Cold War history fuels Europe, US clash over Ukraine arms

Far from the rubble-strewn streets of eastern Ukraine, a clash of titans is taking place as Europe and America tussle over visions for the post-Cold War era.

Kiev: Far from the rubble-strewn streets of eastern Ukraine, a clash of titans is taking place as Europe and America tussle over visions for the post-Cold War era.

It is 70 years since the end of World War II and a quarter-century after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the re-unification of a once-divided Germany.

But the lessons drawn from a painful common history by those old enough to remember are being used by both American and European leaders to underpin their competing visions of how to deal with an unruly Russia.

To arm or not to arm former Soviet satellite Ukraine?

That has truly been the question at the Munich Security Conference which since its inception in 1963 has been a prime global forum dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution.

As the death toll mounts, there are very real fears that Ukraine`s nearly year-long conflict could spillover into the newest nations and members-in-waiting of the European Union and the NATO alliance.

Images of bodies lying abandoned on the streets and claims of Russia sneaking trained military and arms into Ukraine to help pro-Moscow militants have a visceral tug for those who once fell victim to war.In a rare personal insight, German Chancellor Angela Merkel Saturday touched on her own childhood growing up behind the Iron Curtain to explain her opposition to fuelling the Ukraine crisis with more weapons.

"Look, I grew up in the German Democratic Republic. I was a seven-year-old girl when the Berlin Wall went up," she said.

"No-one believed there should be a military intervention to protect the people of East Germany and the entire eastern bloc from having to live for years under dictatorship and without freedom," she said.

"And I can`t blame anyone. That was a realistic (view), shortly after the end of World War II."

In the end, Merkel said, Europe`s principles and values would win the day -- suggesting that in these early convulsions of its young democracy Ukraine must remain patient.

On Monday she will take her no-arms message to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama.

Merkel`s words were met with anger, especially among American delegates who feel the United States spilled blood in World War II to ensure the vision of "a Europe, whole, free and at peace" and aren`t prepared to let Kiev wait.

"It certainly isn`t my version of history," hawkish veteran Republican senator John McCain, who has vocally called for the US to send heavy weapons to Kiev, told reporters.

"What I particularly took exception to was Chancellor Merkel comparing this situation to that of the Cold War when hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were here in Germany to defend the freedom of the then German government and people."

"When Berlin was surrounded we sent in an air-lift, we didn`t say `hey we don`t want to provoke the Russians`," he said, recalling a tense 1948-1949 crisis when Allied planes airlifted food and other supplies to stricken Berliners after the Soviet leaders blockaded the city.US Vice President Joe Biden regretted that just a few short years ago there had been "remarkable strides" toward the dream of a "unified Germany at the heart of a Europan Union built on the bold premise that nations need not repeat the conflicts of the past."

But because of Russia`s recent choices, "Mr. Putin, the world looks differently today than it did" two years ago.

While Biden did not directly say Washington would arm Kiev, he laid out what some called a persuasive case for supplying defensive weapons.

"Don`t we all owe something to the Ukraine because it was us putting our values on display and putting out the welcome mat," asked Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, addressing the Munich forum.

Turning down "a reasonable request to help oneself, is not our finest hour," he added, recalling the words of Britain`s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, still hailed in the US as a hero.

But in echoes of old Soviet rhetoric, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov drew bitter laughter from his fellow panel members when he insisted it was the West not Russia which had torn up the accords which settled Europe`s borders after the end of the Cold War.

"What happened in Crimea was an exercise in self-determination," Lavrov said of the territory annexed by Moscow in March, adding that a free vote was a "key principle of the UN Charter."

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