international situation reflects in Moscow’s behavior at home and in Ukraine. “But even [Russia’s] internal policy is quite strongly conditioned by [its] international position,” and both are affected by a deep sense among many Russians that it is condemned for doing what others have received praise for.
What happened in Normandy, Baunov suggests, shows both the continuing importance of the deeper suspicions on both sides and a move toward some kind of new Yalta in which Europe may again be divided, where the question of where the line will be is still open but where the question of where the various leaders can sit when they meet has been resolved.