USSR and responsibility for the start of the Second World War
Embassy of USA in Estonia commented on the issue recently in the “Speeches and Articles” segment of the Embassy website (http://estonia.usembassy.gov/sp_082310.html):
“August 23, 2011
Seventy years ago today Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union ensured that Europe and the entire world was placed on an inexorable path to war. In signing the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, more infamously known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the two totalitarian regimes also agreed to Secret Additional Protocols that carved up Europe into respective spheres of influence.”
In fact, issue of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is much more complicated.
First, Molotov-Ruibbentrop Pact shouldn’t be taken out of context of the grand political picture. Just a year before Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Britain and France made “peace in our time” agreement with Germany in Munich and Hitler gobbled up Czechoslovakia under the pretense of defending German minority in Sudetenland, effectively extending his own “sphere of influence” in Central-Eastern Europe. There is no doubt, that Hitler, emboldened by his major diplomatic success, decided to replicate this move, now against Poland. However, it’s highly unlikely that Britain and France will ever agree with the notion, that their Munich “pacification” paved an “inexorable path to war” on the continent and both major powers share the guilt for the beginning of the Second World War.
At that time nobody could predict, if the new world war will start after Germany invade Poland, or there will be yet another round of pacification, now on Polish expense. If Hitler hoped to get away with his gamble the same way he did in Austria and Czechoslovakia, Stalin, who felt that his hands were untied by the failed negotiations with British-French delegation in Moscow, was more than happy to delay USSR’s entry in conflict for almost two years. He may use this time for his advantage, comfortably sitting on the sidelines, supplying German war machine, and waiting for a proper moment to attack his new partner as soon as Germany will be blooded on the Western Front, the way it did during the First World War.
Certainly, Stalin couldn’t be satisfied with just watching the rapid transformation of the Soviet Union from international Bolshevik pariah-state to the most-sought after ally. Inactivity was deemed as suicidal, since in that case USSR could eventually follow the way of Czechoslovakia and Poland, and Stalin started his own preparations for the war: mobilization, unleashing of war industry and improving Red Army’s strategic and operational positions. As it soon turned out, for Stalin the process of creating “spheres of interest” meant nothing less than returning renegade states, created in Versailles, back into the fold of new edition of the Russian Empire. In June 1940 two most important Versailles signatories unexpectedly found itself on the ropes: British army was evicted from the continent and defeated France became a reluctant German ally. Stalin saw this development as an opportunity to make his own move. Hitler never thought that Stalin would interpret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a go-ahead for Soviet territorial acquisitions, and in July 1940, as soon as Soviet rapid takeover of Baltic States became a reality, he became frustrated enough to order the first variant of Barbarossa to be drafted. By the fall of 1940 Stalin entrenched himself in two very important salients, protruding far to the west: Polish-Lithuanian (Byalostock) Salient along the border of East Prussia, and most importantly, Western Ukrainian (or Lviv) Salient, where he could threaten not only to cut East Prussia from the rest of Germany, as was prescribed by the Red Army’s plan, but capture important Silesia industrial region, and most of all, destroy Romanian oil industry.
In theory, both salients would make formidable natural defensive “bastions” against German hypothetical attack, if used correctly. However Stalin hadn’t envisioned this “defense” scenario, which for him was synonymous to “defeatist”. Later, as an afterthought, Stalin was complimented with creation of 500-km long defense zone, extended from the old border to the west, and that extra space undoubtedly increased spatial “friction” and put additional strain on the German offensive. Unfortunately, this effect was almost cancelled by the hostility of the “sovetized” population of the new territories, unreliability of the newly raised “aboriginal” divisions (during his interrogation General Pavlov cited treachery of the Lithuanian divisions as one of the main reasons for Soviet defeat in Byalostock pocket), and disarmament and abandonment of the URs (Fortified Areas) and other military installations on the old border.
Second, in general, the very conception of the “nation-state”, even smallest, born by the French Revolution, remained quite foreign for both Germany and, especially, for the Soviet Union and now Russia. As a result, interests of small Baltic states, stuck between major competing powers and ideologies were blatantly disregarded. This certainly constitutes a major issue in our days, and in fact,United Nations was created, with USSR as one of five founding nations, exactly in order to solve this problem. However it wasn’t quite worrisome if judged against political and moral criteria, existed even as recently as 70 years ago. Propensity to treat current norms of international law as ahistorical, meaning always existed, can lead to some interesting speculations.
For example, what we have to think about Estonian and Latvian divisions, fighting on the Bolshevik side during the civil war in Russia? Were they volunteers, supporting the planet-wide proletarian dictatorship, which then quite logically used the territories of these very countries to stage another round of the world revolution, doing exactly what Baltic volunteers reportedly dreamed of just 20 years before? Or were they just a bunch of mercenaries, guns for hire, lavishly compensated with the funds, looted by Bolsheviks from the Tzarist Russia coffins?
Or, no doubt, that the bloody Napoleonic Wars, if judged from the moral grounds of 2011, would qualify as war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and such, and if they happened now, Emperor would found himself in the dock of Hague International Court of Justice, with thousands of eager witnesses and pending lawsuits from millions of mistreated and misplaced from all over Europe.
Or, taking it to the extreme, if we set our sites on the Greek Mythology, wouldn’t it be appropriate to charge Heracles post factum with the cruel treatment of endangered species for slaughtering Hydra of Lerna and on top of it, ticket him for sanitation violations incurred during the cleansing of the Augeas stables?
Well, Heracles, reportedly, passed away many thousands years ago, Napoleon died in 1821, Stalin in 1953, Hitler in 1945, Estonian and Latvian Red Army mercenaries (if there are any left alive) already retired, so this is a bit too late to lecture them all about their criminal deeds. We live now in quite a different world, and it’s about time to move on.