Recently, many people have compared the Russian invasion of Ukraine to World War II. The obvious inference being Russian President Vladimir Putin is the new Adolph Hitler.
I think Putin resembles a World War II dictator, but not Hitler. Instead, Putin resembles Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The similarities between Putin and Il Duce are striking.
For example, both men are bald and love to pose shirtless for photographers. I think Putin bases some of his poses on old pictures of Mussolini. Conversely, Putin refuses to wear uniforms, probably to avoid resembling Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. In contrast, Mussolini loved to prance around in comic-opera uniforms.
Another similarity between the two was that they were regular targets for satirists. During World War II, American and British newspaper cartoonists and even the Three Stooges regularly lampooned Mussolini. Today, satirists including South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker mock the “comedic stylings of Vladimir Putin” whom they portray as a shirtless clown.
The similarities between Putin and Mussolini
Another similarity between Putin and Mussolini is the ineptitude of their armies.
For example, on 28 October 1940, Mussolini, jealous of his friend Hitler’s recent successes, invaded Greece. Instead of overrunning the country, Italian forces became bogged down. By January 1941, Italian invaders were on the run and Greek forces were invading the Italian colony of Albania.
In April 1940, German forces had to intervene in Greece to rescue the Italians. It took the Wehrmacht just a few weeks to crush the Greek Army. In an ultimate humiliation, when the Greeks quit fighting, it was on the condition they surrender to the Germans – not the Italians.
The Russian Army’s terrible performance in Ukraine is reminiscent of the Italian debacle in Greece. In both cases, an arrogant right-wing dictator thought he could easily conquer a weaker neighbor and became humiliated.
The difference is that Putin lacks a powerful ally to bail out him. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will not come to Russia’s rescue.
Nor was Greece the only place the Germans had to save Mussolini. In North Africa, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps was the only thing standing between the Italians and total defeat. British forces almost drove the Italians out of Africa in 1941.
Mussolini’s New Roman Empire was incapable of defending itself against second-rate British colonial troops. Similarly, a handful of British biplanes crippled Mussolini’s supposedly powerful fleet at Taranto, Italy, on 11 November 1940.
Today, observers credit a few Turkish built Bayraktar TB2 drones with “eviscerating Russian tanks” in Ukraine. Online videos show Bayraktars tearing up Russian convoys and destroying surface-to-air missile launchers.
Other videos show dozens of burnt out and abandoned Russian vehicles lining Ukrainian roads. The implication being that Russian soldiers abandoned their vehicles and ran away.
The Russian Army is incapable of defending itself against drones, just as Mussolini’s navy had no defense against British biplanes. Russia’s vaunted tanks are targets for enemy air power, just like Mussolini’s battleships. Putin’s New Russian Empire is imitating Mussolini’s Second Roman Empire in its incompetence.
Will Putin Share Mussolini’s Fate?
Hence, World War II history could repeat itself in Ukraine, but it is Italy’s World War II history, not Germany’s. That should frighten us because Mussolini’s Italy collapsed into defeat and civil war.
Hence, Putin’s Ukraine War could destroy Russia, just as Mussolini’s entry into World War II devastated Italy. By July 1943, Italy had lost all of its colonies in Africa. On 10 July 1943, American and British forces began landing on Sicily, part of Italy.
The invasion prompted Italy’s ruling body, the Fascist Grand Council and King Victor Emmanuel II to fire Mussolini. Italian troops arrested Il Duce later in the day.
On 3 September 1943, the British Eighth Army crossed the Straight of Messina and began landing at Calabria on the Italian mainland. Five days later, on 8 September 1943, the Italian government surrendered to the Allies. In October 1943, Italy’s new leader Marshal Pietro Badoglio joined the Allies.
Luck, however, was on Mussolini’s side. On 12 September 1943, SS glider troops commanded by legendary commando officer Otto Skorzeny rescued Mussolini from house arrest at Gran Sasso, Italy.
Mussolini survived as dictator of the Italian Social Republic, a Nazi puppet state in Northern Italy. The leader of the Second Roman Empire was now a provincial governor in the Third Reich.
After Mussolini’s escape, Italy faced the triple horrors of Nazi occupation, fighting between Allied and German forces, and a civil war between fascist and anti-fascist forces. Surprisingly, the Italian Social Republic and Mussolini survived until April 1945.
On 25 April 1945, Mussolini heard that German forces in Italy were about to surrender. Il Duce disguised himself as a German airman and fled to the Swiss border with his mistress in an Alfa Romeo sports car. Border guards refused to let the former dictator pass. The disguised dictator was a hunted fugitive in his own country.
The disguise failed when partisans captured Mussolini and his mistress in Dongo, Italy, on 27 April 1945. After a day of captivity, resistance fighters machine gunned Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, on 28 April 1945.
The next day, partisans dumped the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci, and 14 other Fascists in Piazzale Loreto, a public square in downtown Milan. Mobs of Italians came and began abusing Il Duce’s corpse. They eventually hung Mussolini and Peacci’s bodies up in a gas station so Italians could throw garbage at the corpses.
Ironically, American GIs eventually rescued Mussolini’s corpse by ordering Italians to pull the body down and take it to the morgue. At the morgue, a US Army photographer took snapshots of the dead Il Duce. Authorities buried Il Duce’s body in an unmarked grave. Strangely, fascists dug the body up and kept it in a box in a monastery for 11 years. In the late 1950s, authorities gave the remains to the dictator’s widow who interned them in the Mussolini family tomb.
One person who took notice of Mussolini’s fate was Adolph Hitler. On April 30, 1945, Der Fuhrer shot himself and ordered his body burnt as Soviet troops approached his Berlin Bunker. Hitler learned of Mussolini’s demise via Allied radio broadcasts.
I have to wonder if Putin’s imitation of Mussolini will end in a similar tragedy. For example, the lynching or execution of Vladimir Putin by Russian soldiers being broadcast to the world on social media.
Will Putin Destroy Russia?
Putin is following in Mussolini’s footsteps, promising imperial glory while delivering squalid defeat. Instead, restoring of the Russian Empire, Putin could destroy the Russian Federation by wrecking its economy and destroying what’s left of the Russian military.
Notably, sanctions against Russia are growing as Putin’s only ally, the People’s Republic of China is moving away from him. An obvious danger here is a breakup of the Russian Federation that will repeat the chaos of the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Remember, the chaos of Post-Saddam Iraq spawned ISIS and a new generation of terrorists. I have to wonder if the chaos of Post-Putin Russia could spawn a dangerous new generation of terrorists. Perhaps Russian nationalist fanatics seeking revenge on America. China, and Europe.
Putin’s fall could increase chaos in the Middle East by bringing down his sorry ally Syrian warlord Bashar al-Assad. Assad only remains in power because Putin shores him up.
If Putin’s Russian Federation collapses; or if the Russian military pulls forces out of Syria to fight in Ukraine, what’s left of Syria could collapse, paving the way for an ISIS takeover of that country. American or other troops could have to move in to prevent the rise of a terror state.
One danger here is that the vast conscript armies of World War II are history. When the Italian Empire collapsed in 1943, the United States and the British Empire had enormous conscript armies to fill the vacuum by occupying territory. Today, there are no such forces which creates chaos in post-war environments such as Libya.
One frightening fact, Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, with 4,500 to 5,977 atomic weapons. Do we want to create a new generation of nuclear armed terrorists?
Putin could repeat his idol Mussolini’s accomplishment of destroying his nation. Italy survived Mussolini. Hopefully, Russia can survive Putin.