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15th Dec 2019

Revanchist Russia continues to rewrite European history

  • Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939 (Photo: nara.gov)

The Soviet Union never invaded Poland in World War Two, Russia has claimed, in a new version of history with disturbing parallels for modern times.

The Russian foreign ministry published its latest statement on WW2 on Facebook on Tuesday (17 September) - 80 years after Soviet forces entered and occupied parts of Poland.

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They did it on the basis of a secret protocol to carve up eastern Europe in the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany.

The Russian occupation also involved atrocities, such as the Katyn massacre, in which Soviet forces murdered more than 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals less than one year later.

"#OnThisDay in 1939, the USSR joined Germany in invading Poland, attacking from the east in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet pact," the Polish foreign ministry said on Twitter also on Tuesday.

But the accepted version of history was just an attempt to "review the causes and results of the Second World War ... throwing a shadow on modern Russia", the Russian ministry claimed.

The Red Army entered Poland in order to create a "buffer" against Germany and "with [orders] ... not to use weapons against the Polish army", it also claimed.

It pursued a "policy of neutrality" and, in the years which followed, "defeated Nazism, freed Europe, and saved it from the destruction of European democracy", the ministry claimed.

Russian embassies around the world subtweeted similar messages under the Polish tweets the same day.

"The USSR is often accused of invading Poland. Wrong!", the Russian embassy in South Africa, for instance, said.

"I consider the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact an achievement of Soviet diplomacy, which [we] should be proud of," Sergei Ivanov, a senior Russian politician, also told a conference in Moscow on Monday.

War on history

Russia's Poland invasion claims are part of a wider campaign of what the EU's foreign service recently called efforts to "whitewash" the Soviet Union and Stalin's past.

When Poland declined to invite Russia to a WW2 memorial on 1 September, Russian MPs, such as Franz Klintsevich and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said "Poland itself is to blame" for being attacked and that "Poland is the main culprit of the start of World War Two".

When Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania published a statement condemning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also hit back, saying Russia signed it because France, Poland, and the UK had tried to "appease" Hitler.

The August statement by the five EU and Nato nations warned that there were "those who seek to revive these ideologies [Stalinism]" in Europe today, referring to the Kremlin.

The clashes over history come after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and began harassing the Baltic states and Poland with military manoeuvres.

Its revanchist military posture has prompted Nato to post Russia-deterrent battalions to the region.

And the Russian foreign ministry's Facebook comment on Tuesday used the same lines on WW2 as Russia used to justify its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine a few years ago.

The Red Army also occupied Belarus and Ukraine for the sake of the "reunion of the Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples in the new borders of the USSR," the ministry said.

Russia seized Crimea in order to protect what was part of the "Russian world" from alleged Ukrainian "fascists", the Kremlin claimed back in 2014.

French diplomacy

France is currently trying to revive EU-sponsored peace talks with Russia on Ukraine.

"The idea is to start a conversation on our priorities on the future European security architecture," a French diplomat told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

But there is little sign on the ground Russia might halt its offensive.

International monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recorded over 500 ceasefire violations on the contact line with Russia-occupied east Ukraine in their latest report out on Tuesday.

Two Belgian fighter planes also took to the air to deter four Russian warplanes from entering Nato airspace in the Baltic region the same day.

The new wave of French diplomacy comes after Russia released 35 Ukrainian prisoners in a friendly gesture last week.

But the ideological tide indicates the Kremlin has a different long-term agenda.

State propaganda has fostered nostalgia for the Soviet empire and demonised the West in a concerted campaign.

Almost 60 percent of Russians associated Stalin's rule with "concern for the common people" in a survey in August by Russian pollster Levada, while just 13 percent spoke of his "persecution" of Russians, which claimed millions of lives.

Over 50 percent voiced "admiration, respect, [or] affection" for Stalin personally in another Levada poll.

Russian agenda?

And when Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May four years ago with a huge military parade in Moscow, Robert Pszczel, the former Nato envoy to Russia, also felt concern.

"I saw the parade and I don't have a problem with kids cheering when they watch their country's tanks go by … but I do have a problem when the biggest cheer, the kind you hear at a hockey match, comes when they see the Iskanders go by", he later told EUobserver, referring to Russian missiles, which have been repositioned to be able to strike Berlin or Warsaw.

"The question is what is this country up to? ... It looks like a country preparing for war," Pszczel said.

France calls for EU-Russia reset

The time is right for the EU and Russia to mend ties, but sanctions should stay in place for now, France has said.

Borrell hard on Russia in EU hearing

The EU should continue to expand in the Western Balkans and maintain sanctions on Russia, its next foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said.

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