Amid all the hoopla and self-congratulatory accolades coming from Vladimir Putin during the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, there is one subject that is carefully and completely avoided: the fact that the Soviets assisted Hitler in starting the war.
In the history of diplomacy, there may be no more outrageously cynical and shocking deal than the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, signed in Moscow a week before Germany invaded Poland. It gave Hitler a free hand in the west, allowing him to avoid a two-front war.
In a secret protocol appended to the treaty and discovered after the war, the two dictators carved up Eastern Europe like a roast. Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were divided into German and Soviet “spheres of influence.”In the north, Finland, Estonia and Latvia were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Poland was to be partitioned with the Soviets seizing the western third of the country and Germany, the east.
The Soviets negotiated this treaty with the Nazis while also negotiating with France and England to coordinate a response to what everyone knew would be the turn of Poland to be victimized by Hitler. No one was more shocked than Neville Chamberlain when the pact was announced on August 24, 1939.
Vladimir Putin ignored this history in his remarks at the anniversary celebration of the end of the war:
“In recent decades the basic principles of international cooperation have been ignored ever more frequently. We see how a military-bloc mentality is gaining momentum,” said Putin.
While Putin thanked “the people of Great Britain, France and the United States for their contribution to victory” in World War II he said the West has tried to minimize Russia’s contribution to the war effort, contending that nations like the U.S. have tried to “rewrite history” regarding World War II.
Putin said World War II demonstrated the strengths of international cooperation but, likely in a nod to U.S. visibility in world affairs, warned that “in the past decades we have seen attempts to create a unipolar world,” according to the Associated Press.
The Russian people are apparently resentful at the west for raining on their victory parade:
Jill Dougherty, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center and CNN’s former Moscow bureau chief, said social media and TV reports indicate that many ordinary Russians feel insulted by the absence of Western leaders from the commemoration.
They feel it’s a victory that primarily Russians won with their deaths and are angered that it is not being marked by other Allied nations, she said.
“There’s a feeling of insult and anger,” she said. “Unfortunately that plays very much into the feeling that’s going on in Moscow right now, which is exactly about that — insult by the West, a feeling that the West has become the enemy once again.”
World War II is extremely important to Russians, she said, and provokes strong emotions in them.
It is amazing that there is no sense of responsibility by Russians from Putin on down for helping to start World War II. The Russian people have been told that Stalin made the deal because he didn’t trust the British and French. The tale is told that Stalin believed the allies wanted the Soviets to bear the major burden of facing Hitler and he needed time to rearm.
There is a germ of truth in that, but what made the deal so odious was the partition of Poland, and the subsequent invasion by the Soviets of Finland and the Baltic states. Certainly, that had absolutely nothing to do with not trusting the allies, but everything to do with Stalin’s manic desire for territory, which was almost as insatiable as Hitler’s.
There will be no apologies coming from Putin for Russia’s major assist in starting the war. Nor will there be any apologies for the hundreds of thousands of German prisoners of war who perished, or the half a million German women raped by Soviet soldiers as they advanced on Berlin and after the war. These uncomfortable truths are not brought up on these celebratory occasions lest they dampen the mood of triumphalism in Russia.
But you can bet that the Poles, the Finns, the Germans, and others who fell victim to Stalin’s cynicism and avarice will never forget it.