The New York Times correspondent in Moscow Michael Schwirtz reported that many Poles saw the low-level U.S. representation at the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II observances in Gdansk as a snub from the Obama Administration. Russia sent Prime Minister Putin, whose statement that the Hitler-Stalin Pact “can be condemned” was misleadingly reported by most international media as Russia’s official condemnation of the secret deal that led to the outbreak of World War II and allowed the Soviet Union to occupy parts of Poland, Finland, Romania and all three Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
While Mr. Putin did not apologize for the Hitler-Stalin Pact and was in fact defending Stalin’s foreign policy, he did accept blame for the mass murder by the NKVD of captured Polish military officers and generally created a positive mood with his ambiguous statements about who is to blame for the outbreak of World War II.
Mr. Putin was comparing the so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact with the Munich Agreement, signed by Germany, Great Britain, and France, which allowed Nazi Germany to occupy Czechoslovakia. Motivated by their desire to maintain peace by appeasing Hitler, neither Great Britain nor France derived any territorial gains from the Munich Agreement while Stalin’s actions resulted in military attacks on sovereign states, occupation, and forceful deportations.
But the use of the word “condemn” by Prime Minister Putin in his article published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza was quite clever from a public relations and news media perspective, as it managed to confuse most journalists. It would have been historically more accurate and more intellectually honest if Mr. Putin had compared the Hitler-Stalin Pact to the Yalta Agreements signed by the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. They confirmed Russia’s territorial gains from the Hitler-Stalin Pact and allowed the Soviet Union to achieve even wider control over Central and Eastern Europe.
With such powerful historical precedents, it was yet another public diplomacy mistake by the Obama Administration to send a relatively low-level US delegation to Poland. It was led by President Obama’s national security advisor General James L. Jones, USMC (Ret). So much so, that according to the New York Times Moscow correspondent, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has taken pains to play down the fact that neither President Obama, Vice President Biden nor Secretary Clinton were present at the anniversary observances in Gdansk.
The Obama Administration officials have also not reacted to numerous statements by Russian officials and pro-Kremlin journalists, in which they defended Stalin and his secret agreement with Hitler to jointly attack Poland in 1939. Polish government leaders are concerned that in an attempt to “reset” relations with Russia, President Obama will drop the Bush Administration’s plan to deploy parts of the anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland, as well as in the Czech Republic.
I am not suggesting that the snubbing of one America’s most loyal allies was deliberate. It was rather the result of the inexperience of the new administration and the lack of any coherent public diplomacy strategy.
I am also not suggesting that the Hitler-Stalin Pact is equivalent to the Yalta Agreements in moral terms. While the Yalta Agreements gave Stalin more territory and control over Eastern and Central Europe, the United States and Britain merely bought themselves some relative peace at the expense of Poland and other countries in the region. They did not benefit from these agreements the same way Stalin did. Prime Minister Putin did not mentioned Yalta in Poland because it gave the Soviet Union some of what Stalin and Hitler had agreed to in August 1939.
More information on the US presence at the World War II observances in Poland comes from the US Embassy in Warsaw:
Presidential Delegation Joined the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of World War II Outbreak in Gdansk
2 September 2009
|General Jones and Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski, answer media questions ( more photos)|
The Honorable General James L. Jones, USMC (Ret), National Security Advisor to the President, lead the U.S. delegation appointed by President Barack Obama to attend the 70th Anniversary Observance Ceremony of the Outbreak of World War II on September 1, 2009 in Gdansk. After the official commemoration ceremony, General Jones met with Poland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, and presented him with a special statement President Obama wrote on the occasion of the anniversary. The President sent his warmest wishes for continued friendship between the United States and Poland and said: “We celebrate together the determination of the people of Poland to fight authoritarianism and to choose democracy and freedom.” This anniversary reminds us that the United States and Poland have long been bound by the deep ties among our people, our shared values of democracy and human rights, and our commitment to partner on behalf of our common security and prosperity. Please click here to read the official statement from the White House. Additional members of the Presidential Delegation included: the Honorable Victor Ashe, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Poland, the Honorable Marcy Kaptur, U.S. House of Representative from Ohio, Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe, National Security Council.