Sputnik: You have our congratulations. How are you doing in your new position?
Vladimir Medinsky: Thank you. The post is new but the scope of work is not that different. Most importantly, in the year of the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory, the president considered it necessary to emphasise the significance of the historical, humanitarian agenda. I am proud that I have been entrusted with this area.
Sputnik: Recent weeks have been marked by some rhetoric from foreign leaders, who, deliberately or due to ignorance, fundamentally distort the history of World War II. And you gave a briefing where you explained in great detail how things really were. “The falsification of history” - do you still react so sharply to that?
Vladimir Medinsky: Both personally and professionally, I have to provide clarity. History deals with objective facts.
At the briefing, I showed foreign journalists the leading American newspapers of 1945 and read the headlines. “Warsaw meets Russian liberators.” “Russia accepts the unconditional surrender of Germany in Berlin.” "The Great Victory over Nazi Germany is celebrated in Moscow.” Or here is a telegram from Truman to Stalin sent on 9 May: “You have demonstrated the ability of a freedom-loving and supremely courageous people to crush the evil forces of barbarism, however powerful. On this occasion of our common victory, we salute the people and armies of the Soviet Union, and their superlative leadership.”
Modern Western politicians tend to forget all this. Rather than facts, they use distorted interpretations of the reasons and outcomes of the Second World War. The agreements reached by the leaders of the anti-Hitler coalition 75 years ago are being undermined. The rationale behind the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazi criminals is being eroded. The modern world order is being destabilised. Paraphrasing Dostoevsky: if there is no “Yalta Peace”, then everything is allowed or something?
Sputnik: How should Zelensky and Duda's statements at the Auschwitz ceremony about “Ukrainian” fronts and divisions, about common “heroes of the struggle against Bolshevism”, be treated from the historical point of view?
Vladimir Medinsky: Ukrainian Fronts, Lvovskaya Rifle Division... Let's look at the real facts.
The 1st Ukrainian Front, as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th were named not by nationality of the personnel but according to the geography of the theatre of military operations. Earlier we had Bryansk, Stalingrad and Steppe Fronts. And what, the Scythians and Sarmatians fought on the Steppe Front? In the armies of the 1st Ukrainian Front (former Voronezh Front) fought soldiers of almost 40 nationalities, most of them Russian, of course, but at that time no one differentiated according to nationality. All were Soviet soldiers and officers. The front was commanded by Marshal Ivan Konev, a native of a village in Vologda Region.
Next. The 100th Rifle Lvov Division, whose troops liberated Auschwitz, was formed in the Arkhangelsk Military District. It was awarded the honorific “Lvov” not because there were men from Lvov, as the Ukrainian leadership believes, but for special services in the liberation of the city of Lvov. The same is true for the Zhytomyr and Kremenets Divisions, which were named after the Ukrainian cities they liberated, and dozens of other “honoured” divisions of the Red Army.
Sputnik: Vladimir Rostislavovich, the 100th Rifle Division, which became the 1st Guards Rifle Division in 1941, immediately comes to mind. Isn't that the same division?
Vladimir Medinsky: Yes, you're right. It would be useful for the speechwriters of the leaders of neighbouring countries to at least be interested in the real history. In 1942, the 100th Rifle (future Lvov) Division of the second formation was formed in the North. It was under the command of Fyodor Krasavin, a native of Timonino village in the Yaroslavl Governorate. And initially, the first formation (the future 1st Guards Rifle Division) was formed back in 1923, and indeed in Ukraine. The formations that were part of it had beaten Symon Petliura, now glorified in modern Ukraine, and later they fought the Poles. And here is the irony of history: it was this very division under the hundredth number that crossed the Polish border in 1939, returning Western Belorussia to the USSR!
Today, the Polish authorities consider the actions of the USSR to protect Ukrainians and Belarusians in 1939 as “an act of division and occupation of Poland” (at that time, let me remind you, not only did no great power but also the League of Nations as a whole did not consider it so). In this sense, it was probably a little ambiguous to recall the military history of the glorious 100th Rifle Lvov Division of the Red Army in the presence of Duda...
But, jokes aside. It is clear that we, in Russia, do not divide divisions or fronts into "ours" or "not ours". And the 107th Kremenets Rifle Division, which also liberated Auschwitz, was commanded, for example, by a Poltava native: Petrenko. The outstanding marshals Rybalko, Malinovsky, Eremenko, Moskalenko, Fedorenko were from Ukraine... We won the war because all the peoples of the Soviet Union were united, we were fused in common misfortune and common cause.
Sputnik: Tell us please, you come from Ukraine yourself. What happened to us, the former Soviet people, in the 1990s? Wasn't there a common memory, and now it's different?
Vladimir Medinsky: I am deeply convinced that Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are one people in fact. We have common roots, a common glorious history, and a common great culture. As schoolchildren in Ukraine, we did not see any difference between Russians and Ukrainians at all. I would like to emphasise that there is no difference at all. The division, which occurred after 1991, has struck hard millions of people, their families. But we in Russia remember that the fates of Ukrainians and Russians are inextricably linked by a common history, where there was everything from tragedy to heroism.
Look: 1.3 million Ukrainians died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War, about 2.5 million people were kidnapped from Ukraine to work in Germany. On the other hand, 2,069 Ukrainians were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (out of a total of 11,657 awarded during the Great Patriotic War). The most legendary of them is the famous Soviet pilot Ivan Kozhedub, who was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title on three occasions, a native of Chernigov Governorate. And together with a Russian, Yegorov, and a Georgian, Kantaria, a Ukrainian named Alexei Berest from Sumy Oblast hoisted the Victory Banner over the Reichstag. And do you know the history of the 10 Lysenko brothers? There is a village with a majestic Mother Monument, in the Korsun-Shevchenko district of Cherkasy region, in my small motherland. A simple Ukrainian collective farmer, Yevdokia Lysenko, raised ten sons – all ten went to the front, all fought heroically and all ten returned alive! Indeed, a miracle. And you can't carve it out of your memory.
Sputnik: But modern Ukraine honours not Kozhedub but supporters of the Nazis, Bandera and SS-men from “Galicia”, who became famous only as punishers...
Vladimir Medinsky: The fighting efficiency of the Ukrainian SS on the “real” front, as we know, was close to zero. For example, in July 1944, during the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive, the same Soviet divisions, which later liberated Auschwitz (by the way, another smile of history – such a pity that Vladimir Zelensky's advisers didn't tell him about it in time), smashed the Ukrainian SS Galicia Division to dust. Of its 10,000 men in the Battle of Brody, they were left with... 500 men. The rest of them didn't so much fall in battle as ran away in panic or were captured.
Then what “heroes” they shout today “glory” in Ukraine? To the punishers? To those who killed guerrillas, their fellow villagers, killed women, children and old people, and guarded concentration camps? To those who, with their tail between the legs, scattered and hid in lairs at one sight of regular units of the Red Army?
It is heinous that in Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States, they are demolishing monuments, busts, and memorial plaques dedicated to Soviet soldiers. And the place of true heroes in the schoolbooks is occupied by direct collaborators of the Nazis, war criminals in the eyes of all European norms.
Sputnik: Could there be some kind of "growth disease" of national consciousness?
Vladimir Medinsky: Well, if it is a “disease”, it must be treated. We're certainly not at liberty to tell other nations who they can put up on a pedestal. But we can warn them against historical errors. Since, let us be frank, there were periods in Russia when we were just as much discarding the “uncomfortable” past. First, we rejected the whole notion of “old Russia” in 1917; then, during Perestroika and Glasnost, we swayed back, and completely senselessly mixed the wheat with the chaff...
As a result, the society, the country was losing its historical foundation. People lost their reference points, simple notions of what's right and wrong. The way it all ended, I said earlier.
Sputnik: Speaking of the statements... What do you think of Polish President Duda's call at the meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky to "jointly commemorate the fighters against Bolshevism” of 1919-1920? Including Symon Petliura?
Vladimir Medinsky: Let us rely strictly on the facts, which is what we encourage our colleagues to do as well. So, what did Petliura become famous for as a “hero of Ukraine”? And it would be better not to look at beautiful proclamations, but at political reality - during the same period slogans of Lenin and Trotsky also looked attractive.
Petliura was remembered, first of all, for his anti-Semitism: 50,000 Jews became the victims of the Petliura pogroms in the name of “Ukraine for Ukrainians”, by the most conservative estimates. Let me remind you that in 1926 Petliura was killed in Paris. The murderer was an ideological avenger, his name was Samuel Schwarzbard, and his entire family of 15 people was killed during the Petliura pogroms. The Schwarzbard trial became a tribunal for Petliura himself. And a sensational thing happened: the French court acquitted the murderer!
This is how Petliura was treated by his contemporaries.
And the second thing, somehow less known... Petliura made a deal with Poland in 1920 to jointly fight the Red Army. However, he paid for Polish help: he “officially” apportioned Western Ukraine – Galicia and Volyn – to Poland. Perhaps, this very gesture is what makes him likeable to the modern Polish leadership?
Sputnik: In Poland, they are demolishing 230 monuments to Soviet soldiers-liberators. The Sejm adopted resolutions accusing the USSR of unleashing World War II along with Germany. They are inflating the issue of some kind of compensation... How should all this be treated?
Vladimir Medinsky: History is a sophisticated subject, and it is filled not only with victories and all sorts of reasons for national pride but also with black pages, crimes, atrocities and betrayals.
For example, Katyn. We not only recognised and condemned the Stalinist crimes in Katyn and Mednoe but also built and maintained federal memorials there to commemorate Polish officers who were shot without trial.
But there is another black page in the tangle of controversial interwar Soviet-Polish relations. And it is no less terrifying.
Let me remind you that after the Russian Revolution, Poland gained independence. But in fact, it immediately became engaged in a war, now against Soviet Russia. In 1920, Polish forces occupied Kiev and Minsk. Later, they retreated after battles. During the war, 157,000 Red Army men found themselves in Polish camps for prisoners of war. Conditions of detention in these camps were terrible. According to the lowest Polish estimates, 20,000 to 25,000 people died there from hunger and diseases, whereas according to our maximum figures – over 60,000 perished. The death rate in these terrible camps was devastating and comparable only to the future concentration camps of the Nazis. For specialists, for those who are interested in this subject, these horrible figures are not news. So what then? For many years Russia has been asking the Polish authorities to honour the memory of these victims of the Pilsudski regime. At least as we have the victims of Katyn. Unfortunately, there is no answer.
You have to admit, we are getting some kind of one-sided repentance.
Regarding the demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers-liberators in Poland... It is difficult to choose the words for comment in general... I'll say this, strongly holding back... The Polish leadership should think about at least one thing: this is an insult not only to the memory of 600,000 Soviet soldiers who died on Polish soil in 1944-1945 for the freedom and very existence of Poles. It is also an insult to thousands of soldiers of the Polish army, our brothers in arms who fought together with us for Poland's freedom, who took Berlin with us, who marched elbow-to-elbow with our soldiers at the Victory Parade on Red Square in 1945.
Sputnik: A couple more “loud” statements... The Baltic states are raising territorial claims. How do you feel about Estonia's recent utterance about the 100-year-old Tartu Peace Treaty?
Vladimir Medinsky: Let's get this straight. What is the Tartu Peace Treaty? Under the Treaty of Tartu (also called Yuriev; Yuriev is the Russian name of the city of Tartu, founded by Yaroslav the Wise), in 1920, Soviet Russia recognised the independence of Estonia. At that time, a part of Pskov province (ancient Russian lands, where our famous monastery – Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery stands, in particular) as well as lands on the Narova river (Narva) together with Ivangorod, which was founded by Ivan III Vasilyevich, also known as Ivan the Great, went to Estonia.
20 years later, Russia, after becoming the Soviet Union, returned these territories to itself. The Estonian SSR appeared on the map of the country. All legal procedures were followed and the Tartu Peace Treaty, according to international law, became null and void.
Furthermore, after the liberation of Estonia from Nazi occupation, the lands of the Pechersky district and those to the west of the Narva River were legalised flawlessly once again for the RSFSR. Already in our time, Russia and sovereign Estonia signed agreements in 2005 and 2014, where all border issues were regulated.
The Tartu (Yuriev) Treaty is thus long and repeatedly, as legal scholars express it, legally null and void, being just a paragraph in a textbook for historical faculties.
Sputnik: So why bring up the 100-year-old question?
Vladimir Medinsky: Probably someone in Estonia likes ancient historical documents. Well, Russian historians can provide lovers of antiquity with older sources about the past of these territories. For example, the text of the Nystad Peace Treaty from the time of Peter the Great, under which Estonia and Livonia went to Russia “in eternal possession”. Or, for instance, the rescripts of Catherine II to the Livonian and Estonian Governor-General Count George Browne about the establishment of the vice-royalties of Riga and Reval (Reval is Tallinn’s historical German name).
We can also go deeper and get written evidence of the Livonian Order's debt, accumulated over the centuries (the Order occupied the territory of modern Estonia), to Veliky Novgorod. These financial obligations, by the way, were called the Yuriev (that is, do not laugh, Tartu) tribute. Calculate the interest. Make counterclaims. These documents will be much older than some "100-year-old" Tartu Peace.
I ask only that you not take my ironic reasoning seriously. In fact, according to the norms of international law, the entire set of historical documents mentioned above have the same legal force as the Tartu Peace Treaty. That is, absolutely zero.
Sputnik: Polish Foreign Minister said that Warsaw “won” a historic dispute with Moscow over the assessment of the events of World War II. Of course, you disagree?
Vladimir Medinsky: What is the dispute? About what? Who is arguing with him, anyway?
This is some sort of bizarre, far-fetched conversation.
It is much more important to understand another thing... The 75th anniversary of the Great Victory, our common victory over fascism, is approaching. The people of Poland are as victorious as the other nations of the anti-Hitler coalition. The people of Ukraine are the same victor as the other peoples of the Soviet Union. The invented “new interpretation of history” actually deprives our neighbours of the proud title of victors. And we are not indifferent to that. Our ancestors fought in the same trench, read the same books, and watched the same films. And even today, many continue to read and watch. We can still finish each other’s sentences... Such things should be treasured and protected.
Sputnik: However, today the falsification of history is a pan-European trend. Will it continue?
Vladimir Medinsky: It will.
The outcomes of the Second World War have been the cornerstone of the modern world order for 75 years. With Russia's special status as a victorious power, this role has always been exceptional in both the legal and moral sense.
But those who are not satisfied with that order are now trying, by substituting the past, to construct a new historical reality. They are not interested in any historical truth at all. For them, it is all a purely practical matter of today. It is about these true goals and consequences of the so-called “falsification of history” that I wrote about in the early 2000s in the book "War. Myths of the USSR. 1939-45". Unfortunately, the forecasts made then are coming true.
But there is only one truth. It is not Russian, it is universal. It is understandable in Russian, Polish and Ukrainian.
It is the truth of history that underlies and justifies our policies today, our plans for the future. It is the truth of history that our President protects today.