Vladimir Putin Is Rewriting World War II History

[Putin] appeared to blame Poland for the outbreak of the war while downplaying if not altogether denying Soviet responsibility.

“It was them,” he said, “who, while pursuing their mercenary and exorbitantly overgrown ambitions, laid their people, the Polish people, open to attack from Germany’s military machine, and, moreover, generally contributed to the beginning of the Second World War.”

…“Insane,” former Belgian Prime Minister and prominent European Parliament member Guy Verhofstadt tweeted. “Denying that Stalin colluded with Hitler and destroyed Poland. A monster still glorified in the Russia of Putin.”

…Putin’s long-winded foray into historical revisionism was a reaction to the European Parliament’s Sept. 19, 2019, resolution, “On the Importance of European Remembrance of the Future of Europe.”

That resolution, among other things, condemned Russia for “whitewash[ing] crimes committed by the Soviet totalitarian regime,” blamed the Soviets (alongside the Nazis) for starting World War II, and called for the removal of Soviet war memorials across Europe.

…The verdict is that Putin the amateur historian would not get a passing grade at any reputable university. Nor would he be able to get his views published in any peer-reviewed journal. Although the factual side of his presentation checks out, he has twisted his evidence to support preconceived notions. He is also guilty of gross omissions.

…First, he argues that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, an agreement that mainstream historians would agree, contributed handsomely to the outbreak of World War II by partitioning Poland, was not particularly unusual in the context of the times.

…Putin goes on to argue that had the French stuck by their commitments to defend Czechoslovakia against a German invasion (Paris and Prague signed a treaty of alliance in 1924), the Soviet Union—which also had a treaty with Prague—was prepared to come to the latter’s aid. The problem was that the Soviets had no common border with Czechoslovakia and so depended either on Romania’s or Poland’s willingness to allow the transit of Soviet troops.

…It is naive to argue that Stalin, for his part, would have jumped at the chance to join France in a war against Germany in 1938. Indeed, none of the evidence he cites shows that the Soviet Union was genuinely committed to Czechoslovakia’s defense. Even as he accuses the British and the French of “cynicism,” he seems unwilling to see Stalin as a cynical operator who would have been overjoyed to see Germany and the West at each other’s throats.

…The second part of Putin’s revisionist narrative concerns Poland’s policies in the run-up to World War II. In a nutshell, he argues that Poland was an architect of many of its misfortunes as it not just prevented the Soviets from helping Czechoslovakia but actively colluded with Germany to partition it.

…The problem with Putin’s interpretation is that he fails to distinguish between Poland opportunistically seizing a part of a long-disputed territory deemed essential for national defense, not least against Germany, and active collusion with Nazi Germany to bring about this result.

Indeed, as the prominent Polish-American historian Anna Cienciala has long argued, the Polish cabinet kept its options open and was not averse to taking military action against Germany in defense of Czechoslovakia if France and Britain joined in the fight. 

…It is hardly a revelation that anti-Semitism was pervasive in Eastern Europe both in the interwar period and after the war; Poland was no exception. Soviet leaders, too, shared anti-Semitic views, and Stalin himself waged an anti-Semitic campaign in the final years of his life. Seen in that broader context, Putin’s attack on Lipski is nothing short of bizarre.

Vladimir Putin Is Rewriting World War II History



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