Sunday, 9 November 2014

Vladimir Putin has defended the Nazi-Soviet pact - he has reasons

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Vladimir Putin a couple of days ago said to an audience of Russian historians at the Museum of Modern Russian History: 

“The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression agreement with Germany. They say, ‘Oh, how bad.’ But what is so bad about it, if the Soviet Union did not want to fight? What is so bad?”

I understand his point very well. Stalin of course was as much an aggressor as Hitler and their partition of Poland very deplorable but from Russia's point of view the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was a wise move, that brought back land lost in 1918 and was intended to deflect an attack by Germany.


Hitler and Stalin both wanted to recover territories their countries had lost twenty years previously. No doubt both were wicked but there we are.

The USSR did not give back the lands it took under the pact after the war but held them till 1991. They were lands that had belonged to Russia for 150 or 200 years until 1918. The partition of Poland in 1939, like the ones in the 18th century, was, no doubt, a crime but neither Communists nor Nazis considered international law had any validity and I imagine almost all Germans and Russians probably welcomed the end of Poland. 

Incidentally, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact did not provide for the Soviet annexation of the Romanian territories of Bessarabia (now most of the Republic of Moldova), the Northern Bucovina and the county of Herța. The Germans were displeased when Russia seized them.

It would probably have been equally wise for Britain and France not to have gone to war in 1939 over Poland, a country we guaranteed but had no intention or ability to defend, and left Germany and Russia to fight once they had a common border. Instead we fought against one of the aggressors in alliance with the other in  a war that left seventy million dead, led to the fall of France, the invasion of the British territories in Asia by Japan and broke the power of both the British and French empires. 

We saved half of Europe from the Germans but it was the half that Hitler probably had had no intention of attacking, had the Allies not declared war on Germany. The part he wanted ended up ruled by Stalin.

As A.J.P. Taylor once said
In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six and a half million Poles were killed. Which was better – to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole?
Elsewhere I have read that Poland lost 9 million people. 

Failed diplomacy is the only constant in history. It was Halifax, British Foreign Secretary and arch-appeaser, who decided after the Germans took Prague in March 1939 that Hitler's ambitions were 'Napoleonic' and that Britain would have to go to war with Germany. He accordingly persuaded Chamberlain to guarantee Poland and - oddly - Romania. After the fall of France, it was Halifax who wanted to negotiate with Germany and he was wise to do so. Had Halifax succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister history would have been very different and he probably could have been Prime Minister had he really wanted to. Rightly or wrongly he thought Churchill would do a better job.

Chamberlain had a terrible hand to play but is much underrated and thank God he built fighter planes after Munich, not, as Churchill wanted, bombers.

32 comments:

  1. You don't think Britain should have fought Germany. Putin doesn't think Russia should have - although Germany broke the pact.

    Hitler could have taken all of continental Europe and have been happy.

    Steve

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    1. But he wanted Ukraine and Russia not Western Europe - this is the point.

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  2. In retrospect, the Soviet Union really had many other internal fish to fry and they would have been quite content to avoid a war with Germany. Their experiences in WW1 left their officer's corps (what was left of it) with few illusions as to the outcome. The only thing that prevented the Germans from achieving a separate peace was the unqualified support by the Allies (principally the US) and, of course,once they achieved their immediate aims, they became the West's enemy for the next 50 years, brutally supressing any dissent in their sphere of "influence". All the Russians would have had to cede is the Ukraine and the Caucasus. In '41, the Western Allies would surely have been happy to live with that. Of course, this is a hypothetical dialogue which can go on forever. I do agree that the big loser was Britain. Alan VHB

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    1. I am sure Hitler wanted and thought he could have all Russia - everyone else thought he would conquer Russia in weeks too.

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    2. Alan, please explain your statement: "All the Russians (sic) would have had to cede is the Ukraine and the Caucasus. In '41, the Western Allies would surely have been happy with that." Would the Soviets have been happy with this? You condemn England's erstwhile leaders for getting involved in the war, but only because you "lost" your empire. So Poland, the USSR and others should have been obliged to give up land so you could keep your empire intact? You seem so at ease advising other countries to give territory away to preserve the peace of mind of the West. When will you realize that this is not and never has been the West's prerogative?
      Roy

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    3. Britain certainly did not want Poland to give up anything but we were not obliged to go to war for Poland's sake - at least until we gave her a guarantee - and we did not help Poland by doing so.

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    4. Well, Roy, although I am an Anglophile, I am French/German. Secondly, land has been re-distributed since ancient times to fit political realities and in order to assure "peace". Arguably, the Ukraine would have done better in a Western European context than what they endured under the Soviets. The Ukraine, remember has only existed (until recently) as an "independent" state since being made an SSR in 1917. Oh, and it has always been the prerogative of the "Great Powers" of the day whether Athens, or Rome or Carthage etc.

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    5. Well then, Alan, please go on living in the days of Carthage. They seem to fit your mindset rather well. Oh, and have you forgotten that Ukraine had existed as an internationally recognized independent country since 1991? She's no longer the West's to give away.

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  3. But of course England was the biggest loser. Who really cares about the rest?

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  4. England should only go to war in her own interests but everyone lost in the Second World War except the USA, the Communists and the neutral states. We went to war to preserve the power and independence of the British Empire and lost both. Our victory was Pyrrhic.

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  5. Interesting blog, Paul. Of course everyone has their own viewpoint (British, Russian, Polish etc) based on their own selfish interests. If WW2 hadn't played out the way it did i.e. Britain and France hadn't signed the pact with Poland in 1939, I think it would have been a matter of time for the Soviets to drive West again (the Poles stopped them 1919-21). I think the same for Hitler: once he had everything east of Germany, he would have eventually gone after the French and the British Empires in much the same way he did when he went after the Soviets in 1941. Stalin never got over losing to Poland in 1919-21 and Hitler never got over Germany losing WW1.
    Mark

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    1. No Hitler was not insane and did not want to rule England and France. he wanted two things: to rebuild the lands the two reichs had lost in 1918 and to conquer Ukraine and probably Russia and plant them with German colonists - an insane idea as there were few potential colonists - see Mazower, 'Hitler's Europe'. Neither Stalin nor hitler were a threat to France and UK until we went to war with the first and allied with the second.

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    2. i "Hitler was not insane" yet "he wanted two things: to rebuild the lands the two reichs had lost in 1918 and to conquer Ukraine and probably Russia and plant them with German colonists - an insane idea..." It was not in Britain's or France's interest to allow Germany to gain additional sovereign territory in Europe and challenge their Empires. One of the key reasons they signed the pact with Poland. Eventually Hitler would have challenge them - especially if they were weaker than Germany - which they would have been.

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    3. Well argued. Hitler was not mad but his racial ideas were crazy as was the idea of populating the Steppe with German colonists. Stalin was not mad nor Lenin but Marxism is as crazy as the ideas of Gobineau. I must admit that Hitler in declaring war on the USA could be said to have acted insanely. I suspect that he imagined the USA would fight Japan not Germany, even after he declared war.

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    4. If he thought that about the US the he understood little of their objectives. Was Hitler informed, by the Japanese, of their intention to attack Pearl Harbour before the fact?

      Ronnie Smith

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    5. Hitler was taken by surprise and said “We can’t lose the war at all. We now have an ally which has never been conquered in 3,000 years,”. When he made the terrible mistake of declaring war on the USA Churchill said, 'So we won after all.' http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2011/1207/Pearl-Harbor-Day-How-did-Adolf-Hitler-react-to-the-attack

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  6. Had we not guaranteed Poland some deal might have been done. What did happen was about as bad as possible. Tragic that the maps of Eastern Europe were redrawn in 1919 in a way that could not last long. People who celebrate Polish or Ukrainian independence or the fact that Transylvania is now in Romania should think more kindly of the great empires which preserved a sort of peace and order in Eastern Europe. A free Poland exists now because Russia is weak and Germany has adopted Wilsonian principles as a result of her catastrophic defeat in 1945, but Wilsonianism is not the default setting of humankind.

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  7. Interesting. I wouldn't like to have had those decisions to make, without the benefit of a crystal ball.

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  8. With all due respect for AJP Taylor, his quote is nonsense. As I am sure you well know, the losses Poland suffered were civilian and not due to fighting on the country's territory but German (and Soviet) occupation policy. To say that the decision to go to war caused this to happen is flawed logic and/or poor knowledge of history.

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    1. Good point but AJPT's was simply that going to war did not help Poland - had she made a deal with Hitler it might have been better for her but we cannot know.

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  9. I disagree with you about this. I think we'd have wound up having to fight Nazi Germany anyway, but probably after they'd defeated others and were stronger and more focussed.

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    1. Paul, do you really think those things that you mention (statism, anti discrimination 'obsession', end of colinialism) are worse than living in a Nazi German empire?

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    2. I most certainly do not think so - I think living under Nazi rule about the worst thing I can imagine - along with Stalinist communism. I think - am sure - that the UK was not in danger of being ruled by the Nazis - nor Western Europe. The result of our going to war was 70 million dead and Eastern Europe ruled by Stalin. Was it worth it? By the way, I suspect, though no-one can possibly know of course, that Stalin would have defeated Germany without the aid of the UK and USA.In case it needs to be said, I do not think Nazism any better than Stalinism or wish to defend the Nazis in any way.

      If you read my blog you will see that I am a great believer in individual freedom and in tradition - the Nazis were opposed to both. They are responsible for a war with tragic consequences for the world which are still being worked out. I also dislike racial prejudice, in case you are the man who accused me of it.
      Although the word is inappropriate in a historical discussion, Hitler was evil. He very probably and Stalin certainly were psychopaths. Psychopaths are always losers and in their cases their countries lost with them, not to mention other countries. This does not mean, despite the psychopath's characteristic insincerity, that they were not sincere in their philosophies (I think both were) or that they pursued foreign objectives policies that were greatly different from their predecessors'.

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  10. I believe the real question should be was Stalin right to sign it and I've always thought he had little choice. Ronnie

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    1. I already indicated that he was pursuing Communist Russia's best interests - we were probably not pursuing ours, but that is with hindsight.

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  11. Nice Blog but do you think that after Stalin had killed most of his officer corps Russia had any option ?

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  12. There is no such thing as wicked in foreign policy. The only criteria is whether it was in Russia's(or Stalin's if you prefer although I see no difference) interest to do the deal or not. I have no problem with the fact that Stalin thought it was better to do a deal with Hitler than with two countries (England and France) who tried to stop his revolutionary movement 20 years earlier.

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  13. based on my reading of Shirer years ago: The Germans were willing to propose a Polish buffer or "rump" state; the Soviets were the movers for full obliteration of Poland.

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  14. The article is just plain wrong on a number of points. Where to begin?

    * "We saved half of Europe from the Germans but it was the half that Hitler probably had had no intention of attacking, had the Allies not declared war on Germany. "

    FACT: Hitler also made clear in _Mein _Kampf that he intended to make war on France, which would have meant British involvement as well, unless Britain abandoned its centuries-long goal of never allowing any single power to dominate Continental Europe.

    The author apparently thinks that Nazi control (and subsequent extermination of 'undesirables' in the West) as perfectly acceptable, as he also approving notes that "After the fall of France, it was Halifax who wanted to negotiate with Germany and he was wise to do so."

    * The author ignores that it was the Soviets who *wanted* an alliance with Britain and France against Germany up to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Look here:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/3223834/Stalin-planned-to-send-a-million-troops-to-stop-Hitler-if-Britain-and-France-agreed-pact.html

    "Papers which were kept secret for almost 70 years show that the Soviet Union proposed sending a powerful military force in an effort to entice Britain and France into an anti-Nazi alliance."

    (...)

    The offer of a military force to help contain Hitler was made by a senior Soviet military delegation at a Kremlin meeting with senior British and French officers, two weeks before war broke out in 1939.

    The new documents, copies of which have been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, show the vast numbers of infantry, artillery and airborne forces which Stalin's generals said could be dispatched, if Polish objections to the Red Army crossing its territory could first be overcome."

    But the British and French stiffed the Russians. In part, it was the objection of the Poles, who suffered delusions of being a 'great power' themselves (let's not forget that it was the Poles who attacked Soviet Russia in 1919, to fulfill an ambition by Polish nationalists to recreate the medieval "Greater Poland"). In part it was the fears by western conservatives of "the Bolsheviks" and the hope/apologies by them for Nazi Germany and Hitler as a "bulwark against Communism". It was the Western hesitance to sign any deal with Stalin that led to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

    * The Soviets nonetheless did expect that the non-aggression treaty with Hitler to be temporary. As David Glantz has shown from his book _Stumbling _Colossus, written using Glantz's access to Soviet military archival sources, the Soviets thought Hitler would hold off attacking until 1942 or 1943. The German invasion in June 1941 proved disastrous for the Soviets because it caught them "with their pants down" while trying to reorganize their armed forces, whose efficiency had been greatly weakened by Stalin's purges in 1937-38.

    Glantz maintains if war had come in 1937, the Soviets would have beaten the Germans handily. If Hitler had invaded in 1943, the Soviets likewise would have won easily. It was fortunate for the Nazis that they unknowingly hit the Soviets at their moment of greatest weakness.

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  15. Cont'.

    4) The author makes the seizure of the Baltic states, of Karelia from Finland, of Bessarabia and norther Bukovina from Rumania--as examples of purely naked Soviet aggression. In part yes, it was aggression, but it part it was Stalin's desire to seize a buffer zone against Nazi Germany against any further attack, so in part this seizure was defensive in purpose. Though it might be true that the net effect of seizing these territories actually weakened the Soviet defenses, because as a result the fortifications of the Stalin Line built upon the pre-1939 frontier were largely dismantled as the first line of defense was shifted westward. The invading Germans were so impressed by the Stalin Line when they inspected it that they concluded that the Soviets would have been better off if they had focused their efforts on that.

    5) The author makes a point about how fewer "betrayed" Czechs died compared to "saved" Poles, neglecting the fact that according to the hierarchy of Nazi racial ideology, Czechs were of higher status than Poles. That alone explains much of the difference. In addition, almost 3 million of those Poles murdered were Jewish Poles (often aided by the complicity of non-Jewish Poles) whereas the number of Jews in Czechoslovakia was much lower (less than 250,000).

    To be continued...

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  16. Cont.'

    In short, what the Soviets claimed to the West wasn't all propaganda. The impression I got from reading the article was that the author is deluding himself that "letting Hitler and Stalin fight it out" while the West watched--the same hope of many Western political conservatives on the 1930s that proved so false--was some sort of viable option. It wasn't. The proper perspective was that of US general George C. Marshall, and even Winston Churchill, who assessed the relative potential dangers of the two dictatorships and corrected deduced that the letting Hitler's Germany win--a state at the forefront of advanced technology for its day with a more modern economy--was by far the greater danger than Stalin's Russia.

    Once the war in the East got underway, they also correctly deduced that it would be the height of military folly to allow Nazi Germany to win and to take over Soviet Russia's vast natural resources, while also failing to do everything possible to keep an ally with an armed forces of upwards of 11 million men in the fight (the Soviets tied down upwards of 80 % of German ground forces, and upwards of two-thirds of the Luftwaffe; some 9 out of 11 German casualties in WWII come in the East). This is especially important because the US and Britain, fighting a more global war than the Soviets, had to commit a very large portion of their manpower and resources to far-flung fronts which required very large navies and large logistical "tails". This meant that the US and British could not supply enough men for their ground forces to fight all of the Wehrmacht, and thus needed the Soviets to do that job.

    If the author had read Stephen Ambrose's excellent _Rise _to _Globalism, which details very well the military realities underpinning the decisions in WWII and explains how these led to the political decisions that were maide, then he'd not hold to such nonsense. Because the West correctly assessed Hitler as the greater danger, they needed the Soviets. Once the military realities dictated that the West needed the Red Army, then
    the fate of Poland and Eastern Europe was decided. The only possible way to change that outcome might have come if the Americans had been able to overcome the British objections to a Second Front in France in 1943 and Churchill's own delusions about Europe having a "soft underbelly", and had done D-Day in 1943 instead of 1944. That almost certainly would have led to more US and British causalities, but it could have also resulted in the Allies and the Soviets meeting on the Vistula instead of the Elbe, and for those really concerned about the postwar fate of Eastern Europe wanting to argue on how to re-fight WWII, that's what they should be arguing for.

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  17. Let's all be careful about using A. J. P. Taylor and his The Origins of the Second World War, particularly with respect to statistics. He was trying to make a reasonable point with an acute pen, but we need better factual updates about the fate of Poles and Czechs. His book goes back almost three generations. Poles suffered from Soviet mistreatment and deportations and Ukrainian nationalist attacks in the area of eastern prewar Poland (not well covered), in addition to Nazi policies and high civilian losses sustained during the autumn 1944 Warsaw rebellion, the largest revolt the Nazis encountered in occupied Europe. Let's also give credit to those brave Poles who shielded and protected Jews during the occupation. Further, Bohemia, at any rate, stayed behind the lines for a longer time than most other countries, keeping civilian casualties down.
    Frank Mintz

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