Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Thoughts

The president of Russia happens to think that the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 was not so bad, and possibly, fine and dandy. Of course, it ought to go without saying that he could not be more wrong in this assessment:

2014 will be remembered as a year in which Eastern Europe suffered one of its greatest crises since the collapse of the Soviet Union: the still-unfolding, still-destabilizing situation in eastern Ukraine. Some observers have noted how similarly Russia’s moves in the region track the USSR’s previous patterns of engagement with its “satellite states,” suggesting that we could be in the midst of a “new Cold War.” Others, the Obama administration among them, agree that the conflict’s threat to continental security is on a level unseen in recent decades, but does not approach the machinations that the USSR and the USA plied against each other at the height of hostilities. A more subtle stream of thought has fixated on Russia’s alleged “hybrid war” against Kiev, where the Kremlin has shaped the conflict as “an aggressor whose moves are shrouded in deception.”

In light of this recent “hybrid war,” Roger Moorhouse’s latest book, “The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941,” could not be more timely. Stridently anti-Soviet, it urges readers to harken back to the insidious intrigues of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Hitler and Stalin on the cusp of World War II, an alliance that shocked both realists and ideologues worldwide when it was revealed. In this work, Moorhouse is largely successful in presenting and explaining the history of the pact and its implications on populations throughout the region. . . .

[. . .]

Moorhouse’s first target in the book is the sticky narrative that the USSR agreed to the pact for defensive reasons. The official Soviet argument for the pact, up until the regime’s collapse in 1991, was that it was meant to forestall a German invasion until the Red Army could modernize and challenge the Wehrmacht in battle. Yet Moorhouse makes clear that Stalin could have defensively allied with other powers that were just as repugnant ideologically to the Soviets as the Nazis were, such as the British. Moorhouse argues that while other considerations may have influenced Moscow, including its dislike of the United Kingdom, the prototypical “capitalist aggressor,” Stalin entered into an alliance with Germany because Hitler offered tangible territorial benefits. For the Kremlin, the lure of regaining the land it lost in the Brest-Litovsk Pact, regardless of it coming at the expense of Poland, the Baltic States and other countries, was too seductive to pass up.

And more from Linas Linkevičius, the foreign minister of Lithuania:

Vladimir Putin has stated that there was nothing wrong with the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which was made 75 years ago on 23 August 1939. The Soviet Union simply did not want to go to war, Putin added.

Two tiny details seem to be ignored in this evaluation: the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact merely enslaved eastern Europe (by the Soviet Union, incidentally). Second, the pact led to the second world war. It was not an escape route by the Soviet Union, but instead a cold-blooded calculation to ignore Hitler’s growing appetite for territories.

Leaving history to historians, I would like to draw attention to the western responsibility here. We cannot let such statements go unnoticed because they are part of a bigger narrative, under which the Russian leadership now seeks endorsement for its aggressive and revisionist foreign policy.

Otherwise we, the western democracies, risk becoming part of a similar pact. Not by consciously entering into dirty deals with the aggressor, but by not doing enough to prevent it, and leaving the impression that anything is possible. True, the western response solidified recently, albeit a bit late. However, notions of the need to appease Russia are gaining speed.

The confidence with which Russia is acting now comes partly from our inability to stand by our values and principles. Russia applied similar tactics in the case of Georgia in 2008. We searched for ways to get back to normal quickly, hoping that “normal” was also the intention of the Russian regime. It turned out it was not. So unwillingly, we became part of their plan. History repeats itself now.

Linkevičius is quite right in pointing out that history is being perverted here in order to justify imperialist and hegemonic acts on the part of Russia. The question, of course, is whether anyone of significance and note is going to speak out and object to this attempt to rewrite history. Thus far, in general, there has been silence from the West. I realize that not every lunatic pronouncement coming out of Moscow deserves note, mention and to be dignified with a comment, but surely, someone can say something about an attempt to portray the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as stuff that happens in the ordinary course of dealings between foreign ministers.

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