MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday strongly rejected Western criticism of a 1939 Soviet pact with Nazi Germany, arguing that Western powers, not the Soviet Union, were responsible for trying to appease the Nazis.
World War II still evokes painful memories in Russia, which lost an estimated 27 million in the war. The Kremlin is anxious to see the nation's sacrifices and its role in defeating the Nazis duly recognized as the nation prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory next May.
Putin, speaking during Friday's meeting with the leaders of other ex-Soviet nations in St. Petersburg, strongly criticized a recent resolution of the European parliament, which blamed the 1939 Soviet-Nazi pact for the outbreak of World War II.
Two weeks after Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, with Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin carving up Poland and the Baltic states based on a secret protocol in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed on Aug. 23, 1939.
Putin argued that the 1939 pact followed numerous agreements that Britain, France and Poland signed with the Nazis in a bid to appease Hitler. He insisted that those deals, including the 1938 Munich pact that allowed Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia, encouraged the Nazis and paved way to World War II.
Putin charged that the Soviet Union had no other choice but to sign a deal with Germany after the Western powers had cold-shouldered Moscow's proposals for a military alliance.
“The Soviet Union was the last to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler,” he said.
The Nazis broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
Putin described the European parliament's document as part of what he cast as Western efforts to downplay a decisive role that the Soviet Union played in defeating the Nazis.
“They want to shift the blame for unleashing World War II from the Nazis to Communists,” Putin said.
In a highly emotional speech, the Russian president pointed at the removal of monuments to Red Army soldiers in eastern and central Europe as an insult to their memory.
“Those Red Army soldiers were simple people — workers and farmers — and many of them suffered from Stalin's regime,” he said. “These people sacrificed their lives to free Europe from the Nazis, and now they tear down monuments to them. They do it to cover up what effectively was a collusion of European leaders with Hitler."