Putin calls for shared responsibility to history and future
…As Russia marks 75th anniversary of the great victory
SINCE the end of the Great Patriotic War 75 years ago, several generations have grown up over the years and political global map of the planet has changed. The Soviet Union that claimed an epic, crushing victory over Nazism and saved the entire world is gone. That war has become a distant memory, even for its participants. So why does Russia celebrate the 9th of May as the biggest holiday and why does life almost come to a halt on June 22?
For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year old brother Vitya died. It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded. And the more years pass, the more I feel the need to talk to my parents and learn more about the war period of their lives. But I no longer have the opportunity to do so. This is the reason why I treasure in my heart the conversations I had with my father and mother on this subject, as well as the little emotion they showed.
People of my age and I believe it is important that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand the torment and hardships their ancestors had to endure. They need to understand how their ancestors managed to persevere and win. Where did their sheer, unbending willpower that amazed and fascinated the whole world come from? Sure, they were defending their homes, children, loved ones and families. However, what they shared was the love for their homeland, their Motherland. That deep-seated, intimate feeling is fully reflected in the very essence of our nation and became one of the decisive factors in its heroic, sacrificial fight against the Nazis.
Nowadays, we have new traditions created by the people, such as the Immortal Regiment. This is the memory march that symbolises our gratitude, as well as the living connection and the blood ties between generations. Millions of people come out to the streets carrying the photographs of their relatives who defended their Fatherland and defeated the Nazis. This means that their lives, the ordeals and sacrifices they endured, as well as the Victory that they passed to us will never be forgotten.
We have a responsibility to our past and our future to do our utmost to prevent those horrible tragedies from happening ever again. Hence, I was compelled to come out with an article about World War II and the Great Patriotic War. I have discussed this idea on several occasions with world leaders, and they have showed their support. At the summit of CIS leaders held at the end of last year, we all agreed on one thing: it is essential to pass on to future generations the memory of the fact that the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the entire Soviet people and that representatives of all republics of the Soviet Union fought side by side together in that heroic battle, both on the frontlines and in the rear. During that summit, I also talked with my counterparts about the challenging pre-war period.
I would like to once again recall the obvious fact. The root causes of World War II mainly stem from the decisions made after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles became a symbol of grave injustice for Germany. It basically implied that the country was to be robbed, being forced to pay enormous reparations to the Western allies that drained its economy. French Marshal Ferdinand Foch who served as the Supreme Allied Commander gave a prophetic description of that Treaty: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”
One of the major outcomes of World War I was the establishment of the League of Nations. There were high expectations for that international organisation to ensure lasting peace and collective security. It was a progressive idea that, if followed through consistently, could actually prevent the horrors of a global war from happening again.
However, the League of Nations dominated by the victorious powers of France and the United Kingdom proved ineffective and just got swamped by pointless discussions. The League of Nations and the European continent in general turned a deaf ear to the repeated calls of the Soviet Union to establish an equitable collective security system, and sign an Eastern European pact and a Pacific pact to prevent aggression. These proposals were disregarded.
The League of Nations also failed to prevent conflicts in various parts of the world, such as the attack of Italy on Ethiopia, a civil war in Spain, the Japanese aggression against China and the Anschluss of Austria. Furthermore, in case of the Munich Betrayal that, in addition to Hitler and Mussolini, involved British and French leaders, Czechoslovakia was taken apart with the full approval of the League of Nations. I would like to point out in this regard that, unlike many other European leaders of that time, Stalin did not disgrace himself by meeting with Hitler who was known among the Western nations as quite a reputable politician and was a welcome guest in the European capitals.
Poland was also engaged in the partition of Czechoslovakia along with Germany. They decided together in advance who would get what Czechoslovak territories. On September 20, 1938, Polish Ambassador to Germany Józef Lipski reported to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Józef Beck on the following assurances made by Hitler: “…in case of a conflict between Poland and Czechoslovakia over our interests in Teschen, the Reich would stand by Poland.” The Nazi leader even prompted and advised that Poland started to act “only after the Germans occupy the Sudetes.”
The partition of Czechoslovakia was brutal and cynical. Munich destroyed even the formal, fragile guarantees that remained on the continent. It showed that mutual agreements were worthless. It was the Munich Betrayal that served as the “trigger” and made the great war in Europe inevitable.
The Soviet Union, in accordance with its international obligations, including agreements with France and Czechoslovakia, tried to prevent the tragedy from happening. Meanwhile, Poland, in pursuit of its interests, was doing its utmost to hamper the establishment of a collective security system in Europe. Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Józef Beck wrote about it directly in his letter of September 19, 1938 to the aforementioned Ambassador Józef Lipski before his meeting with Hitler: “…in the past year, the Polish government rejected four times the proposal to join the international interfering in defence of Czechoslovakia.”
The Munich Betrayal showed to the Soviet Union that the Western countries would deal with security issues without taking its interests into account. In fact, they could even create an anti-Soviet front, if needed.
Nevertheless, the Soviet Union did its utmost to use every chance to create an Anti-Hitler coalition. Despite – I will say it again – the double dealing on the part of the Western countries. For instance, the intelligence services reported to the Soviet leadership detailed information on the behind-the-scenes contacts between Britain and Germany in the summer of 1939. The important thing is that those contacts were quite active and practically coincided with the tripartite negotiations between France, Great Britain and the USSR, which were, on the contrary, deliberately protracted by the Western partners.
Poland played its role in the failure of those negotiations as it did not want to have any obligations to the Soviet side.
But let us go back to the events immediately preceding the Second World War. It was naïve to believe that Hitler, once done with Czechoslovakia, would not make new territorial claims. This time the claims involved its recent accomplice in the partition of Czechoslovakia – Poland. Here, the legacy of Versailles, particularly the fate of the so-called Danzig Corridor, was yet again used as the pretext. The blame for the tragedy that Poland then suffered lies entirely with the Polish leadership, which had impeded the formation of a military alliance between Britain, France and the Soviet Union and relied on the help from its Western partners, throwing its own people under the steamroller of Hitler’s machine of destruction.
The German offensive was mounted in full accordance with the blitzkrieg doctrine. Despite the fierce, heroic resistance of the Polish army, on September 8, 1939 – only a week after the war broke out – the German troops were on the approaches to Warsaw. By September 17, the military and political leaders of Poland had fled to Romania, betraying its people, who
It is worth noting that in the course of these conversations the possibilities for improving British-Soviet relations were also explored. These contacts to a large extent laid the foundation for future alliance and Anti-Hitler coalition. Winston Churchill stood out among responsible and far-sighted politicians and, despite his infamous dislike for the USSR, had been in favour of cooperating with the Soviets even before. Back in May 1939, he said in the House of Commons, “We shall be in mortal danger if we fail to create a Grand Alliance against aggression. The worst folly… would be to… drive away any natural cooperation with Soviet Russia…” And after the start of hostilities in Europe, at his meeting with Ivan Maisky on October 6, 1939 he confided that there were no serious contradictions between the UK and the USSR and, therefore, there was no reason for strained or unsatisfactory relations.
The victor powers left us a system that has become the quintessence of the intellectual and political quest of several centuries. A series of conferences – Tehran, Yalta, San Francisco and Potsdam – laid the foundation of a world that for 75 years had no global war, despite the sharpest contradictions.
What is the power of veto in the UN Security Council? To put it bluntly, it is the only reasonable alternative to a direct confrontation between major countries. It is a statement by one of the five powers that a decision is unacceptable to it and is contrary to its interests and its ideas about the right approach. And other countries, even if they do not agree, take this position as a given, abandoning any attempts to realise their unilateral efforts. It means that in one way or another it is necessary to seek compromises.
A new global confrontation started almost immediately after the end of the Second World War and was at times very fierce. And the fact that the Cold War did not grow into the Third World War has become a clear testimony of the effectiveness of the agreements concluded by the Big Three. The rules of conduct agreed upon during the creation of the United Nations made it possible to further minimise risks and keep confrontation under control.
Of course, we can see that the UN system currently experiences certain tension in its work and is not as effective as it could be. But the UN still performs its primary function. The principles of the UN Security Council are a unique mechanism for preventing a major war or a global conflict.
There can be no doubt that the summit of Russia, China, France, the United States, and the UK will play an important role in finding common answers to modern challenges and threats, and will demonstrate a common commitment to the spirit of alliance, to those high humanist ideals and values for which our fathers and grandfathers fought shoulder to shoulder.
Drawing on a shared historical memory, we can trust each other and must do so. That will serve as a solid basis for successful negotiations and concerted action for the sake of enhancing the stability and security on the planet, for the sake of prosperity and well-being of all states. Without exaggeration, it is our common duty and responsibility towards the entire world, towards the present and future generations.