Russia Defends Stalin's Pact with Hitler

Russia Defends Stalin’s Deal with Hitler
By Jonas Bernstein
20 August 2009

Sunday, August 23, marks the 70th anniversary of the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact - the non-aggression treaty signed in 1939 by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The pact included a secret protocol dividing Eastern and Central Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. Days after it was signed, first German and then Soviet forces invaded Poland.

The anniversary’s approach has sparked a debate in Europe. Western governments condemn Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin as two equally murderous variants of totalitarianism. The Russian government calls that comparison a “distortion” of history.

The Pact is, surely, one of those things that interprets on several levels - did at the time, does now.

On the other hand, what real, practical alternative did the Russians have at the time?

Hi Kaninchen. My main point in quoting the aforementioned article was to show that in Putin’s Russia’s official history, one should not equate Nazism with Communism as equally bloody totalitarian regimes, which I find erroneous. I wasn’t going into judging the strategic thinking behind the Pact, but merely pointing out how Putin is emphasizing of late an official Russian policy of whitewashing Stalinism.

But, as for alternatives, the Pact accomplished little for the Russians I would argue other than to provide an opportunity to carve up Eastern Europe with Hitler. Stalin already knew in the summer of 1939 that England and France had pledged to defend Poland. He surely should have known that a German attack on Poland would bring England and France into war against Germany. As Richard Overy has pointed out in The Dictators, in August of 1939 Hitler hesitated over attacking Poland for fear of the West, postponing the attack date. It was only the Non-Aggression Pact that convinced Hitler he could start World War Two.

If anyone was responsible for the Soviet Union’s weak military stance at the time, it was Stalin himself who had decimated the Soviet High Command in the purges of the late 1930s. Stalin was Russia’s own worst enemy. And one must not forget that between 1939-1941, it was Soviet oil and grain supplied in abundance to the Third Reich that assisted the Nazis in killing the English and French '39-'41.

After the Pact, Stalin took little advantage in preparing the country for any war with Nazi Germany. David Murphy in What Stalin Knew writes persuasively:

“The field fortifications along the former border, vital to the Red Army’s forward force posture, were dismantled and a new fortified line along the new frontier [Pact border] was never completed. In the wrangling over this issue, Stalin insisted on keeping the first echelons close to the new border despite the lack of defensive structures, a fatal misjudgment. He refused to consider the defensive strategy urged on him by men like Marshal Shaposhnikov, who strongly believed Soviet defenses should take advantage of the fortifications along the pre-1939 border, thereby providing defense in depth” (pg.xvii)

And as for why the Pact should not be commemorated by Russia:

“In dealing with the Poles Stalin had Hitler’s full cooperation…both planned to reduce the Polish population to a subservient minority. Hitler, unlike Stalin, had singled out Polish Jews for extermination, but his ‘Aktion A-B’ to reduce the Polish intelligentsia and military to insignificance was halfhearted compared with Stalin and Beria’s [secret police head]. Some 400,000 inhabitants of pre-1939 Poland – Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, and some Belorussians – were deported east to camps and hard labor in three major operations during 1940. One in six died in their first year of exile. The deportees, however, were luckier than those Poles detained in camps in western Russia [the Katyn Massacres].”

Donald Rayfield Stalin and His Hangmen, pg.373

I’m not in the business of defending Stalin but, given that neither the Poles (nor the Romanians) would envisage the passage of Russian troops to provide a two-front war on the borders of Germany, the likelihood was that Russia would be soon faced by Germany on the Russian border itself. Not only that, since the British were in no position to put significant forces into the fray in 1939 and the French were likely to sit behind the Maginot Line, the Russians would be effectively be doing so alone - in those circumstances, a bet that the Western Powers and Germany would slowly grind away at each other again wasn’t entirely ridiculous.

One should not forget, either, the gradual movement of arms production beyond the Urals - about the only thing Stalin didn’t get wrong.

I would go with the argument that Hitler would certainly have had to go to war over Poland sooner rather than later - part of the whole dynamic of National Socialism and an economic necessity.

Yes mam, quite true. Stalin did bet the whole kit on those two powers (Brits/French vs. Germany) slowly destroying each other through a war of attrition with Stalin waiting to pick the spoils. However, the turning point came with the fall of France. Stalin could not believe the French capitulated so easily (the French communists’ stance of not resisting the Nazis in keeping with the Pact obviously didn’t help).

At this point, Stalin became gripped by fear and rapidly upped his policy of appeasement of Hitler at all costs so as to avoid being attacked. No complaints were made against German recon. flights over Soviet positions. Spies who reported that Hitler was preparing to attack the Soviet Union were scolded or repressed. As you know, Stalin actually ordered his troops not to respond to Barbarossa originally so as not to provoke the Germans. (some have even speculated that Stalin, in trusting Hitler, believed Barbarossa was a rogue operation of some German officers and not Hitler.)

Stalin seemed to have built his strategy on wishful thinking. This was quite possible given that nobody in his inner circle ever second-guessed him at this time, apart from one episode during the Soviet/Finnish War where Voroshilov threw a platter of food to the ground and yelled at Stalin for his incompetence. It is a testament to the stressed situation of Stalin at the time that Voroshilov survived.

It could be argued that the most significant event of the period took place at Khalkhin Gol.

Yes, quite true. Are you sure you didn’t study military strategy at Sandhurst? :stuck_out_tongue:

I do like the ‘overlooked but actually very important’ bits of history.

Stalin was as muderous as Hitler, but didn’t get much press since Communist infiltration of American government and industry goes back to the 1930s. (See Red Spies in America by Sibley, and Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev.) The interwar period of the 1920s should be studied. (See Stamping out the Virus.) The millions of Ukrainians who starved to death for openers. The German people were appalled by the pact. Any accomodation of the German government with Communists frightened them. But a careful reading of Mein Kampf clearly showed Hitler’s intentions toward the east.

People should read how General Electric helped set up an electrical grid for the Russians, our temporary Allies of convenience during World War II. The same Allies who would not allow American pilots to fly lend-lease aircraft from Alaska. The same Allies who reneged on their lend-lease payments. The same Allies who were the impetus for the Cold War and a massive, unrestrained collaboration and importation of German and Austrian scientists, technicians and intelligence experts.

And how were the British and French going to defend Poland? Anyone? And what happened to Poland after Yalta? The flag of the Polish Air Force was not returned to Poland from England until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Of course the Russians do not want to look bad. Hitler and Stalin perpetrated great evil.


While Germany was making territory gains (Saar, Rhineland, Austria, Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia) the Soviet Union was hoping to do the same in its “sphere of influance”. One must remember the same treaty with Poland that called for the England and France to declare war on Germany for invading on September 1st 1939 also called for them to declare war on the Soviet Union for invading on September 17th 1939. The Soviet Union then went on to attack Finland and conquor the Baltic nations Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1940 while Germany attacked France and Belgium. When England stood alone in the summer of 1940 the only thing that made Germany a bigger threat than the Soviet Union was the fact that Germany and its occupied lands were closer.

Agreed. Had Japan not lost their nerve over that single defeat they may not have turned their expansionist efforts to the Pacific. When WW2 ended a majority of Japan’s army had never seen combat as the Navy lacked the resources to transport and supply any more troops to the various accupied islands throughout the Pacific. Troops that had they been moved to the North West could have been supplied from Japan and the occupied areas of China.

A carefully planned move in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 might have been the wiser move (short of no move at all) than an attack upon the US in December 1941.

Yes, I agree on the last point. Both the Soviets and Nazis essentially were the same in terms of amorality and evil. The fact that Germany was closer, of course, accounts for the greater British concern. However, it is interesting to note that, with the Soviet invasion of Finland, and the West’s public outcry, the British chiefs of staff were asked to consider the practical question of war with the Soviet Union, and there were also plans to bomb to Russian oil fields which supplied Hitler’s war machine. Nothing of course came of this.

It seems the most opportune moment for the British and French to attack Germany presented itself in September 1939 when the bulk of Germany’s forces were engaged in the invasion of Poland. Germany’s western flank was very weakly defended at this particular point, and the Brits encouraged the French to go for it. The French Army it must be recalled was quite well-equipped and DeGualle himself I believe had initiated the idea of mobile rapid warfare with tanks (Blitzkrieg related). However, the French suffered from a lack of will, as opposed to a lack of arms.

On the terms of the British agreement to defend Poland, however, Laurence Rees writes in the recently published WWII: Behind Closed Doors pg.36:

“Meantime some of the British population were bemused that their country had not been obliged to declare war on the Soviet Union. If the British treaty to protect Poland from aggression had resulted in war with the Germans, why hadn’t it also resulted in war with the Soviet Union?
It was on this point that the British government found itself in a somewhat delicate position because…the 1939 Anglo-Polish treaty had a [secret protocol]. Whilst the section of that treaty that had been made public spoke of Britain’s obligation to defend Poland from ‘aggression’ in general terms, there was another, private section that specifically limited that obligation to aggression from Germany.”

My main point in this thread was mostly however to draw attention to the fact that Putin refuses to acknowledge or even appreciate Soviet crimes of the past and is indeed glorifying certain chapters such as the Pact, which bodes ill for Russia ever confronting its past as Germany did. There are, however, some dissenting voices in Russia:

Now the Russians are saying that Poland started the war.

On the anniversary of the signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939, the Russian state-controlled Rossiya TV channel broadcast a documentary claiming Poland was planning an invasion with Nazi Germany of the Soviet Union.

The documentary claims that the government in Warsaw was in a secret alliance from 1933 with Nazi Germany and Japan in plans to invade the Soviet Union. The deal was struck within the, as yet, unpublished part of a non-aggression treaty between Poland and Germany signed in January 1934.

Hitler’s portrait in the cabinet of Poland’s pre-war Foreign Minister Jozef Beck proves the thesis, claims Russian TV journalists.

In June, after part of the documentary was broadcast, the Polish embassy in Moscow strongly protested.

“The report is deceitful and unreliable. It is a striking example of the falsification of history,” read the official statement by the embassy. "

Russia’s Foreign Ministry retaliated saying that the Kremlin is not responsible for the content of programmes aired on state TV. “Opinions voiced on TV channels should not come under the consideration of state agencies. What times, exactly, is it being suggested we return to?”


I don’t think the state controlled media has quite gotten a handle on the idea that the citizens are no longer forced to believe whatever line they decide to dish out that day.

That would be hilarious if it was not so tragically untrue. No Kremlin control of the media? Please, ask Anna Politkovskaya’s son. Politkovskaya got a bullet through her for simply speaking the truth. As if Putin did not approve of this. Hundreds of journalists have simply been murdered under Putin’s Fascist Regime (or Chekist, as some prefer to call it). Independent studies of Russian media shows there is never any negative coverage of the good tsar Putin on t.v., while democratic neigbours like Poland and Ukraine are treated in the harshest light.

Russia has become a dangerous force for instability in Eurasia in keeping with the K.G.B. Colonel’s dreams of the old Soviet Union. His next goals are probably to strangle Georgia and stoke separatism in Ukraine.

I would love to see Putin visit and pay tribute to the 20,000 Polish officers slaughtered at Katyn at the hands of his beloved Red Army. I would love to see him lay a wreath at the Monument to the Victims of the Terror-Famine in Kyiv, Ukraine in commemoration of the millions of Ukrainians starved to death in 1932-33. But this will not happen, just as Stalin could never become a democrat.

The sad fact on top of this is that Putin works hand in hand with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Soviet-approved Patriarch Kirill to propagate Russian imperialism in neighbouring countries. Russia has removed its ambassador from Ukraine in protest against Ukraine’s west-leaning President Yushchenko. Putin tried to kill him with dioxin in 2004 which didn’t quite pan out, so now he’s waiting to influence the next democratic elections in Ukraine (something he doesn’t have to personally worry about in Moscow).

I pray that somehow the people of Russia will rise up against tyranny as the Poles did with Solidarity, and the Ukrainians with the Orange Revolution. Alas, the Russians are not Poles unfortunately. Too many of them still crave the Tsar.

Here is an article by prominent historian Catherine Merridale on how the Russians have never faced up to their bloody past:

I would love to see Putin visit and pay tribute to the 20,000 Polish officers slaughtered at Katyn at the hands of his beloved Red Army. I would love to see him lay a wreath at the Monument to the Victims of the Terror-Famine in Kyiv, Ukraine in commemoration of the millions of Ukrainians starved to death in 1932-33. But this will not happen, just as Stalin could never become a democrat.

I would love to see them admit Katyn, the Russians said the Germans did it for 60 years.
And they watched Warsaw demolished by the Germans and did not lift a finger

Yes. The Red Army sat there for 6 weeks allowing the Nazis to slaughter Warsaw’s Polish Underground Army and civilian resistance. Stalin would not even allow the Allies to send in planes to drop supplies for the Polish Resistance. Just another example of the Nazis and Soviets being partners in crime when their ruthless goals intermeshed.

I was at Monte Casino once in Italy where I saw the graves of all those brave souls in General Anders’ Polish Army that fought for the Allies against the Nazis in one of the most bloody battles of the war. It is a tragedy that Roosevelt (and Churchill somewhat) did not do more to stand up to Stalin over Poland. The war was started over Poland. The Poles fought. And yet, in the end, they became enslaved under Moscow’s jackboot just like the rest of Eastern Europe. And it is this brutal legacy that Putin now glorifies instead of condemning.

I hope we can learn from history but am not positive it is happening. Poles fought bravely at MC and other places.

I’m not a historian, and would not particularly argue with this. However, it must also be recognized that the Japanese military (reflecting political and even tribal factions) was divided between the “Strike North” faction and the “Strike South” faction, and that the emperor backed the Strike South faction. It can’t be doubted that Khalkhin Gol was an event that strengthened the Strike South’s hand, and one must wonder whether the emperor and his group might have had a hand in the failure at Khalkhin Gol. They were certainly vicious enough to do that.

In any event, it’s probable that the Soviets knew everything that was going on in Japan at the time, including the factional divide, where the emperor stood with it, and its ultimate resolution in favor of the Strike South.

I was looking at it from the point of view of a European and, to a European, it’s three words and all that they were to imply: Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov.

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