During the Cold War (that thing whose calls the White House has been ignoring), the Soviet Union engaged in subtle pressure tactics that proved to be the next best thing to actually invading a country called Finlandization.
Finlandization happened when an ostensibly sovereign government could be coerced into doing the bidding of another country without the mess and bad press that comes with killing civilians and blowing up bridges.
The image of T-54 tanks rolling though Budapest’s streets and the implication that they might roll through their country was not lost on the political leadership of Finland, which had been ruled by tsarist Russia for over a century until the end of the First World War and had been on the losing side of two wars with Communist Russia.
Two years after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, a new governing coalition was formed in Helsinki that was less inclined to cooperate with pro-Moscow Finnish president Urho Kekkonen.
The Soviets began to show their displeasure with the new Finnish government, which lacked local Communist participation and contained ministers who were deemed hostile towards the Kremlin, when their ambassador returned to the USSR and trade negotiations between the two countries stalled.
Rattled by Moscow’s overt hostility to the new coalition government, it collapsed and was replaced with a group of officials who were more acceptable to the Soviet-friendly Finnish president and his cheering section in the Supreme Soviet.
But the cowed Finnish went far beyond rearranging the cabinet chairs. Finland engaged in an unhealthy degree of self-censorship, banning movies and other media that might upset their red neighbors. Finland might not have been occupied like Hungary, but it was hardly free, shivering in the shadow of the Soviet Union.
Supposedly it happened in Poland as well when General Wojceich Jaruzelski initiated a crackdown on the Solidarity movement allegedly out of concern that had Communist forces in Poland not taken action then the Red Army would do the job for them (though there is a much debate about the sincerity of the coup leader’s motivations and whether another “Hungary” was imminent).
Avoiding disappointing the Kremlin became a national priority for Finlandized countries.
Eventually timid Finland and self-repressed Poland would reclaim their sovereignty/dignity as Moscow’s influence ebbed within the outline of the defunct Soviet Union, where the republics that constituted the USSR achieved independence though in most instances remained susceptible to suggestion from Russia.
After breaking away from the Soviet Union, Ukraine remained well within Russia’s orbit. Its leaders for the most part looked east until 2004 when Viktor Yushchenko was elected president as part of the Orange Revolution but was succeeded by the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych.
And then the people of Ukraine had enough of being indirectly dominated by Russia again and through a series of protests the Ukrainian people drove Yanukovych out of power.
Finlandization of Ukraine had crashed up against a human wall of protestors in 2014. And that may have just as well pleased Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For a man with a Commodus complex like Putin, there’s simply no glory or thrill in Finlandization and when his limited patience with the uncooperative Ukrainian people ran out, he orchestrated a land grab straight out of the Molotov-Ribbentrop playbook.
To the credit of Europe, the only Finlandized territory thus far is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which has responded to the invasion and occupation of Crimea with half-measures.
Obama’s flaccid response to Putin’s circa 1939 realpolitik puts Europe in a tough position of having to practically go it alone against Russia through severe economic sanctions that will result in domestic pain in order to salvage the greater principle of opposing the kind of naked military aggression that was characteristic of their pre-European Union existence.
And if that doesn’t bring the situation to a resolution, Europe should prepare for the prospect of a war if Moscow decides to wash down their Crimean appetizer with a Baltic state or Polish entree.
Russia’s assertion that their country’s borders aren’t confined to a long-standing internationally recognized lines but wherever their people live was a concept rejected in World War II at a cost of tens of millions and again on a smaller though not much less vicious scale in the 1990s when Serbia attempted to do the same within the former Yugoslavia.
If ethnic Russians wish to live under the Russian horizontal tri-color and double-headed eagle, their host countries would be more than happy to issue them one-way visas to their Motherland.
A second Cold War is coming to Europe; the question is whether they are willing to collectively resist domination or will they become nominally sovereign Cold War era Finland 2.0.