Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov and Charge D’Affaire of German Embassy in Moscow open the Second World War exhibition in Moscow.
At the launch, Sergei Lavrov argued that it was wrong to consider Russia alongside Germany as the aggressors and that this was just an excuse for countries to whitewash their own history of attempting doing deals with Nazi Germany.
The Russian FM claimed that it was the Polish-German non-aggression declaration of 1934, together with the policies pursued by Paris and London, which forced the USSR into signing the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact on 23 August 1939.
Literature previewing the Second World War exhibition mentions “Poland rejecting Soviet offers of countering German expansion”. This is meant to justify the narrative of Poland having joint responsibility for the start of WWII.
Putin not welcome
Poland has not invited the Russian President to the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the start of WWII in Warsaw on 1 September. Its argument for so doing has been that Russia has lately engaged in acts of expansionism reminiscent of the aggression against the Baltic states and Poland that followed the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.
According to Łukasz Jasina from the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs (PISM), this Russian narrative is nothing new. But it is becoming more aggressive with elements of accusing Poland of being implicit in the Holocaust that is meant to weaken Poland’s relations with Israel and the USA.
Mr Jasina is not convinced by Russia’s claim that it has accepted responsibility for the slaughter of thousands of Polish officers in Katyn 1940, since Russia at the same time refused to investigate it as anything more than a routine crime that is covered by the statute of limitations. In Russia itself any mention of Soviet aggression against Poland leads to prosecution for ‘rehabilitating Nazism”.
Fears in the Baltic states
Russia’s narrative has also attracted criticism from Lithuania. According to an intelligence agency, the “Kremlin is using its victory in WWII to justify its claims over post-Soviet space, and accuses all those who opposed that narrative of supporting Neo-Nazism and fascism. Russia’s narrative shores up its destructive actions against Lithuania.”
The key difference between any non-aggression pacts and the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, is the fact that the latter envisaged major territorial acquisitions by both its signatories. In essence, it was an aggression pact and there was nothing defensive about it.
The Russian narrative is potent because it resonates in Western Europe. After all, the west accepted the USSR as liberators of Eastern and Central Europe. It needed the USSR to defeat Hitler and was prepared to pay a price, especially as that price was paid by others (countries of Central and Easter Europe).
The changes in Europe that took place post-1989 have not been easy for Russia to accept. They accepted the end of the road for communism but still crave for an empire. An empire that would still exert considerable influence on Central Europe. This is why the narrative justifying Russia’s ambitions in the region is important to its foreign policy.