By Ted Lipien
I would like to thank Bill Coe for bringing Victor Suvorov’s book to my attention.
Journalists reporting on Vladimir Putin’s latest attempt to re-write history with his propaganda and disinformation blaming the start of World War II on Poland–the first victim of the war and the first country to resist militarily Hitler’s Nazi Germany–should read The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II by Victor Suvorov. He is a former Soviet military intelligence officer who had defected in 1978 to the United Kingdom and wrote about a dozen books on the Soviet Union and the history of World War II.
Suvorov’s main thesis is that after the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and the division of Poland by Germany and Soviet Russia, Stalin was secretly preparing a massive military attack on Germany. This theory is disputed by most historians who believe that Stalin was not planning an immediate attack on Hitler’s armies and in fact provided Germany with industrial and military aid, although Stalin undoubtedly had hoped that eventually he would be able to launch an attack and occupy Eastern Europe, including Germany, if Germany exhausted itself fighting the Western allies.
On one point, however, Suvorov is right. Stalin enabled Hitler to start World War II on September 1, 1939 and joined the war against Poland on September 17, 1939. Most Western historians agree with this assessment.
Suvorov is also right that some Western historians treat the Soviet Union as “a regular country, just like any other” and still repeat some of Soviet propaganda claims without questioning and further analysis. 1 The same could be said about some Western journalists–those who had reported about the Soviet Union in the past and those who now cover Vladimir Putin.
Victor Suvorov described in his book the Soviet Union as “a criminal conglomerate” headed by Stalin. The same approach is useful in reporting on Putin and his pronouncements. Most journalists do not treat seriously arguments by Holocaust deniers. They should treat Putin the same way since he is the prime denier of Stalin’s genocidal crimes. His denial of Stalin’s co-responsibility for launching World War II falls into this category.
Many journalists simply cannot understand Putin’s motives. They get hung up on reporting in depth what he says and trying to analyze it as disputes between nations over history and international politics. Even Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which during the Cold War was known and valued for not being fooled by Soviet and communist propaganda, now occasionally uses the “on-the-one hand, on-on-the-other hand” style of reporting, as in its recent report, “Poland, Russia Again In War Of Words Over World War II.”
When reporting on Putin’s statements, this opening paragraph of the RFE/RL report is not particularly helpful in signaling that Putin is engaged in denying genocidal actions by one of his predecessors in the Kremlin.
RFE/RL: A war of words has intensified between Poland and Russia over who is to blame for starting World War II, with each accusing the other of distorting history. 2
While the RFE/RL report includes balancing material, it lacks sufficient context and analysis. It treats Putin’s obvious lies as an alternative view of history. Such reporting helps to advance the Kremlin’s current propaganda and disinformation narrative, although most of RFE/RL online content thankfully does not. RFE/RL has been in fact improving its reporting on Russia in recent months under a new management. The Voice of America (VOA) English News Service, however, simply failed to report at all initially on Putin’s latest series of historical lies, while the VOA Russian Service waited several days and then translated and posted on its website the very inadequate RFE/RL news report.
Victor Suvorov, the former Soviet spy, defector and amateur historian, studied the history of the Soviet Union using what he describes as “methods of intelligence.” His advice is: “do not believe what is officiously demonstrated to you; seek what is hidden.” 3 An extensive knowledge of Soviet propaganda techniques and how they were used in the past to dupe many Western journalists, intellectuals and political leaders is absolutely necessary for objective reporting on Putin and any of his statements.
Vladimir Putin is an ex-KGB officer and a master of manipulating journalists and public opinion. One of Suvorov’s observations in his book, although not about Putin but about Stalin, describes exactly what Putin is doing to confuse and divide foreign public opinion: “one who wins the war is the one who prepares for war by dividing his enemies and making them fight each other, not the one who makes loud pronouncements.” 4
While Putin relies on his propagandists to do most of the disinformation work, and makes loud pronouncements only from time to time, his statements also cannot be taken at face value and reported simply as news, even with the usual balancing responses from those whom he attacks. Many Western journalists initially made the mistake in reporting on Hitler and Stalin by focusing on what they said rather than on what was not being said or widely reported.
One of the hushed up episodes of propaganda history is how easily Stalin working through his ideological agents of influence, both the so-called fellow travelers and a few actual agents of Soviet intelligence services, manipulated various U.S. government departments during World War II. A large number of Soviet sympathizers who were employed by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration during the war at the Voice of America, helped to cover up Stalin’s atrocities and spread his propaganda. The early VOA chief news writer was Howard Fast, an American Communist, best-selling author and later the winner of the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize. A few of his colleagues employed by VOA’s foreign language desks left the United States after the war and worked for communist regimes in East-Central Europe.One of them was his Polish translator Mira Złotowska, later known as Mira Michałowska or Mira Michal. Another one was Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, who after leaving VOA was a chief anti-U.S.propagandist in Poland. 5
After World War II, the Voice of America was reformed and security background checks for its officials and journalists were considerably strengthened. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were created to counter Soviet propaganda more effectively through in-depth analysis and commentary by competent experts and news reporters.
This kind of journalism is again necessary when dealing with master propagandists like Putin, but unfortunately it is still currently largely missing in U.S.-funded media outreach by the Voice of America and to some degree by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Until very recently, the Voice of America Russian Service employed as a freelancer a TV journalist who prior to his work for the U.S. government media agency produced for Russian television anti-American propaganda videos filled with conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic themes.
In the past, RFE and RL were much better by being different from the more official and federal Voice of America. This managerial and journalistic advantage has largely disappeared when both organizations were placed in the same federal agency, although RFE/RL technically still maintains its non-profit NGO status. The officials in U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), who now manage both VOA and RFE/RL, are mainly responsible for America’s current inability to stand up to Putin. They lack an in-depth knowledge of the history of Soviet and Russian propaganda and disinformation.
After I alerted the USAGM Board of Governors, VOA posted a few new news agency reports on some of the international responses to Putin’s latest propaganda offensive against Poland, but it was too late and too little. VOA did not even bother to do its own original reporting in English on this topic to offer an alternative to reporting by RT and other Kremlin media.
Perhaps of all the responses, the best rebuke to Putin’s propaganda came from the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. In a relatively short document, he presented how World War II was started by Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Russia.
Unfortunately, the more time passes since these tragic events, the less our children and grandchildren know about them. That is why it is so important that we continue to speak out loud, telling the truth about World War II, its perpetrators and victims – and object to any attempts at distorting history.
The memory about this evil is particularly important for Poland – the war’s first victim. Our country was the first to experience the armed aggression of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Poland was the first country that fought to defend free Europe.
However, resistance to these evil powers is not only the memory of Polish heroism – it is something much more important. This resistance is the legacy of the entire now free and democratic Europe that fought against two totalitarian regimes. Today, when some want to trample the memory of these events in the name of their political goals, Poland must stand up for the truth. Not for its own interest, but for the sake of what Europe means.
Signed on 23 August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not a “non-aggression pact.” It was a political and military alliance, dividing Europe into two spheres of influence – along the line formed by three Polish rivers: the Narew, Vistula, and San. A month later it was moved to the line of the Bug river, as a result of the “German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty” of 28 September 1939. It was a prologue to unspeakable crimes that over the next years were committed on both sides of the line.
The pact between Hitler and Stalin was immediately put into effect: on 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, south and north, and on 17 September 1939 the USSR joined in, attacking Poland from the east.
On 22 September 1939 a great military parade was held in Brest-Litovsk – a celebration of Nazi Germany’s and Soviet Russia’s joint defeat of independent Poland. Such parades are not organised by parties to non-aggression pacts – they are organised by allies and friends.
This is exactly what Hitler and Stalin were – for a long time they were not only allies but in fact friends. Their friendship flourished so much that, when a group of 150 German communists fled the Third Reich to the USSR before World War II broke out, in November 1939 Stalin handed them over to Hitler as “a gift” – thus condemning them to a certain death.
The USSR and the Third Reich cooperated closely all the time. At a conference in Brest on 27 November 1939, representatives of both countries’ security services discussed the methods and principles of cooperation to fight Polish independence organisations on the occupied territories. Other conferences of the NKVD and SS officers on their cooperation were held inter alia in Zakopane and Krakow (in March 1940). These were not talks on non-aggression – but on liquidating (that is murdering) people, Polish citizens, and on joint, allied actions to bring about a total destruction of Poland.
Without Stalin’s complicity in the partition of Poland, and without the natural resources that Stalin supplied to Hitler, the Nazi German crime machine would not have taken control of Europe. The last trains with supplies left the USSR and headed for Germany on 21 June 1941 – just one day before Nazi Germany attacked its ally. Thanks to Stalin, Hitler could conquer new countries with impunity, lock Jews from all over the continent in ghettos, and prepare Holocaust – one of the worst crimes in the history of humankind.
Stalin engaged in criminal activities in the east, subduing one country after another, and developing a network of camps that the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn called “the Gulag Archipelago.” These were camps in which a slave, murderous torture was inflicted on millions of opponents of the communist authorities.
The crimes of the communist regime started even before the outbreak of World War II –the starvation of millions of Russians at the beginning of the1920s, the Great Famine which led to the death of many millions of inhabitants of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the Great Purge during which nearly 700 thousand political opponents and ordinary citizens of the USSR, mostly Russians, were murdered, and the so-called “Polish Operation” of the NKVD in which mainly the USSR citizens of Polish descent were shot to death. Children, women and men were destined to die. In the “Polish Operation” alone, according to the NKVD data, over 111 thousand people were shot to death deliberately by Soviet communists. Being a Pole in the USSR at that time meant a death sentence or many years of exile.
This policy was continued with crimes committed after the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September 1939 – the crime of murdering over 22 thousand Polish officers and representatives of elites in places such as Katyn, Kharkiv, Tver, Kyiv, and Minsk, the crimes committed in the NKVD torture cells and in forced labour-camps in the most remote parts of the Soviet empire.
The greatest victims of communism were Russian citizens. Historians estimate that between 20 and 30 million people were killed in the USSR alone. Death and forced labour-camps awaited even those that every civilised country provides care for – prisoners of war that returned to their homeland. The USSR did not treat them as war heroes but as traitors. That was the Soviet Russia’s “gratitude” for prisoners of war – soldiers of the Red Army: death, forced-labour camps, concentration camps.
Communist leaders, Joseph Stalin in the first place, are responsible for all these crimes. Eighty years after World War II started, attempts are made to rehabilitate Stalin for political goals of today’s President of Russia. These attempts must be met with strong opposition from every person who has at least basic knowledge about the history of the 20th century.
President Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done it deliberately. This usually happens when Russian authorities feel international pressure related to their activities – and the pressure is exerted not on historical but contemporary geopolitical scene. In recent weeks Russia has suffered several significant defeats – it failed in its attempt to take complete control over Belarus, the EU once again prolonged sanctions imposed on it for illegal annexation of Crimea, the so-called “Normandy Format” talks did not result in lifting these sanctions and simultaneously further restrictions were introduced – this time by the US, significantly hindering the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. At the same time Russian athletes have just been suspended for four years for using doping.
I consider President Putin’s words as an attempt to cover up these problems. The Russian leader is well aware that his accusations have nothing to do with reality – and that in Poland there are no monuments of Hitler or Stalin. Such monuments stood here only when they were erected by the aggressors and perpetrators – the Third Reich and the Soviet Russia.
The Russian people – the greatest victim of Stalin, one of the cruellest criminals in the history of the world – deserve the truth. I believe that Russians are a nation of free people – and that they reject Stalinism, even when President Putin’s government is trying to rehabilitate it.
There can be no consent to turning perpetrators into victims, those responsible for cruel crimes into innocent people and attacked countries. Together we must preserve the truth – in the name of the memory about the victims and for the good of our common future.
- Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), xxi. ↩
- RFE/RL, “Poland, Russia Again In War Of Words Over World War II,” December 23, 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/poland-russia-world-war-molotov-ribbentrop-soviet-nazi-pact/30339545.html. ↩
- Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), xxii. ↩
- Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008),113. ↩
- Ted Lipien, “Mira Złotowska – Michałowska — a VOA friend of Stalin Peace Prize winner,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 10, 2019, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/mira-zlotowska—michalowska—-a-voa-friend-of-stalin-peace-prize-winner/. ↩