Sunday, May 10, 2015

When Stalin was Hitler's ally

Timothy Snyder, Eurozine

As Russia revives the tradition of wars of aggression on European territory, Vladimir Putin has chosen to rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as good foreign policy. But why violate now what was for so long a Soviet taboo? Timothy Snyder explains.

As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has chosen to rehabilitate the alliance between Hitler and Stalin that began the World War II. In speaking of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as good foreign policy doing so he violates both the long Soviet taboo and adjusts his own prior position that the agreement was "immoral". What might he have in mind? What it is about the alliance with Hitler that is appealing just at the present moment? What does this revision of the history of World War II mean as Russia revives the tradition of wars of aggression on European territory?

Putin has become an amateur of history, and his recent speeches reveal a kind of wishful reconstruction of the Russian past. Mixing clichés with a good deal of bad faith, he has presented, since his war upon Ukraine began in February, a rather strange history of his own country. He has maintained that Russia and Ukraine are one nation because of a baptism that might or might not have happened more than a thousand years ago in a trading post that was, at the time, a synthesis of pagan Vikings and Jewish Khazars. He presents Crimea, now that it has been invaded and annexed, as eternally Russian, even though its history is a European pageant of cultures. Its Russian character is due largely to murderous expulsion of Crimean Tatars by the Stalinist regime in 1943. As Belarusian President Lukashenko has mischievously pointed out, by Putin's own logic of ethnic history it would make more since to hand over Moscow to the Crimean Tatars than it does to hand over Crimea to Moscow. After all, Muscovy began as a protectorate of the Tatars. Finally, Putin has claimed that Russia should expand southward because there was once a region called New Russia. He gets the borders of the historical district wrong, but this only conceals the deeper error. Expanding Russia into New Russia makes as much sense as England claiming New England or Scotland claiming New Caledonia or South Wales claiming New South Wales. In contemporary history, Russian propaganda embraces simple contradiction and dares the "decadent" West to notice: there is no Ukrainian nation but all Ukrainians are nationalists; there is no Ukrainian state but its organs are oppressive; there is no Ukrainian language but Russians are being forced to speak it.

(More here.)

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