According to Sergei Kovalev, World War II started “because of Poland’s refusal to meet Germany’s requests.” Kovalev writes: “The German demands were very modest. You could hardly call them unfounded.” Hitler, in Kovalev’s view, didn’t really want Lebensraum, but merely transport links across the Polish corridor to East Prussia and to the free city of Gdansk.
The views of a crank? Actually, Kovalev is a colonel and a researcher in the Russian Ministry of Defense. Earlier this month, the ministry posted Kovalev’s lengthy essay laying out his views in a section of its Web site with the heading: “History: Lies and Falsifications.” The heading, it seems, was intended to identify Western historians and the press as the liars, not Kovalev himself. The Russian Ministry of Defense has since removed the paper from its Web site and disavowed it. Even so, the posting raises questions about how far the Russian government will go in attempting to control the writing of Russian history. Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev created a commission to identify foreign “revisionists” who disparage the country’s prestige.
“Revisionism” is a relative term, of course. Kovalev’s article also argues that the British bear responsibility for the war since they gave Poland assurances of assistance in the event of an attack. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact? Just a variation of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement, says Kovalev. Russia was trying to buy time to prepare for the eventual German invasion. So according to Kovalev, the war was both avoidable by Poland and an inevitability for which the Soviet Union needed to prepare by invading Poland.
Proposed legislation backed by Medvedev would make it a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, for anyone—foreigner or Russian—to claim that the Soviet Union occupied Poland or the Baltic States. Meanwhile, as the Russian writer Ivan Sukhov points out, the German Administration for the Defense of the Constitution would likely see Kovalev’s article as a defense of Hitler and therefore a violation of German law.
Historian Alan Charles Kors sums up what’s going on here: “Orwell had it right: ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’ The Kremlin controls the Russian present.” This is the Kremlin with whom President Obama will be confabbing on July 7.