Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stalin then; Putin now

From The Rubin Report, Tuesday, August 25, 2009, by Barry Rubin:

70 Years Ago: Hitler and Stalin Carve Up Europe; Today Russian Leaders Justify It

Exactly seventy years ago, on August 23, 1939, German Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to make the deal with the USSR to carve up eastern Europe....

...Nominally, the two countries have signed a non-aggression pact. ...however, it is in fact an alliance. And it certainly isn’t a non-aggression pact against Poland (to be partitioned between the two); Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (to be swallowed up by the Soviets; and Finland and Romania (some of whose territory the Soviets seize). Those parts of the agreement are kept secret.

Only one week later, Germany marches into western Poland, thus setting off World War Two, in which an estimated fifty million people die. The Nazis don’t have to worry about a two-front war—until they blunder into creating one for themselves. Soviet raw materials fuel the German war machine, bypassing the British blockade. Would Hitler have gone ahead even without the pact with Stalin? Probably not.

And so the Germans invade Poland on September 1, 1939; on September 17, 1939, the USSR joins in the feast. Its share also brings Stalin control over two million more Jews.

Ten days later, Von Ribbentrop arrives back in Moscow [for a few hours] ...The agreement signed is as brief as the visit. The two countries are “to reestablish peace and order in keeping with their national character” as they divide up Poland. For the Germans, the national character of the Jews is to die; the Slavs to be turned into slaves. For the Soviets, all are to have no more national character at all.

...Today, 70 years later, the Russian government is trying to justify this terrible deed....In effect, the Russian government is asserting its sphere of influence over all these and other independent states. The implications are frightening, most directly for Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and others in Central Europe but also for Georgia and Azerbaijan, and for anyone who treasures liberty.

Russia has been putting increasing pressure on its neighbors, sometimes using its energy exports for blackmail, sometimes using money or covert operations. One remembers what the American diplomatist George F. Kennan wrote at the onset of the Cold War: To be Russia's neighbor means either to submit or to be considered an enemy.

The basic Russian historical claim about 1939 is that by itself seizing these territories, the USSR prevented Germany from using them as a staging ground for an attack. In addition, efforts to work out a security alliance with Britain and France had failed.

This is profoundly misleading. The Soviets genuinely saw Nazi Germany as an ally. They helped the German army train, they sold it materials to build up its military, and even up to the moment the Germans attacked in 1941, Stalin insisted that Hitler would not betray him....

...Russia’s claim today is, as President Dmitry Medvedev put it during Russia's attack on Georgia, that Moscow had the right to intervene militarily in any country along its borders. Or as military analyst Alexander Golts wrote:

"In his understanding of Realpolitik, [Russia’s strongman] Vladimir Putin does not diverge from the line set by Josef Stalin. Military force decides everything and if there is an opportunity to grab a piece of someone else's territory then it should be taken."
Thus do the apologetics for past dictators past blend in with the aggressive plans of contemporary ones.

Note: Much of this is drawn from Barry Rubin’s forthcoming book, “Children of Dolhinov: A Town and People in the Mists of Time.”
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