After 80 years since signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, both Moscow and Russian state media began a disinformation wave. A social media campaign, with the slogan #TruthAboutWWII, was launched and Twitter profiles of Russia’s diplomatic representations are also involved. The campaign aimed to distort history through the manipulation of facts. Under the non-aggression pact signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939, the parties collaborated in the first two years of the Second World War. The collaboration was the Treaty’s secret protocol based on which the parties divided Eastern Europe into their spheres of influence. Nevertheless, Russia now seeks to lay the blame on Poland, the Baltic nations and the Western countries by circulating disinformation and fake news.
This is not the first time that Russia is trying to rewrite history. Simultaneously with the campaign, the Georgian pro-Russian media has actively launched importing the Russian narrative into the Georgian media space. Georgia and the World (has a pro-Russian editorial policy and disseminates fake news), based on Ymuhin.ru (we learn from the website that the author subscribes to different conspiracy theories. For instance: Yeltsin died in 1996 and was replaced by a doppelganger until 2007), published an article entitled “1939 Polish Shame Prior to the Start of the Second World War” (see the continuation here). The same website published the article of Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, founder of the Eurasian Institute, entitled “Who Started the Second World War?” According to the research study of damoukidebloba.com, in 2009 Gulbaat Rtskhiladze founded the Eurasian Institute which blamed Georgia for starting the war against Russia. Mr Rtskhiladze leads the Eurasian Institute’s Public Movement for Georgian-Russian Dialogue and Cooperation project.
The articles in the Georgian media deny cooperation between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939-1941, distort the history of Poland and the Baltic nations and neglect the crimes of the Soviet Union against Poland and portray the latter as a provocateur of war. The articles romanticise the Soviet Union and produce myths that the Soviet Union alone takes credit for defeating Nazi Germany whilst sweeping Soviet crimes under the carpet.
Moscow’s Disinformation on Twitter
Twitter profiles of Russian official bodies launched the campaign #TruthAboutWWII. From 19 August 2019, the Twitter account of Russia’s diplomatic mission to the OSCE has started to make publications with this “hashtag.” The Twitter accounts of other Russian diplomatic representations have also joined the campaign. For instance, these include Russia’s representations in the USA, the UK and the EU as well as the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this manner, Russia’s diplomatic representations were seeking to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact 80 years after its conclusion.
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: Disinformation and Truth
Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, has never recognised the human toll inflicted as a result of Stalin’s collectivisation and industrialisation whilst always claiming that the victory over Nazi Germany in WWII was its own. Since the Soviet period, the Kremlin has considered itself as the saviour for Europe from Nazism and Putin has started to actively use this same narrative in the past years. Renewing efforts to elevate Russia’s historical importance and the glorification of Soviet achievements is a classical strategy of Moscow’s propaganda. Assuming the image of the saviour for Europe, the Kremlin neglects the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which paved the way for WWII and resulted in millions of deaths.
Russian propaganda hides the political and economic treaties signed with Germany in 1939-1941 which prove that the USSR was Germany’s non-combatant ally during those two years. For instance, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that the Soviet Union has never been allied with Germany. This is in contrast to official documents according to which Germany and the Soviet Union signed the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty and the German-Soviet Commercial Agreement in 1940 which were renewed the next year. In the course of the alliance spanning 22 months, the Soviet press did not criticise Nazi politics. The USSR and Nazi Germany established a close economic cooperation. From August 1939 to June 1941, Germany purchased petroleum products, materials for military industry and other purposes from the Soviet Union. In exchange, Germany provided weapons and industrial products (including a battleship) to the Soviet Union as well as a 200 million Reichsmark loan. In addition, after signing the Pact, the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and the Gestapo also had cooperation. The USSR handed over members of the German and Austrian antifascist movement to the Gestapo. As a result of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, apart from agreeing on non-aggression and mutual cooperation, Eastern Europe was divided based on the supplementary secret protocol.
Secret Supplementary Protocol:
1. In the event of the territorial-political reorganisation of the Baltics and Finland, the northern border of Lithuania is simultaneously the border of the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR. Therefore, Lithuania remains with Germany whilst Lithuania and Estonia remain with the Soviet Union.
2. In the event of the territorial-political reorganisation of Poland, the border of the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR will run approximately along the Pisa, Narew, Vistula and San Rivers.
3. Concerning south-eastern Europe, the Soviet side emphasises the interest of the USSR in Bessarabia (present day Moldova). The German side declares its complete political disinterest in these areas.
4. This protocol will be held in strict secrecy by both sides.
Territorial Division Scenario Based on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Danzig, Vilnius Region E.P. Bessarabia
Soviet Union, Germany, Other Countries and Territories, E.P. Eastern Prussia
Soviet Sphere of Influence, German Sphere of Influence, 1939 Borders, Planned Borders, Borders of the Soviet Republics in 1939
Annexed by the Soviet Union, Annexed by Germany, Occupied by Germany, 1940 Borders, 1938 Borders, Borders of Soviet Republics in 1940
Actual Territorial Changes
Sala, Karelia, Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, Lithuanian SSR, Suwalki Triangle, Occupied Poland, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Accusing Poland of Provoking the Second World War
The Georgia and the World newspaper actively disseminates manipulative information about 1930s Poland where Poland is portrayed as a provocateur to instigate the Second World War. Russia’s diplomatic service also circulates identical information where Soviet guilt is overlooked and the main emphasis is made on accusing Poland. Pro-Russian media also spreads the same narrative.
This disinformation portrays the Soviet Union as a victim which did not want to sign the Pact but was forced to do so. In addition, the Russian side and the pro-Russian media seek to persuade the audience that the Pact did not cause the Second World War. The statement of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russian MP and head of Russia’s Liberal Democrat Party, that Poland was the biggest culprit in starting the Second World War, is a continuation of this scenario.
The Polish army has also become a propaganda target. There were 1.3 million soldiers in the Polish Army before the Second World War whilst the German Army was 1.5 million. The size of the army gives ground for different kinds of interpretations which is successfully exploited by the Russian information apparatus to produce a myriad of conspiracy theories that Poland was able to offer resistance to the Germans although the emigration of the Polish government resulted in the capitulation of the country. Of note is that the Polish army was composed mostly of infantry service members whilst the adversary’s army was mechanised to the highest possible degree. The Polish army was strong on paper but in fact it was not too much of an obstacle for Hitler’s military. In spite of the approximate equality in manpower, Germany had 3,600 armoured vehicles (including tanks) whilst Poland had only 750. In addition, Germany’s air force was twice as large and of better quality as compared to Poland’s. The high level of the mechanisation of the German army resulted in its rapid advancement.
Denial of Military Parade in Brest-Litovsk
Russian media and Moscow also seek to deny the joint Soviet and Nazi military parade held in Brest-Litovsk. This parade is yet another example of proof of the cooperation between these countries in the first two years after the starting of the Second World War.
Although there are cadres of the German-Soviet joint military parade in Brest-Litovsk, pro-Russian sources still question its existence. After the joint assault on Brest-Litovsk, generals decided to have a special commemoration of the Soviet-German friendship. Celebrations were held on 23 September 1939 after the arrival of the Soviet forces. Usually, only one person is in charge of a celebratory parade although this was an exceptional case – General Guderian and General Krivoshein were jointly in charge of the parade. Based on the works of different scholars, military parades were held not only in Brest-Litovsk, but in other then Polish cities – Grodno, Lwow and Byalistok.
Justification of the Soviet Invasion of Poland
According to the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed a border beforehand with the border line going through Poland. In October 1939, as a result of the concentration of military resources and the opening of two fronts, the Germans and the Soviets reached this border line. However, the Georgia and the World newspaper stubbornly claims that the Polish side is to blame for the large-scale escalation of the war: “The Polish government, which waged war, opted to quickly abandon its own fighting people and went into exile in Romania together with the army’s leadership. The Germans had nobody to speak about the German-Poland peace treaty and were forced to create a general-governorate in Poland’s place. The astonished Soviet Union awoke only after two weeks after the start of the war and alerted the armies of the western military district which were sent to Poland after 17 days from the beginning of the war in order to protect Ukrainians and Belarusians living there.”
In spite of the sheer absurdity of the Russian narrative, pro-Russian actors in their justification of the Soviet invasion of Poland attach legitimacy to Stalin’s decision on the grounds of his aim to get back those territories from Poland which the Soviet Union lost as a result of the attack on Poland in 1919-1921.
Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, founder of the Eurasian Institute, in his article published in Georgia and the World, writes that: “The Soviet Union did not declare war on Poland and, therefore, the remnants of the Polish army did not fire a single shot at the Red Army.” The Soviet Union put the Ukrainian and Belarusian front, with manpower ranging from 600,000 to 800,000, against Poland. There were 10,000 soldiers killed in action whilst the bulk of the Polish army, nearly 400,000 soldiers, were captured by the Soviet Army. The high-ranking officers of the Polish Army – 21,857 Poles were shot in Katyn under Stalin’s orders in April-May 1940 whilst their families were forcibly resettled in Siberia and Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union has long denied the Katyn Massacre and blamed the Nazis for the slaughter. Mikhail Gorbachov admitted the Soviet guilt for this crime in 1990.
Myth that the Soviet Union Entered the Second World War in 1941
Pro-Russian media denies that the Molotov-Ribbentrops Pact played a key role in starting the Second World War. It was the non-aggression pact concluded on 23 August 1939 that enabled Hitler to obtain the non-aggression guarantee from Stalin, effectively allowing him free reign in Europe and the invasion of Poland. Propaganda media, ignoring this fact, deny the alliance between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and claim that the war for the Soviet Union started in 1941. However, it is historically proven that the USSR, as an ally of Nazi Germany, joined the Second World War on 17 September 1939, opening fire at the Polish side. After taking the eastern part of Poland, the Soviet Union started to occupy other territories stemming from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In particular, the conquest of the Baltic republics and Bessarabia (present day Moldova) were part of the same military campaign. Therefore, the Soviet Union entered the Second World War in 1939 whilst in 1941, after Germany’s attack, it simply switched camps.
The Soviet side kept the existence of the secret protocol a secret until the 1980s. The special document, issued in 1948 according to which Stalin had refused cooperation with Nazi Germany, is a clear example of the falsification of history. However, in Gorbachov’s “Perestroika,” Soviet authorities acknowledged the truth about the existence of the secret protocol. The West has never formally recognised the Pact and the resulting territorial changes – the absorption of the three Baltic republics by the Soviet Union.
Denial of the Occupation of the Baltic Republics
In September 2019, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Press Speaker, Maria Zakharova, denied the 1940 occupation of the Baltic republics. They stated that Soviet actions towards Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were justified according to international law. Ms Zakharova deems unacceptable the use of the term “occupation” and adds that a different interpretation was given to the Soviet liberation of European nations from Germany. In the liberation of the Baltic republics, Maria Zakharova means a re-occupation of these countries and their re-conquest from Nazi Germany which took these territories as a result of the campaign launched in 1941. Georgia and the World repeats that narrative. Circulating such historical inaccuracies is the main strategy of Moscow’s information warfare. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania consider this as the beginning of Soviet occupation instead of their liberation. In July 2019, they recalled their ambassadors from Russia to protest the celebratory fireworks dedicated to the “liberation” of the Baltic capitals by the Red Army. In response, the pro-Kremlin media started a disinformation campaign which blamed the Baltic countries for fabricating myths of Soviet occupation and a refusal to celebrate the victory over fascism.
After gaining their independence, the three countries signed treaties with Russia according to which Russia recognised their independence and renounced territorial claims. Of important note is that Soviet Russia concluded a treaty of a similar nature with the first democratic republic of Georgia. This treaty, however, did not prove to be a hindrance for Moscow to occupy Georgia in 1921.
As a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it was agreed that Estonia and Latvia would become part of the Soviet sphere of influence but after final negotiations, Lithuania was also given to the Soviets. Stalin started to implement a plan of joining Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia by summoning the leaders of all three republics to Moscow and forcefully signing “mutual assistance” treaties. Moscow used these treaties as the ground for intervention and the deployment of military bases, thereby violating the neutrality of the Baltic countries.
In 1940, Moscow accused the Baltic countries of military conspiracy against the Soviet Union and pressed new demands, including forming governments acceptable for the Soviet Union and allowing indefinite numbers of Soviet troops in the three countries. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops entered the territories of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As a result of this military build-up, the number of Soviet military personnel much exceeded the size of each Baltic nation’s army. Soon after the aforementioned ultimatum, puppet regimes, which were acceptable for Moscow, were established in all three countries, followed by their eventual absorption into the USSR.
Authors: Iakob Lachashvili, Tsotne Vanishvili