TALE OF AN ANGRY BEAR
The four dangerous powers that violated international treaties and status quos between the two wars were the German Nazis, Japanese militarists, Italian fascists, and the Soviet communist regime. After all, the USSR and Nazi Germany had an economic partnership based on their military long before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Soviet Union was the main supplier of military raw materials to Germany, which had nothing except coal.It is not overstatement that the Soviet Union greatly helped Hitler’s Germany and its rise of military industrialization. In return, the Soviets were interested in sophisticated German weaponries. “When we visited them, the boastful Germans were showing off their innovative techniques and weapons,” reported the Soviet designers visiting Germany at the invitation of the Wehrmacht at the time.
TALE OF AN ANGRY BEAR
Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed about the 75th anniversary of the Victory. The title of the op-ed: "75th Anniversary of the Great Victory: Shared Responsibility to History and our Future." In this op-ed, Putin sought to provide his account of the pre-war situation and, the course and outcome of the war to prove his judgments [about the war].
In the beginning of the op-ed, he explained the reason behind why the Nazis took power in Germany was the Treaty of Versailles. This is hardly a new point of view. Even Maynard Keynes, who was personally involved in drafting of this treaty, warned at the time that the conditions imposed on Germany was too harsh, which would give rise to a sense of grievance and revenge for the Germans. But why did Putin want to emphasize this view? He seems to be warning that the West, who had treated the defeated Germany on its own terms, let alone dictated the Soviet Union on its own terms, which was defeated without war, is provoking the Russians on purpose. This point of view haunts his favorite monologue about the Russian bear who unleashes its fury when it is provoked.
Putin's argument that the United States and Great Britain were the biggest supporters of the German Nazism is, to put it mildly, questionable. If we cherry-pick chunks and shards of evidence here and there to lay out the greater picture, we can counter-argue that the United States and Great Britain were the staunch supporters of the Russian Bolshevism. It is a fact, however, that radical and far-right, ultra-nationalist movements and the aristocracy supported the German Nazism. If so, it seems to be reasonable that some Western political and industrial circles and radical, far-right, and ultra-nationalist movements are now justifying the Kremlin’s designs, activities, behaviors, and aggressions.
Putin’s conclusion that when Italy invaded Ethiopia, Japan attacked China and Germany annexed Austria, the League of Nations failed to act, is partially true. However, it is also a plain fact that the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations for invading tiny Finland and annexing part of its territory.
Then, there is a ridiculous narrative fiercely advocated by Putin’s so-called “uncontested evidence” in recent years that Poland triggered the war. Cieszin was entirely the territory of the Austro-Hungarian empires and where Czechs and Poles have always lived side by side. When Poland and Czechoslovakia declared independence after the Treaty of Versailles, the territory was divided into two parts: the southern part went to Czechoslovakia as Tesin, and the northern part remained in Poland as Cieszin. Military actions in the border areas intensified on January 23rd, 1919, which quickly turned into an international issue and, at the request of the members of the Entente countries, established a demarcation zone at Kosice-Bohumin. Poland did not recognize this demarcation zone and Hitler used this insult to his advantage. This is too high a statement to believe that the dispute between the two "small" countries caused a world war. Besides, Cieszin there are many disputed territories in Europe. For example Kosice, now part of Slovakia, has been one of the most contentious territories in Central Europe since the 13th century. It sits at the crossroads of disputes between Austria-Hungary, Slovakia, Czech, Hungary and Poland. A large Jewish settlement and Germans were also part of the quarrel. The redoubt of the Hungarian nationalists stood up against Austria-Hungary existed there. Hungarians used to be the majority of the local population in Kosice. Many historians still believe that the unmarked plane bombed Kosice on June 26, 1941 belonged to the Soviet Union. This act alone gave Horthy a casus belli for joining the war against the Soviet Union.
Poles had to go through a living hell as sandwiched between Germany and Russia for hundreds of years. Poles used to be the hapless victim of every single battle between the two because Russians and Germans had to go through the Polish territory. They even partitioned Poland and wiped it off the map. For more than a hundred years! So just before World War II, Poland sought to appease its two powerful neighbors and attempted to stay neutral. It is true that the Poles signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. A similar agreement was signed with the USSR in 1934 for the duration of 10 years, with the same terms as the agreement with Germany. Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck at the time largely put his bet on Germany. "If we fight the Germans, we lose our territory, if we fight the Russians, we lose our souls," he said at the time. No less important, Poland’s relations with Czechoslovakia deteriorated because of Cieszin. Having annexed Czechoslovakia, Hitler played to the Poles’ temptation and threw Cieszin as a bait which the Poles swallowed. Is this the supposed pretext that the Poles triggered the world war? If so, was not it Stalin who happily swallowed the half of Europe, a gift that Hitler gave him?
I think it is an exaggeration to say that the Munich Agreement, as Putin said, was a British-French conspiracy with Germany to launch World War II. Rather, this agreement is a shameful document that the Western democracies surrendered to a dictatorship. It was a naive compromise in the hope of bringing eventual peace to Europe by appeasing Hitler, letting Germany to annex Sudetenland. It was not that three powers secretly colluded and partitioned Czechoslovakia. When Hitler eventually annexed Sudetenland, he at least had to go through some degree of permission of the major powers despite he openly threatened them. When Putin annexed Crimea, whom did he consult beforehand? He says Crimea used to belong to the Russians. Greeks, Scythians, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, and Mongols all used to live in Crimea, too. So did they in Russia! How do we account for Putin’s self-serving explanation that he annexed Crimea because of a coup d’état in Ukraine? This is probably called nakhalstvo in Russian. Chamberlain’s boasting of the Munich Agreement by characterizing it as “peace for our time” following its signing is sheer stupidity. However, on the heels of Chamberlain, Churchill said, “If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” I think Churchill alluded the Devil in this instance to Stalin.
Putin went on to accuse the West of demonstrating duplicity by deliberately avoiding the creation of an alliance against Hitler, and argued that USSR alone was committed to some form of alliance with the West. Voroshilov, who led the Soviet delegation in negotiations with Britain and France in Moscow, showed much more hypocrisy at the time. He was just biding time in the light of the looming the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, capitalizing on the pretext that Poles' dogged refusal to allow the Red Army to pass through their territory if they were to fight Germany. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was already conceived long before the negotiations with France and Great Britain. At the same time, having punished the Japanese in the Khalkha River, the Soviet Union obtained a leverage to sign a non-aggression pact with Japan. Ironically, Putin insists that Poland triggered the war because it signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. All the while virtually all European nations signed such agreements with Germany at the time, including the Soviet Union. No one blames the Soviet Union for signing such a pact with Germany in 1939. The point is, when it comes to broaching the subject about the partitioning of Europe under the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Russians deliberately change the subject right away. (“В огороде бузина, а в Киеве дядька” –it's neither here nor there; it's clotted non sense; “you're mix ing apples and oranges”)
It is hard to deny the Poles shared Hitler's hatred against the Jews. But what about the Soviet-Ukrainians, molded with Leninism, paid much more interest and were infatuated with the extermination of the Jews? Anti-Semitism has been deeply ingrained in the minds of some peoples throughout history. The historical example of Tsarist Russia, which massacred the Jews in the early twentieth century, proves that not only Germany and Poland, but also Russia was a major center of anti-Semitism.
Putin made fun of the Polish leadership who fled Poland to take refuge in Romania on September 17, 1939, betraying its people who heroically defended their country against the German aggressors. Apparently, he is alluding to its Foreign Minister Beck, who is often accused of the main scapegoat of the war. What would have done Beck, who had escaped the German menace and moved to Brest on the same day, when the Red Army was busy marching from Poland’s east as previously agreed with Germany in advance? The fact is, General Sikorski fired Beck and established anti-German exile government in London.
Putin continues to try to whitewash (Soviet-era account) the partitioning of Poland with Germany using the so-called "Curzon Line”. There is a 1920 proposal of former British Foreign Secretary George Curzon to demarcate the Polish-Soviet border. In fact, Curzon did not initiate or support this proposal. It was an idea of Namersky, a Polish Jewish official at the British Foreign Ministry. Born and raised in an anti-Semitic background, he could not stand with the Poles. This so-called border was discussed in many international conferences, but it failed to muster support anywhere. Only, the Soviets and Germans justified their aggression using the so-called Curzon border under the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Later, under the Yalta Conference, the Curzon border, which had already become a fact by then, was accepted in favor of the winner, the Soviet Union. According to Putin, as soon as Germany invaded Poland, the former pressed the Soviet Union to support its war effort, but the Soviets were reluctant to support the Germans. Well, how do you explain Molotov, the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, who showed grandstanding at a session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR at the time: "Poland, a premature bastard sprang from the Treaty of Versailles, was completely destroyed first by a brief German strike and then by a tiny Red Army assault." According to Putin’s account, the Red Army attacked Poland, fearing that if Germany had occupied the entire Poland, the Germans would have been too close to Minsk. "There was no other option, otherwise the risk would have been multiplied for the Soviet Union," he clarified. Not even Stalin managed to come up with such a blatant excuse. On balance, Stalin's reason for his massive invasion of tiny Finland occurred because, he felt, the Finnish border was too close to Leningrad, probably served the source of Putin's jokes about Minsk.
Putin weakly implied that the Soviet Union somehow conveniently refused the invitation to the Soviet Union to join the Axis Powers Pact, which comprised of Germany, Italy and Japan against the United States and Great Britain. However, Molotov paid a visit to Berlin in 1940 to negotiate the admission, expressing Soviet’s readiness to join. However, he was disappointed with the supposed sharing of plunder for the Soviet Union, discounting it too meagre. The four dangerous powers that violated international treaties and status quos between the two wars were the German Nazis, Japanese militarists, Italian fascists, and the Soviet communist regime. After all, the USSR and Nazi Germany had an economic partnership based on their military long before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Soviet Union was the main supplier of military raw materials to Germany, which had nothing except coal.It is not overstatement that the Soviet Union greatly helped Hitler’s Germany and its rise of military industrialization. In return, the Soviets were interested in sophisticated German weaponries. “When we visited them, the boastful Germans were showing off their innovative techniques and weapons,” reported the Soviet designers visiting Germany at the invitation of the Wehrmacht at the time.
Putin neatly quoted some Western, especially some English politicians’ description about the Soviet invasions and annexations following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as "justifiable self-defense measures." He used those quotations to back up his assertions, where he claims discovered new documents from the archives. Without formal government decrees, statements, or any other official document, an individual's inadvertent or advertent kind words do not serve as binding. Putin himself relentlessly deploys this tactic to account for the current situation. For example, he repeatedly reminds the West that the West promised it would not to expand the NATO after the Cold War as this commitment was binding. However, if we verify this account, some former minister in the German Federal Government and a member of the parliament at the time, made such remarks at a reception in Berlin. Who knows if he was drunk or not at the time?
In the fall of 1939, Putin cited Stalin's old remarks that the peoples of the three Baltic countries voluntarily joined the Soviet Union with the consent of their elected government as an irrefutable evidence. According to the secret pact between Molotov and Ribbentrop, the Soviet Union swallowed Latvia and Estonia while Germany annexed Lithuania. The Soviets annexed Estonia and Latvia just within a few days. When the Germans invaded Poland, they violated the commitments agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which contemplated the two powers should divide Poland into two parts along Vistula and San. In other words, the Germans annexed more territories than fixed before. Following the development, the Soviet Union and Germany revisited the agreement, with handing over Lithuania to the Soviets and Germany retaining the Polish territories it had seized earlier. Immediately after this, 20,000 Red Army troops invaded Lithuania and held elections in which only the pro-Soviet “People's Workers' Coalition” participated. This is Putin’s so-called "government they founded, voted to join the Soviet Union” and destroyed their very own country! When the Soviets organized such elections in the “Soviet-liberated” Eastern European countries, all the "liberated" peoples unanimously voted to establish communism in their homeland. Putin also proudly noted that Vilnius, which was earlier belonged to Poland, was returned to the Lithuanians. On the other hand, the Lithuanians lament that "while Vilnius belongs to Lithuania, Lithuania belongs to Russia." However, Putin did not mention anything in his op-ed that they suffered a bitter response from their assault on tiny Finland to establish a “Soviet Socialist Republic of Finland.”
At the end of the op-ed, Putin expressed his gratitude to the United States, Great Britain, and France for their participation in World War II against Germany, and acknowledged that the Lend-Lease was a great help, which is a quite a novel admission. The Soviets kept the fact dark from their people, and often ridiculed the policy through art, literature, and film. While Putin expressed his gratitude to the policy, he also reminded that that the Lend-Lease accounted for only 7% of the total arms production of the Soviet Union at the time. I take the fact as face value, considering the mass production of grenades, pistols, machine guns, rifles and artillery pieces in the USSR. However, it is hard to deny that the Lend-Lease supplied more sophisticated war materials such as automobiles, aircrafts, and engines to the Soviet Union which was a far technologically backward country then. Even Stalin himself admitted, "We would have lost this war without your technical assistance," during the Tehran Conference. Even during the last stage of the war, Mikoyan said, "Without you, we would have been wiped out."
I want to make it clear in this piece that no one is going to deny the heroic struggle of the peoples of the USSR against Nazism and Fascism, bearing the brunt of the struggle by suffering massive losses for the sake of victory. The Russians played a key role in defeating the common enemy at the cost of staggering 26 million lives. No one denies this. One of the main objectives of Hitler's war was to capture the oil fields in Arabia and Baku. However, the seed of the Nazi defeat was sown when the Russians succeeded in disrupting Hitler’s aim in Stalingrad. At the same time, the British and French jointly defeated Rommel’s army in North Africa and thwarted Hitler’s objectives. Righteous peoples of the world joined hands and succeeded in defeating the most ruthless and disgusting enemy that has ever befallen the entire human history.
As he is accustomed to the official Soviet propaganda, which described the "Great Patriotic War" rather World War II, covering the period between 1941-1945 only, it is reasonable for Putin to be disturbed with the emergence of different accounts of the war today. After all, I think the op-ed is not about the historical truth, but his "sincere remarks" for his people.
Especially, he gets disturbed whenever the so-called "liberated," satellite peoples of former Soviet Union now argue that they were not liberated but simply went from one country's oppression to another. From a historical point of view, while it is true that the Soviets liberated those peoples from the German occupation, the Soviets themselves turned out to be occupiers, too. This is self-evident from the examples of East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1981. As one of the loyal allies of the Soviet Union during the communist era, the Bulgarians now say, "We were not liberated by the Red Army. Suddenly, the Red Army came in and took over us when we were perfectly fine."
As a matter of fact, three years before the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the democratic movement in Mongolia began in 1989 with a protest against the decree of the Mongolian Communist Party endorsing the Soviet massive invansion of independent Czechoslovakia in 1968, and demanded the party repeal the decree and issue an official apology for the people of Czechoslovakia.
August 9, 2020