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Thursday, May 20, 2021

May 20, 2021

We are all used to The Times’ hostility when it comes to Russia, but their leading article published after the Victory Day celebrations takes it to a new level. In fact, to my recollection, a more strongly-worded, aggressive piece has not been published by the British newspaper to date. It requires dismantling as it poses many problems related to our understanding of events in the historical record.
The fact that this hatchet job paints Russia’s Victory Day celebrations as a feature of ‘a regime that depends on lies’ is the epitome of cynicism, and clearly an attempt to discredit anything even remotely positive associated with Russia as part of the current ‘containment’ policy towards Russia. Brutally undermining the almost sacred, reverent quality of this remembrance day, the author tries to invalidate it altogether: “The very act of the wartime commemoration is saturated with deceit.”

As an example of this ‘deceit’, the author provides the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of August 1939, which he accuses President Putin of justifying in ‘the context of appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France.’ The fact is, academics are divided over Stalin’s motivation for entering the Nazi-Soviet pact, but many agree that the behaviour of Britain and France did indeed lead the Soviets to forge an alliance with Hitler, as they knew how anti-Communist their European neighbours were and that the formation of another pact between Britain, France and Germany could not be ruled out. After all, Britain had appeased Hitler, allowing him to invade and occupy Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. This laissez-faire approach was cemented by the Munich agreement in September 1938. Russian scholars have pointed out Stalin was making his move first and also buying up time to reinforce his army in case of a German attack - which incidentally took place in June 1941. Besides, as Anatol Lieven has asked, if Stalin had taken a different path and risked war with Germany in 1939; what would Britain and France have done to help? He writes ‘The answer is blindingly obvious: Just what they did to help Poland - nothing.’

Other western academics, such as Geoffrey Roberts, have emphasised the extent to which the Nazi-Soviet pact was a last resort for Stalin. In his book, ‘The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War’ the British historian writes that ‘not until the final breakdown of the military negotiations with Britain and France were the German invited to cross the threshold’. He portrays the alliance as an act of desperation on the part of Stalin who ultimately didn’t want war, and was not ready for it. This view is backed up by Jonathon Haslam, who in his 1984 book stated that the Soviets were left with ‘little alternative’ but to forge an agreement with Hitler, given the ‘evident unwillingness of the Entente to provide immediate, concrete, and water-tight guarantees for Soviet security in Europe.’ For the author of The Times article, therefore, to cite this historical event as one which highlights contemporary Russian government falsehoods is, at best misleading, and quite frankly, in itself, deceitful.

A further incident highlighted by The Times’ piece is the Katyn massacre, the mass killing of 22,000 Polish military personnel by the Soviet secret police in 1940. The fact that this took place cannot be argued with, but it is worth remembering that this heinous crime was one of many such atrocities which occurred during the Second World War. The British and Americans were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 22,700 to 25,000 people when they bombed the German city of Dresden in 1945. Have the British apologised for Dresden? No. On the other hand, President Putin condemned the Katyn massacre and apologised for the Soviet cover-up in 2010 when he met with then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in a joint ceremony. Putin said then that ‘this crime cannot be justified in any way’ and acknowledged that the Soviet authorities lied about it for decades.

Given such open, honest rhetoric of Soviet failings by the Russian leadership, it’s not quite clear why The Times is spinning these historical events in such a way. One can only assume that there is a political agenda at play here; highlighting the Nazi-Soviet pact in a bid to equate the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany. As such it attempts to discredit the USSR’s incredible victory against fascism and ignore the 27 million Soviet lives lost during the Second World War . It is instead part of a broader, contemporary geopolitical goal to paint Russia as the West’s mortal enemy. The author is conflating specific historical events with contemporary Russian strategy in order to demonise the current Russian leadership, and he maintains a completely uncompromising stance throughout the article. Ironically, this piece itself stinks of a Communist show trial: Putin is placed in the docks while the author hurls accusation after accusation at him, crimes which the Russian leader did not commit, cannot possibly be held responsible for, and is not given any chance to refute. Britain: it’s not only time you read up on your history, but it’s time you looked in the mirror.

By Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

You can follow her on Twitter.

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