By Nadum Jwad*
In the west, it is common to use the late German dictator Adolf Hitler and invoke his memory for anything and everything evil from committing atrocities, invading other countries, genocide, etc. For instance, if a perceived dictator somewhere around the world is going out of line he will be compared to the German dictator as in the case of the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nassir who was branded as the ‘second Hitler” by British prime minister Anthony Eden during the Suez crises in 1956 (A.J.P Taylor, Aster 1976, intro (no page number), or Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in 1990 (AP, Nov. 1, 1990, Bush says Saddam is worse than Hitler), or Ghaddafi of Libya (Is Ghaddafi the new Hitler? The Atlantic July 6, 2011), Eddie Amen of Uganda who was nicknamed “Black Hitler” (Shaw, Angus (19 January 1989), etc. And when a perceived dictator is going too far with his demand and will be, say, ignored more that it should be, then the memory of the “Munich Agreement of 1938” will be invoked (which was an agreement concluded at Munich on 30 September 1938, by Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. It provided “cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory” of Czechoslovakia, “Munich Pact September 30, 1938”.) This agreement is used as example of how an appeasement of a dictator can backfire. Therefore, it is safe to assume that whoever challenges the west in one way, or another will be compared to the German dictator, and Vladimir Putin will most certainly fit the bill.
The list of those who brand the Russian leader as a new Hitler is long. The following is few examples.
The Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Rystaiko, replied with a “Yes” when he was asked by Pierre Morgan whether he thinks Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is the new Hitler considering the invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities that have been carried out under the Kremlin regime (The Sun, 2022.)
According to the German mass selling daily Bild (June 10, 2022), Polish President Andrzej Duda slammed the leaders of France and Germany over their phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying it was like having talks with Adolf Hitler during World War Two. He added such discussions only legitimised an illegal war in Ukraine. “Did anyone speak like this with Adolf Hitler during World War Two?” Duda said. “Did anyone say that Adolf Hitler must save face? That we should proceed in such a way that it is not humiliating for Adolf Hitler? I have not heard such voices.”
Poland’s leader Mateusz Morawieckicalled for “de-Putinisation” in an article in The Telegraph. He said Mr. Putin’s dangerous ideology is bolstered by “deadlier weapons” at his disposal and new media (The Independent May 11, 2022.)
Putin is “another Hitler in the making” (CNBC June 11, 202)
Putin’s Russia rose like Hitler’s Germany (The Hill, by Alexander J. Motyl, opinion contributor – 05/03/22)
Ironically, the Russians constantly call the Ukrainians as Nazis.
On March 17, 2022, the New York Times asked “Why Vladimir Putin Invokes Nazis to Justify His Invasion of Ukraine”
On March 4, 2022, Andrew Srulevitch, ADL Director of European Affairs, asked “Why is Putin Calling the Ukrainian Government a Bunch of Nazis? He explained “As the Russian assault on Ukraine has intensified, the Russian president and his government has escalated rhetoric falsely labeling the Ukrainian government and its leaders as “Nazis.” President Vladimir Putin has claimed that the military action is aimed at the “denazification of Ukraine” and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Ukrainian president “a Nazi and a neo-Nazi.”
In an interview on Italian television on May 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assertedthat Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish background should not detract from the Kremlin’s insistence that its “special military operation” in Ukraine was aimed at “denazifying” the country. Zelensky “puts forward an argument,” Mr. Lavrov said, “what kind of nazification can we have if I’m a Jew? If I remember it right, I may be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish origins. So, it means absolutely nothing. For some time, we have heard from wise Jewish people that the biggest anti-Semites were Jewish.” The statement sparked outrage, but it also provided an important indication of the way the invasion of Ukraine is being framed by the Kremlin for its domestic audience.
The Wall Street Journal stated in May 2022, “to understand Russia’s actions, we need to take the Russian narrative of the past seriously—not because it is correct, but because large numbers of Russians appear to believe it. It added that increasing numbers of Russians appear to be backing their government’s rationale for waging its “special military operation” in Ukraine. That seems to include the notion that Russia is presently fighting against the same enemy that it did during World War II: “Nazis.”
The Christian Science Monitor stated on April 20/2022, that “it must seem baffling to Western audiences that Ukrainians, who democratically elected a Jewish president barely three years ago, could in any way be referred to as “Nazis,” as Russian media reports routinely describe its enemies.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Bucha, Ukraine, April 4.PHOTO: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
It is noted that those who criticized Putin and brand him with the most vicious names are those who come from states, which was under the former Soviet Union sphere of influence (such as Poland, Czech Republic) or part of the former Soviet Union (such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania.) This is quiet understandable given the brutal treatment they have endured, and given the entrenched hatred these countries have toward the Russians (given that they made up 80% of the Soviet Union population)
Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria-Hungary (in present-day Austria), close to the border with the German Empire. He was the fourth of six children born to Alois Hitler and his third wife, Klara Pölzl (Bullock 1999, p.23.)
Putin was born on 7 October 1952 in Leningrad, Soviet Union (now Saint Petersburg, Russia), (“Prime Minister of the Russian Federation – Biography”. 14 May 2010. Archived from the original) the youngest of three children of Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, and Maria Ivanovna Putina Putin’s birth was preceded by the deaths of two brothers: Albert, born in the 1930s, died in infancy, and Viktor, born in 1940, died of diphtheria and starvation in 1942 during the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany‘s forces in World War II (Barry, Ellen (27 January 2012). “At Event, a Rare Look at Putin’s Life”. The New York Times.)
In 1907, Hitler left Linz to live and study fine art in Vienna, financed by orphan’s benefits and support from his mother. He applied for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna but was rejected twice (Bullock 1962, pp. 30–31.) The director suggested Hitler should apply to the School of Architecture, but he lacked the necessary academic credentials because he had not finished secondary school (Bullock 1962, p. 31.)
Putin studied law at Leningrad State University, where his tutor was Anatoly Sobchak (Britannica) from 1970 tom 1975 Putin studied law at the Leningrad State University named after Andrei Zhdanov (now Saint Petersburg State University) in 1970 and graduated in 1975. His thesis was on “The Most Favored Nation Trading Principle in International Law” (Lynch, Allen, Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft, P. 15)
Hitler’s political views were formed during three periods, namely (1) his years as a poverty-stricken young man in Vienna and Munich prior to World War I, during which he turned to nationalist-oriented political pamphlets and antisemitic newspapers out of distrust for mainstream newspapers and political parties; (2) the closing months of World War I when Germany lost the war, as Hitler is said to have developed his extreme nationalism during this time, desiring to “save” Germany from both external and internal “enemies” who in his view betrayed it (and we will expand on this point greatly in this article); (3) and the 1920s, during which his early political career began and he wrote Mein Kampf. Hitler formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on 7 April 1925, but did not acquire German citizenship until almost seven years later in 1932; thereby allowing him to run for public office (McDonough 1999, p. 79.) Hitler was influenced by Benito Mussolini, who was appointed Prime Minister of Italy in October 1922 after his “March on Rome” (which Hitler tried to imitate this experience in his March to Berlin, November 8, 1923.) In many ways, Hitler epitomizes “the force of personality in political life” as mentioned by Friedrich Meinecke ( Meinecke 1950, p. 96.) He was essential to the very framework of Nazism‘s political appeal and its manifestation in Germany. So important were Hitler’s views that they immediately affected the political policies of Nazi Germany. He asserted the Führerprinzip (‘leader principle’). The principle relied on absolute obedience of all subordinates to their superiors. Hitler viewed the party structure and later the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex (Kershaw 2008, pp. 170, 172, 181.)
German leader Adolf Hitler addresses soldiers at a Nazi rally in Dortmund, Germany.
Hitler was a pan-Germanic nationalist whose ideology was built around a philosophically authoritarian, anti-Marxist, antisemitic and anti-democratic worldview. Such views of the world in the wake of the fledgling Weimar government were not uncommon in Germany since democratic/parliamentary governance seemed ineffectual to solve Germany’s problems (Overy & Wheatcroft 1999, pp. 32–34.) Correspondingly, veterans of the First World War and like-minded nationalists formed the Vaterlandspartei which promoted expansionism, soldierly camaraderie and heroic leadership, all under the guise of völkisch traditions like ethnic and linguistic nationalism, but which also included obedience to authority as well as the belief in political salvation through decisive leadership (Kershaw 1989, pp. 18–21.) The völkisch parties began to fractionalize during Hitler’s absence from the revolutionary scene in Germany after the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” of November 1923. When he re-emerged upon release from Landsberg Prison, his importance to the movement was obvious and he came to believe that he was the realization of völkisch nationalistic ideals in a sort of near messianic narcissism which included his conviction to shake off the restrictive Treaty of Versailles and to “restore Germany’s might and power”, creating a reborn German nation as the chosen leader of the Nazi Party (Kershaw 1989, pp. 18–21.)
As for Putin, the social, political, and economic system of Russia formed during his leadership is termed “Putinism.” It is characterized by the concentration of political and financial powers in the hands of “siloviks“, current and former “people with shoulder marks“, coming from a total of 22 governmental enforcement agencies, the majority of them being the Federal Security Service (FSB), Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, Armed Forces of Russia, and National Guard of Russia ( Russia: Putin May Go, But Can ‘Putinism’ Survive? Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine, By Brian Whitmore, RFE/RL, 29 August 2007.) Putinism in the 21st century has become as significant a watchword as Stalinism was in the 20th (Beichman, Arnold (14 February 2007). “Regression in Russia”. politicalmavens.com. Archived from the original on 25 September 2020. Retrieved 16 February 2019.) Putinism was first used in the article by Andrey Piontkovsky published on 11 January 2000 in Sovetskaya Rossiya ( Fedorov, Valeriy; Baskakova, Yuliya; Byzov, Leontiy; Chernozub, Oleg; Mamonov, Mikhail; Gavrilov, Igor; Vyadro, Mikhail (2018)) and placed on the Yabloko website on the same day.) He characterized Putinism as “the highest and final stage of bandit capitalism in Russia, the stage where, as one half-forgotten classic said, the bourgeoisie throws the flag of the democratic freedoms and the human rights overboard; and also as a war, ‘consolidation’ of the nation on the ground of hatred against some ethnic group, attack on freedom of speech and information brainwashing, isolation from the outside world and further economic degradation” (Piontkovsky, Andrey (11 January 2000).)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a celebration marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022.
Hitler and Putin came to prominence in the aftermath (or because of) the collapse of the respective empires in their countries. “Both regimes had — the past tense is intentional — the same historical trajectory because both were the product of imperial collapse and its destabilizing aftermath on the one hand and the emergence of a strong leader promising to make the country great again on the other (The Hill, by Alexander J. Motyl, opinion contributor – 05/03/22)”
Hitler witnessed the dismantling of the German Empire after the First World War, which also resulted in the savage treatment of Germany at the hands of the allies, including paying war reparations, loss of colonies, occupation of the industrial heartland, loss of territories, etc., which left a huge sense of humiliation on him, and overwhelming desire to restore German greatness.
As for Putin, he witnessed the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, which had devastating effects on him, and he made a number of comments, often blaming it on the creation of federal republics for national minorities within the Soviet Union and on the reforms brought by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late-1980s. In 2005, he referred to it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (Putin: Soviet collapse a ‘genuine tragedy'”. NBC News.) In a documentary released in 2021, he referred to it as “a disintegration of historical Russia under the name of the Soviet Union ( “Putin says he moonlighted as taxi driver after fall of Soviet Union”, NBC News) In his 2022 “Address concerning the events in Ukraine“, he referred to it as the “collapse of the historical Russia” ( “Highlights From Putin’s Address on Breakaway Regions in Ukraine – The New York Times”. The New York Times. 21 February 2022. Retrieved 12 March 2022) He has also said; “Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.” ( “Understanding Putin’s narrative about Ukraine is the master key to this crisis | Jonathan Steele”. TheGuardian.com. 23 February 2022) In several occasions, Putin has blamed Communist leader Vladimir Lenin for the collapse of the Soviet Union, arguing that his favourable policies toward national minorities in the Soviet Union contributed to destabilize Russia; (“Vladimir Putin accuses Lenin of placing a ‘time bomb’ under Russia”. The Guardian. 25 January 2016) in his 2022 speech about Ukraine, Putin went so far to state that “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia.”. These latest statements by Putin shown that he does not interested in reviving the former Soviet Union in its form before its collapse but as Richard Shorten of the University of Birmingham has stated that “what Putin retains from the Soviet era is not its utopianism but its late-period security obsession.”(Shorten, Richard (17 March 2022). “Putin’s not a fascist, totalitarian or revolutionary – he’s a reactionary tyrant”. The Conversation. Retrieved 2 April 2022.) Tom Parfitt of The Guardian has said that, according to Richard Sakwa, Putin’s Soviet patriotism “had little to do with promoting communist values, and more to do with besting the enemies surrounding the motherland.” (“The Observer profile: Vladimir Putin”. TheGuardian.com. 23 December 2007.) Accordingly, some commentators have described Putin as wishing to restore the Russian Empire. James Krapfl of McGill University has suggested that Putin may be in part inspired by Catherine the Great, stating, “Parallels with Putin’s strategy are striking.” (“How Catherine the Great may have inspired Putin’s Ukraine invasion)
Several commentators have also described Putinism as in part an attempt to revive the Russian Empire’s doctrine of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality“.( “Putin’s Thousand-Year War”.) Faith Hillis of the University of Chicago has argued that Putin “wants to reconstitute the Russian Empire and its guiding ideologies, which were orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality—except now, under the power of a very sophisticated police state.” (“How Putin’s invasion of Ukraine connects to 19th-century Russian imperialism | University of Chicago News.) A 2014 paper in the Journal of Eurasian Studies argued, “Putin has emphasized patriotism, power, and statism to justify centralization of power and authoritarian policies. Putin’s policies and rhetoric are strong analogs to those of Nicholas.” (Cannady, Sean; Kubicek, Paul (1 January 2014). “Nationalism and legitimation for authoritarianism: A comparison of Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin”. Journal of Eurasian Studies.)
Ukrainian soldiers patrol next to a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Lukianivka near Kyiv on March 30, 2022.
Is Putin acting like Hitler? Some have made it very clear that he certainly is (The Hill, by Alexander J. Motyl, opinion contributor – 05/03/22, Putin is making the same mistakes that doomed Hitler when he invaded the Soviet Union, Analysis by John Blake, CNN April 2, 2022.) Others (Grunge, Jesse Clark, March 2, 2022) have listed details of their similarities and differences.
It is the opinion of this writer that although the two leaders have some similarities (and some are striking) but they also have vast differences. As it stated above, both men have emerged after the collapse of large empires in their respective countries, which left them bitter and never hid their anger on the forces behind it. In addition, both leaders spent their entire careers trying to restore past glories and correct what they perceived as a historical wrong by embarking on a huge rearmament projects, build large armies, and invade other countries. The similarities, however, end here. Hitler, for instance, had an “international objectives” of a global empire and sent his armies to different continents, Putin, on the other hand is more content with reviving the former Soviet Union by attempting to dominate its former republics, including using force as in the case of Georgia and Ukraine. Putin also, has the intension of resisting any attempt to encircle his country by NATO.
*Nadum Jwad is a freelance political commentator who lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada