The 70th Anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Re-emergence of Russian Imperialism
August 23rd 2009
Today is the 70th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop, the respective Nazi and Soviet Foreign Ministers, on August 23rd 1939 and prefiguring the Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland and the start of the Second World War.
The pact was hugely contentious at the time, had huge consequences and matters to this day. In 1939 it showed the bankruptcy of British and French foreign policy to resist the Nazis and their inability to form a common front with the Soviets. The pact also caused huge embarrassment and difficulties for Communists and the ‘fellow-traveller’ left outside the Soviet Union.
When war broke out, the British Communist Party initially supported it, only to be instructed by Moscow that it was ‘imperialist’. Across Europe, from September 1939 to June 1941 and the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Communist Parties adopted a position of ‘revolutionary defeatism’.
The pact’s secret protocols divided Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence – which were a precursor to the Yalta partition which led to ‘the iron curtain’. For decades the Soviets denied the existence of the secret protocols, only eventually doing so with the arrival of Gorbachev and the 50th anniversary of the pact.
This was marked on August 23rd 1989 by two million people protesting against the pact forming a human chain from Tallinn, capital of Estonia, to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, opposing the Soviet occupation of their nations and demanding independence.
Today, a resurgent Russia has adopted a aggressive approach to what it sees its ‘near abroad’ – from its cyberwar against Estonia to its invasion of Georgia last year.
Now the Putin regime is going back to the bad old Russian ways, with its Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) claiming ‘the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact together with its secret protocol was a righteous and moral agreement that helped defeat the Nazis’ (1). SVR Major-General (Retired) Leo Sotskov stated that ‘history is being massively falsified’, and that, ‘It is a lie; the Baltic States were never occupied by Russia’ (2).
This matters not just as history, but contemporary politics. This requires some people close to home to rethink what they stand for. The West did not in any really support the Baltic nations quest for independence, preferring to put its trust in the maintenance of the Soviet Union for geo-political stability, until the whole rotten structure collapsed in the dog days of late 1991. Today most of the West seems to prefer a quiet life and stability rather than opposing Russian aggression and supporting human rights.
And what remains of the European left does not have a great record either. Apart from the ‘fellow traveller’ brigade most of the left were unwilling to recognise the imperialist nature of Russia or support the Balts drive for independence, seeing it as ‘narrow nationalism’, and thus putting themselves in the camp of ‘big nation nationalism’.
1. Pavel Feigenhauer, Moscow attempts to reinterpret the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,