Stalin didn't start World War II, says Medvedev


This summer, the Baltic states have blamed Hitler and Stalin equally. Russia, meanwhile, is fingering Poland.
Ultimately, however, the row which threatens to eclipse a gathering on Tuesday of European leaders in Gdansk is not about history or the past. It is all about the present, specifically Russia’s claim of having “privileged interests” in its post-Soviet neighbours.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made his own explosive contribution to the debate, saying it was a “flat-out lie” to suggest that Stalin bore any responsibility for starting the second world war. According to Medvedev, it was Stalin who in fact “ultimately saved Europe”. In an interview with Rossiya TV earlier on Monday, Medvedev let rip at the EU Baltic states and Ukraine, accusing them of rewriting history, glorifying fascism, and obscuring the Soviet Union’s unique leading role in the liberation of Europe. He also blasted the EU and its Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, which, in July, passed a resolution equating Stalinism with Nazism. Medvedev alleged that there could be no debate at all over “who started the war, which country killed people, and which  country saved people, millions of people, and which country, ultimately, saved Europe”. He accused governments in the Baltic states and Ukraine of “pronouncing former Nazi accomplices to be their national heroes”.

The pronouncements from Russia’s president came as the leaders of Russia, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania prepared to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the war in the Polish city of Gdansk. Russia is sending prime minister Vladimir Putin, whose presence near the place where Hitler began his Polish invasion, shelling a military depot, is unlikely to dispel the present rancour. Old tensions are resurfacing amid attempts by Moscow to defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, signed by Germany and the Soviet Union 70 years ago.

The deal saw Hitler and Stalin carve up Europe, with Moscow subsequently annexing Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, two-thirds of Poland and much of Romania. The Kremlin now argues that Stalin had no choice but to forge the pact with Hitler in August 1939. It says Britain and France made war inevitable by signing the Munich agreement. And it puts the boot firmly into Poland; the Kremlin says the country was a willing Nazi ally and accomplice to Hitler’s partition of Czechoslovakia the previous year. Historians are unimpressed. “This is a very stupid argument,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, a historian and former Russian opposition MP said. “You are saying that Poland was bad for allowing the division of Czechoslovakia, but that Stalin was good when he agreed to divide eastern Europe with Hitler.”

He added: “The Kremlin wants to create a new identity for the Russian nation. It advocates the Stalin regime, and promotes the idea that Stalin’s actions were right and necessary at all times, including when Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.”
So far, there are few signs that the dispute will fade. Russia has promised to reveal more documents about Poland on Tuesday from the secret archives of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

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