On the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed on August 23, 1939 (also my birthday!), historians, ideologues and everyone in between inevitably fall into a game of recriminations, revisionism and relativism. The anti-Soviet side maintains that the Pact gave Germany a free hand in the west and contributed to the onset of war, as represented by OSCE’s recent recognition of Nazi-Soviet equivalence in their culpability for the Second World War. On the other hand, most Russian historians stress that the Pact was a) justifiable on the basis of the Western betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, and b) gave the USSR valuable time to build up its military-industrial potential for the coming war with Germany.
The “Westerners” (and their liberast Russian allies) tend to impute sinister motives to the Russian leadership’s recent efforts aimed against the “falsification of history” – seeing in them a revival of totalitarian and expansionist thinking, whereas the Russians see this as Western-sponsored “revisionism” whose aim is to impose a sense of historical guilt on the nation. Considering that a glorified version of the Great Patriotic War is fast becoming Russia’s national myth, any acceptance of responsibility for its outbreak is ideologically unacceptable, an a priori anathema. This pits Russia directly against the Visegrad nations of the former Soviet bloc, whose occupation and repression under Soviet / Russian rule – yes, they view the two as interchangeable – is a staple of their national myths, and consequently also brings Russia into a new ideological conflict with the wider West.
Given the huge role of these underlying emotional, ideological and spiritual factors, there is little space left for objective history. But one can try by hi-lighting the kind of international environment the USSR faced during the period and the sense of insecurity that the Western nations instilled in its government through their actions… I’ll start by translating, summarizing and expounding on a timeline meticulously compiled by Sergei Fedosov [my additions] – please see link for his sources:
The Soviet Story: The Timeline
1933 – At the World Disarmament Conference, the British PM proposed to allow the doubling of the German Army and the reduction of the French army by a similar amount.
January 1934 – German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact [caused by Józef Piłsudski's (Poland's authoritarian ruler) concern that a) the French building of the Maginot line implied it would take a defensive pose in the next war and would not come to Poland's aid, b) to reduce the likelihood Poland would become a victim of German aggression, perhaps as part of a Great Power deal (e.g. the Four Power Pact) and c) his perception that Hitler was not as stereotypically-Prussian anti-Polish as his predecessors, going back to Gustav Stresemann (!), and far less dangerous than the USSR - to the point where he opposed French and Czech attempts to include the Soviet Union in a common front against Nazi Germany.]
May, 1935 – Franco–Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance; yet the coming to power in France of Léon Blum in June 1936 torpedoed its effectiveness, as they prevented the formation of a military convention stipulating the way in which the two armies would coordinate their actions in the event of war with Germany [in addition to its other onerous conditions, one of which was that military assistance could be rendered by one signatory to the other only after an allegation of unprovoked aggression had been submitted to the League and only after prior approval of the other signatories of the Locarno pact (Great Britain, Italy and Belgium) had been attained].
June, 1935 – Anglo-German Naval Agreement [fixed a ratio where the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis, well above the limits of the Treaty of Versailles and concluded without consulting France or Italy].
March, 1936 – Remilitarization of the Rhineland. Amongst other consequences, this was supported by Poland, causing France to dilute its commitments to it. Great Britain took a neutral position. Later Poland also supported the Anschluss with Austria.
19 November, 1937 – During his visit to Obersalzburg, Lord Halifax suggests making an agreement between the Four Powers (excluding the USSR): he says, “I and the other members of the British government are under the impression that the Fuhrer not only achieved a lot in Germany, but with his extirpation of Communism in his own country, he blocked its advance into the rest of Western Europe, and as such Germany can rightfully consider itself as a bastion of the West against Bolshevism”.
End-April, 1938 – Halifax informed the German representative Kordt that Great Britain would not commit to additional military obligations to France, let alone Czechoslovakia.
18 May, 1938 – The president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, told the English ambassador: “If Western Europe should lose interest in Russia, Czechoslovakia will lose it too “.
20 September, 1938 – In reply to his pleas, the Soviet government answered Beneš that it would assist Czechoslovakia, should France join in. However, Poland categorically refused the passage of Soviet armies through its territory, even at the request of France. [At around this Poles are saying: "With the Germans, we lose our land. With the Russians, we lose our soul].
21 September, 1938 – At 2am an Anglo-French ultimatum to the government of Czechoslovakia, demanding acceptance of the German demands, was issued. After the signing of the Munich Agreement, the US President sent congratulations to Chamberlain. Neither the USSR not Czechoslovakia was consulted about any of this.
[There was firm evidence of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (evidence lifted from commentator rkka here):
To start with, Soviet intentions to militarily aid Czechoslovakia are indicated by the delivery of Soviet-built combat aircraft in August and September 1938 through Romanian airspace, Soviet willingness to set aside the issue of Bessarabia in discussion of Soviet forces transiting Romania in the event of a German attack on Czechlslovakia, the mobilization of 10 Tank and 60 Rifle Divisions in the fall of 1938, and the diplomatic note to the Polish government warning that hostile Polish action against Czechoslovakia would void the Polish-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The Czech leader Benes makes it clear that Soviet support was unstinting:
In September, 1938, therefore, we were left in military, as well as political, isolation with the Soviet Union to prepare our defense against a Nazi attack. We were also well aware not only of our own moral, political, and military prepardness, but also had a general picture of the condition of Western Europe; as well as of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in regard to these matters. At that moment indeed Europe was in every respect ripe to accept without a fight the orders of the Berchtesgaden corporal. When Czechoslovakia vigorously resisted his dictation in the September negotiations with our German citizens, we first of all recieved a joint note from the British and French governments on September 19th, 1938, insisting that we should accept without amendment the draft of a capitulation based essentially on an agreement reached by Hitler and Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden on September 15th. When we refused, there arrived from France and Great Britain on September 21st an ultimatum accompanied by emphatic personal interventions in Prague during the night on the part of the Ministers of both countries and repeated later in writing. We were informed that if we did not accept their plan for the cession of the so-called Sudeten regions, they would leave us to our fate, which, they said, we had brought upon ourselves. They explained that they certainly would not go to war with Germany just ‘to keep the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia’. I felt very keenly the fact that there were at that time so few in France and Great Britain who understood that something much more serious was at stake for Europe than the retention of the so-called Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. The measure of this fearful European development was now full, precipitating Europe into ruin. Through three dreadful years I had watched the whole tragedy unfolding, knowing to the full what was at stake. We had resisted desperately with all our strength. And then, from Munich, during the night of September 30th our State and Nation recieved the stunning blow: Without our participation and in spite of the mobilization of our whole Army, the Munich Agreement – fatal for Europe and the whole world – was concluded and signed by the four Great Powers – and then was forced upon us.
Dr. Eduard Benes “Memoirs”, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, pgs 42 – 43.
I do not intend to examine here in detail the policy of the Soviet Union from Munich to the beginning of the Soviet-German war. I will mention only the necessary facts. Even today it is still a delicate question. The events preceeding Munich and between Munich and the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II have been used, and in a certain sense, misused, against Soviet policy both before and after Munich. I will only repeat that before Munich the Soviet Union was prepared to fulfill its treaty with France and with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack.
Benes, pg 131.]
[Following the Munich Agreement, Stalin concluded that the West was fully content to sell the countries of Eastern Europe down the river in the future, including the USSR, and as such decided to reorient his foreign policy away from the West towards reaching a rapprochement with Nazi Germany.]
1 October, 1938 – The Germans occupy the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia.
2 October, 1938 – Polish armies move into the town of Těšín in Czechoslovakia and the adjoining territory. The implication is that Poland, in conjunction with Nazi Germany, freely participated in the occupation and partition of Czechoslovakia, and as such the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September, 1939, was neither a unique nor the first such action during this period.
November 1938 – The Hungarian armies occupy part of Slovakia, including its (now Ukrainian) Zakarpattia region. At the time, Slovakia was a semi-independent nation after the partition of Czechoslovakia in the previous month. Meanwhile, the American ambassador in Paris said, “It would best for the democratic nations if all these Eastern problems came to be solved by a war between Germany and Russia… There is a strong belief in the US, England and France that in the next few months there will begin a great settling of these problems in the East”.
9 March, 1939 – The British ambassador to Berlin, Nevile Henderson: “It appears clear to me that Germany wants to tear off this rich country, Ukraine, from the huge Russian state. We cannot blindly give Germany a carte blanche in the East. Yet it is not impossible to reach an agreement with Hitler, assuming it is limited to reasonable conditions, whose observance by Hitler we can expect”.
10 March, 1939 – Stalin declares the main warmongers to be England and France, not Germany.
14-16 March, 1939 – Bratislava declared full independence, Germans occupy all the remaining Czech regions and Hitler declares the Czech lands to be a Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
18 March, 1939 – The USSR sends a protest note to Germany condemning the aggression against Czechoslovakia and announcing its non-recognition of its partition and occupation.
27 March, 1939 – The British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Halifax, tells the ambassador in Warsaw, Kennard: “It should be clear that all our attempts to consolidate our position will be invalidated, should the Soviet government openly take part in this plan”. (Concerning the Soviet offer to call a conference to discuss giving help to Romania).
14 April, 1939 – The British government proposed to the Soviet Union to give unilateral obligations to Germany’s neighboring countries – however, these obligations did not cover the USSR itself.
17 April, 1939 – The Soviet government answers that the conclusion of a tripartite agreement between England, France and the USSR is desirable.
3 May, 1939 – The moderately pro-Western Soviet FM Litvinov is replaced by Molotov.
8 May, 1939 – The government of England and France reject the Soviet offer of alliance, and repeat their memorandum from 14 April [which is a poisoned chalice].
28 May – 15 September, 1939 – Soviet-Japanese conflict around the Khalkhin-Gol river; at the same time, England concludes a [trade] agreement with the Japanese government.
7 June, 1939 – British Cabinet meets to discuss the Soviet offer of a military alliance. The FM Lord Halifax is opposed, citing the US ambassador in Warsaw, Bullitt, to “not give the impression that England is cooperating with the Soviets”.
[The signing of the German-Latvian Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and Estonia & Latvia].
12 June, 1939 – Halifax rejects a Soviet invitation to go to Moscow.
4 July, 1939 – In a foreign policy Cabinet meeting, Lord Halifax suggests the British avoid stalling negotiations and conclude a simple three-way agreement, saying: “There is no need to set Soviet Russia against us, because the main goal of our negotiations is to prevent a Russian agreement with Germany”.
18-21 July, 1939 – Secret meetings between Chamberlain’s close advisor Wilson and the British trade minister Hudson, and the high-ranking German bureaucrat G. Wohltat. The English were offered a rapprochment, including a pact of non-aggression and non-interference, arms reduction treaties, their return of former German colonies, economic cooperation and the recognition of a German sphere of influence over Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The USSR and China were to become German markets in the new global division of trade. Information about these meetings fell into the hands of the German ambassador in London, von Dirksen, and were conveyed to Berlin, but they did not develop into formal negotiations because of the lack of any reaction from Berlin. News of these British feelers to Germany reached the Soviet Union. [See London and Berlin Plotted Second “Munich Agreement” by Yuri Nikiforov].
29 July, 1939 – The British Labour MP Buxton in conversations with the German diplomat Kordt again stressed the necessity of conductiong secret diplomacy, agreeing to spheres of influence and halting the current debates about concluding a pact with the Soviet Union.
3 August, 1939 – Wilson and von Dirksen had a discussion, about which the latter wrote (in addition to Wohltat’s reports) it could reasonably be concluded that Wilson viewed these talks as an official British feeler towards the Germans, requiring a German response.
7 August, 1939 – Confidential meeting between Goring and a British representative at Shleswig-Holstein, in which the following was mentioned: “Should Germany lose the war, it would result in the spread of Communism and gains for Moscow”.
11 August, 1939 – A minor English delegation arrives in Moscow, going there by slow steamship instead of plane, as was typical for the time. It is uncovered they have no official authority to carry out negotiations. The British and French military missions offered to discuss common principles, but without any consideration of real military plans.
There was a secret meeting between the High Commissioner of the League of Nations in the Free City of Danzig, the Swede Burkhardt, and Hitler, who invited him. At the end of the meeting, Hitler expressed his wish to meet with a high-ranking person from the British government. The sources say that Halifax wrote a letter to Hitler, but never came round to sending it.
At the end of the meeting, Hitler said, “Everything I undertake is aimed against Russia. If the West is so blind and stupid that it can’t understand this, I will be forced to make an agreement with the Russians. Then I will strike against the West and after its defeat, I will unleash my combined strength against the Soviet Union. I need Ukraine…” (this passage is not present in official British publications, the only reference to it lying in Burkhardt’s memoirs).
19 August, 1939 – The signing of a trade and credit agreement between Germany and the USSR in Berlin.
23 August, 1939 – The signing of the notorious German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow. This was a typical non-aggression pact, except for the inclusion of additional secret protocols outlining a division of spheres of influence.
[Fedosov's note - there's a problem with these protocols, because copies of them cannot be found in either the Russian or German archives, but were published on the basis of photocopies present in Germany. One disturbing fact about them is that Molotov's signature appears in the Latin alphabet, which is surprising since he never signed his name in this way. That said, the fact there were no mass clashes between German and Soviet armies in their invasion of Poland, and because of their apparent cooperation with each other in bombing operations and their halt at clear demarcation lines after meeting each other in the middle of Poland, etc, one can conclude that in all likelihood these protocols really did exist.]
Meanwhile, up till the day of the signing the Poles had continued to categorically resist any consideration of Soviet troops crossing Poland in their diplomatic communications. [See Fedosov's document for full details].
25 August, 1939 – Telegram of French ambassador in the USSR to the French ambassador in Poland: “If we could have gotten acquiescence from Poland at the start, this would have prevented the halt in military discussions [with the USSR]… It’s hard to imagine how we could have convinced the USSR to take on obligations against Germany, even despite our best efforts, if the Poles and Romanians we guaranteed did not want to hear anything about Russian help. Hitler unwaveringly made the decision which Józef Beck [the Polish Foreign Minister], having our guarantees, refused to do – he reached an accomodation with Stalin…”
31 August, 1939 – The Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov said in a speech to the Supreme Soviet, “On the one hand, England and France demanded military help from the USSR in the case of aggression against Poland… On the other hand, that same England and France released Poland onto the scene, which categorically rejected military help from the USSR. Now try reaching an agreement on mutual assistance in these conditions, when any Soviet help is from the start judged unneeded and constrained in its options… They blame us because the pact contains no clause providing for its renunciation in case one of the signatories is drawn into war under conditions which might give someone grounds to qualify that particular country as an aggressor. But they forget for some reason that such a clause and such a reservation is not to be found either in the Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact signed in 1934 and annulled by Germany in 1939 against the wishes of Poland, nor in the Anglo-German declaration on non-aggression signed only a few months ago…”
In the same speech Molotov expounded on the reasons for the agreement with Germany at length, “…The point of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, in which the USSR is not obligated to come to the assistance of neither Germany, nor England or France, in the event of war between them… the USSR will undertake its own, independent foreign policy… if they have such a huge desire to fight, let them fight amongst themselves, without the Soviet Union”.
28 September, 1939 – The signing of a German-Soviet Agreement on Friendship and Borders, which was a formal agreement about their borders, while the only mention of friendship was in Article IV of the agreement: “The Soviet and German governments view the aforementioned changes to be a firm foundation for the future development of friendly relations between the two peoples”.
October 1939 – Britain’s military chiefs discuss the question of “positive and negative aspects of a British declaration of war on Russia” (Fedosov’s note – this is BEFORE the Winter War!).
30 November 1939 – 12 March 1940 – The Soviet-Finnish Winter War. Britain’s decision to disembark troops into Norway, if the war continued (despite both Norwergian and Swedish opposition!). The planning of such actions on the eve of war with Germany were called madness by Churchill.
12 January, 1940 – French ambassador’s memorandum about the outlines of a compilation of Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, prepared by the English side: “On reading these documents there appears the firm impression that from the start to the end of these negotiations the Russian government strongly pushed for this agreement to have the most maximal and all-encompassing character. This Soviet policy of closing all possible doors to German aggression, irrespective of whether it was really genuine, was always rebuffed by Anglo-French reservations and desire to constrain the sphere of possible Soviet intervention… As a result, the publication of the documents will confirm the arguments of those who, genuinely or not, insist that the Soviet government only went over the German side because of England’s and France’s waverings and their refusal to support Moscow without reservations… This English “Blue Book” threatens to unleash the most undesirable, in our current circumstances, polemics”.
18 January, 1940 – Discussion of the question of whether or not to publish the Blue Book. Halifax is against. As a result, the Cabinet decides that it would be a bad idea to publish this book about negotiations with the USSR from the summer of 1939.
January-April, 1940 – On 19 January, the French government, with the approval of the British government, suggested General Gamelin and Admiral Darlan prepare a plan for a direct invasion of the [Soviet] Caucasus. Plans made for a two-pronged attack on the USSR from the Middle East and Scandinavia / Finland. Anglo-French plans for bombardment of Baku, Grozny and Batumi. On 16 March, Gamelin presents a detailed plan for the invasion of the Caucasus and tentative ideas are floated for the construction of airfields in Syria to carry out air strikes on the USSR.
Even during the “phony war” between the German invasion of Poland and its attack on Norway, there is evidence the British continued to see the USSR as the greater threat. The British ambasaddor in Finland: “It is likely the winner in the next European war will not be Hitler, but Stalin, and as such he presents the greater danger… Since our main question now is how to inflict the greatest amount of damage on the USSR, I would suggest making maximum efforts to reach an agreement with Japan, whose natural antipathy towards Bolshevism will draw her towards making a sudden strike on the USSR”.
[Interestingly, during the period after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941, the Western Allies acknowledged Stalin chose the right strategy by delaying an armed confrontation with Nazi Germany. For instance, the British ambassador in Moscow, Cripps, to the FM Eden on September 27, 1941:
...There's no doubt, that the direct cause of this Pact, as constantly cited by the Soviet leadership, was their wish to stay out of the war. They saw this as possible through an agreement with Germany, at least for a while... Not only did this policy give the USSR a chance to stay out of the war, but also allowed them to acquire those territories from its neighbors, which they saw as being valuable in the case of German aggression against the USSR...
The first step was to seize half of Poland, for the alternative was German occupation of its entire territory. The peace deal with Finland in March 1941 only resulted in the USSR acquiring territory it had originally demanded from them anyway. There's no doubt in my mind that they seriously considered helping out France [in May 1940], but as it became clear the German advance was rapidly leading to France’s utter collapse, they were dissuaded from the idea and decided to keep to an entirely different tactic…
Conclusion: the Nazi-Soviet Pact as Second Munich Agreement
A typical counter-argument to the above narrative is Seventy Years of Shame by Craig Pirrong, encompassing all possible criticisms for the Pact and reiterating all the necessary ideological foundations for waging a New Cold War against Russia.
For instance, the allegation is made that the Soviet Union hedged its way out of any firm commitments to Germany’s East-Central European neighbors, and that Stalin wanted, and did everything he could, to embroil the “imperialist powers” in a war – according to his August 19, 1939 Politburo speech:
We must accept the proposals of Germany and diplomatically discard the British and French delegation. The destruction of Poland and the annexation of Ukrainian Galicia will be our first gain. Nonetheless, we must foresee the consequences of both Germany’s defeat and Germany’s victory. In the event of a defeat the formation of a Communist government in Germany will be essential . . . . Above all, our task is to ensure that Germany be engaged in war for as long as possible and that Britain and France be so exhausted that they could not suppress a German Communist government.
EDIT 2013/01/29: THIS SPEECH WAS A FORGERY LOL.
Both points make sense and are probably true. B ut the exact same applies to the Western Powers, which according to the evidence brought forth in the timeline above a) wanted to tie up Germany and the USSR in a war, regarding the latter as the greater threat to Western civilization, and b) did not treat Soviet proposals for joint inter-Allied obligations against German aggression seriously. The point is that both sides were engaged in a brutal game of Realpolitik – the West wanted the two totalitarian powers to duke it out, while the USSR would have much preferred the capitalist powers to destroy themselves in yet another World War One-like struggle of attrition. In other words, there was a fundamental symmetry between the West and Russia prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, which is now being adamantly denied by the former and asserted by the latter.
As such, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact cannot be construed as a crime – everybody was in on the game, its just that the USSR played it more skilfully than most, at least until Operation Barbarossa. It was a cause of Second World War, but no more than Munich previously, and as such ascribing the USSR joint responsibility for starting the Second World War, as recently done by OSCE, is just one more example of hypocritical Russophobia and “double standards” – cliche though these terms might be, that does not mean they do not apply. And if it really were the case that the Soviet Union shares guilt with Germany for the outbreak of the Second World War, then so do Britain, France and Poland, each in equal measure. Where are the self-righteous condemnations of their antebellum conduct?
Was the Pact a mistake? This is a more complicated question. On the one hand, the Soviet Union provided Germant with valuable stocks of rare earth metals that would contribute to sustaining its war effort for longer than it otherwise could have without resorting to harsh, total-war mobilization and ersatz production (as increasingly happened from 1943). On the other hand, it delayed the war for the USSR by nearly two years, allowing it to a) build up its military-industrial potential (not without the help of German machinery imports!) and b) begin the war from borders 600km farther away from Moscow than they would have been otherwise. The Soviet victory was a close-run thing in 1941 and even 1942, and without the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the USSR may well have been defeated, paving the way for total Nazi domination of the entire Eurasian continent.
The next point the “Westerners” bring up is that Soviet methods were just as brutal as Nazi ones in their occupied territories. However, there are two major weaknesses with this. First, this is not an argument against the rationality of Soviet motives in acquiring buffer space against the eventuality of German aggression in 1939-41, nor is this an argument proving the moral equivalence of Germany and the USSR in starting the war. The fact is that it was Germany that was the one and only driving force behind a general European war. The Western Allies and the USSR alike, through their mutual distrust of each other and long-term myopia, merely enabled German aggression.
Second, to those East Europeans and Western Russophobes who like to see Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as two sides of the same coin: if the USSR had lost the Great Patriotic War, this would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the entire Slavic and Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for acquiring Lebensraum in the East, and indeed within the four short years of German domination of Europe some 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma were killed (it should be noted that the Poles and Baltic peoples were highly complicit in the extermination of their Jews, something they remain loath to recognize – much easier to talk of their sufferings under Soviet repression). While the USSR undeniably repressed wide swathes of East European societies, neither its bloodthirstiness nor its levels of economic coercion ever came anywhere near equalling their experiences under Nazi occupation.
Finally, these New Cold Warriors argue that Russia’s defense of the past augurs its repeat in the future. SWP concludes:
To criticize the Pact is to deny Russia recognition of its legitimate right to dominate “its” space. Molotov-Ribbentrop divided eastern Europe in 1939. Russia wants to divide eastern Europe in 2009. To condemn the former is to delegitimize the latter. So, you can expect even more robust defenses of M-R, and more hysterical attacks against those who criticize it, on this anniversary and in the days to come. For to criticize Stalin and the revisionist USSR is, by extension, to criticize Putin and the revisionist Russia. Their means may differ, but their worldview, and their strategic objectives, are largely the same.
Perhaps. But in my view a far more likely interpretation is that Russia is tired of having a sense of historical guilt imposed upon it, especially since it is later used as a pretext to arrogantly dismiss all its concerns about NATO expansion and foreign policy views on everything from Kosovo to missile defense. Even though it did not lose the Cold War, it is getting the same sort of deal Germany got after the Treaty of Versailles – sole “war guilt” (Cold War) and sole responsibility for Soviet repressions (bypassing the contributions of Georgian spooks, Latvian Riflemen, etc), thus enabling Western justification for alternately bullying, undermining and ignoring Russia.
One thing I agree with SWP on, however, is that the past and present really is prolog to the future. Since it is a hostile organization – proved if anything, by its unbalanced rhetoric during the Georgian-instigated South Ossetian War in 2008 – Russia will try to undermine NATO in favor of more equitable (from its perspective) arrangements, such as European collective security agreements. It is laying the groundwork by courting states such as Finland, Turkey and most importantly, Germany, while trying to marginalize the East Europeans and their main champion, the US. This runs contrary to the constant American interest in preempting the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon, hence the low-key the US reversion to a Cold War policy of containment and strangulation of any resurgent Russian superpower – as demonstrated by Biden’s rhetoric during his July 2009 visits to Ukraine and Georgia, and his (questionable) assertions about Russia as a country in long-term economic and demographic decline.
One thing is clear. The ideological struggle will continue and intensify between Western universalist chauvinism and East European national nationalisms on the one side, and Russian imperial nationalism on the other. History goes in spirals, after all.