Should Russia apologise for its part in starting World War II?
The Russian government has faced calls from the Polish government to apologise for its role in the first months of World War II, sparking a diplomatic war of words between Warsaw and Moscow. Should the Russian government apologise for 1939, or should they let sleeping dogs lie?
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The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 effectively cleared the way for the German invasion of Poland. By partitioning Poland between themselves and the Germans, the Soviet Union freed Hitler’s hands to begin hostilities with the shelling of Gdansk on the 1st September 1939, drawing Britain and France into a conflict that would leave some 70 million people dead.[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties]]
Although he stopped short of an outright apology, Vladimir Putin, the Russian PM, has described the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as “morally unacceptable”.
Doing deals with the Nazi’s was not the sole preserve of Stalin. In 1938 the Munich Agreement, signed by Neville Chamberlain with the aim of appeasing Hitler to secure peace dismembered Czechoslovakia. This deal deprived the country of the Sudetenland which contained many key land defences, rendering the Czech government almost powerless to resist the eventual invasion in March 1939. Russian historians have blasted Poland for taking part in the eventual partition of Czechoslovakia.
The behaviour of the Soviet army in Poland was, at times, appalling. The Katyn massacre, which the Soviet Union initially attempted to pin on the Wehrmacht, saw around 22,000 Polish officers, intellectuals, policemen and prisoners of war executed by the Soviet secret police (the NKVD). When Germany revealed the existence of the mass grave at Katyn, close to Smolensk, it caused the Polish government-in-exile to break diplomatic ties with the Russians. Russia did not formally acknowledge its culpability for Katyn until 1990.
Many other countries have not apologised for various atrocities and are not ostracised for it. Germany has fully appologised for the crimes it committed while Japan has apologised but has not been believed to be sincere[[http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jennifer-Lind/2957]] on the other hand there seems to be a belief that because Germany and Japan started the war there is no need for the allies to apologies. Britain and the USA have not apologised for the firebombing of German and Japanese cities even after it was obvious the war was being won and there was no need to intentionally involve civilians. There has been no apology for the bomb. If the west wont apologise then why should Russia?
Germany has apologised on numerous occasions for its part in the Second World War and will do so again at the commemorations taking place this month to mark the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the war. Russia has failed to do so once.
The question of historical apologies for past actions is a tricky one. Though few would argue that personal responsibility transcends time (just last month Josef Scheungraber, 90, was jailed for life for ordering the execution of twelve Italian civilians) the question of corporate responsibility is more complex. Few of the army officers and none of the key decision makers from 1939 survive to take the blame and it would seem unjust for the children and grandchildren of this generation to accept it on behalf of their forebears. If they were to apologise, it begs the question of how far back in time apologies are needed. Should Poland apologise to Russia for intervening in a seventeenth-century civil war, for example?
Not apologising stokes tensions across Eastern Europe, where many remember the post-war Soviet dominance with anger. Russia’s recent bellicosity in the Caucasus has heightened concerns over Russia’s intentions in the former Soviet bloc.
In a resurgently nationalistic Russia, an apology would not play well to a domestic audience, many of whom are proud of the role that the Soviet Union played in the defear of Nazi Germany.
Russia or the USSR?
The Russian state that exists today is a very different entity to the one which partitioned Poland. Although the recent Putin-driven rehabilitation of Josef Stalin as a national figure means that few would use this excuse, one could argue that the Soviet Union too laboured under the yoke of tyranny and therefore the Russian people cannot be fully held to account for the wartime actions of its government.
That the Russian Federation is a different state does not really matter, Russia was the core of the Soviet Union and it dominated the Union. Russia was made the heir to the Soviet Union when it was given the USSR's UN security council seat despite being a much smaller political and military power than the USSR was, it also inherited most of the Soviet Union's foreign assets and its debt.[[http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3183.htm]]
Has Russia paid enough already?
Russia paid enough in blood for its dalliance with Hitler. The brutal and savage war on the Eastern Front cost, by some estimates, over 20 million Soviet lives, more that 1 in 7 of the population at the time.
There is a difference in paying in blood during a war of survival and apologising to those that a country has wronged. That the USSR liberated poland in 1945 does not right the wrongs perpetrated in helping to occupy Poland in 1939.
The long span of history
Russia could apologise, but it might equally apologise for its century long occupation in the nineteenth century, or even its many sometimes very bloody invasions from the 'Deluge' in the 1650's to the 'liberation' of 1945.
To apologise for one without regard to the fact there is so much more to apologise for is hypocrisy or window dressing. It would indeed be very difficult to make a general apology of such scope as the western advance of Muscovy/Russia through the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania was the cornerstone of Russia's rise to greatness, the seemingly massive advance in the easterly direction has only in the 20th century had much impact upon Russia's 'great-power' status. Thus to apologise is almost a denial of themselves, certainly of Russia's status.
For that matter why should they apologise to Poland and not Finland, Georgia or myriad of tribes to the east?
What do you think?