The debate on the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the USSR have been deliberately whipped up by the West as an opportunity to lodge various historical, political and even financial grievances with Russia and discredit the country’s foreign and domestic policies. To that end, a series of resolutions were passed between 2006 and 2009 by PACE, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. In these resolutions, the political structure of the USSR in the 1930s and 1940s was compared to the Nazi regime in Germany, responsibility for the outbreak of World War II was placed on both countries, and the date the treaty was signed – 23 August 1939 – was declared the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.
Speculation surrounding treaties between the USSR and Germany began immediately after the end of World War II. At that time, the UK and the US needed to justify new plans of aggression against the USSR and divert global attention away from their own collaboration with Nazi Germany. But the greatest demonisation of the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was in the final years of the USSR and especially after its collapse. It served as a political tool in the separation of the Baltic States and Moldova from the USSR and then in the acceleration of their accession to the EU and NATO.
So how fair are the evaluations of the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? Was this document any different from other similar agreements of that period? Did it help or hinder bringing World War II to an end? Let’s try to figure it out.
When the treaty was signed, the World War II had already started in Europe and had been under way in the world more generally for some time (it was a world war, after all). Since July 1937, an armed conflict had been raging in the Far East between Japan and China, participants in the future world war. Also, in Europe itself, Germany had sent troops into Czechoslovakia (Bohemia and Moravia) on 14 March 1939 in violation of the terms of the Anglo-Franco-German-Italian agreement known as the Munich Agreement on the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory of Czechoslovakia. Even earlier, in September 1938, the Cieszyn region of Czechoslovakia was occupied by Poland, acting in collusion with Hitler, and, in March 1938, Carpatho-Ukraine was occupied by Hungary. In early April 1939, Hitler ordered the implementation of Fall Weiss – the plan for the invasion of Poland – the beginning of which was originally scheduled for 25 August that same year.
Against this background, accusing the USSR of initiating the World War II by signing a non-aggression pact with Germany seems strange to say the least. On the contrary, in anticipation of the impending catastrophe, which, by then, everyone knew was inevitable, every country was trying to do what it could to delay its arrival on their soil.
Since 1938, the Soviet Union had actually already been at war in the Far East with one of the future aggressors in the World War II – Japan. So warfare on two fronts did not serve the strategics interests of the country. As such, when another potential aggressor – Germany – approached Soviet leaders and suggested a peace agreement, the USSR’s decision was completely understandable.
Poland had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1934. England and France had signed mutual non-aggression pacts with Germany in 1938. And Estonia and Latvia had formalised relations with Berlin in this area in 1939. Under the circumstances, the action taken by Moscow was not only natural, but logical.
You have to hand it to Western propagandists, the idea of the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the USSR as a criminal conspiracy between two totalitarian “empires of evil” has firmly entered public consciousness and is actually taken by many as a given. But criminal charges should not be based on emotional factors, but on the specific provisions of international law that were trampled on (“violated”) by the pact between Germany and USSR. Yet, in all these years, no one has been able to provide such evidence. Not a single argument!
From a legal point of view, the non-aggression pact itself is impeccable. Yes, Soviet leaders knew about Germany’s planned invasion of Poland, as did the British, by the way. But there is no provision in international law that would have obliged the USSR in this situation to abandon neutrality and join the war on the side of Poland. It is also important to note that, first, Poland had been pursuing a hostile policy against the Soviet Union and, second, shortly before the pact was signed, Poland had officially refused to accept Moscow’s guarantees for its security.
The pact’s secret protocols, which have been used to all but scare children over the last 30 years, have been a standard diplomatic practice since ancient times to the present day.
The secret protocols were not unlawful in form or substance. There has never been a provision in international law that prohibits states from delimiting their spheres of interest. Otherwise, it would mean that countries actually had the absurd obligation to confront each other on the territory of third countries.
Nor does the delimitation of spheres of interest contradict the principle enshrined in international law of the sovereign equality of all states. The pact did not contain any decisions that were binding on third countries. Otherwise, why would they be kept secret for future implementers? The widespread accusation that Hitler gave Stalin the Baltic states, eastern Poland and Bessarabia in the secret protocols is pure demagogy. Essentially, Hitler could not have handed over something that did not belong to him, even if he had wanted to.
“Progressive humanity”, apparently so concerned with the wrongfulness of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, should pay attention to the UK and the US, which did not divide between themselves the “spheres of interests” in third countries, but the resources in these third countries. “Persian oil… is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it’s ours” (Franklin Roosevelt to British Ambassador Lord Halifax, 18 February 1944). PACE, OSCE, the US Congress and others, which have all adopted a number of resolutions condemning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, seem to have conveniently forgotten about this criminal conspiracy.
The idea that the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the USSR is immoral has been driven into the public consciousness even more firmly than the idea that it is criminal. Politicians and historians talk about the immorality of the treaty almost unanimously, without troubling themselves with the reasons for such an evaluation. It usually all boils down to pathetic statements about colluding with Nazi Germany and Hitler as “the personification of evil”. But here again, we are dealing with deliberate and cynical demagogy.
Prior to 22 June 1941, Hitler was the legitimate and internationally recognised head of one of Europe’s major powers as far as the USSR was concerned. Nazi crimes had not yet been committed when the treaty was signed. Was Germany a likely potential adversary of the USSR? Undoubtedly. But, at that time, France and the UK were also potential adversaries of the USSR. One has only to recall that, in 1940, they were preparing an attack on the USSR to give the world war the character of a European “crusade against Bolshevism” and at least force the Third Reich to go east, thereby saving the war scenario developed by British strategists from collapse.
As can be seen, all of the many accusations thrown at the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the USSR are historically, legally and morally groundless. So why, exactly, is there such hatred for a document that expired 78 years ago (on 22 June 1941)?
A careful analysis and deep understanding of the meaning behind the historical events of World War II provides the answer to this question. The treaty changed the timetable of the inevitable war and the post-war balance of power. It made it impossible for the US and the UK to enter Eastern Europe at the beginning of the war because they had to defend Western Europe. And, following victory, the USSR was already there.
As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs, the fact that such an agreement between Berlin and Moscow was possible meant that British and French diplomacy had failed: they did not manage to direct Nazi aggression against the USSR, and nor did they manage to make the Soviet Union their ally before World War II.