VILNIUS — This month, on the seventieth anniversary of the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the end of World War II — ipso facto the end of the Holocaust — Western leaders have been faced with a symbological conundrum. How might they square honest commemoration of this major anniversary with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s record of progressively more arrogant dictatorship at home and cynical mischief in his near abroad?
Once Moscow made clear that the May 9th parade in the Russian capital would feature his latest tanks and planes, it became certain that most Western leaders would not feel comfortable being there. They do not want to become props for Putin’s attempts to use (as it happens, accurate) World War II history as cover for his indefensible policies and ethos. But in statecraft as in life, there is always an alternative danger that lurks: Do they want to become props for Nazi-apologists’ far-right elements in today’s anti-Russia East European states’ attempts to use (as it happens, inaccurate) World War II history as cover for denial of massive, lethal wartime collaboration, denial of the Soviet peoples’ role in defeating Hitler, and, along the same road, extreme nationalism, racism and a frenzy against Russian-speakers everywhere. Then, add into the unstable mix the American neocon obsession with stoking trouble far and wide to project American power and weapon systems, even where that means violating core American and Western values.