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Putin slams eastern Europe while talking to troops

December 24, 2019

Not for the first time this month, Russia's Vladimir Putin has criticized a recent European resolution assigning some blame to the Soviet Union in the outbreak of World War II. This time, he focused on eastern Europe.

Vladimir Putin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Pitalev

Speaking to military top brass in Moscow on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described as "sheer nonsense" a recent resolution from the European Parliament arguing that the 1939 non-aggression pact between Adolf Hitler's Germany and Josef Stalin's Soviet Union helped pave the way for World War II to break out. 

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact — named after the two foreign ministers who signed it, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov — assured that neither side would attack the other unprovoked. It was signed in August 1939, barely a week before Nazi Germany invaded Poland, which would ultimately trigger the start of fully fledged military combat on the continent. The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east two weeks later.

The publicly known accord was complimented by a "Secret Protocol," the precise details of which would only emerge late in the Cold War. It carved up the European map into German and Soviet "spheres of influence," in a bid to keep the two powers out of each other's way.

Famously, in 1941, with most of western Europe controlled by Axis powers and no US involvement in the war as yet, Hitler broke the accord and invaded the Soviet Union anyway. In the past, Putin had condemned the accord but also labeled it a "necessary evil" on the part of the Soviet Union, the only viable way to avoid imminent conflict with Germany. But since the European Parliament's September resolution identifying the pact as a key trigger for the conflict, he has toughened his tone considerably. 

Read more:  'A Hidden Life': The tale of an Austrian who refused to serve Hitler

'Essentially they colluded with Hitler'

Putin told soldiers that Allied policies of appeasement before the war broke out, for instance tolerating Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, were also to blame for the conflict and for the communist Soviet Union's decision to seek a deal with fascist Germany.

But he reserved particular criticism for Poland, alleging in particular that Poland's ambassador to Germany at the time was a Nazi sympathizer. 

"Essentially they colluded with Hitler. This is clear from documents, archival documents," Putin said at the defense ministry.

Read more: After 20 years, is Vladimir Putin's untouchable image crumbling?

'A bastard, an anti-Semitic pig'

The longtime Russian leader also said, citing what he claimed were excerpts from the diary of Poland's ambassador, that the diplomat had promised to erect a statue in Hitler's honor to thank Germany for removing Jews from the country. 

"A bastard, an anti-Semitic pig, you cannot put it any other way," Putin said. "He expressed full solidarity with Hitler in his anti-Semitic views." 

This follows Poland expressing "concern and disbelief" over the weekend at similar comments from Putin on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

The topic is immensely sensitive in Russia and Poland alike. Russia often feels its contributions in World War II, accounting for well over half of Germany's military losses at a cost of almost 30 million Soviet lives, are underplayed or marginalized by other Allied powers. Putin said on Tuesday that the European Parliament's resolution was trying to eradicate the memory of the Soviet contribution to Allied victory.

"It is people like these who negotiated with Hitler — it is people like that who today are tearing down monuments to the liberating warriors, the Red Army soldiers who freed Europe and the European people from the Nazis," Putin said of the Eastern European countries that had pushed for the resolution.  

Poland, meanwhile, sees itself as betrayed on almost all sides at both the start and then the end of the war, when it became part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Its nationalist PiS government has been pushing through contentious laws making it illegal to suggest that any Polish people collaborated with the Nazis, despite broad historical consensus that the Nazis found at least some collaborators wherever they went. 

mvb/msh,kl (AP, AFP, EFE)

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