3 March 2022
by Leonid Nevzlin
On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union entered World War II, entered on the side of Nazi Germany. To the end of their days, neither Stalin nor the Soviet Union would admit this.
What has taken place, so the Kremlin says, is by no means a war but an operation to save the life and property of western Ukrainians and western Belarussians. It has even been called a “liberation campaign.” By the way, even today I’ve encountered this in the statements of rabid pro-Kremlin patriots: “Russia’s liberation campaign against Ukraine.”
The most monstrous war in the entire history of humanity began on 1 September with the Third Reich attacking Poland, which separated it territorially from the Soviet Union. Immediately before, a pact had been concluded according to whose terms Soviet troops were supposed to occupy the eastern portion of what was then Poland. Ideological justifications for the Soviet military invasion into Poland did not take long to find.
On 14 September, Zhdanov, the chief Kremlin ideologue, wrote an article for Pravda in which he stated that “the Polish state, founded on the oppression of the Belarussians and Ukrainians residing on its territory, has proven itself unable to function.” This state was reactionary and oppressive, and the Ukrainians and Belarussians in it were just waiting for the Red Army to come liberate them from this yoke. What is more, the Kremlin statement of 16 September said that “third powers are attempting to profit from the ensuing chaos… The Soviet Union believes it to be its duty to intervene to defend its Ukrainian and Belarussian brothers and give this unfortunate population the chance to labor peacefully.”
Soviet citizens had it all explained to them in detail over the radio by Foreign Affairs Narkom (Minister) Molotov, who told them about the Polish state’s internal bankruptcy and obvious incompetence. He reported that Poland had become a convenient field for all kinds of coincidences and surprises that could create a threat for the Soviet Union. And, naturally, he alluded to the brotherhood of nations:
“The Soviet government cannot be required to remain indifferent toward the fate of its kindred Ukrainians and Belarussians residing in Poland and previously in the status of disfranchised nations … The Soviet government considers it its sacred duty to lend a helping hand to its brother Ukrainians and brother Belarussians.”
He assured that “our Worker-Peasant Red Army will show this time, too, its military might, its consciousness and discipline, that it will carry out its great liberation mission with new deeds, heroism, and glory.” And he put those panicking on notice that “our country has everything it needs and can get along without a rationing system for supplies.”
It’s fairly terrifying to quote these propagandistic passages. They coincide almost wholly with the present-day Russian ones, to the point that one suspects that the Kremlin speechwriters have been cribbing from the age-yellowed pages of Pravda.
Russia today is acting by exactly the same methods and justifying them with exactly the same ideological bullshit as the Soviet Union did in 1939. However, although Putin is trying to play at the Soviet Union, present-day Ukraine is by no means a trounced 1939 Poland. It will not surrender. And fortunately for humanity, today there isn’t another Hitler to share both Ukraine and the historical responsibility for the war.
Translated by Marian Schwartz