Russia’s foreign ministry recently put out a handy three minute video to commemorate (celebrate is probably not the word) the 83rd anniversary of the signing of the Hitler-Stalin alliance on 23 August 1939.
As befits professionals, they try to avoid direct lies and use as much of the truth as possible. Inconvenient facts (like the division of Eastern Europe into zones of occupation, deportation and extermination) are omitted.
But you have to pause at the concluding sentence: ‘Thanks to the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the War began on strategically more advantageous borders for the Soviet Union, and hundreds of thousands of lives were saved’
So much to discuss.
Whether one should still call an arrangement for war a non-aggression pact; whether the alliance was strategically quite so advantageous for others; why that costly advantage (particularly to those rotting away in camps and execution pits on both sides of the demarcation line) was so spectacularly thrown away in 1941; and indeed whether the ministry’s final justification – that ‘ … hundreds of thousands of lives were saved’ – has any merit.
That question must certainly occur to anyone who has read Timothy Snyder’s ‘Bloodlands’ which concluded that the interaction of the two dictators consumed some 14 million (non-combatant) lives in the geographies covered by the arrangements – many of them in Ukraine.
The question would also have had a particular resonance the following day, which was the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.
It is also exactly six months since Russian forces started their third invasion to complete the re-integration of the more Russian bits of Ukraine and neutralise the rest – within strategically more advantageous borders no doubt.
And perhaps that’s also why the foreign ministry chose this moment to signal that Russia doesn’t see a diplomatic solution to the war and expects a long battle.
Fair enough. Vladimir Putin comes across as a keen student of Carl von Clausewitz and would surely agree with him that “ … war is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.”
And his overall political goal must be to convince those who identify as Russian that it is worthwhile continuing the struggle to unite them under his type of government. According to opinion polls, many Russians are sympathetic to this.
But politics works both ways and the progress of the war since 2014 indicates that Putin has also done outstanding work in creating a distinctive Ukrainian identity (one which appears to be shared by many Ukrainians whom he thinks are Russian).
Which suggests that if Ukraine can successfully resist, Russians might conclude that changing the Russian government would be a better way of achieving a sound long-term relationship than by forcibly changing the Ukrainian one.
That might also meet Henry Kissinger’s enumeration of the Western coalition’s logical goals of Ukraine as a “bridge between Europe and Russia” and avoiding a situation where “Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere”.
This leaves the initiative in the hands of the US administration who – despite the sterling efforts of British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and soon-to-be ex-PM Boris Johnson – dominate the supplies of money, weaponry, training and intelligence necessary for Ukrainian resistance and even resurgence.
Luckily, the Americans are playing a blinder on this (as they make clear in their conversations with the sympathetic folk at the Washington Post). At least, if one judges by their disdain for everyone else.
They take some pains in bagging Ukraine’s President Zelensky for failing to take their intel seriously. His response:
“Zelensky heard the U.S. warnings, he later recalled, but said the Americans weren’t offering the kinds of weapons Ukraine needed to defend itself.
“You can say a million times, ‘Listen, there may be an invasion.’ Okay, there may be an invasion — will you give us planes?” Zelensky said. “Will you give us air defenses? ‘Well, you’re not a member of NATO.’ Oh, okay, then what are we talking about?”
The Americans offered little specific intelligence to support their warnings “until the last four or five days before the invasion began,” according to Dmytro Kuleba, Zelensky’s foreign minister.”
As the prospect of a long haul grows, both in the fighting and in the politics, we must hope that the Biden administration continues to perform to its own high standards (and perhaps even exceed them when cooperating with its allies). Because there is potential for a better outcome than merely more advantageous borders.
One thought on “In politics there are lies. And then there are lies”
Given that Hitler probably would not have attacked Poland without Soviet guarantees of strategic raw materials and cooperation, thus preventing a a repeat of the two-front war and the Allies’ war-winning WW1 blockade, it takes real historical blindness or political disingenuousness to claim the pact saved several hundred thousand lives. And without a prostrate France and beleaguered Britain, would Japan have gambled on war in December 1941?
The Soviet-German agreement moved the German jumping off point closer to Leningrad and Moscow, eliminated the Polish army as a tripwire signalling and slowing Barbarossa, and resulted in the Red Army being badly caught in transition between the old frontier defences and the new ones. Even in purely selfish, nationalistic terms, it is difficult to see the agreement. as saving Soviet lives.