Putin reaffirms Stalinist version of origins of World War II, Pavlova says

David Low named his political cartoon describing the German-Russian invasion of Poland that started the WW2 - "Rendezvous." The cartoon depicts a meeting by the two allied Nazi-Soviet dictators over the corpse of a Polish defender. Hitler says to Stalin while smiling, lifting his hat and bowing: "The Scum of the Earth, I believe?" and Stalin responds to him "The Bloody Assassin of the Workers, I presume?" while smiling, bowing and lifting his in kind. The secret agreement on the division of Poland that was part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not yet known, but nonetheless, Low recognized what happened and drew it in this work. (Image: The Evening Standard (UK), September 20, 1939 issue)

David Low named his political cartoon describing the German-Russian invasion of Poland that started the WW2 - "Rendezvous." The cartoon depicts a meeting by the two allied Nazi-Soviet dictators over the corpse of a Polish defender. Hitler says to Stalin while smiling, lifting his hat and bowing: "The Scum of the Earth, I believe?" and Stalin responds to him "The Bloody Assassin of the Workers, I presume?" while smiling, bowing and lifting his in kind. The secret agreement on the division of Poland that was part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not yet known, but nonetheless, Low recognized what happened and drew it in this work. (Image: The Evening Standard (UK), September 20, 1939 issue) 

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Edited by: A. N.

No issue is as sensitive in Russian society as World War II, a conflict Russians call “The Great Fatherland War,” and consequently no shift in its interpretation by senior officials provides a better indication about the priorities and directions that Moscow will pursue in the future.

Until Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956 unmasking some of the crimes of Stalin, Soviet historians in lockstep followed the late dictator’s interpretation, one that laid all the blame for the war on Germany and denied that Moscow by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and other measures bore some measure of responsibility.

After Khrushchev’s speech and especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and afterwards, many Russian historians explored Soviet involvement and even culpability for the conflict, raising the question in the minds of some about the possible moral equivalence of Stalin and Hitler and of their respective systems.

Joint Soviet-Nazi military parade in Poland. The history of Russian aggression.

Under Vladimir Putin, such questions are anathema, and yesterday, at a meeting of the Victory Committee, the Kremlin leader effectively restored the Stalinist interpretation and ruled out any questions in the future about Soviet complicity in the war, according to US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova.

The Stalinist interpretation, “the truth,” in the words of Putin, must be insisted upon because it “holds together society, serves as a spiritual and moral foundation for development, and helps people of various generations feel themselves really a single cohesive nation,” a position Pavlova labels as “Russian fundamentalism.”

At the same meeting in the Kremlin yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin underscored why it is so important for Moscow to insist on Stalin’s innocence: Any other position, he suggested, opens the way to those who seek “to equate Nazi Germany, an aggressor country, and the Soviet Union.”

  • Two German soldiers near the ditch with bodies of executed Poles, Sept.-Oct. 1939 (Image: nationaalarchief.nl)
    Two German soldiers near the ditch with bodies of executed Poles, Sept.-Oct. 1939 (Image: nationaalarchief.nl)
  • The Royal Palace in Warsaw on fire after German artillery shelling during the siege of the city, Sept. 17, 1939
    The Royal Palace in Warsaw on fire after German artillery shelling during the siege of the city, Sept. 17, 1939
  • The execution of Polish citizens by German army during the occupation of Poland. 56 people were executed near Bochnia on Dec. 18, 1939
    The execution of Polish citizens by German army during the occupation of Poland. 56 people were executed near Bochnia on Dec. 18, 1939
  • T-26 tanks of the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade enter Brest. On the left - German motorcyclists and Wehrmacht officers next to Opel Olympia car, Sept. 22, 1939 (bundesarchiv)
    T-26 tanks of the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade enter Brest. On the left - German motorcyclists and Wermacht officers next to Opel Olympia car, Sept. 22, 1939 (bundesarchiv)
  • Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. The meeting of Soviet and German patrols in near Lublin in occupied Poland
    Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. The meeting of Soviet and German patrols in near Lublin in occupied Poland
  • German and Soviet commanders meet at the Nazi-Soviet demarcation line in Poland, after a successful invasion, September 1939
    German and Soviet commanders meet at the Nazi-Soviet demarcation line in Poland, after a successful invasion, September 1939
  • Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. The meeting of Soviet and German invading armies in Stryj (now in Lviv oblast of Ukraine), Sept. 1939 (reibert.info)
    Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. The meeting of Soviet and German invading armies in Stryj (now in Lviv oblast of Ukraine), Sept. 1939 (reibert.info)
  • Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact map signed by Stalin and Ribbentrop and dated Sept. 28, 1939
    Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact map signed by Stalin and Ribbentrop and dated Sept. 28, 1939
  • Soviet soldiers inspect some of the Polish weapons the Red Army captured during the joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland in September-October 1939, as was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939. The military operations ended with the two-way division and annexation of the entire territory of the Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union.
    Soviet soldiers inspect some of the Polish weapons the Red Army captured during the joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland in September-October 1939, as was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939. The military operations ended with the two-way division and annexation of the entire territory of the Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union.
  • Soviet troops at the German-Soviet parade in occupied Brest, Sept. 22, 1939
    Soviet troops at the German-Soviet parade in occupied Brest, Sept. 22, 1939
  • Soviet colonel and German officers discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of Poland. German troops advanced farther than was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
    Soviet colonel and German officers discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of Poland. German troops advanced farther than was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
  • German (L) and Soviet (R) commanders in Poland discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of the conquered country in September 1939. At the time, German troops advanced farther than was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and had to cede the extra territory to the Soviets.
    German (L) and Soviet (R) commanders in Poland discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of the conquered country in September 1939. At the time, German troops advanced farther than was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and had to cede the extra territory to the Soviets.
  • Soviet and German troops in a friendly discussion after suppressing Polish resistance in Brest, Sept. 18, 1939
    Soviet and German troops in a friendly discussion after suppressing Polish resistance in Brest, Sept. 18, 1939
  • Soviet and German troops in a friendly discussion after suppressing Polish resistance in Brest, next to armored vehicle БА-20 of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade, 1939 (nationaalarchief.nl)
    Soviet and German troops in a friendly discussion after suppressing Polish resistance in Brest, next to armored vehicle БА-20 of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade, 1939 (nationaalarchief.nl)
  • Soldier of the invading Soviet army guarding a Polish fighter airplane downed by the German air force, Sept. 17, 1939
    Soldier of the invading Soviet army guarding a Polish fighter airplane downed by the German air force, Sept. 17, 1939
  • Russian and German commanders in discussion over a map of Poland, 1939 (imgur.com)
    Russian and German commanders in discussion over a map, during the invasion of Poland, 1939 (imgur.com)
  • Political officers of the Soviet Red Army ready for the joint Soviet-German parade in occupied Polish city of Brest, Sept. 23, 1939
    Political officers of the Soviet Red Army ready for the joint Soviet-German parade in occupied Polish city of Brest, Sept. 23, 1939
  • Polish women reading public orders of the German occupation force, September 1939
    Polish women reading public orders of the German occupation force, September 1939
  • Polish tanks destroyed and abandoned near Lviv, Sept. 1939
    Polish tanks destroyed and abandoned near Lviv, Sept. 1939
  • Polish prisoners of war, defenders of Westerplatte who held out for seven days in the face of heavy Nazi attacks that included dive bombings, September 1939
    Polish prisoners of war, defenders of Westerplatte who held out for seven days in the face of heavy Nazi attacks that included dive bombings, September 1939
  • Polish cavalry in Sochaczev, part of the Battle of Bzura counterattack, Sept. 9-14, 1939
    Polish cavalry in Sochaczev, part of the Battle of Bzura counterattack, Sept. 9-14, 1939
  • Polish capital city Warsaw after German bombings, Sept. 28, 1939
    Polish capital city Warsaw after German bombings, Sept. 28, 1939
  • Parade of German occupation troops in Stryj (now in Lviv oblast, Ukraine), September 1939
    Parade of German occupation troops in Stryj (Lviv oblast, Ukraine), September 1939
  • Ordynacka Street in Warsaw destroyed by German bombings. Massive bombardment of Warsaw was conducted on Sept. 25, 1939 with 1150 sorties and 550 tons of bombs
    Ordynacka Street in Warsaw destroyed by German bombings. Massive bombardment of Warsaw was conducted on Sept. 25, 1939 with 1150 sorties and 550 tons of bombs
  • Soviet troops walk freely in Brest by then already occupied by the German Wehrmacht. The Nazis will leave it to the Communists, just as it was agreed in the secret part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, September 1939
    Soviet troops walk freely in Brest by then already occupied by the German Wehrmacht. The Nazis will leave it to the Communists, just as it was agreed in the secret part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, September 1939
  • Invading German troops marching past a road sign near Lviv, 1939
    Invading German troops marching past a road sign near Lviv, 1939
  • German troops enter Warsaw on Oct. 1, 1939
    Invading German troops enter Warsaw on Oct. 1, 1939
  • German troops crowding around Adolf Hitler traveling in Poland, 1939 (geheugenvannederland.nl)
    German troops crowding around Adolf Hitler traveling in Poland, 1939 (geheugenvannederland.nl)
  • German soldiers having a friendly conversation with commander of Soviet armored vehicle БА-20 from the 29th Tank Brigade in Brest, Sept. 20, 1939 (Max Ehlert, bundesarchiv.de)
    German soldiers having a friendly conversation with commander of Soviet armored vehicle БА-20 from the 29th Tank Brigade in Brest, Sept. 20, 1939 (Max Ehlert, bundesarchiv.de)
  • German soldiers destroying border signs on the border with Poland on Sept. 1, 1939
    German soldiers destroying border signs on the border with Poland on Sept. 1, 1939
  • German soldiers boarding trucks to leave the Polish town they destroyed, September 1939
    German soldiers boarding trucks to leave the Polish town they destroyed, September 1939
  • German soldier talking to commanders of the Red Army's 29th Tank Brigade near Dobuczin (now Pruzhany, Belarus), Sept. 20, 1939 (Max Ehlert, bundesarchiv.de)
    German soldier talking to commanders of the Red Army's 29th Tank Brigade near Dobuczin (now Pruzhany, Belarus), Sept. 20, 1939 (Max Ehlert, bundesarchiv.de)
  • German officers visiting the Soviet military in Brest, Sept. 22, 1939 and hosted by brigade commander Semion Krivosheyin (center). Next to him his deputy major Semion Maltsev
    German officers visiting the Soviet military in Brest, Sept. 22, 1939 and hosted by brigade commander Semion Krivosheyin (center). Next to him his deputy major Semion Maltsev
  • German generals headed by Heinz Guderian talking with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
    German generals headed by Heinz Guderian talking with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
  • German generals headed by Heinz Guderian meeting with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
    German generals headed by Heinz Guderian meeting with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
  • German generals headed by Heinz Guderian discussing with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
    German generals headed by Heinz Guderian discussing with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
  • German generals headed by Heinz Guderian conversing with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
    German generals headed by Heinz Guderian conversing with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
  • German general Heinz Guderian and Soviet brigade commander Semion Krivosheyin during the transfer of Brest to Red Army troops. General Mauritz von Wiktorin on left, Sept. 22, 1939
    German general Heinz Guderian and Soviet brigade commander Semion Krivosheyin during the transfer of Brest to Red Army troops. General Mauritz von Wiktorin on left, Sept. 22, 1939
  • German general Heinz Guderian and Soviet brigade commande Semion Krivosheyin during the transfer of Brest to Red Army troops. Front - Horch 901 Typ 40, Sept. 22, 1939 (bundesarchiv.de)
    German general Heinz Guderian and Soviet brigade commande Semion Krivosheyin during the transfer of Brest to Red Army troops. Front - Horch 901 Typ 40, Sept. 22, 1939 (bundesarchiv.de)
  • German dive bombers Junkers Ju.87 in the sky over Poland, September 1939 (Heinrich Hoffman)
    German dive bombers Junkers Ju.87 in the sky over Poland, September 1939 (Image: Heinrich Hoffman)
  • Commanding officers of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade near armored vehicle БА-20 in Brest. Front - battalion political commissar Vladimir Borovitsky, Sept. 1939 (Corbisimages)
    Commanding officers of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade near armored vehicle БА-20 in Brest. Front - battalion political commissar Vladimir Borovitsky, Sept. 1939 (Corbisimages)
  • Armored vehicle БА-20 of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade in occupied Brest during talks between Soviet and German invaders (nationaalarchief.nl)
    Armored vehicle БА-20 of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade in occupied Brest during talks between Soviet and German invaders (nationaalarchief.nl)
  • Adolf Hitler hosting the parade in occupied Warsaw after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet military invaders, Oct-5-1939 (Image - Hugo Jager)
    Adolf Hitler hosting the parade in occupied Warsaw after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet military invaders, Oct-5-1939 (Image - Hugo Jager)
  • Adolf Hitler hosting the parade in occupied Warsaw after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet military invaders, Oct-5-1939 (Image - Hugo Jager)
    Adolf Hitler at the parade in occupied Warsaw after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet military invaders, Oct-5-1939 (Image - Hugo Jager)
  • 10-year old Kazimiera Mika crying for her sister killed by gun fire from a German plane near Warsaw, Sept. 1939 (Image: Julien Bryan)
    10-year old Kazimiera Mika crying for her sister killed by gun fire from a German plane near Warsaw, Sept. 1939 (Image: Julien Bryan)
  • In Germany's Federal Military Archive, among documents of the top command of the 2nd Tank Group there's a document called "Vereinbarung mit sowjetischen Offizieren über die Überlassung von Brest-Litowsk" (translated as "Agreement with Soviet Officers about the Transfer of Brest-Litovsk") dated September 21, 1939. Here's an excerpt from it: "14:00 (2:00 PM) -- Start of the ceremonial march (Vorbeimarsch) by the Russian and German troops in front of the commanders of both sides with concluding with a change of flags. During the flag change ceremony, the orchestra plays the national anthems." (Image: bild.bundesarchiv.de)
    In Germany's Federal Military Archive, among documents of the top command of the 2nd Tank Group there's a document called "Vereinbarung mit sowjetischen Offizieren über die Überlassung von Brest-Litowsk" (translated as "Agreement with Soviet Officers about the Transfer of Brest-Litovsk") dated September 21, 1939. Here's an excerpt from it: "14:00 (2:00 PM) -- Start of the ceremonial march (Vorbeimarsch) by the Russian and German troops in front of the commanders of both sides with concluding with a change of flags. During the flag change ceremony, the orchestra plays the national anthems." (Image: bild.bundesarchiv.de)

Putin’s words thus complete the consequences of the February 2014 Russian law against “the rehabilitation of Nazism,” a law which made any independent research on the history of World War II a crime punishable by law and thus put a straightjacket on historians in the Russian Federation.

But Putin’s words and Karasin’s gloss show that this law is about more than domestic Russian affairs: it is something that Moscow uses to attack anyone who suggests Stalin was culpable in any way for the unleashing of World War II as being someone who is “restoring Nazism.” To avoid such charges, all too many in the West now avoid raising this issue.

And thus the promotion of this interpretation, Pavlova argues, is “an ideal form for the broadening of Russian influence on the international arena,” exactly what Stalin hoped and now Putin hopes for. But as so often with the Kremlin, such “broadening” takes place only when others are not willing to stand up for the truth.


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Edited by: A. N.

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