This past September, in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the EU passed a resolution stating that the war was the result of the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Here is an excerpt of some of the language of the resolution:
C. whereas, as a direct consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by the Nazi-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of 28 September 1939, the Polish Republic was invaded first by Hitler and two weeks later by Stalin – which stripped the country of its independence and was an unprecedented tragedy for the Polish people – the communist Soviet Union started an aggressive war against Finland on 30 November 1939, and in June 1940 it occupied and annexed parts of Romania – territories that were never returned – and annexed the independent republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia;
D. whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact directly violated a number of international norms, treaties and agreements – including the 1928 Paris Treaty, the 1932 Non-Aggression Treaty between Poland and the USSR, and the 1934 Declaration of Non-Aggression between Poland and Germany – and condemned the international peace established by the Versailles Treaty to failure; whereas the consequences of this treaty between two of the most brutal dictators in modern history demonstrates the importance of historical events for contemporary politics;
E. whereas the West’s desire to appease totalitarian regimes meant that decisions were taken without consulting the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as was the case in Locarno and Munich, which demonstrated the weakness of the West in the face of these regimes; whereas this paved the way for the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which in turn led to the outbreak of the Second World War;
F. whereas Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union cooperated politically, economically and militarily with the common goal of conquering Europe and dividing it into spheres of influence, as envisaged in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact;
In this way, the EU is effectively blaming both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany equally for starting the war and having essentially the same goals. This would have been a surprise to many decades of WWII historians.
In a previous post, I detailed the journey of how the Soviet Union came to enter into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was a Plan B intended to buy time and Stalin embarked on it only after numerous attempts to forge an anti-fascist alliance with Britain and France. I will excerpt some important parts below:
By 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt and some of his advisers had recognized the serious threat to world peace that Hitler’s Germany posed. They also realized why Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with the Nazis, though FDR made a personal last-minute appeal to Stalin not to (Butler 2015).
Stalin was well aware of Hitler’s anti-Slavic views as reflected in Mein Kampf and subsequent speeches by the German leader. Along with Jews, Slavs were considered sub-human. Shortly after taking power in Germany, Hitler’s Nazi party implemented an anti-Soviet propaganda campaign and physically attacked Soviet diplomatic personnel and trade representatives in Germany (Carley 2019).
Stalin knew that it was just a matter of time before Hitler would come gunning for the Soviet Union on behalf of Lebensraum (“living space” for Aryans) and resources. Consequently, he hoped to establish trade with the U.S. in order to obtain materials that might be useful in a war with Germany. But however sympathetic FDR might have been on the matter, he faced domestic obstacles that included strong isolationist sentiment and possible accusations of being a communist sympathizer.
The desire of the Bolshevik leadership for trade and cordial relations with the U.S. to balance out anti-Russian dynamics in Europe and in the Pacific started with Lenin as early as 1919, despite Wilson’s sending U.S. troops to assist the counterrevolutionary cause. Lenin still advocated for such a policy in 1921 (Butler 2015). After his death in 1924, Stalin proceeded to seek official recognition of the Soviet government and only succeeded after Roosevelt took office in 1933.
After Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Sudetenland, Stalin vigorously sought a security pact with Britain and France to counter any potential German aggression. But Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain continually rebuffed such offers. The fact that the British (Sykes 2017) and French elites tended to be fearful of communism and even sympathetic to fascism as a bulwark against it didn’t help matters (Carley 2016). Britain, in particular, actually enabled the early stages of Germany’s aggression at several key points.
When in 1936 Hitler marched into the Rhineland – a neutral territory established by the Versailles Treaty as a buffer between Germany and France – Britain made it clear that it would not assist France in repelling the German invasion. Hitler admitted that Germany would have had to retreat if the French would have fought them in the Rhineland (Freeman 2019). Britain again declined to help the French defend the Sudetenland as France was obligated to do by treaty with Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union was intentionally left out of the infamous Munich conference later in the year  where Czechoslovakia was divided up (Freeman 2019).
In terms of the Soviets being able to defend border countries, it was also a problem that the Polish leadership would not agree to Soviet troops on its soil even in the event of a German invasion (Butler 2015).
Finally, at the end of July of 1939, diplomats from France and Britain were sent to the Soviet Union, but Chamberlain had them placed on a slow freighter instead of quicker transport that was available. Upon arrival, a further delay occurred when it was realized that the British diplomat did not have documents authorizing him to officially negotiate. When Soviet officials were finally told that Britain had minimal divisions available for potential military operations, the Soviets concluded that Britain was not acting in good faith (Butler 2015; Carley 2016). [Note: Sources detailed in original post]
So as one can see, the thrust of the EU resolution is fallacious and ignores or distorts significant historical context. But the basic idea of equating Hitler and Stalin has been ongoing in certain political circles within the west for years. And while there are a multitude of crimes that Stalin can rightly be condemned for, starting WWII is not one of them.
This is not to say that the Red Army soldiers endeared themselves to the people of Central and Eastern Europe. I have a Czech-American co-worker who told me about some of the stories relayed to her by her grandparents who experienced both German and Soviet occupation during the war. Red Army soldiers were not above raping women, taking provisions – such as food – with little regard for the well-being of the civilians living there, and committing other abuses.
But the Soviet Union did not go into other countries with genocidal intent as Hitler did, openly advocating for the physical annihilation of the Jews and other “undesirable” groups, such as Gypsies.
Professor Paul Robinson wrote an excellent piece last summer debunking the idea that the Soviet Union, even under Stalin, could be equated with Nazi Germany:
What then of the effort to equate communism and Nazism? Superficially, one can see the attraction. After all, both the Soviets and the Nazis engaged in acts of conquest in Eastern Europe, and their conquests were accompanied by widespread repression. But once you start looking at the matter more closely, you see that the comparison is devoid of merit. The Nazis came intending genocide; the Soviets did not. The Nazis sought to eliminate all the signs and institutions of statehood of the conquered peoples; the Soviets did not – while they absorbed the Baltic states and parts of Belarus and Ukraine, they preserved those states as autonomous entities within their Union, and likewise when they overran countries like Poland, Romania, and Hungary they maintained them as independent states. This was far removed from Nazi practice.
Furthermore, the Nazis came as colonizers. Not only did they aim to displace the existing population, but they were interested in their captured territories only in terms of extracting resources. By contrast, the Soviets invested heavily in developing the lands they occupied, creating industry, educating the population, and supporting cultural endeavours. It could well be argued that they didn’t do a very good job of it, but the difference in intent was enormous – the one overtly destructive; the other, at least in theory, constructive.
Russia has not been silent on the EU’s scurrilous attempt to re-write history in a way that is a slap in the face to the country that saw 27 million of its citizens perish as a result of the Nazi invasion, “tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine” at Stalingrad as Churchill admitted, and liberated Auschwitz:
On September 20, Russia’s Foreign Ministry labeled the European Parliament resolution as politicized revisionism.
The ministry complained that the text did not mention Western powers’ 1938 Munich Agreement that led to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
“The European Parliament marked yet another outrageous attempt to equate Nazi Germany — the aggressor country — and the Soviet Union, whose peoples, at the cost of huge sacrifices, liberated Europe from fascism,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
This is the backdrop in which Putin recently announced that he is working with various archival documents and will write an article responding to the EU resolution and the historical inaccuracies that form its foundation. Below is a video based on a public appearance Putin made a few weeks ago in which he discussed some of the historical facts and documentation that will underpin his forthcoming article.