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Russia calls Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 a ‘march of liberation’

Halya Coynash

Nazi and Soviet soldiers meeting after both countries had invaded Poland Photo TASS from October 1939

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has marked the 82nd anniversary of the USSR’s invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939 by claiming that this was ‘a campaign of liberation’.  Russia has thus reverted to the Soviet attempts to justify what was, in fact, a pact between Stalin and Hitler to carve up what was internationally recognized as Polish territory.  

The message from the Foreign Ministry was posted on Twitter together with a video.  The tweet reads that “On 17 September 1939, the Red Army began its march of liberation onto the territory of Poland. Soviet soldiers went onto the Curzon Line, preventing the Wehrmacht from reaching Minsk.  The peoples of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine greeted the Soviet soldiers with rejoicing.”  The video then asserts the following: “In the course of the operation, Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, which had been occupied by Poland since 1921-1922 were liberated. Attempts by scholars and the media to present this operation as an act of aggression by the USSR are thwarted by the real facts.  On 1 September 1939, the Germans entered Poland. Berlin insistently called on Moscow to join in the military action.  The Soviet leadership, however, ignored the calls and refused to join in the conflict until the last possible moment.  When it transpired that part of the Wehrmacht were able to move on Minsk, the decision was taken to send in troops.  The Soviet Union had on several occasions tried to persuade Poland to conclude an agreement on mutual assistance in countering German aggression.  The Polish leadership, however, rejected mutual action with the Red Army in countering the Wehrmacht.  Warsaw demonstrated support for the aggressive policy of the Nazis which was in line with its own expansionist plans. “

The video then goes on to rather loosely quote Winston Churchill without providing any context, in order to push the line that Poland was ‘to blame’ for being invaded. 

It appears that Churchill wrote the following: [talking about Britain and France guaranteeing Poland’s integrity] of that very Poland which with hyena appetite had only six months before joined in the pillage and destruction of the Czechoslovak State.”   Churchill was generally angry over the Munich Agreement and believed that democratic countries should have fought for Czechoslovakia in 1938, instead of the shameful policy of appeasement (during which Poland did indeed take the opportunity to join in the land-grab).

If the above just distorted facts, what comes next is simply impossible to quote verbatim. This is the version of ‘history’ presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin in an article published by the American newspaper the National Interest on 18 June 2020.  The following words from that article are quoted: “The blame for the tragedy that Poland then suffered lies entirely with the Polish leadership ), throwing its own people under the steamroller of Hitler’s machine of destruction.” 

The following claim that Moscow simply couldn’t allow Poland to fall completely to the Nazis since this would have put it in a weaker position is glaringly at odds with the facts.  The secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement had been signed back on 23 August 1939 with these agreeing ‘spheres of influence’, otherwise known as the carving up of Poland between Nazi Germany and the USSR. 

As with its invasion and annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, Moscow is brazenly justifying the violation of borders it once agreed to.  Yes, 100 years later, the territory in question is an integral part of Ukraine and Belarus, but in the Treaty of Riga in 1921, the USSR did agree that the territory in question was part of Poland.  It then proceeded to invade this territory on 17 September 1939, in accord with the secret parts of its pact with Nazi Germany.

There was stunned incredulity back in 2016 when a Perm blogger was convicted in Russia of so-called ‘rehabilitation of Nazism’ for reposting a text that correctly stated that “The communists and Germany jointly invaded Poland, sparking off the Second World War”.   There was even greater consternation when the conviction was upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court.  This incredible criminal prosecution and steep fine are now awaiting examination by the European Court of Human Rights.

It is now apparent that Moscow really is attempting to rewrite history, omitting or distorting evidence that proves the lie, and claiming that it is “the scholars and media” whose facts are wrong.   Within Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, so many repressive laws have recently been introduced, and so many moves towards taking over the writing of history textbooks, that such methods could prove terrifyingly effective.

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