Russia’s Self-Serving Version of History
Today is June 5, which means that 75 years ago today Allied troops were preparing to assault Fortress Europe. June 6, 1944, was one history’s defining days. The future of a continent would be determined by whether the Allied amphibious assault was successful or not. It is a moment in history that has forever linked the nations of Western Europe, most notably France which had gone through the humiliation of 1940, with the UK, US, and Canada and unifies them no matter what contemporary differences they have. It was a day that was over four years in the making, but as D-Day approaches its 75th anniversary one politician declared that, actually D-Day was not that important.
That man was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who thought that June 4 was the appropriate occasion to say:
[F]alse interpretations of history are being introduced into the Western education system with mystifications and pseudo-historical theories designed to belittle the feat of our ancestors. Young people are being told that the main credit in victory over Nazism and liberation of Europe goes not to the Soviet troops, but to the West due to the landing in Normandy, which took place less than a year before Nazism was defeated.
In a sense, Lavrov is correct. Too many people are unaware of the Eastern Front of World War II, which was arguably the most bitter conflict in world history. Stalingrad and Leningrad are not as well known to Westerners as Normandy. Nor is the death toll on the Eastern Front where the Soviet Union suffered 25 million military and civilian deaths. Combined, Anglo-American deaths by comparison across two theaters numbered less than 900,000, but Lavrov’s interpretation of history is also more than a bit flawed.
Lavrov ignores that a large number of Soviet casualties resulted from the tyrannical whims of Joseph Stalin. The purging of the officers before the war, orders that dictated that any retreating soldier be shot, and Stalin’s state of being in denial, all contribute to the Soviet Union’s high casualty count.
Not once in his 2,248 word essay do the words “Molotov” or “Ribbentrop” appear. Neither do “Poland” or “Finland” or any reference to the communist tyranny that the Soviet Union imposed the countries it supposedly liberated from Nazi tyranny.
Lavrov may not like to hear it, but people in the West have not forgotten that the Soviet Union started the war on the side of the Nazis. While Britain stared into the abyss, the Soviet Union was trying to dismember Finland, which Germany had conceded was in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.
After the Operation Barbarossa commenced, Stalin would never cease to make demands on the Western Allies. Not losing the irony, Churchill would write in his memoirs:
Up to the moment when the Soviet Government was set upon by Hitler they seemed to care for no one but themselves…Hitherto they had watched with stony composure the destruction of the front in France in 1940, and our vain efforts in 1941 to create a front in the Balkans. They had given important economic aid to Nazi Germany ad had helped them in many minor ways. Now, having been deceived and taken by surprise, they were themselves under the flaming German sword. Their first impulse and lasting policy was to demand all possible succour from Great Britain and her empire…They did not hesitate to appeal in urgent and strident terms to harassed and struggling Britain to send them munitions of which her armies were so short.
Churchill compared the shift to one at home where,
The British Communists, who had hitherto done their worst, which was not much in our factories, and had denounced ‘the capitalist and imperialist war,’ turned about again overnight and began to scrawl the slogan ‘Second Front Now’ upon the walls and hoardings.
Lavrov did mention to sneak in a reference to the Arctic convoys to Archangel and Murmansk under the Lend Lease program designed by the Western Allies to ship material aid to the Soviet Union. Those convoys would stretch British naval resources to the absolute breaking point, all while having to deal with the U-boat menace in the Atlantic.
As D-Day’s 75th anniversary arrives, the West is right to honor its heroes. There has never been a military operation like it, before or since. None of this should diminish the hardships that the Soviet people faced during the war and the contributions the Red Army made that ensured the ultimate defeat of the Nazis, but Sergey Lavrov, in his attempt to cover up the sins of the Soviet Union’s pre-June 1941 foreign policy, is wrong when he insists that the Soviet Union get nearly all of the credit. One can talk about Stalingrad and Kursk without diminishing what happened on the beaches of Normandy. Western Europe is free because of D-Day and Eastern Europe was only finally liberated when the Soviet Union fell itself over four decades later.