Are the Russians Still Defending the Pact that Led to the Second World War?
Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
We are now nearing the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, which began when Germany attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
The invasion was preceded by the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, better known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed a week earlier, on Aug. 23.
The Russians are uncomfortable with this upcoming anniversary. President Dmitry Medvedev recently announced the setting up of a Historical Truth Commission to counter “the falsification of history.”
Natalia Narochnitskaya, a member of the new body, is angry that western media portray the pact as “the step that led to the Second World War, and that Germany and the Soviet Union were two equal, disgusting, totalitarian monsters.”
Earlier in the year, the Russians set off a firestorm, especially in Poland, by claiming that the war began because of Poland’s refusal to satisfy Germany’s “very modest” demands, which included building transport links across the Polish Corridor separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany, and assuming control of the self-governing port city of Danzig (now Gdansk), which had a German majority.
The statement came from Colonel Sergei Kovalev, a senior researcher at the defence ministry. He also called the pact “merely a time-buying mechanism.”
Having lost its empire – the non-Russian republics of the old Soviet Union plus the east European Communist states – Russia today is a touchy country. It worries about its status in the world.
After all, most of the old Soviet bloc countries, as well as the formerly Soviet Baltic republics, are today members of the European Union and NATO.
Even states such as Georgia, which fought a war with Russia last summer, and Ukraine, once part of the Soviet heartland, are now America’s friends.
Hence Russia’s desire to defend past decisions. But such rewriting of history will go nowhere, because the pact did in fact create the conditions for the “perfect storm” that precipitated the world’s largest conflict.
The pact contained a secret protocol dividing eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, including an agreement to partition Poland. So Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler invaded Poland a week later, triggering a British and French declaration of war against Germany on Sept. 3.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin then joined in the dismemberment of Poland, with Soviet troops occupying their portion of the country beginning on Sept. 17. On Sept. 21, the Soviets and Germans signed a formal agreement coordinating military movements in Poland, and Polish resistance ended soon afterwards.
Germany and the Soviet Union continued their acts of aggression in 1940-1941. During the period that the Nazis could count on Stalin as a de facto ally, Hitler conquered most of Europe, including Denmark, France, Norway, the Benelux countries, Greece and Yugoslavia; he also solidified his alliances with Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
Stalin, meanwhile, annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania; Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in Romania; and fought a war with Finland, gaining Finnish Karelia.
So friendly had the Soviets become with Hitler that it carried into the realm of anti-Semitism. During this period, the Soviet League of the Militant Godless, a propaganda agency combating religion, paid especial attention to Judaism, almost in coordination with Nazi attacks on the “evils” of the Jewish faith.
Maybe it was more than just happenstance that it was on Aug. 21, 1940, almost on the first anniversary of the signing of the pact, that Stalin’s main rival, Leon Trotsky, who was Jewish, and had already been the object of anti-Semitic attacks, was murdered in Mexico by an agent of Moscow.
But all this currying favour with Hitler was for naught. On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, conquered huge areas of the country, and took millions of Soviet soldiers prisoner. Much of the country was laid waste.
It would take four years until the Russians defeated the invaders. Such were the fruits of political Machiavellianism.