At the end of 2019, the Russian authorities, headed by Vladimir Putin, launched a frontal attack on Poland, based on historical policy. Although the goals of this attack are definitely contemporary, the narrative presented by Russia is a copy of Soviet propaganda.
Russia argues that we should be grateful, because the Soviet Union liberated Poland and saved Europe from Hitler’s victory. Vladimir Putin carefully chooses facts that are convenient for him and the Soviet Union. The truth is different than it could be inferred from statements made by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I do not want to present meticulously Russian propaganda in my text. I focus on how it really was.
On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and the Third German Reich signed the Ribentropp-Molotov pact. Soviet propaganda, followed by Putin’s propaganda, argues that it was a mere non-aggression pact. When we carefully follow the text(you can do it here), we will notice non-standard entries for such documents. Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were divided into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”. Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its “political rearrangement”: the areas east of the Pisa, Narev, Vistula and San rivers would go to the Soviet Union, while Germany would occupy the west.
The provisions of the pact, although in the part I mentioned were not initially made public, were quickly implemented. In September 1939, Hitler attacked Poland from the west, and then the Red Army launched an invasion from the east. When the allied Soviet and German forces met in Brest, a joint victory parade of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army was organized there on September 22, 1939.
The signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 was preceded by the conclusion of trade agreements that ensured the supply of raw materials from the Soviet Union to the German Third Reich. In 1935–36 in Berlin, Soviet-German talks on trade cooperation were taking place on the initiative of the Soviet Union. Agreements concluded in 1939 and 1940 provided for the exchange of Soviet raw materials and food for German technologies as well as privileged prices for the transport of goods from the Far East. So it is clear that Stalin not only cooperated with Hitler, but also enabled Hitler’s war intentions to be realized.
The Soviets sold to Germany:
- 1,600,000 tonnes of grain;
- 900,000 tonnes of kerosene;
-200,000 tons of cotton;
-140,000 tons of manganese;
- 200,000 tonnes of phosphates;
- 20,000 tonnes of chromium ore;
- 18,000 tonnes of rubber;
- 100,000 tonnes of soybeans;
- 500,000 tonnes of iron ore;
- 300,000 tonnes of scrap metal;
- 2000 kilograms of platinum.
The Soviets not only supplied Germany with its own goods, but also bought raw materials in countries fighting the Third German Reich, and then delivered them to their ally (e.g. rubber from India). Trade (beneficial for Germany) with the Soviet Union was so great that in September and October 1940 it reached over 80% of the value of total imports to the Third German Reich. Overall, from June 1940 to June 1941, it did not fall below 50%. The fruitful cooperation was interrupted by the German attack on the Soviet Union.
Soviet propaganda, followed by Putin propaganda, explained the entry of the Red Army into Poland on September 17, 1939 by protecting Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities living in areas that had left the Polish state. In fact, the Polish highest authorities went into exile only after Soviet aggression on the night of 17/18 September, while warfare continued. The Soviet army had to face the Polish army, even during the defense of Grodno from 20 to 22 September 1939. Once again, it turned out that it was impossible to win the war on two fronts. The Polish capital, Warsaw, defended itself until 28 September. The last battle against the aggressors by the regular Polish army was the battle of Kock from October 2 to October 6, 1939. It was many days after the Red Army entered.
On September 28, 1939, immediately after the capitulation of Warsaw, in the pact on borders and friendship concluded in Moscow, the German Reich and the Soviet Union, contrary to international law, delineated the German-Soviet border on the military-occupied territory of Poland. The underground administration and the underground Polish Army were recreated in the occupied country. On October 6, 1939, in a speech in the Reichstag, Adolf Hitler publicly offered peace to France and Great Britain, provided these countries recognize the conquest of Poland and the partition of its territory between the Third German Reich and the Soviet Union. The proposal in Hitler’s speech was rejected in a speech by Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons on October 12, 1939.
Since the beginning of the aggression against Poland, the Red Army and NKVD have committed many war crimes, murdering prisoners of war and massacring civilians. Avenging for resistance put up in Grodno, surrendering soldiers of the Polish Army were shot massively. In the spring of 1940, the NKVD shot over 20,000 Polish prisoners of war, which was called the Katyn massacre. In 1940–1990, the Soviet authorities denied their responsibility for the Katyn massacre, and on April 13, 1990, they officially acknowledged that it was “one of the grave crimes of Stalinism.”
Only when the German Third Reich was not enough to divide the spoils under the Ribentropp-Molotov pact and attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Stalin changed sides and soon took the side of the Allies. In theory, the Soviet Union became an ally of Poland, which it partially occupied. In practice, when the Soviet army reached Poland, they first waited for the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising, and only then began their further offensive. They did not want to liberate Poland, but they wanted it to shift westwards the border of influence, which Stalin had previously agreed with Hitler. Stalin established the puppet state “Polish People’s Republic”, with the territory truncated and shifted to the west, reporting to the Soviet Union. The first fully free and democratic parliamentary elections in Poland after World War II took place in 1991.
As a result of World War II, Poland was not liberated, but was in the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviet Union and then Russia are trying to present the war for influence between allies as a war against fascism and for the liberation of Central Europe. In fact, Central Europe was liberated only in the late 80’s and 90's.