August 23 marked 70 years since the singing of the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, which is more commonly known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In all likelihood, no other international treaty has evoked as many disputes and contradictory assessments. Numerous publications have been issued since then. Some historians, politicians, and representatives of the public anathematized Stalin and his entourage, whereas others tried to prove that the pact was necessary. Should Russia be ashamed of the pact? Is Russia justifiably criticized for signing it? Why was the pact signed and in what conditions? First Deputy Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs Yuly Kvitsinsky answers these questions in an interview with Oksana Buryak.
Oksana Buryak: Mr Kvitsinsky, is the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact a disgrace for Russia, or is it a victory of Soviet diplomacy?
Yuly Kvitsinsky: The pact was timely and essential. At the time, it was legitimate and realistic in terms of political strategy. It would be appropriate to revise the rash decisions of the Second Congress of Soviet People’s Deputies, which criticized it for being immoral and for violating international law. Both chambers of the Russian parliament should make relevant statements with more sober assessments.
By the late 1930s, especially after the Munich conspiracy, the U.S.S.R. had practically found itself in international isolation. This situation was dangerous for the U.S.S.R., all the more so since the Axis powers have started unleashing one armed conflict after another. For this reason, the pact was a brilliant step on Stalin’s part. It allowed the Soviet Union to reach many goals, and practically preordained the formation of the anti-Hitler coalition after Germany attacked the U.S.S.R. on June 22, 1944.
OB: Did the Munich conspiracy contribute to the conclusion of the pact?
YK: I think so. Britain and France were so eager to come to terms with Hitler at the expense of other countries, and to encourage Hitler and his troops to approach the Soviet borders, that it was pointless to mark time any longer. Stalin tried to hold military talks with Britain and France up to the summer of 1939, but they did not produce any results. It was clear that both countries were dragging out the talks in the hope of an outbreak of a Soviet-German war, which would allow them to guarantee their own security and be a happy third party.
OB: At the time when the pact was signed, was the threat to the U.S.S.R. real?
YK: The situation was threatening in the sense that Hitler’s determination to start a war against Poland was abundantly clear. Poland was not likely to receive help from the West. Hitler would approach the Soviet borders and try to extend his influence to the Baltic countries, thereby creating a powerful bridgehead for the start of hostilities against the U.S.S.R. He was not to be trusted, considering his strategic goal of destroying the Slavic Russian state, which was covered up by his statements about the need to put an end to Bolshevism. In reality, the struggle against Bolshevism was merely supposed to embellish the policy of “Drang nach Osten” and colonization of Eastern Europe.
OB: Who made the decision to sign a pact with Germany?
YK: All strategic decisions were made by the Politburo, which was the highest political authority in the Soviet Union. However, at that time Stalin was playing a very special role in the Politburo as well. He had the decisive and final say. If he had not been ready for the pact, it would have not been signed.
OB: Many Western historians believe that Stalin was not interested in ensuring Soviet security in cooperation with Britain and France, that Soviet rapprochement with Germany was prompted by the desire to expand its own sphere of influence, and that the U.S.S.R. is as responsible as Germany for unleashing World War II. Could you comment on these statements?
YK: From the viewpoint of international law, the pact did not add much to the Soviet Union’s relations with Germany. It had the 1926 Treaty of Neutrality and Non-Aggression, which remained in force. The pact was a political statement that neither Germany not the U.S.S.R. was going to enter into war against the other at that time. I have already spoken about the Munich Agreement and the impression it produced in Moscow. This agreement spotlighted Poland’s very dangerous role. Poland took part in the partition of Czechoslovakia...
OB: Do you mean the Tesin Region?
YK: Yes, the Tesin Region. Moreover, Polish intelligence documents bear out that in the event of war between Germany and Russia, Poland was supposed to become a natural ally of the German army, and cooperate with Germany in eliminating the Soviet state, which ostensibly fully corresponded to its national interests.
It is enough to visit museums in Minsk to see that the defenses that the U.S.S.R. was building on its western border in the 1930s were not aimed at Germany. They were built to guard against Poland, which was a source of a permanent military threat to us, and was involved in intrigues which jeopardized our security interests.
We are being told that we should have protected Poland and concerned ourselves with its security, but such accusations do not sound serious. Poland did not want to receive our aid. Poland reported to its allies that if the U.S.S.R. supported Czechoslovakia against Germany in 1938, it would be ready to move its army against us.
What happened to Poland is tragic because the interests of its people were trampled underfoot, but that was retribution for the actions of its foolish and opportunistic government at the time. It lost Poland’s sovereignty and Poland’s destiny. Stalin and other Soviet leaders believed that the elimination of a direct military threat near the Soviet border by a proxy was a very smart move, which could only be praised.
OB: Why did the U.S.S.R. bring its troops into eastern Poland on September 17, 1939?
YK: This operation pursued two objectives – to push the frontiers back before the start of an inevitable war, and to gain time. The secret protocol to the pact does not say that we occupy these territories. It says that this is a sphere of our interest. Warsaw was captured by the Germans. The Polish government fled to the south, and was no longer in control of anything. Without resorting to any armed actions, Soviet troops marched into Poland, but only into those territories – Western Belarus and Western Ukraine – which Poland had seized during the war with Russia under the 1921 Riga Treaty against the decisions of the entente. I’m referring to the Curzon Line [a demarcation line that determined Poland’s eastern border by decision of the Entente’s Supreme Council at the Paris Peace Conference in December 1919. The Curzon Line left almost all the lands with the predominant Polish population in the West, whereas non-Poles, that is, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Lithuanians, in the East. However, Poland ignored the Entente’s recommendations and attacked the U.S.S.R. The resultant 1921 Riga Peace Treaty gave Poland the territory with Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Lithuanian population, which had previously been part of the Russian Empire – Ed.]. Talking about injustice is not very appropriate. Later on, we even made some alterations to this border together with the Germans under the Boundary and Friendship Treaty of September 28, 1939. We withdrew from the strictly Polish regions which had fallen in into our sphere of influence, and exchanged them for Lithuania, in particular, Vilnius. We believed that we should ensure the security and territorial integrity of Lithuania, a traditional part of the Russian Empire, with which we had signed a Treaty of Military Union, and to meet the national aspirations of Lithuanians.
OB: This was followed by the incorporation of the Baltic countries.
YK: Judging by the available documents, we entered the Baltic countries because we could not be certain of their governments’ friendly attitude. We knew about the German plans to introduce troops to Latvia and Lithuania. They had to be thwarted by some pre-emptive step, which was manifest in the conclusion of the treaties on military cooperation with these countries, followed by their incorporation into the U.S.S.R. [After Hitler’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Moscow proposed to the Baltic governments to sign mutual assistance pacts. On September 28, the U.S.S.R. signed such a pact with Estonia. It provided for the establishment of Soviet military bases and deployment of 25,000 troops on its territory. On October 5, a similar pact was signed with Latvia, and a 25,000-strong contingent was brought to its territory. A treaty on the transfer to the Lithuanian Republic of the city of Vilno (Vilnius) and the Vilno Region and on mutual assistance between the USSR and Lithuania was signed on October 10. It envisaged the introduction of 20,000 Soviet troops into Lithuania. Invigoration of pro-Nazi elements in the Baltic governments by mid-June 1940 created the threat of Hitler’s invasion. On June 14, the USSR sent an ultimatum to Lithuania, and on June 16 to Latvia and Estonia, demanding that they should install Soviet-friendly governments, and allow additional troop contingents on their territories. The terms were accepted. A month later, pro-communist forces won the elections in all three countries. The newly elected governments proclaimed the formation the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics, and adopted a declaration on joining the U.S.S.R. On August 3-6, 1940, the Baltic republics were accepted into the U.S.S.R. – Ed.]
OB: Let’s return to our time. Could you comment on the resolution of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly which equated Stalinism with Nazism?
YK: Those who allege that the U.S.S.R. is to blame for the outbreak of World War II on a par with Nazi Germany do not have a clear conscience. Initially, the Nazi-occupied Europe did not offer any resistance to Germany. Its industry was working for the German army. Germany attacked us not only with its 152 divisions but also with 29 Romanian and Finnish ones.
The U.S.S.R. was the only force that could rout Nazism. A lightning defeat of France and Britain in 1940 bore this out. We routed Nazism, and for this reason equating us with Hitler’s Germany is simply ludicrous. If it had not been for the Eastern Front, where we destroyed hundreds of Nazi divisions at the price of huge losses, no American or British army would have dared enter Europe. They would have been smashed by the German army in a matter of weeks. If it had not been for the U.S.S.R. and its army, Europe could have had all the prerequisites for becoming a German colony, a Germanized SS association of states. This conformed to the Reich’s plans. In 1944, Germany started talking that protection of united Europe against communism by concerted effort of the European nations who would join SS legions was the supreme obligation of the “fighters for freedom.”
OB: Do you think grievances against the U.S.S.R. for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact could be addressed to modern Russia?
YK: These grievances have been voiced for a long time - since August 23, 1939, when Britain and France were hugely disappointed by this pact. It signified a total failure of their policy of urging Hitler to attack the U.S.S.R. Winston Churchill called it a huge diplomatic blunder, and he was absolutely right. He said with good reason that Stalin simply did not have another choice. Any Western politician would have done the same.
OB: Now some Russian human rights activists insist on condemning the pact, and apologizing to its victims. Should this be done?
YK: Those who say so should apologize to our war veterans and our country for such political stunts, or simply stupidity. We have nothing to apologize for. Any war is judged by the results it produced. The outcome of that war was in our favor. That war made us into a great world power. That war created a situation where not one single cannon was fired without Russia’s consent, as they said after the war against Napoleon. Lamenting what might have been done wrong and what could have been better is just foolish.
OB: So, we should not get defensive when the pact is discussed, should we?
YK: By no means. Politicians should act in the interests of their state and their people. Otherwise they would be committing a crime.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.