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Alternative Accounts of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: a history of the US-Russia relations during World War II, part IV

Alternative Accounts of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: a history of the US-Russia relations during World War II, part IV

Hitler disliked the photograph taken when the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact was signed in the Kremlin because it showed Stalin with a cigarette in his hand. Hitler felt the cigarette was unsuited to the historic occasion and had it airbrushed from the photo when it was published in Germany.

Cont’d from part III

September 1, 1939  A. H. Auden [1]

I sit in one of the dives on Fifty-Second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night…


FDR’s historic recognition of the Soviet Union as a bona fide member of the international community [2] did not live up to expectations during the turmoil that preceded the outbreak of World War II. And it wasn’t the Soviets’ fault!

Au contraire, Moscow made several overtures to the Western powers to solidify the ongoing relations, especially considering what seemed like an impending storm gathering over all of Europe, only to be rebuffed by lack of response, if not downright rejection.

The first such occasion was on September 1938 at the Munich Conference[3] at which time the Soviets tried to reach a collective-security agreement with Britain and France against Nazi Germany, to no avail. [4] [5]

On March 31, 1939, once it became apparent that Hitler was planning to strike against neighboring Poland, France and Britain pledged to guarantee Poland’s security and independence. Furthermore, the British and French also stepped up diplomatic engagement with the Soviet Union, trying to draw it closer through trade and other agreements to make Hitler see he would also have to face Stalin if he invaded Poland.

So encouraged, especially since another worldwide war was about to erupt, the Soviets renewed their efforts on August 1939, once again hoping for a British-Soviet-French tripartite alliance against the Nazi menace, but it was too little and too late: for a variety of reasons, most of which stemming from the West’s “natural” distrust of anything Russian, the Soviet outreach was met with another rebuff, this time of enormous consequence. [6] (See “Why didn’t the USSR join Allies in 1939?”Oleg Yegorov’s September 26, 2019 article in Russia Beyond.)

The result was the August 23, 1939Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact [7] –also, see this article in History–preceded by the German-Soviet Economic/Credit Agreement of August 19. 1939[8] which “proved instrumental in helping Germany bypass the British blockade during the early years of World War II, committed the Soviet Union to provide food products and raw materials to Germany in exchange for products such as German machinery for the Soviet Union.” [9] 


In spite of its rather self-explanatory character, not to mention valid reasons for the Nazi-Soviet pact, it remains subject to willful misrepresentations to this day.

The facts and the rationale are simple enough. The agreement stipulated that Germany and the Soviet Union wouldn’t attack each other and that any problem that might arise between the two countries was to be handled amicably. As to the rationale, “Stalin hoped to keep the Soviet Union at peace with Germany to gain time to build up the Soviet military establishment, which had been badly weakened by the purge of the Red Army officer corps in 1937. The Western democracies’ hesitance in opposing Adolf Hitler… also played a part in Stalin’s final choice.” [10] And yet, the agreement constantly gets brought up, especially by East European politicians who, out of hostility to Russia, seek to apportion blame equally between Germany and Russia for the start of the Second World War. [12]    


The Nazis and the Soviets kept the terms of the pact and the protocol until Germany’s surprise attack and invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, otherwise known as Operation Barbarossa—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare along the western Soviet Union 1,800 miles front with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. [13] [14] [15 [16]

The day after, in a national radio broadcast, Stalin told the Russian people of his dissolution of the non-aggression pact and declaration of war with Germany, which marks the beginning of The Great Patriotic War. It was only thereafter, on July 12, 1941, that the Anglo-Soviet mutual assistance pact was signed into force and that the Soviet Union, along with the United States, United Kingdom (and China), was “officially” recognized as one of the principal Allies, forming the so-called Grand Alliance (“the Big Three,” that is).[17]

Even so, the Soviets’ contribution to defeating Hitlerism is still being questioned in some quarters. And yet, it’s indisputable that in the absence of the Soviets’ forced participation in World War II, the Allies’ ultimate victory might have been in doubt. At the very least, it forced Hitler to fight on two fronts—the very thing he dreaded the most, taking his lessons from the Great War, which ended in an unmitigated disaster. [18]   


The sequence of events on the Eastern front and beyond (viz., including the Red Army’s series of counteroffensives)–starting with Germany’s launching of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, and ending with its unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945—has already been chronicled in sufficient detail in endnotes 8 thru 11, so there’s no need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say, the USSR’s successful efforts at halting the German aggression and then some—i.e., in turning the tables by contributing to Germany’s defeat—couldn’t go unnoticed. Indeed, regardless of wishful thinking, the Soviets had to be acknowledged as one of the de facto victors, if only as a matter of Realpolitik.

The result was a number of wartime- and post-war conferences, each of these attended by the respective heads of state of the Big Three. [19]


The first of these was the Tehran Conference—a strategy meeting of Joseph StalinFranklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill held in the Soviet Union‘s embassy in Tehran, after the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran. Although the three leaders arrived with different objectives in mind, the main outcome of the Tehran Conference, which concluded on December 1943, was the Western Allies‘ commitment to open a second front against Nazi Germany.[20]

Next, we see the Yalta Conference (February 4-11, 1945), aiming at “shap[ing] a postwar peace that represented not only a collective security order but also a plan to give self-determination to the liberated peoples of Europe.” [21] [22] [23] [24]

The last of the major conferences was at Potsdam (July 17 to August 2, 1945), and its aim was “to allow the three leading Allies to plan the postwar peace while avoiding the mistakes of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.” Additional objectives of the Potsdam Conference included establishing the postwar order, solving issues on the peace treaty while countering the effects of the war, and agreeing on how to administer post-war Germany. [25] 


There were plenty of repercussions because of these conferences, many of which came to shape the future of East-West relations for years to come, and I shall address some of them in the forthcoming installment. But surely, one of the most immediate, if not all-determining, aftereffects of the Big Three meetings—of the Potsdam Conference in particular—has got to be the partition of Berlin and the rest of Germany by the victors. [26]

As to the whole of Germany, it was subdivided on August 30, 1945, into four occupation zones (France included [27])in accord with the Allied Control Council’s resolution. [28] Almost simultaneously, Berlin suffered the same fate: it, too, was subdivided into the same four occupation zones. Prior to its subdivision, at the very conclusion of World War II in Europe, all of Berlin was in the Soviet’s hands. Germany’s capital, however, was of symbolic value, so much so, the Allies argued, that it had to be partitioned as well.

The Soviets had no choice but to agree. Immediately thereafter, an administrative body, Allied Kommandatura, was formed. Armed with powers of enforcement, its sole purpose was to oversee the state of affairs within Berlin proper and, to the extent possible, to maintain the letter and the spirit of the binding agreement. Quite aptly, the Kommadatura was nicknamed “the little brother” of the Allied Control Council. For whereas the latter was encharged with administrating all of Germany, the former’s function was identical, though limited in scope. It concerned the state of affairs in Berlin and Berlin only. [29]  


In some of the endnotes, I traced the unfolding events in post-World War II Europe (the USSR included) beyond Germany and Berlin subdivisions, even up to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet state and the formation of the Russian Federation to stand in its stead. Although this little excursion falls somewhat beyond the intended purview of this article—which deals more or less only with the most immediate consequences of the Allies’ victory and the contours of the emerging post-war Central and Eastern Europe (again, the USSR included)–I deemed it essential to extend the narrative beyond the stipulated bounds, if only to provide the reader with a cursory glimpse of the total picture.

I may have to revisit some of those themes in the following installment, dealing with the events that precipitated the Cold War and which eventually led to its conclusion. The focus, once again, will be on the West-East relations during so critical a period.

  1. See this Wiki entry.
  2. See “Recognition of the Soviet Union, 1933” in U.S. Department of State/Archive.
  3. By May 1938, it was known that Hitler and his generals were drawing up a plan for the occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovaks were relying on military assistance from France, with which they had an alliance. The Soviet Union also had a treaty with Czechoslovakia, and it indicated a willingness to cooperate with France and Great Britain if they decided to come to Czechoslovakia’s defense, but the Soviet Union and its potential services were ignored throughout the crisis (see “Munich Agreement, Europe [1938]” in Britannica).
  4. See 1939 “German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact,” in Britannica. Also, see “’ A Situation of Delicacy and Danger’: Anglo-Soviet Relations, August 1939-March 1940,” Michael Jabara Carley’s article in Contemporary European History, Vol. 8, No. 2 (July 1999), pp. 175-208. See this pdf.
  5.  “End of the ‘Low, Dishonest Decade’: Failure of the Anglo-Franco-Soviet Alliance in 1939”–a 1993 article by the same author, this time published by Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (1993), pp. 303-341—is one of the most incisive articles on the failure of the thirties. Quite aptly, the article (see this pdf) starts with a verse by W. H. Auden, written at the outbreak of World War II, and proceeds with a damning indictment of the West for its policy of appeasement: Auden’s ‘low, dishonest decade’ began with the Great Depression and unfolded as Nazism and Stalinism oppressed Europe and Soviet Asia. The Anglo-French policy of appeasement led to the abandonment of Abyssinia, Austria,, and Spain and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia. Yet despite all this, the decade was not without moments of hope. The USSR, and especially its commissar for foreign affairs, Maxim Maximovich Litvinov, offered ‘collective security,’ or an anti-Nazi alliance, to France and Great Britain. Paradoxically, Stalin’s blood-drenched wickedness did not mean that Soviet foreign policy was wicked as well. But in France and Great Britain, the determination to resist fascism was sapped by hatred of bolshevism, fear of socialist revolution, and sneaking admiration for Hitler’s repression of the left.
  6. The consequence was “The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact: the 1939 agreement between Hitler and Stalin,” as per Jennifer Rosenberg’s March 30, 2020 article in ThoughtCo. See the article’s subsection, “Why Did Hitler Want the Pact?” which reads: Germany’s participation in a two-front war in World War I had split its forces, weakening and undermining their offensive strength. As he prepared for war in 1939, Hitler was determined not to repeat the same mistakes. While he’d hoped to acquire Poland without force, the necessity to diminish the possibility of a two-front war as a consequence of the invasion was clear. On the Soviet side, the pact followed the breakdown of British-Soviet-French negotiations for a tripartite alliance in early August 1939. According to Russian sources, the alliance failed because Poland and Romania refused to accept the passage of Soviet military forces across their territory; but it is also true that Stalin mistrusted British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and the Conservative party in England, and believed they would not fully support Russian interests. Thus, negotiation for Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was born.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The Soviet Union could not reach a collective-security agreement with Britain and France against Nazi Germany, most notably at the time of the Munich Conference in September 1938. By early 1939 the Soviets faced the prospect of resisting German military expansion in Eastern Europe virtually alone, and so they began searching about for a change of policy. On May 3, 1939, Stalin fired Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov, who was Jewish and an advocate of collective security, and replaced him with Vyacheslav Molotov, who soon began negotiations with the Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. The Soviets also kept negotiating with Britain and France, but in the end, Stalin chose to reach an agreement with Germany. By doing so, he hoped to keep the Soviet Union at peace with Germany and to gain time to build up the Soviet military establishment, which had been weakened by the purge of the Red Army officer corps in 1937 (see endnote 0). The Western democracies’ hesitance in opposing Hitler also played a part in Stalin’s final choice. 
  9. Also, see Great Purge, a Wiki entry.
  10. See the link in endnote #3.
  11. See “The Truth About the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of August 23rd,, 1939 and Its Secret Protocol,” in Russia Insider.
  12. The following may be the most astute assessment of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, and I’m citing here from A. J. P. Taylor’s classic, The Origins of the Second World War (1961)—a pdf. The relevant passage follows: However one spins the crystal and tries to look into the future from the point of view of 23 August 1939, it is difficult to see what other course Soviet Russia could have followed. The Soviet apprehensions of a European alliance against Russia were exaggerated, though not groundless. But, quite apart from this – given the Polish refusal of Soviet aid, given, too, the British policy of drawing out negotiations in Moscow without seriously striving for a conclusion – neutrality, with or without a formal pact, was the most that Soviet diplomacy could attain; and limitation of German gains in Poland and the Baltic was the inducement which made a formal pact attractive. I’ll speak to Poland’s role as a major stumbling block to the British-Soviet alliance in endnote #12—a theme that’s been echoed by Lloyd George, the former British PM, in his speech to the House of Commons. Meanwhile, let’s not lose track of the fact that A.J. P. Taylor speaks to the utter failure of western diplomacy—the one factor that just might have prevented the Second World War and all of its horrors.
  13. The Poles stuck by this position throughout the ensuing crisis, rejecting proposals for an alliance with the USSR or for Soviet troops to enter Poland to fight the Germans alongside them It was this Polish refusal to accept the offer of a Soviet alliance and of Soviet aid, and the failure of the Western powers to override it, that ultimately caused the failure of the negotiations for an alliance with the USSR.
  14. Besides the linked Wiki article, see: (i) “What Was Operation ‘Barbarossa’?” in Imperial War Museums (IWM); (ii) Robert McNamara’s February 29, 2020 article, “Operation Barbarossa in World War II: History and Significance,” in ThoughtCo; (iii) “Operation Barbarossa” in Britannica; (iv) Robert Citino’s June 18, 2021 article, “Operation Barbarossa: The Biggest of All Time,” in The National World War II Museum; (v) May 5, 2021 entry, “Operation Barbarossa,” by the editors of; and (vi), “Operation Barbarossa: The German Invasion of the USSR”–Professor Yehuda Bauer’s July 1, 2021, YouTube video offering a unique interpretation of “Operation Barbarossa” as having been motivated by essentially ideological (rather than strategic or military) considerations, evolving in time as an integral part of what was for Hitler a far “larger” question related to the Final Solution.
  15. For a compact documentary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, see BBC’s June 4, 2017 production, “Operation Barbarossa (Operation Red Beard).” It depicts the events and implementation that led up to the greatest land battle in world history to date. If you’re willing, however, to delve into intricate detail, you can do no better than to avail yourself of a two-part video, Soviet Storm: WW2 in the East, by StarMediaEN, episodes 1 through 9 and 10 through 18 or its commercial-free replica—a two-season documentary on Amazon Prime Video. Since the presentation is multidimensional, involving all aspects of Germany’s eastward invasion until the war’s end in both theaters, European and in the Pacific, the reader is also treated to extensive coverage of all elements that contributed to the Nazi defeat. Episode 12, for instance, deals with war in the Air; 13, with War in the Sea; 14, with The Partisan Movement; 15, with Secret Intelligence of the Red Army; and 16, with War Against Japan. And although each of these—except for the Pacific theater of war (see episode 16), however indispensable—were auxiliary to Operation Barbarossa per se, which, for the most part, was a land-based operation delimited besides to the Eastern, Russian front, all are an integral part of the total picture. All told, it’s a 16.5 hours viewing experience, but it’s all worth it. It’s the best pictorial account of the Russia-Germany confrontation to date.
  16. For further navigational aid to the aforementioned videos, see (i) “Operation Barbarossa, 1941–1943” in H.E.A.R.T. (Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team) and (ii) “Operation Barbarossa in World War II: History and Significance” in ThoughtCo. Both provide a timeline of the German invasion of the Soviet Union up to its victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, a tipping point in favor of the Allies, bringing an end to the Axis’s eastern Europe advances and handing it its first decisive defeat [as per Battle of Stalingrad, for instance, in, or “Battle of Stalingrad: WW2 Timeline (August 1942—February 2nd, 1943)” in Second World War History]. (Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad was crucial not only for its symbolic value but, more importantly, for denying Germany’s access to the Caucuses for its rich oil fields in Baku, Azerbaijan, and other vital resources. Ultimately, the Soviet army could invade Crimea from the Caucasus, which was fully recaptured by 12 May 1944.)
  17. We may divide the German invasion in the East into three distinct phases. Phase #1, Operation Barbarossa, starting with Germany’s surprise attack on June 22, 1941, continuing with the January 31 1943 German defeat at the ruins of Stalingrad and the annihilation of Field-Marshall Paulus’s VI Army, the Southern and the Northern group, by February 2, and ending on August 23, 1943,, with Soviet victory at the Battle of Kursk, codenamed Operation Citadel—also, see “Operation Citadel: Germany’s Last Great Push on the Russian Front,” Andrew Knighton’s Jan 4, 2018 article in War History Online and this Wiki entry—corresponds to episodes 1 through 7, followed by episode 9. Indeed, it was the Battle of Kursk, rather than that of Stalingrad, that was the culmination point of the first phase of the war: since its defeat at Kursk, the Germans, for the rest of their stay, had become resigned to reacting to Soviet advances, unable to ever again regain the initiative or launch a major offensive on the Eastern front. Thus, a transition point to phase #2, Wars of Liberation—a counter-offensive aiming at recapturing Soviet losses during phase #1. And here, we point to such key events as (a) the Battle of the Caucasus, ending with the liberation of Crimea and Sevastopol on May 12, 1944, as per Top War (see episode 8); (b) the liberation of Belarus and its capital, Minsk by July 10, 1944, both part of a larger campaign, Operation Bagration—also, see “Operation Bagration” in Timenoteinfo—which cleared German forces from Belarus and eastern Poland by August 19, 1944 (episode 11); and (c) liberation of Ukraine on October 28, 1944 (episode 10). And last, Phase #3, the Russian Offensive—a series of multifaceted campaigns, first outside of Germany and then on German soil itself (see The Battle for Germany and Battle of Berlin, episodes 17 & 18). From thence, events proceed with lightning speed. And here, we may point to such successful operations as (i) liberation of Hungary (April 4, 1944); (ii) the Vienna offensive resulting in Allied-occupied Austria (April 15, 1944) and ending on July 27, 1955 with the Austrian State Treaty; (iii) liberation of Czechoslovakia (May 9, 1944); (iv) liberation of Romania on August 23, 1944 (followed by Bulgarian coup d’état on September 9. 1944, because of which the Bulgarian Army joined the Third Ukrainian Front and contributed to the defeat of Nazism in Europe); (v) a three-prong 1944 Baltic Offensive that resulted in recapturing (a) Vilnius (aka Vilna, a Latvian & Lithuanian term of long heritage, see this entry in WordSense, or Vilno, in Polish, as per this entry in–the capital of Lithuania, by July 13, 1944, and then the rest of Lithuania by August 1 (also, see “German occupation of Lithuania during World War II” and “Resistance in Lithuania during World War II,” both Wiki entries, and the Vilnius dispute in Britannica; (b) Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, on September 22, 1944, and the rest of Estonia by September 26; and (c) Riga, the capital of Latvia, on October 13, 1944, although Latvia itself, because of stiff German resistance in the so-called Courtland Pocket, as per this video, for example, wasn’t liberated until May 9, 1945. Also see “Soviet Occupation of Latvia in 1940,” as well as “The Soviet occupation and incorporation” in Britannica. {And although ordered to surrender to the Soviet command on 8 May, they were in a “blackout” and did not get the official order before 10 May, two days after the capitulation of Germany. It was one of the last German groups to surrender in Europe (see “Courtland Pocket” in Military)}; and (vi) liberation of Warsaw on January 17, 1945—also, see this article in the National WWII Museum {and, eventually, of all Poland on February 22, 1945, the Polish city of Poznań—also, see “Battle of Poznań (1945)” in Military), an 18th-century fortification (the German name is Festung, meaning a stronghold or a fortress)–again, being one of the last pockets of German resistance}. Come January 31, 1945, the Red Army was at Küstrin on the lower Oder (see “The Soviet advance to the Oder, January–February 1945,” a Britannica entry), only 40 miles from Berlin, and the final phase of Russian Offensive—aside from the East Prussia offensive (also, see this Wiki entry) that resulted on April 9, 1945,, in fall of Königsberg and which lingered into May 9, 1945, by which time all of East Prussia (separated since the Treaty of Versailles from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig, Polish Gdańsk) had fallen—was in full swing. It all ended on May 2, 1945, with the fall of Berlin and Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945. And along with the liberation of Western Europe by March 1945 (see the timeline) and the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, World War II was over.
  18. Prior to the commencement of Operation Barbarossa and Stalin’s July 3, 1941 radio address, all attempts at securing some such pact, whether under the guise of “collective-security agreement” or any other name, fell flat on their face, and it wasn’t for the Soviets’ lack of trying. There were, to be sure, more enlightened voices about détente if not full-blown cooperation—see, for example, Winston Churchill’s June 22, 1941, Radio Broadcast on the Soviet-German War, or the former PM, Mr. Lloyd George’s remarks on April 3, 1939, Commons Sitting on “European Situation,” columns 2507-2510—but by that time the war was already raging on both fronts, thanks to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, as per the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938,, to which he was a principal signatory, ceding the German-speaking Sudetenland to Hitler rather than trying to check German aggression. Interestingly, there’re still some who insist that having made a pact with the Soviets was tantamount to making a pact with the devil: see Dwight Jon Zimmerman’s July 12, 2021 article, for instance, “Churchill’s Deal With the Devil: The Anglo-Soviet Agreement of 1941,” in DefenseMediaNetwork.
  19. In endnote 17, we spoke of Soviet “liberation” in some instances and of “occupation” in others. Let me state at the outset that, just like beauty, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states exemplify the point. Each of these countries—or the pre-war Soviet republics, as the case may be—had serious issues with the imperialistic ambitions of the Communists out of the Kremlin, and some have even welcomed the Nazi invaders as “the liberators” (no differently, I suppose, than what had occurred a century past when most of Eastern Europe welcomed Napoleon, much to later dismay).
    • (a) The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were initially invaded     
    •  and occupied in June 1940 by the Soviets under the auspices of the August 24, 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop (Non-Aggression) Pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR immediately before the outbreak of World War II. The three countries were then annexed into the Soviet Union as constituent republics in August 1940, although the United States and most other Western countries never recognized this incorporation, considering it illegal—to this day, “one of the serious unsolved issues of international law [as per Baltic States: A Study of their Origin and National Development: Their Seizure & Incorporation into the USSR, a 1972 book by Igor I. Kavass and Adolph Sprudzs and “Occupation of the Baltic states,” a Wiki entry].” {In any event, come July 1941, within a month of the German invasion, the Third Reich incorporated the Baltic territory into its Reichskommissariat Ostland (RKO), the civilian occupation regime in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the western part of Byelorussian SSR; and it remained so until the 1944 Red Army‘s Baltic Offensive, when the Soviet Union recaptured most of the Baltic states and trapped the remaining German forces in the Courland pocket until their formal surrender in May 1945.} Of the three Baltic states, Estonia was the least affected by the German invasion, perhaps because of Alfred Rosenberg, Reich minister for the Occupied Eastern territories, a Baltic German born and raised in Tallinn, who felt that the “Estonians were the most Germanic out of the people living in the Baltic area, having already reached 50 percent of Germanization through Danish, Swedish and German influence” (as per “German occupation of Estonia during World War II” in Wiki); thus, large contingents of Estonians have joined the occupying force to drive the Soviets out of Estonia. However, as it’d soon become apparent that the Germans had no intention of restoring Estonian independence, “the initial enthusiasm that accompanied the liberation from Soviet occupation quickly waned and the Germans had limited success in recruiting volunteers. The draft was introduced in 1942, resulting in some 3400 men fleeing to Finland to fight in the Finnish Army rather than join the Germans.” No less significant was the formation of an underground Estonian anti-German resistance movement {although “because of the unusually benign measures implemented in Estonia by the German occupation authorities, especially in contrast to the preceding harsh Soviet occupation of Estonia (1940–1941), the movement was slower to develop effective tactics on a wide scale than in other occupied countries”} and its brainchild, National Committee of the Republic of Estonia: the underground activities ranged from producing illegal publications to espionage and violent sabotage. As to Soviet partisans in Estonia, they were “singularly unsuccessful… due to the general resistance of the population to the Soviet regime that the partisans represented; the majority of partisans sent in by the Soviets were quickly picked up by the local Estonian militias.” An Estonian film, 1944, available on Amazon Prime Video, explores the mental conflicts of young Estonians: “some have volunteered or been conscripted into the German forces, most with little commitment to the Nazi regime, whereas others have volunteered or been conscripted into the Soviet forces, again with little commitment to the Communist regime. Whichever side wins will regard the Estonians on the opposing side as traitors, liable to execution or deportation, while neither side offers the Estonians autonomy from foreign control,” as per “1944 (film),” a Wiki entry. As regards Latvia and Lithuania, see “Baltic Truth: Collaboration with Nazis in the Baltic States,” an October 6, 2019 video by The Glazov Gang.
    • (b) The history of Ukraine’s collaboration with the invading force is similar in kind, although it was far more extensive, and it was fueled besides by a long-standing history of animosity between Ukraine and the Soviets. And so, just as in the Russian Civil War (November 7, 1917–June 16, 1923) when the Ukrainians were divided as regards their pro- or anti-Russian sentiment, they were likewise divided when it came to World War II. And although the majority of ethnic Ukrainians, about 4.5 million, fought in the Red Army against the Germans (see “Second World War.” for instance, an article in Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine) whereas by one estimate, only between one percent and two percent of the ethnic Ukrainian population collaborated with the Nazis, their collaboration proved to be extremely deadly (as per Sheldon Kirshner’s January 19, 2020 article, “Ukraine And Its Nazi Collaborators,” in The Times of Israel). To wit, those Ukrainians who collaborated with the German occupiers had done so in various ways, including taking part in the local administration, in German-supervised auxiliary police, Schutzmannschaft, in the German military, and serving as concentration camp guards; in addition, Ukrainian police auxiliaries had been involved at least in preparations for the Baba Yar massacre. {See, for instance, (i) “Ukrainian collaboration with Nazi Germany,” a Wiki entry; (ii) “The Nazi occupation of Soviet Ukraine” in Britannica: (iii) “Collaboration with Nazi Germany” in The Ukraine Holocaust: (iv) “Second World War.” once again, in Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine: (v) “Ukraine” in World War II Database: (vi) “10 Facts about Ukraine in the Second World War” in Guide Me: and (vii) an April 6, 2022 video, “Ukrainian Collaboration with Nazis in WW2,” in The Knights of Templar Order.} It’s little wonder, therefore, that the question of whether Ukraine was liberated from the Nazi menace at the hands of the Soviets or, once again, occupied, though this time by another power, depends on where one stands regarding the great divide. Come what may, the Liberation Day of Ukraine—also see “Ukraine’s Liberation from Nazis in WWII,” an October. 28, 2014 article in Sputnik International—was set for October 28, starting with 1944, and it’s been celebrated ever since. It’s fair to say that “in 2019, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, then led by Volodymyr Viatrovych, proposed renaming the Liberation Day into the ‘Day of Expulsion of the Nazi occupiers,” noting that after October 28. 1944 Ukraine did not become an independent nation, but returned under the control of the Soviet Union”–a proposal that was never adopted! If you think, however, that Ukraine’s horrid past is all behind us, you have another think coming. And so, once again I must refer you to a fairly recent, January 19, 2020 article by Sheldon Kirshner, “Ukraine and Its Nazi Collaborators,” that exposes the mindset of Ukraine’s present-day leaders & shakers.
    • (c) The history of Polish-Russian relations dates back to the late 10th century AD (although it was a Kievan Rus’ at the time, the ancestor of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus). Religion was perhaps the most divisive issue separating the two peoples. Poland’s conversion to Christianity dates back to April 14, 966 AD, and it coincides with the so-called “Baptism of Poland,” which refers to “the ceremony when the first ruler of the Polish state, Mieszko I, and much of his court converted to the Christian religion.” But it was rather late in coming, especially when contrasted with the German state which, as a natural successor to the Carolingian Empire—the first phase in the history of both the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806, and of France!—after the example of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, and Pepin III before him, had become the most vociferous, secular exponent of Rome ever since. Faced, however, with a state of ongoing aggression, the Poles didn’t want to have anything to do with their ever-belligerent neighbor, not even when it came to Christianity. According to Norman Davies, a Welsh-Polish historian, the Christianization of Poland through the Czech-Polish alliance represented a conscious choice by Polish rulers to ally themselves with a Czech state, already part of Christendom. (Mieszko’s wife and a co-ruler, princess Doubravka from Bohemia, was a zealous Christian in her own right, and is reported to have had a significant influence on converting Mieszko himself.) In the same vein, some of the later political struggles involved the Polish Church refusing to subordinate itself to the German hierarchy (rather than being directly subordinate to the Vatican). But to come to the key aspect: whereas Poland was always westward-looking, always eager to observe and measure up to Western norms and values, Russia was never as captive to western influences (except for the times of Peter the Great and his eventual successor (see this Britannica entry!) Catherine the Great, a rapprochement that had come about by Russian initiative alone). More subject to traditions emanating from the East, it adopted the tenets of the Greek Orthodox Church, as per the Great Schism of 1054. Among other things, this may be one reason the Poles always had an exceedingly low opinion of their Slav brethren. Consider, for instance, the former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir’s statement about the Poles’ loathing of Russia—as “something that is deeply imbued in their tradition, their mentality, as per “Postwar Pogrom,” David Margolick’s July 23, 2006 article in NYT. Or the Polish Foreign Minister, Adam Daniel Rotfeld’s remark that if “you [Russia] are looking for an enemy… you find it in Poland.” Or even Gleb Pawlowsky’s comment that “Poles talk about Russians the same way that anti-Semites talk about Jews.” It’s all ably argued by F. Uscilowicz in the introduction to his article, “To Destroy Our Souls: Polish Perceptions on Russians [from] 966 to 1918,” as per this pdf. As the author points out, there had been a Romantic movement afoot, headed by Adam Mickiewicz, whereby the Poles came to view the Russians as “just another oppressed people,” equally oppressed by the Tsarist regime as any other—distinguishing thus between the Russians as a people and the oppressive Russian state. But the movement was short-lived, and the negativity with which the Poles regard the Russians prevails to this very day. (For a thoroughgoing study of Polish-Russian relations, see a September 2021 article, “An Investigation of Cross-Cultural Differences as They Affect Negotiations in the United States, Poland, and Russia: A Practical Guide for Negotiators,” by Barry Goldman and Victoria A. D’Amato in Beijing Law Review.) But these considerations aside, insofar as Polish-Russian relations are concerned—as state vs. state, that is—there’s nothing extraordinary: as one would expect, “peaceful periods between the two [neighboring] countries were interspersed by frequent armed conflicts.” Several events stand out, however, and some of them might help us understand the root causes of Polish resentment. And here, we may think, for example, of (i) the 1717 Russian takeover of the Polish Sejm (the parliament): (ii) the Three Partitions of Poland (1772-95), because of which Poland’s size was progressively reduced until, after the final partition, the state of Poland ceased to exist; (iii) the Polish-Soviet War of 1920; (iv) the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939; (v) the 1940s Katyn massacre; and (vi) the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. As regards subsection i, the Sejm was forced to acknowledge Poland’s dependence upon Russia and to legalize Russia’s right to intervene in Polish affairs at will. Officially, the Russian Tsar undertook to guarantee stability in Poland and the so-called “golden freedom”–the rights of the Polish gentry,” as per “Polish-Russian Relations—History,” an article in Concerning the three partitions (see subsection ii)—also, see Partitions of Poland in Britannica—it’s noteworthy that none of it was a direct result of Russian aggression; it was rather that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, ruled by nobility and rent with domestic antagonisms, fell into such decline and disintegration that it was no longer capable of putting up any serious resistance against Russia, Prussia, and Austria, its neighboring powers (as per “History of Russian-Polish Relations” in European Dialogue). {The so-called “Polish question,” however, refused to go away. It had become, in fact, one of the central tenets of Woodrow Wilson’s January 8, 1918, so-called Fourteen Points address to Congress, proclaiming self-determination of nations as one of the prime objectives of post-World War II Europe. (Indeed, the vacating of both Russia and Germany from Poland after the German defeat in the fall of 1918 gave free rein to the calls of Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference, echoing those of the new Bolshevik regime, to liberate the Poles and other peoples from Greater Power suzerainty; thus, the thirteenth of Wilson’s Fourteen Points adopted the resurrection of Poland as one of the principal aims of the Great War, as per “History of Poland (1795–1918),” a Wiki entry.) So encouraged, on November 11, 1918—the day of the armistice with Germany and the cessation of hostilities in France and Flanders (see “When did the Great War end?” in The Long, Long Trail)—Józef Piłsudski took over the Regency Council of the Kingdom of Poland and assumed virtually total control over the newly created state, aka the Second Polish Republic, as its provisional Chief of State (see the link to “History of Poland (1795–1918)” above). The de facto status of an independent Polish state qua state was eventually ratified by the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919. In addition to granting Poland all the benefits that come with membership in the League of Nations, the treaty had redrawn some of Poland’s new boundaries to approximate those of the pre-partition era, although not all. It’s noteworthy that as early as March 1917, following the February Revolution, the Provisional Government acknowledged the Poles’ rights to build an independent state—a decision that was seconded in 1918 by the Soviets themselves once it became apparent the Allies would prevail. As a result, all formerly Polish lands previously ceded to the Central Powers by the March 3, 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were now made part of the Second Polish Republic, and all preexisting treaties concerning Poland’s partitions were consequently annulled, as per “History of Russian-Polish Relations” in European Dialogue,} For a thoroughgoing discussion of Polish road to independence, see “The Polish State during the Second Republic (1919–1938)” in Europe Centenary. Coming now to the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 (see subsection iii)—itself part of the anti-Bolshevik movement during the Russian Civil War—it was just another episode in the long history of Polish hostility toward their Russian neighbor, and the root causes were twofold: “a territorial dispute dating back to Polish–Russian wars in the 17–18th centuries; and a clash of ideology because of RSFSR‘s goal of spreading communist rule further west, to Europe…. The war ended with the 1921 Treaty of Riga, which settled the border issue and regulated Polish-Soviet relations until [the outbreak of World War II.]” The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 23, 1939—see subsection IV—represented the next stage in the rapidly deteriorating relations between Poland and the USSR. The pact did result in the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939—also, see “Soviet Invasion of Poland,” a military operation by the Soviet Union without a formal declaration of war. {In a nutshell, on September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, sixteen days after Germany invaded Poland from the west. Subsequent military operations lasted for the following 20 days and ended on 6 October 1939 with the two-way division and annexation of the entire territory of the Second Polish Republic by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This division is sometimes called the Fourth Partition of Poland. The Soviet (as well as German) invasion of Poland was indicated in the “secret protocol” of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which divided Poland into “spheres of influence “of the two powers (Soviet Invasion of Poland). There’s an alternative view, of course, that disputes some of these allegations—as per the link in endnote #7, “The Truth About the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of August 23rd, 1939 and Its Secret Protocol”– and the reader would do well to refer to it.} The Stalin-condoned 1940 Katyn massacre (see subsection v)–which refers to the mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish POWs, mostly of the military officers & intelligentsia class—speaks for itself. (For more on Katyn, see “Katyn Massacre, Polish history [1940],” a Britannica entry, and “Order for the Katyn Massacre” in Seventeen Moments In Russian History.) It’s noteworthy that it had taken fifty years for the Soviets to decry Stalin and admit responsibility for the act. To wit, on October 13, 1990, Gorbachev handed the head of Poland’s military government, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. He did not, however, make a full & complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order—see the link above!–Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and his deputy. Putin had gone further: in June 2008—see “Dead leaves in the wind: Russia inches towards reconciliation with Poland over the Katyn massacre” in The Economist—Putin denounced Katyn as a “political crime.” And in November 2010, the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian Federal Assembly) officially declared that Stalin and other Soviet leaders were responsible for ordering the execution of the Polish officers at Katyn. Even so, Katyn remained a wound that refuses to heal. And last, there remained the matter of the Warsaw Uprising of August 1, 1944—see subsection vi—whereby, in addition to the political goal of the Polish Underground State to liberate Warsaw and assert Polish sovereignty before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control, other objectives included driving the Germans out of Warsaw while helping the Allies defeat Germany. Whether the first-cited objective figured in somehow in Soviets’ calculations or whether it was just a matter of military tactics or strategy, the point remains that for one reason or another, the uprising received little or no support from the Red Army that was already at Warsaw’s doorsteps. Starting with August 4, within days of the uprising’s commencement, the Allies began supporting it with airdrops of munitions and other supplies. Right thereafter, on August 20, the Allies made a specific request for the use of Russia’s landing strips, but Stalin denied it. For whatever its worth, he referred to the Polish resistance as “a handful of criminals” and stated that the Uprising was inspired by “enemies of the Soviet Union.” The Soviets did not allow the Allies to use its own airports for the airdrops for several weeks—which meant that the planes had to use bases in the United Kingdom and Italy, which reduced their carrying weight and number of sorties and vastly limited the effectiveness of Allied assistance to the Uprising. To make matters worse, the Soviets would even fire at Allied airplanes, which carried supplies from Italy and strayed into Soviet-controlled airspace. And so, whatever the rationale behind Stalin’s decision and the Red Army’s reluctance to help the Polish patriots liberate Warsaw and, eventually, all of Poland, there’s no question that the vast majority of Poles regarded the Soviets’ inaction as regards the Warsaw Uprising, as an act of betrayal—the last nail in the coffin insofar as any future relations between the two countries were concerned. It’s no wonder the Pole