Russian President Vladimir Putin finds nothing wrong with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in World War II. This pact basically allowed Stalin to design what became the modern USSR after WWII. At the same time, Poland announced new defense strategies for a possible Russian invasion.
“Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then,” Putin told a group of young historians in Moscow. “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say, ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight, what’s bad about it?”
The USSR and Germany signed the pact on August 23, 1939. Germany promised not to declare war on Russia while both countries agreed on dividing Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. Poland, however, was the country Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler both desired. The pact divided between Germany and USSR “approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.”
Putin’s remark disregards Soviet aggression that belies the claim that the USSR “didn’t want to fight.” The nation did fight–just not with Germany. One week later, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and started WWII. The Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, which violated the Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact. With both countries in Poland, the USSR and Germany signed an agreement to coordinate the militaries in the country.
The pact allowed Germany and the USSR to commit some of the worst war crimes in history, especially within Poland. The invasion was the scene of the Katyn massacre by the Soviet secret police in April and May 1940, considered among the worst war crimes of that period. Polish army members and citizens were sent to labor camps. The Soviet police interviewed the army and police officers to decide who should live or die. In March, Stalin and members of the Communist Party decided to execute almost 30,000 Polish citizens as a way to quash any attempts at a future Polish army:
Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors; 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots. 7 It was their social status that landed them in front of NKVD execution squads. Most of the victims were reservists who had been mobilized when Germany invaded. In all, the NKVD eliminated almost half the Polish officer corps–part of Stalin’s long-range effort to prevent the resurgence of an independent Poland.
German forces discovered the mass grave in 1943. Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, thought the discovery would cool relations between the Allies. It failed, though, because for years, Russia blamed the massacre on Germany.
After Hitler invaded Poland, Germany immediately massacred Polish and Jewish citizens. He set up concentration camps to achieve his dream of exterminating Jews and undesirables. The Germans murdered almost six million Poles, nearly half of them Jewish. Overall, between the German and USSR occupation, Poland lost over 21% of its population. Over 90% of the casualties were civilians.
Hitler broke the pact with Operation Barbarossa. The Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, which forced the Allies to accept Stalin.
After WWII, the Allies held the Yalta Conference. American President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill allowed Stalin to keep the nations he annexed under his pact with Hitler, including the Kresy territory in eastern Poland. The leaders also allowed Stalin to expel Poles from the Kresy territory, which included thousands of Polish soldiers under British command who lost their homes.
Churchill alleged that Hitler deceived Neville Chamberlain but that Stalin would not deceive him. But it did not take long before both leaders realized Stalin was no different from Hitler. Poland felt betrayed by the Allies, especially since a puppet Communist government was implemented in the country. The first election in Poland was false and voted to allow the Soviet Union to be in control of Polish affairs. This puppet government agreed to the Soviet annexation of the eastern territory and allowed the Red Army on Polish lands. Therefore, Poland was not officially a member of the USSR, but a satellite state.
Poland’s government currently appears poised to prevent a similar situation. Poland belongs to the European Union and NATO, but neither organization has taken much action against Russia, due to their aggression against Ukraine. Both sat back and allowed Moscow to annex Crimea–the spot of the ill-fated Yalta Conference–from Ukraine without major consequences. From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
The 57-page strategy document replaces a plan drawn up in 2007. The new plan involves defense, political, and economic structures on all levels.
It says Russian [sic] has become a negative factor for regional security because of the “rebuilding of its power status at the expense of its surroundings” and Moscow’s “intensifying policy of confrontation” as shown by its seizure of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.
The new strategy involves “defense, political and economy structures on all levels, including everything from local firefighters and reservists to professional armed forces and intelligence.” It did not go into detail about how Poland will change these sectors. The details about Poland’s military defenses will be released in classified documents in the upcoming weeks.
NATO, the EU, the USA, and the UN harshly condemn Russia over actions in Ukraine, but none have taken any hardline action against Putin. NATO and the United States promised Poland security and military aid. But many in Poland are not convinced. Lech Walesa, a man who helped bring down the Iron Curtain and liberate Poland from the Soviet Union, told President Barack Obama he “wished the United States would lead.” Reuters reports:
Walesa, 70, did not go into details about what he had said to Obama, but he had previously said the Obama White House was not being sufficiently muscular in response to Russian interventions in Ukraine and other threats to world peace.
In a view that chimes with the criticism of Obama from many in the U.S. Republican Party, Walesa told Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster last week that the United States should be a global leader yet “the superpower has not been up to the job.”
The West has come under criticism for not doing enough to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the U.S. and European Union have imposed at least four rounds of sanctions against Russia, many in Eastern Europe see the response as damningly noncommital. The Kyiv Post wrote a scathing editorial that said, “[N]ow we know why two world wars started in Europe and the dangers of appeasement.” The article continued to lash out at the EU’s “weak resolve” as east Ukraine faces violence every day.