Streetwise Professor

September 2, 2009

Yeah? So, what about it?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:41 pm

Interesting–and flattering–to see the back-and-forth on my Molotov-Ribbentrop anniversary post continue in the comments section.  I haven’t pitched in to much because of other commitments, and because I haven’t read anything that leads me to change my mind (and that includes AK/SO’s long piece on his blog).

I found this post from Paul Goble to be of considerable interest, as it describes an article by a Russian scholar that echoes virtually all of the points I made.  Guess you can’t call somebody named  Leonid Radzikhovsky a Russophobe; no doubt some will label him “traitor” instead.

The article is of interest, and I will post most of it.  [Kindly suggestion to Paul Goble.  Please move to a better blogging platform, and fix the annoying paragraphing.]

Here goes:

Efforts by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials and commentators to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Stalin’s ill-fated alliance with Hitler because of what British and French leaders had done in Munich highlight a dangerous trend in Russian thinking, according to a Moscow commentator.

Not only was the mendacity of the two actions fundamentally different – the British and French acted shamefully as part of an effort to maintain peace while Stalin acted shamefully to cover his seizure of the territory of neighboring countries, but the lessons the two have learned, Leonid Radzikhovsky says underscore the difference (
In an article in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” the Moscow commentator says that there is now question that both Western Europe and the Soviet Union “conducted themselves in a mendacious fashion in the 1930s” in their dealings with Hitler. But “there is mendacity and mendacity,” both at the time of action and in the lessons those who engage in it ultimately learn.

It is certainly true, he writes, that “Europe handed over Czechoslovakia to Hitler.” But “European politicians did not conclude secret deals and did not seize pieces of foreign territory.” And however cynical their actions, their goal was “an idiotic hope” of keeping the peace, something those who had experienced the first world war felt was essential.

If the British and French did engage in a shameful action, Radzikhovsky notes, “Europe long ago learned its lesson.” Namely, the continent learned that “a law-based policy is MORE PROFITABLE than one based on force alone –more profitable in a humanitarian, social, economic, and that means in a political sense.”

Indeed, he continues, “politics in contemporary Europe is concentrated humanitarian sociology because the chief priority is not the size of GDP, not the size of production and not the level of consumption but the QUALITY OF LIFE.”

. . . .

But in contrast, “the USSR [at the time of Molotov-Ribbentrop and later] conducted itself much more mendaciously than Europe,” the “Yezhednevny zhurnal” commentator continues, and Russians now are being encouraged by their leaders to behave much more mendaciously than the Europeans are being encouraged by their leaders.

The explanations Russian officials offered and continue to offer about why Stalin reached an agreement with Hitler are “simply a LIE,” Radzikhovsky points out. Russia did not have to reach an agreement with the Nazi leader in order to prevent an alliance between Hitler and the West because the latter, having given guarantees to Poland showed that would not happen.

Thus, if Russians were honest with themselves, they would recognize that the USSR had “ANOTHER way out,” Radzikhovsky continues. It could “simply not have concluded agreements with anyone.” Had Stalin done that, Hitler would have had to reckon with the possibility of a two-front war, something the Nazi leader very much wanted to avoid.

And the fallback argument that Soviet and now Russian officials often employ when they suggest that Molotov-Ribbentrop bought the Soviet Union time does not withstand examination, the Moscow commentator says. Hitler would have moved West and then East at almost exactly the same time had there not been an accord with Stalin.

In any case, Radzikhovsky suggests, “the real motives of the USSR [in concluding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols] were different.” They were “the simple, classical, ‘healthy imperialist’ motives – a secret protocol and the seizure of the territories of others.”
Moscow paid a price for all this, Radzikhovsky argues, first because of the resistance to Soviet occupation of these lands and then because it was precisely from them – the Baltic republics and Western Ukraine that “in 1989-1990 began the collapse of the USSR.” But the real tragedy, he suggests, is elsewhere and continuing.

Encouraged by their leaders, Russians still are unwilling to acknowledge that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact opened the way to war and that it was an imperialist act not only by Berlin but by Moscow. And still worse, they have been encouraged by their leaders to view the cynical politics of force that the Europeans have rejected as still the proper order of the day.
Indeed, the Moscow commentator concludes, Russians are being taught exactly the opposite lesson about Molotov-Ribbentrop that Europeans have clearly learned from Munich. As their leaders have insisted, Russians are told to believe that “Comrade Wolf eats everything and listens to no one” and that “such it always was and such it will always be.

Like he said.  Or, like he said like I said.

One thing that I find particularly tiresome in many of the earlier comments, and in some of the commentary I’ve read elsewhere is the pathetic whinging about the alleged imbalance of criticism, with Russia being allegedly being unfairly singled out, and the British and French and Americans escaping blame for appeasement, Munich, isolationism, etc.

What a crock.  Appeasement was the subject of withering criticism at the time, notably by Churchill.  By word and deed, soon after it became clear that appeasement had failed its very architects abandoned it and took a very different policy.  Too little, too late, in the event, but a credible repudiation of the earlier policy.  Moreover, for the last 70 years, the contribution of appeasement to the coming of the war has been almost universally acknowledged, and the subject of withering criticism in Europe and the US.  “Appeasement” and “Munich” have become watchwords for criminal cowardice, and fear of repeating them has arguably contributed to erring in the other direction, e.g., Viet Nam.  If you want an illustration of how quickly this became conventional wisdom on both sides of the Atlantic, just remember that John F. Kennedy wrote “While England Slept” as a Harvard Undergraduate in 1940.  (And, as the man who dramatically increased American involvement in Viet Nam, maybe he learned the lesson too well.)  (Maybe some of those complaining about the alleged lack of criticism of appeasement are just to young to remember that the Western verdict on the subject was made definitively decades ago.  We’ve been there, done that.  I guess you missed it.)

There has never been–and still clearly is not–a willingness among Russian policymakers, or many of its people to make a similar acknowledgement.  Any apparent one-sidedness reflects Russia’s stubborn–and one-sided–refusal to engage in the same self-criticism that has been commonplace in Western Europe and the US since virtually the day that Chamberlain stood on the runway waving that fatal piece of paper.

What’s more, as  Radzikhovsky notes, there was a vast difference between appeasement and Munich, and what Stalin did.  Britain and France acted in the foolish belief that by sacrificing Czechoslovakia and making it clear that they understood the injustices of Versailles, that Hitler would in fact be appeased, and that this would secure the peace.  In contrast, however, Stalin acted not to preserve the peace, but in a way that he knew ensured that a war would break out.  What’s more, as  Radzikhovsky notes, Stalin acted with mercenary imperialistic motives completely lacking in the French and British, and what’s more, acted on those motives.  Furthermore, after Munich France and Britain did not murder, deport, torture, or imprison hundreds of thousands as Stalin’s USSR did.  Nor did, after Munich, Britain and France provide Hitler’s Germany with materiel that was vital to its campaigns in the West, as Stalin’s USSR did.  And Stalin acted after it was abundantly clear that Hitler could not be appeased.

Until those differences are honestly recognized, any more complaints about the supposed unfairness of the focus on the treatment of Molotov-Ribbentrop will appear to be just what they are: pathetic, self-serving, dishonest whines.

And as if to direct a big spotlight on his refusal to deal honestly with the past, Putin felt that he had to go beyond analogizing Molotov-Ribbentrop to Munich in order defend the former: he had to dredge up a non-aggression pact between Poland and Germany.  You know, the one signed in 1934.

Let’s see now.  Just how many material differences is it possible to think up in about two minutes?  Not to be to blunt about it, but the Hitler of 1934 wasn’t the Hitler of 1939.  Or put differently, those dealing with Hitler in 1934–or even 1938–didn’t have quite the same information about Hitler that Stalin did in August, 1939.  1934.  Just to list a few things off the top, that was before:  the remilitarization of the Rhineland, massive German rearmament, Kristallnacht, the Anschluss, the Sudetenland, the final conquest of Czechoslovakia, and numerous other actions that made it abundantly clear that Hitler was a grave menace to peace.  So, to equate an agreement made in 1934 when the gravity of Hitler’s threat was not nearly as blindingly obvious as it was in August 1939, to one made willingly and knowingly while in possession of that information, is about as dishonest as it gets.  But we are talking Putin here.

And perhaps even Putin would stipulate that Poland didn’t use the pact as a license to invade other countries, and to murder, imprison, deport, torture, etc., their citizens.

Not that we should be surprised, but what Putin said is about the most blatant case imaginable of that chronic Russian (and Russophile) ailment of whataboutism.  In an attempt to distract attention from the beam in his eye (and his country’s), he points out the speck in Poland’s.  And he does so even though the two situations have almost nothing in common.  Nobody believes for a moment that the German-Polish pact had the slightest effect on the course of events in subsequent years.  And nobody who looks at the facts squarely in the face believes that the Soviet-Nazi pact was anything but a watershed event.

Put another way.  That Putin feels obliged to dredge up such a non-event, and elevate it to the equivalent of the Hitler-Stalin pact, says everything you need to know about how pathetic his (and Russia’s more broadly) defense of the 1939 agreement is.  And, what is more important, the signals that this defense and the desperation with which it is waged send are exactly why he and Russia are so deeply distrusted in the lands occupied by the USSR then, and in the aftermath of the Second World War.  Eastern Europeans don’t need any acknowledgements from the Western Europeans or the Americans about their actions in the past because (a) they’ve done that repeatedly over the years, and (b) they pose no threat to Eastern Europe today.  In contrast, since Russia hasn’t acknowledged its culpability (except in the most grudging, hedged way), Eastern Europeans are justly fearful of what Russia’s motives are today.  If Russia wants to take a big step towards reducing the distrust with which it is held in the lands to its west, there would be no better way than to stop defending Molotov-Ribbentrop, or playing whataboutit games.  The fact that it seems constitutionally unable to take this step only feeds suspicion.

In other words, just another self-inflicted wound.

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  1. I didn’t ask for such input stupid troll.

    You invited yourself to provide such.

    Meantime, you didn’t answer my asking to directly show whre I misinterpreted what the OSCE said.

    Getting back to another comment of yours, show me where the recently brought up Pole has made comments that are as bigoted or more bigoted than La Russophobe.

    If so, confirm whether he has since recanted.

    Keep in mind Robert Byrd’s position in the US.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 9, 2009 @ 2:24 am

  2. Concentrate, Cutie, concentrate, you are again getting ahead of yourself.

    Now that you have, at long last, read the OSCE resolution, you should try to answer the initial question (comment 42). Then and only then can you expect anyone to pay any attention to your counter-question (comment 43).

    Comment by peter — September 9, 2009 @ 6:08 am

  3. As the troll Peter babbles on with more trolling.

    In contrast, the normal reply would say flat out what I (supposedly) misinterpreted about the OSCE.

    I’ll once again inquire about bigoted comments from the previously mentioned (at this thread) Pole.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 9, 2009 @ 6:33 am

  4. Blimey, Cutie, your last comment is time-stamped 7:33 am NY time. Have you nothing better to do first thing in the morning than type yet another useless comeback in an argument you’ve lost before it’s even begun?

    Comment by peter — September 9, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  5. Frankly, what was particularly disappointing was the fact that Putin is clearly bogged down in a Stalinist interpretation of modern European history. His speech was in utter contrast to that of Chancellor Angela Merkel, or for that matter those of Foreign Secretary Miliband, Prime Minister Fillon and President Kaczynski (who apologised formally for the Polish participation in the partial occupation of Czechoslovakia in October 1938 after the Munich Agreement of which Poland was not a party. There has already been a very positive Czech reaction to this as Poland is the only country to have apologised).
    Putin’s speech was one step forward but also two steps back. It backtracked from what both Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin had clearly stated nearly 20 years ago!
    Is it a sign of political weakness to admit error and say “we are sorry” or is the weakness in the continuing attempts in Putinist Russia to whitewash Stalin and his henchmen? If modern 21st century Russia wants to base its raison d’etre on falsifying the role of Stalinist Communism in the enslaving of half of Europe then clearly Russia cannot be considered a normal, democratic State and a fit member of the community of European nations……

    It seems that 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War would be a very good opportunity for closing old wounds between certain Europeans countries.

    Unfortunately one of the former superpower once again is not rising to the expectations of many.

    There is no doubt, that the Soviet Union is responsible for this tragic war the same or even on bigger scale that the responsibility of the Nazis Germany. For several years before the war the Soviets were the closest allied and supporter of the Hitler’s regime. There is no denying of this fact. By signing the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Soviets open the door for the war. They wanted to carry on the flame of Bolshevik revolution through the Europe. The reason they sign the pact was to get a common border with the German and to get an opportunity for later invasion of the allied country. It’s happened that the Germans had started the war against Soviets just 2 weeks before Soviets planned to do the same on June 22, 1941. The irony is that in 1941 Soviets got what they wanted to do to others. Two totalitarian regimes clashed with one another.

    By that day Soviets fully cooperated with the Nazis. They supplied Germans with materials as well as armour and intelligence. During that period they invaded and occupied all they neighbours and committed enormous crimes in these countries.

    After the German invasion they fought hard and finally with the western allies and with the help of Poland, Germany had been defeated.

    There is no denial of Soviets losing millions of they own countryman. They lost almost 600 000 army men on Polish soil. They defeated the hated, murderous Nazi Germans. But they also brought the communist regime to many eastern European countries. For the long 44 years Poland was under Soviets control.

    The final victory on May 08, 1945 was not a happy day for my old country. Due to UK and US decisions Poland was moved 300 km west loosing 50% of the original territory on the east. Due to victorious power decision all ethnic Germans who did not escape before advancing Soviet army had been remove from new polish territory. Once again Poland was not part of this decision.

    Soviets Russia has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Poland. The symbol of these crimes is execution of 21000 Polish POW in Katyn, Charkow and Miednoje in April 1940.

    In order to go forward we expect Russia to admit to these crimes and to do it for once and for all.

    To say they are Sorry.

    No less and no more.

    We could close these wounds with Germans years ago. There is no reason why Russians are still denying the facts. They are doing everything in their power to hide their plans to conquer Europe.

    I myself am looking for information to the fate of my grandfather . I want to know when exactly he was executed and to know His burring place. I want to close my family wounds also.

    Comment by Tadeusz — September 9, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  6. When the German armed forces invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941, Berlin described the offensive as preemptive in the face of imminent Soviet aggression. The claim was generally dismissed as Nazi propaganda. Recently disclosed evidence from Soviet sources, however, suggests that Moscow’s foreign policy was not governed by neutrality when Europe went to war in 1939.

    On August 25, 1939, the Swiss periodical Revue de droit international published the text of a speech Stalin delivered on August 19 to a closed session of the Political Bureau in Moscow. He was quoted as follows:

    It must be our objective that Germany wage war long enough to exhaust England and France so much that they cannot defeat Germany alone…. Should Germany win, it will itself be so weakened that it won’t be able to wage war against us for 10 years…. It’s paramount for us that this war continues as long as possible, until both sides are worn out.5

    In November, Stalin responded in Pravda that the Swiss article was a “heap of lies.”6 (The Russian researcher T. S. Bushuyevoy discovered Stalin’s original text in the former Soviet archives in 1994; it conformed to the Swiss version.)

    The Austrian newspaper Die Presse of April 4, 1997 quoted the Moscow journalist Konstantin Preobrashenskiy about use of the Russian archives. “Once again, the archivists only approve access to the documents when they feel like it. It is regrettable to see how what was accessible yesterday is today closed once more.”41

    Comment by Robert — September 9, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  7. Robert

    Some in the West were openly hoping for a Nazi-Soviet conflict with the West left out. Truman was among those expressing such a view.


    Official Russia acknowledges what happened at Katyn and doesn’t consider M-R to be something to be positively honored. Putin’s recent commentary (Sept. 1 Katyn address and segment with Polish media) doesn’t contradict this point.

    The release of archives on Katyn matter isn’t complete. At the same time, others like the Vatican aren’t completely forthcoming on a number of issues. The Vatican hasn’t yet released all of its archives on its role in assisting Ustasha personnel.

    Regarding your commentary, you shouldn’t gloss over Poland’s imperial past against others. In the lead up to WW II, many of Poland’s non-Polish citizens weren’t happy with that country’s government.

    Anti-Russian propaganda aside, the Soviet Union couldn’t have advanced to the degree it did without the support of numerous non-Russians inside and outside the borders of the RSFSR.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 10, 2009 @ 5:02 am

  8. Cutie Pies propaganda aside, the Soviet Union couldn’t have advanced to the degree of Imperialisem without the support of Hitler Germany.

    Cutie Pie

    It is unnecessary to add, after all this, that the only question of importance in the negotiations of the partners was: What do I get and what do you get? All of Eastern Europe became a grabbag. We do not deny that people exist on this planet who can read the record and still insist that the term “Russian imperialism” is “un-Marxist,” but then few things are impossible for the human mind.

    Certainly the hard-headed bureaucrats of the German Foreign Office had no illusions on that score, nor did the private talks between the partners suffer much from embarrassed euphemistic terminology. The page reference for this statement is 1 to 362. There is, of course, a standard diplomatic jargon for these matters which is regularly employed: “respect the vital Soviet interests in the Baltic;” “settlement of spheres of interest in the Baltic area”; in the middle of the August 23, 1939 parley in Moscow when the pact was signed, Ribbentrop wires home that “it transpired that the decisive point for the final result is the demand of the Russians that we recognize the ports of Libau and Windau as within their sphere of influence,” etc. And up to a certain point, the partners did not lock fingers in the grabbag.

    The Secret Protocol [78] had assigned Finland to the then junior partner, and over a year later Molotov agreed with Hitler that “during the Russo-Finnish war Germany had meticulously fulfilled all her obligations in regard to absolutely benevolent neutrality.” [235] On October 9, 1939, the Nazis already let the Finns know they would not intervene to save them. When the Russians invaded, Weizsacker instructed all German missions abroad to “please avoid any anti-Russian note” but rather to repeat the Russian justification for the attack; and he added: “In conversations, sympathy is to be expressed for the Russian pointof view. Please refrain from expressing any sympathy for the Finnish position.” [127-130]

    When Russia took over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; the Germans carefully maintained the same benevolent “neutrality.” When in June 1940 the Rumanian government balked at giving up Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to Russia, Ribbentrop wired them to shut up and come across: “In order to avoid war between Rumania and the Soviet Union, we can only advise the Rumanian Government to yield to the Soviet Government’s demand.” [163]

    In the case of Finland, the German missions abroad were instructed that in their conversation “England’s guilt in the Russo-Finnish conflict should be especially emphasized.” This was the formula for both ends of the Berlin-Moscow axis: when Hitler attacked the West through the Low Countries, Schulenburg reported, “Molotov appreciated the news and added that he understood that Germany had to protect herself against Anglo-French attack. He had no doubt of our success.” [142J And at the end of that campaign, “Molotov summoned me this evening to his office and expressed the warmest congratulations of the Soviet Government on the splendid success of the German Armed Forces.” [154] Molotov’s earlier message on the end of the Polish invasion will probably become as famous as the winged words about fascism being a “matter of taste”:

    I have received your communication regarding the entry of German troops into Warsaw. Please convey my congratulations and greetings to the German Reich Government. Molotov. [89]

    Were these messages merely diplomatic pleasantries? Wasn’t it rather true that the German military victories inspired Stalin and Molotov with fear and foreboding as Hitler grew stronger? Reasonable as this view might have appeared during the war, the documents show that it was not only a mistaken opinion but that the very opposite was true: Russian friendliness and desire to cooperate with Hitler grew and burgeoned in proportion as Hitler beat down his Western foes! If Hitler’s successive victories led to the break, it was not because of Russian qualms but because of German cockiness.

    This Russian reaction is documented in detail in the case of Hitler’s conquest of Norway. As in the above cases Molotov gave the enterprise his blessing, of course:

    [Schulenburg] Molotov declared that the Soviet Government understood the measures which were forced upon Germany; The English had certainly gone too far; they had disregarded completely the rights of neutral nations. In conclusion, Molotov said literally: “We wish Germany complete success in her defensive measures.” [138]

    But although Schulenburg thought the above information important enough to mark his wire “Very Urgent,” it is not as interesting as his next one:

    For some time we have observed in the Soviet Government a distinct shift which was unfavorable to us. In all fields we suddenly came up against obstacles which were, in many cases, completely unnecessary … [A number of petty obstacles are then described.]

    We asked ourselves in vain what the reason might be for the sudden change of attitude of the Soviet authorities. After all, nothing at all had “happened” I … On the 8th of this month I therefore asked for permission to see Herr Molotov – i.e., before the Scandinavian events. Actually, the visit to Herr Molotov did not take place until the morning of the 9th-i.e., after our Scandinavian operations. During this talk it became apparent that the Soviet Government had again made a complete about-face. [Molotov‘s extreme affability and alacrity in removing the aforesaid obstacles are described.] … I must honestly say that I was completely amazed at the change.

    In my opinion there is only one explanation for this about-face: our Scandinavian operations … must have relieved the Soviet Government enormously – removed a great burden of anxiety, so to speak … I suspect the following: The Soviet Government is always extraordinarily well informed. If the English and French intended to occupy Norway and Sweden it may be assumed with certainty that the Soviet Government knew of these plans and was apparently terrified by them. The Soviet Government saw the English and French appearing on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and they saw the Finnish question reopened, as Lord Halifax had announced; finally they dreaded most of all the danger of becoming involved in a war with two Great Powers. Apparently this fear was relieved by us. Only in this way can the completely changed attitude of Herr Molotov be understood. Today’s long and conspicuous article in Izvestia on our Scandinavian campaign (already sent to you by wire) sounds like one big sigh of relief. [138-140]

    Perhaps now we can all understand that when Molotov wished the Nazis complete success, he meant it. Schulenburg never again had occasion to report a Soviet change of attitude – until Hitler attacked.

    Comment by Robert — September 19, 2009 @ 2:01 am

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