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21 Aug, 2009 09:53

ROAR: “The USSR had no alternative to pact with Germany in 1939”

ROAR: “The USSR had no alternative to pact with Germany in 1939”

The Non-Aggression Treaty, signed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany 70 years ago is still at the center of attention for politicians and historians.

German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Soviet counterpart Vyacheslav Molotov signed the pact on August, 23, 1939 – just a week before the outbreak of World War II. The two countries pledged to refrain from any aggressive action against each other.

The main issue that still divides politicians and historians in Russia and the West is the secret protocol that supplemented the pact and delimitated the Soviet and German spheres of influence. This protocol which was never ratified made it possible for Germany to invade Poland, and for the USSR – to incorporate Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Western Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

In December 1989 the Congress of the USSR’s People’s Deputies, in a special resolution, denounced the secret protocol and stressed the Soviet people were not responsible for “this conspiracy.”

Now, 70 years after the pact was signed, the Communist Party of Russia has called on the State Duma to “correct” the assessment of the Congress of the USSR’s People’s Deputies. The main task of the correction is to “stop further attempts to falsify both our own version of history and the worlds on this very important issue,” the Communist party’s leader Gennady Zyuganov said in a statement.

Zyuganov believes that different structures of European countries which in fact fought on Hitler’s side and took part in the aggression against the USSR, try to “prove that the treaty was immoral and it prompted Hitler to unleash war. They need this to whitewash their own role in the preparation of this war,” Zyuganov said.

The Russian foreign intelligence service (SVR) published this week more than 60 declassified documents regarding the pact in a book titled “The Baltic States and Geopolitics in 1935-1945.” Among the documents are confidential notes of foreign ministries in several countries, secret reports and telegrams.

In a comment on the book, the SVR said the USSR had no alternative to the treaty and the deal helped it to stop Nazis invading the Baltic States and turning these countries into a springboard to attack the Soviet Union. The documents also show “real intentions” of state officials to lead European countries, the SVR said.

SVR retired Major-General Lev Sotskov, the author of the book, said that the British and French governments after the Munich agreements of 1938, staked this on a deal with Hitler.

In August 1939, delegations of these countries upset the Moscow talks on the creation of an anti-Nazi coalition. “The agreement of a treaty with Berlin was then the only possible measure of self-defense for Moscow,” Sotskov told Izvestia daily. “This helped [the Soviet Union] to buy time, and we delayed the war which began in the West, not in the East.”

If the Moscow talks had been successful, World War II might have been waged in a different way, Sotskov said. The pact proved to be helpful too. “The Baltic States joining the USSR dramatically changed the military and political situation on [the Soviet] western borders,” Sotskov added. “The future front line was moved 500km away.”

At the same time, he noted that it is “not possible to deny the moral and psychological influence of the very fact of the presence of the Soviet troops in [the Baltic] countries.” The book touches on this very sensitive topic in Russia’s present relations with the Baltic States.
The restricted edition of the book was already published by SVR in 2006, Gazeta daily said. Nevertheless, the 70th anniversary of the pact provoked a new discussion of historians over this issue.

Mikhail Myagkov, head of the Center of the History of War and Geopolitics at the Russian Academy of Science, believes the pact between the Soviet Union and Germany reflected a “normal practice of the pre-war time.”

“The origins of World War II are first of all in the results of World War I, and mainly in the Munich Agreement,” Myagkov told Gazeta. “I want to note that the territories that incorporated into the USSR in 1939 had belonged to the Russian Empire before.”

Natalya Lebedeva, a historian from the Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, on the contrary, believes that the Soviet-German pact was not “a normal practice,” but a surprise not only for the Western and Eastern Europe, but even for Soviet diplomats.

“Statements of historians that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact allegedly gave the Soviets a time, delayed the beginning of the war, prevented the possibility of the struggle on two fronts and eliminated an international isolation of the USSR are absolutely unfounded in the light of new archive documents,” Lebedeva told Gazeta.

Journalist Leonid Mlechin has noted in his turn that after the agreement in August, 1939, Moscow and Berlin “in fact, divided spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.” The Red Army at the time was stronger than Germany’s, and “Hitler despite his adventurism and madness was not going to attack the USSR,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio. Hitler needed such “friendly neutrality of the Soviet Union to succeed with Poland,” he added.

The pact did not defend the USSR from war, Mlechin stressed. “In June 1941 [Germany] attacked the Soviet Union with much greater might than it had in the autumn 1939,” he said.

Yury Khilchevsky, head of the Center of History of the Russian Diplomatic Service, thinks that the interest surrounding the pact across the world is not accidental. “It is very convenient to condemn the USSR once again, saying it is guilty to some extent in the outbreak of World War II,” he told Rossiyaskaya Gazeta daily.

However, on the eve of the war “no one held any illusions nor were they naïve, everyone knew Hitler would attack the Soviet Union,” Khilchevsky said. “Speaking about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, they in the West try not to touch the topic of Munich or the document that was signed there,” he stressed.

The Munich pact “shows clearly what the policy of over-compromising leads to,” historian Khilchevsky added.

Lisa Baglione, chair and professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, defends the position of Western governments at the time. “They strengthened their commitment to the defense of Poland after Hitler took over Czechoslovakia in 1938,” she said.

“When Hitler made his demands for Poland (in the immediate aftermath of Molotov-Ribbentrop), Britain and France decided to make good on their promises of support of Polish sovereignty,” Baglione told RT. “They believed that they had to stand up to Hitler’s demands in order to stop Germany’s re-drawing of the map of Europe.”

As for the pact between Moscow and Berlin, Khilchevsky said that we “chose the lesser of the two evils.” But historians in the West express different views of the pact. Baglione believes Joseph Stalin needed the pact. “Because of the blood purge that began in 1936, the Soviet military command was in very poor shape at the end of the 1930s,” she said.

“The Red Army was in no way ready to fight the Wehrmacht, and earlier in that decade, Stalin had tried to compensate for his country’s weakness and vulnerability to Hitler by reaching out to the West,” Baglione told RT. However, the overtures to Britain and France “had not been met with enthusiasm,” she added.

Baglione disagrees with statements that although the Soviet strategic position was troubled, Stalin had “no alternative” in 1939. “Given the reality of European politics at the time, a new Soviet offer of support to the Britain and France, and even Poland, would likely have been met more positively and helped Hitler rethink his strategic calculus,” she said.

“Stalin made the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It not only bought him time before the German attack but it gave him a free hand to invade, occupy and ultimately incorporate the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – into the USSR,” Baglione said.

At the same time, the pact provided Stalin security from German aggression (at least for the short-term), she said. “For Hitler, the Pact ensured that he would have a one-front war.”

Stalin thought his German counterpart was not committed to attacking the USSR, but this “misperception later helped provide Germany with strategic surprise that almost led to victory in June of 1941,” Baglione said.

Sergey Borisov, RT