Staunton, September 18 – If one needs a measure of the direction Moscow has taken over the last decade of Vladimir Putin’s rule, Russian official assessments of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are a useful one. Ten years ago, Vladimir Putin called that 1939 accord which opened the way to World War II “amoral” (rbc.ru/politics/31/08/2009/5703d6099a7947733180ab16).
But this week, Sergey Ivanov, former head of Putin’s Presidential Administration and current member of the Russian Security Council, told a Moscow conference on “The USSR’s Strategy to Prevent World War II” that the pact was “an agreement of Soviet diplomacy” in which Russians must take “pride” (rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/5d7f90b49a79475cbfb95e55).
Ivanov explained that because of the agreement, the USSR was able to avoid war on two fronts and pushed back the Soviet border away from the major cities of the country. “Did we want to begin the war with Germany 40 kilometers from Minsk or 100 kilometers from Leningrad? Where would we stop the Germans? On the other side of the Urals?”
In his remarks, Ivanov said that the inclusion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the USSR in 1940, something the secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact made possible, must not be considered an occupation since “the citizens of these lands ‘became citizens of the Soviet Union with all the rights and obligations – and many of the citizens of these territories entered the Soviet elite.’”
In addition to the way in which this shift highlights the increasingly positive Moscow assessment of Stalin’s foreign policy, Ivanov’s words are important today for at least three other reasons:
· First, he underlines that for the current Russian government, the Soviet Union was “ours” just in the same way that the Russian Federation now is, an attitude that makes it far easier for the Kremlin to seek the restoration of the empire. After all, if the two countries are not separate but one in the same, why shouldn’t Moscow?
· Second, Ivanov’s words on the Baltic States show that for him and probably for the Putin leadership as a whole, international law is irrelevant and the standard by which Moscow should be judged is whether the populations received Soviet citizenship. Updated, that would mean Russian citizenship.
· And third, it is yet another indication that for today’s Kremlin just like Stalin’s, “might makes right,” an attitude that the powerful can use to justify anything they do and that the weak have all too little recourse against.