Quite Right Mr. President

Quite Right Mr. President

Western mainstream media listen to President Vladimir Putin’s public statements only long enough to find a lever with which to distort his words. From Crimean reunification and MH17 to the origins of World War II, western propagandists — surely, we shouldn’t call them journalists — will fasten on to anything to ridicule or attack the Russian president.

A case in point is the question of who was responsible for the outbreak of World War II. It’s an important issue debated by historians, but also manipulated by politicians and used as a weapon of propaganda against Russia, especially by the United States and its Anglo-Saxon and European vassals. Using history as a political weapon is of course nothing new. In the case of who was responsible for starting World War II, the debate started days after the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939. The British Foreign Office contemplated publication of a White Book of telegrams and despatches to put the blame on Moscow. The idea was to show that Stalin «betrayed» the French and British governments who had been negotiating in good faith with Moscow to form a defensive alliance against Nazi Germany. Instead, the Soviet government went behind Anglo-French backs to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler on 23 August 1939. A Nazi-Soviet «alliance», critics said at the time, and historians and politicians thereafter.

The Foreign Office dropped the White Book, amongst other reasons because it could redound against Britain which had been conducting its own negotiations with Nazi Germany that summer of 1939. But the idea of publishing documents to discredit the Soviet Union did not die. In 1948 the US State Department produced a tendentious collection to demonstrate Soviet guilt in starting the war. The USSR replied with its own publication to show that it was the French and British who had negotiated with Hitler and rejected Soviet offers of cooperation against Nazi Germany. It was tit for tat.

Accusations continued to be flung at Moscow even after the dismemberment of the USSR in 1991. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) passed a scurrilous resolution in 2009 «equating the roles of the USSR and Nazi Germany in starting World War II.» From a historical point of view, this resolution is rubbish, though it had nothing to do with history. The main idea was to blacken the government of Russia, and in particular Putin, portrayed in western political cartoons as a Soviet throwback, with hammers and sickles in his eyes.

Questions about who was responsible for World War II come up again and again. During the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Red Army victory over Nazi Germany, President Putin had this to say about the onset of World War II: «The Soviet Union made every effort to set up a system of collective security against the Nazi threat, to forge an anti-Hitler coalition in Europe, but all those attempts fell through». 

If Putin had gone into any detail, he might have added that for six years, beginning in late 1933, the Soviet Union pursued a policy of «collective security» in Europe, that is, it attempted to organise an anti-Nazi defensive alliance, including France, Britain, the United States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and even fascist Italy. The idea was to contain Nazi Germany, or defeat it in war if containment failed. All the potential allies faded away one after the other, with the exception of Poland, which until the very end in August 1939 attempted to sabotage Soviet policy.

Putin’s unpretentious statement was historically correct, but provoked indignation amongst Mainstream Media outlets in the West. Let’s take the case of the Bloomberg agency, a typical potty-mouth of US Russophobic propaganda. «Why Putin Treats Fantasy as History», said the Bloomberg headline. The author, one Leonid Bershidsky, apparently a triumphalist «liberal» living in Berlin, threw the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact in Putin’s face in the first sentence of his column. Poor Poland was the main victim of Soviet-Nazi collusion, Bershidsky claimed, though Poland had from the beginning attempted to sabotage Soviet collective security. Poland was in fact an aggressor in 1938 when allied with Nazi Germany against Czechoslavakia, before it became a victim of aggression in 1939, largely the result of its own self-destructive policies. You can see where the author is going because he links the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact with allegations of Russian troops in the Ukraine and Russian responsibility for the shooting down of MH17. It’s all political, black propaganda.

At once displaying his ignorance of the history and historians of the pre-war period, Mr. Bershidsky declares that «Putin was simply rehashing here what Soviet historians said throughout the post-war years.» How clever. «Soviet» is a Western formula for no credibility. It’s an ad hominem argument and none too subtle either, in its attempt to associate Putin with things Soviet.

So much for Soviet historians; what about their Western counterparts? Do they all trumpet Soviet guilt in signing the non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany? Not at all. Geoffrey Roberts, Gabriel Gorodetsky, and myself, amongst many others, have been writing for more than a quarter century that the USSR, having failed to organise collective security against Nazi Germany, found itself in an impossible situation in August 1939, facing war without allies.

«Who’s enemy no. 1, Nazi Germany or the USSR?» was the big question. For many in the west, Tories in Britain, conservatives in France and elsewhere in Europe, it was better to negotiate with «Herr Hitler» than to ally with the Soviet Union. War was a dangerous thing: it had led to revolution in Russia in 1917; it could lead to revolution in Europe if there were another world war. That was, inter alia, Anglo-French reasoning for refusing to aid Republican Spain against a fascist rebellion in 1936 and for betraying Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.

In the spring of 1939 the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain boasted privately about how he was going to deceive Moscow. When the French and British finally decided in late July 1939 to send a delegation to Moscow to negotiate an alliance against Nazi Germany, everybody knew war was imminent. But British instructions said «go slow», and the delegation did too in a chartered freighter making 13 knots, instead of travelling by air or in a fleet of fast cruisers. When delegates arrived in Moscow, the Soviet side learned that they had neither written credentials to conclude an agreement, nor any offensive plans for war against Nazi Germany. How could the British go on the offensive when they had only two ill-equipped divisions to send to France at the outset of war? They’re not serious, Stalin concluded, and he was right. Stalin feared facing the Nazi Wehrmacht alone while the French and British sat on their hands. He must have thought himself right to conclude with Hitler, when he saw how his putative allies did nothing to help Poland, which collapsed in less than a week. Would France and Britain have done more to help the USSR? Clearly not.

The late A.J.P. Taylor, a maverick British historian, and not Soviet at all, had this to say about the non-aggression pact in 1961 before Gorodetsky, Roberts, and I had even entered university. Violent western reproaches against the USSR «came ill from the statesmen who went to Munich.... The Russians, in fact, did only what the Western statesmen had hoped to do; and Western bitterness was the bitterness of disappointment, mixed with anger that professions of Communism were no more sincere than their own professions of democracy [in dealing with Hitler].»

The West was infatuated with fascism before 1939, and the infatuation rekindled after World War II. It continues to this day, as the Western blind eye to SS parades in the Baltic and support for the fascist junta in Kiev demonstrate. Statesmen would do well to heed the words of the late philosopher George Santana: «Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.» As for Bloomberg, the «fantasies» attributed to Putin, really belong to its scribblers and to other trumpeters of US black propaganda.

Tags: Germany  Russia  US  USSR  Putin