D-Day — then and now

June 06, 2014 - 6:24:50 am

Seventy years after the Normandy landings, geopolitical rivalries still shape ties between world powers.

The Group of Seven leaders met in Brussels in the shadow of history. The select club of industrialised nations that influence global trade and economic policy has snubbed Russian President Vladimir Putin, reducing the G8 to its former version of G7. Putin has recently become the bad boy of international politics after throwing his weight behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and annexing Crimea, a province of the former Soviet Republic.

The irony of the G7 meeting in the Belgian capital is that it was to be originally held in the Russian resort of Sochi. But after it was decided to punish Putin for his Ukrainian misadventure, the venue was changed.

The growing rift between the West and Russia symbolising a break from Washington’s pivot to the Kremlin, comes at a time when the world is going to mark the 70th anniversary of the historical Normandy landings, also known as D-Day, during the Second World War. Obama, and incoming Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will most likely bump into Putin today at the commemoration of the historic day in Paris. It would be a moment to watch as the preceding few months have dramatically altered the chemistry between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine. Increasing number of sanctions and diplomatic exchanges between the West and Russia have worsened ties to historic post-Cold War lows.

This time in history is ironic because it was in the Second World War that the US and USSR, which later broke up to give birth to Russia, fought together against Nazi Germany. American and Soviet forces, under the umbrella of the Allied Powers, fought the outsized ambitions of Hitler’s army that led to the end of the Second World War.

However, the two sides are today as divided over Ukraine as they were due to geopolitical dimensions during the Cold War. If it was Cuba driving the agenda of the two powers in the 20th century, it is Ukraine doing so now. The D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 led to thousands of Allied amphibious troops land on the Normandy beaches to fight the Nazi occupation of France. The difference between the June 6 of 1944 and 2014 is not indistinguishable. The dictatorial and expansionist regime of Hitler had to be fought then, and the current stalemate has been brought about by the authoritative and corrupt rule of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.  Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described Putin’s annexation of Russia Hitlerish. Though the comparison is far-fetched — Putin called Hillary a weak woman in an apparent bid to get even — the reference to the Nazi ruler sounds symbolic.  Seventy years hence, the flanks might have changed. However, what has not changed is the proclivity among nations to grab land and keep up their spheres of influence intact. However, it was earlier done to fight a fascist dictator, today it is being done against the toppling of an authoritarian regime.