WARSAW – The Polish government says that Russian President Vladimir Putin is manipulating World War II-era history in a way that whitewashes Soviet crimes and accuses him of doing it as part of an “information war” against the West.
The statement Friday from the government in Warsaw came a day after Putin in a lengthy article in a U.S. journal insisted on recognizing the Soviet Union as the prime defeater of Nazi Germany and suggested that Poland — a nation that was carved up by the German and Soviet forces and which lost 6 million citizens — bears some blame for the start of World War II.
Stanislaw Zaryn, the spokesman for the head of Poland’s security services, called Putin's op-ed “an element of an ongoing, persistent information war Russia wages against the West.”
The article, titled “The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II,” appeared in the National Interest journal six days before a huge military parade in Red Square to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe.
Sergey Radchenko, a historian of the Cold War at Cardiff University, called Putin’s article “a piece of crude propaganda” and described it on Twitter as a “historical narrative that would support his shallow claims to greatness as he seeks to perpetuate his rule.”
The war, in which the Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people, is a linchpin of Russia’s national identity and Russian officials bristle at any questioning of the USSR’s role.
On the same day as the parade in Moscow, President Donald Trump will receive Polish President Andzej Duda at the White House for talks on defense and economic cooperation. Trump has promised to deploy more U.S. troops to NATO ally Poland, and details of those plans are expected.
Zaryn accused Putin of pushing a false narrative about history in order to “undermine” the West and weaken the bonds among allies.
“The claims made by Putin are part of a comprehensive disinformation effort aimed to destabilize the West, pit NATO member states against each other, undermine the credibility and reliability of the Alliance, as well as to paint a false picture of Russia as a global defender who should sit at the table when the decisions on the world order are made,” Zaryn said.
The Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany shortly before the war began in 1939, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. It contained a secret protocol in which the totalitarian powers agreed to carve up Poland and the Baltic states.
Two years later, Germany turned on Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, bringing the Soviets into the war on the side of the Allies. Millions of Red Army soldiers lost their lives in the eventual defeat of Hitler’s Germany.
In recent years, Putin has been seeking to shift wartime blame to Poland as historical memory in the West has begun to focus more on the Soviet role in triggering the war and Stalin's crimes, and less on its role in defeating Germany.
In his article, Putin reiterated his contention that the Soviet Union was forced into signing the non-aggression agreement with Germany after Western powers and Poland cold-shouldered creating a military alliance.
“The Soviet Union did its utmost to use every chance of creating an anti-Hitler coalition. Despite — I will say it again — the double dealing on the part of the Western countries,” he wrote.
He also defended the wartime annexation of the Baltic nations.