Wladimir Putin on World War II - Russia’s Puzzling Moves

Putin felt it necessary to reopen the question of who started World War II. He is claiming that it was not the totalitarians but the liberal democracies that started World War II. Why is he doing so? The Russian President wants to change the perception of Poland from a victim nation to a historical aggressor


George Friedman, 74, ist einer der bekanntesten geopolitischen Analysten der Vereinigten Staaten. Er leitet die von ihm gegründete Denkfabrik   Geopolitical Futures  und ist Autor zahlreicher Bücher. Zuletzt erschien „Der Sturm vor der Ruhe: Amerikas Spaltung, die heraufziehende Krise und der folgende Triumph“ im Plassen-Verlag.

So erreichen Sie George Friedman:


Diese englischsprachige Kolumne erscheint regelmäßig auf Cicero Online in Kooperation mit der Denkfabrik Geopolitical Futures.

Over the past few weeks, two odd things have happened in Russia. The first is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has restructured the government. During his state of the nation address last week, he announced constitutional changes that could lay a path for him to hold on to power beyond 2024, when his current term ends. He also shook up the Russian security command about a month ago and has been moving governors around like chess pieces. Such changes take place in many governments, but the moves are usually understated to increase power without creating a sense of urgency. Putin’s changes were not all that radical given the circumstances, but he went out of his way to make them look radical by removing longtime senior officials like Dmitry Medvedev, who will now serve as deputy chairman of the Security Council.

The second thing that has happened has less substance but is much stranger. Putin has made a series of statements that Poland started World War II, and that the Hitler-Stalin pact was forced on Russia by British and French deals with Germany. The substance of the statements is not worth debating; the Hitler-Stalin pact was no ordinary alliance, but a treaty by which Germany and the Soviet Union would together invade and divide Poland, which they proceeded to do. The claim that Poland started the war mirrors Hitler’s claim that Poland was invaded to protect Germans from Polish brutality.

Harder for the Germans to get closer to Russia

It is revealing, however, that Putin felt it necessary to reopen the question of who started World War II at this time. Putin is not a casual man, so he didn’t do this carelessly. After announcing the shakeup of the Russian regime, he decided to charge Poland, France and the U.K. with responsibility for World War II, cleansing Russia of any wrongdoing in allying with Hitler.

At the very least, this is going to make France’s stated intentions of getting much closer to Russia more difficult. For the French, the claim that they caused the war by reaching agreements with Nazi Germany will strike a chord. It will also make it harder for the Germans to get closer to Russia. For the Germans, whose primary historical goal is to allow World War II to slink into the past, the last thing they want to do is engage in a discussion of who caused the war.

Putin alienates France and makes Germany uneasy

To try to make sense of this we must remember that the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is called in Russia, is seared into the Russian national conscience. In making this charge, Putin is trying to cleanse Russia of responsibility for the war. By claiming that Poland, in some way, forced the Russians and Germans to invade Poland, he portrays Russia as an unqualified victim. In doing so, he reaches out to far-right forces in Europe who have argued that Hitler was forced into war. This is politically important. The European right has risen, and a segment of it wants to rewrite history. The Russians have toyed with supporting a rising right wing for years, and this places Russia in that position. Putin is claiming that it was not the totalitarians but the liberal democracies that started World War II, and that therefore the liberal democracies’ claim to moral superiority is false.

The problem is that by stating this so bluntly, Putin alienates France and makes Germany uneasy. It will be harder now for the Germans and French to collaborate with the Russians, although not impossible. Nearly all NATO members have condemned Putin for his view of the origins of World War II – something that he knew was coming; so why did he make this charge now?

Belarus is key here

The key, I think, was the charge against Poland. Putin is not expecting a war against France or Germany, but he is worried about Poland, and that has to do with Belarus, which shares borders with Poland to its west and Russia to its east. Belarus is sandwiched between the Baltic states and Ukraine. The Baltics are in NATO, and Ukraine, though shifting a bit, is still hostile to Russia. For Russia, these western buffers were indispensable, and losing them poses a threat to its national security.

Belarus is key here. If Belarus were to be integrated into Russia, the West’s defense of Poland, which houses U.S. troops, becomes much more difficult. But if Belarus were to switch to the West and NATO troops were deployed, the defense of Smolensk and even Moscow would be difficult. The Russians have an initiative underway to integrate Belarus with Russia, but in recent weeks, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been signaling an interest in maintaining good relations with the West.

Russia would want it blamed on Poland

Belarus is a flashpoint on this frontier. Lukashenko wants to maintain its free movement, Russia wants to lock it in, and Poland does not want to see more Russian troops on its eastern border. For Russia, settling the Belarus question is a vital matter. For Poland, even with more limited, though quite good, forces, this would cause a fundamental crisis and involve the United States. And this issue is moving to some sort of decision. The West does not want a shift, but Russia doesn’t trust the West and claims that its absorption of the Baltics into NATO already violated Moscow’s understanding with the West.

So there has been significant tension between Poland and Russia over Belarus. Belarus is important enough to Russia to consider military action – and the two countries have staged huge war games near Poland’s border in the past. Poland may see any such move as indicating war, if not now then later.

If a conflict were to break out, Russia would want it blamed on Poland. By raising the question of how World War II started, Russia is trying to change the perception of Poland from a victim nation to a historical aggressor. And by so doing, Putin may also be warning the Poles, and the Americans as well, not to believe for one minute that war is out of the question.

Putin’s attempts to redefine history

In this sense Putin’s restructuring of the Russian government makes sense. It was an unwieldy bureaucracy that would have difficulty aligning its economy with military action. Therefore, it is reasonable to wonder whether Putin’s attempts to redefine history and the government were designed as preparations for war, or for victory by intimidation.

Readers will recall our ongoing concern with Belarus and Poland. The best bet is that this is primarily signaling that Putin will not bend on Belarus, and not that he intends or expects war. But the actions meant to signal and the actions meant to prepare for war are easy to confuse. Reshaping the government and reshaping history inevitably open the door for conflict.


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Gisela Fimiani | Mi., 22. Januar 2020 - 16:59

Not surprisingly.......not much of a decisive reaction from Germany....and other Europeans. An awkward situation which seems to „over-challenge“ our harmony seeking politicians.

...into a complete fool. Of course, his new insights as to who started WWII might delight some incorrigible reactionaries who nurture the legend of a Germany that was forced into war - thereby trying to cleanse the image of the Red Army and to downplay the willingness of the Soviets to conclude a coalition with the Nazi-criminals. Yet no serious historian will agree to Putin's nonsense - which can easily be identified as a wretched effort to rewrite history in order to retroactively revamp the power-craving, belligerent meddling of the Red Army in WWII at the cost of Poland.
Likewise, Putin's ideas about a reform of the Russian government clearly reveal his rampant self-aggrandissement. It is not the Russian people that is being asked about the future of the state, to the contrary. In the end, the new "Russia" will create opportunity for Putin to remain in a position in which he will continue to dominate Russian politics.

Tomas Poth | Mi., 22. Januar 2020 - 17:44

Who takes fright and why about the opening of old documents regarding this war?
There are still documents since those days which are kept under tight wraps.
To know and to understand the history all documents needs to be opened to get the complete view on all players of those days. This is what we owe the truth and again, who takes fright on this?

Jürgen Waldmann | Do., 23. Januar 2020 - 09:00

Antwort auf von Tomas Poth

»Wer sich informieren möchte, hat ein Problem: Kaum jemand weiß, dass Deutschland bis heute vertraglich gebunden ist, sich an die Geschichtsversion der Siegermächte zu halten. (...) Die Verpflichtung Deutschlands, die eigene Geschichte durch eine fremde Brille zu sehen, wurde 1990 vertraglich verlängert! (...) Schultze-Rhonhof erzählt ganz einfach die Geschichte so, wie sie nach heutiger Quellenlage abgelaufen ist. Besonders spannend in diesem Buch ist die Analyse der so genannten Schlüsseldokumente, die in Nürnberg herangezogen wurden, um der Reichsführung und den Generälen eine langfristige Weltkriegsplanung nachzuweisen.

Um es kurz zu machen - aus Wikipedia (aber wer googelt, findet auch andere entsprechende Quellen)

Schultze-Rhonhofs Schriften zur Entstehung des Zweiten Weltkriegs widersprechen grundlegenden Ergebnissen der Forschung und sind in der Geschichtswissenschaft nicht rezipiert worden. In der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung rezensierte Christian Hartmann das Buch 1939 – Der Krieg, der viele Väter hatte als „abstrus“ und „einseitig“.

Der Mann hat(te) manigfaltige Kontakte in die rechte Szene, bediente sich auch angeblich häufig aus entsprechenden Quellen.

In der Welt kürzlich ein Artikel, Titel: Wikipedia - Lügen mit System -

Christoph Kuhlmann | Mi., 22. Januar 2020 - 21:56

with Russia. We still boykott this country, because of the Ukrainian conflict. Another conflict with White Russia would destabilize the relationship with Russia completely. Together with the stationing of short range missiles in Kaliningrad and the tensions with Poland and Russia as well as new hypersonic rockets we might be on the way onto another cold war, if hardliner succeeds. I don't thing the reorganization of the political system and the unique interpretation of history is a big thing. Zar Putin will rule and that's better as an unstable government. Russia is not a democracy and won't become one within the next years. We need working economic relations and should not extent sanctions. I hope Putin has learned what happens when "unknown" green men occupy territories in the neighbourhood. Europe should have learned that Russia said stop here or fight.

S. Bauer | Do., 23. Januar 2020 - 07:40

Mr. Friedman is making a number of interesting claims that would be unthinkable in a public German debate (unless one wants to end up in something like deep bird´s droppings).For one, he claims: "For the Germans, whose primary historical goal is to allow World War II to slink into the past..". Publicly, quite the opposite is the case (see the famous "Vogelschiss scandal"). Germany started the WWII and all contenders for that title are only second or third class. That is and remains the German mantra (and is also true in many aspects). Further, Mr. Friedman claims (more of a collateral "damage" in his article) that the Sowjet Union (kind of) jointly started WWII with Hitler Germany. This is probably true (at least for the European part), but a big TABOO in German "discussion". The one and only acceptable truth in Germany is that the Germans are the REAL bad guys in the WWII story and no one can compete and all that dare differentiating are evil revisionists or even worse "Realtivierer".

On what evidence do you base your presumption that the Soviets jointly, with Germany, started WWII?

Further, as you seemingly have difficulties with the German "guilt", who else would be responsible for starting (or causing) the war? Again, what proof do you have?

I understand, since you are using the word taboo, you suspect some kind of "hidden truth" behind the established historical facts.

Wolfgang Tröbner | Do., 23. Januar 2020 - 12:36

Antwort auf von Gerhard Lenz

How do you interpret the fact that the Soviet army invaded the Eastern part of Poland shortly after the Germans had invaded the Western part? Do you really think that the Soviets wanted to protect Poland?

I never claimed that the Soviets intended to protect Poland. Yet it is a totally different question whether the Red Army would ever have assaulted Poland if Germany had not started WWII. Therefore, you may quite well consider the Soviet attack a mere consequence of the German aggression towards Poland - aimed at increasing the Soviet territory.
It goes without saying, however, that the Soviet aggression not in the least cast doubt on the question who started the war: it was clearly Germany.

Kurt Walther | Do., 23. Januar 2020 - 12:45

Was will Friedman Neuartiges und Interessantes sagen? Es geht um die Interpretation neuerer Äußerungen Putins zum 2. WK, speziell um für mich nicht ganz transparente russische Relativierungsversuche zur Schuldfrage. Hier sehe ich für mich keinen Anlass, von der offiziellen deutschen Auffassung abzuweichen. Von der Schuld am 1. WK wurde DE zumindest von den Historikern mittlerweile entlastet. Friedman weist aber auf eine aktuelle russische "Sorge" hin. Es geht um Belarus (Weißrussland), das Putin stärker an Russland binden möchte, möglichst in sein Imperium als Puffer zum Westen inkludieren. NATO-Truppen sollen eben nicht unmittelbar an der Westgrenze des originären Russĺands stehen können/dürfen. Mit dem schon immer schwierigen Verhältnis zu Polen und den baltischen Staaten, dem Abfall der ukrainischen "Brüder", sorgt sich das riesige Land nun um Belarus, dessen Präsident Lukaschenka offenbar nicht so will wie es Putin gerne hätte. Deshalb jetzt auch Geschichtsklitterung.

Klaus Funke | Fr., 24. Januar 2020 - 17:56

Ich spare mir den Kommentar auf Englisch. Ich bin nicht so eitel und muss nicht nachweisen, dass ich diese Sprache beherrsche. Seltsam wie reflexartig hier einige Kommentatoren sofort auf den Zug des Putin-Bashing aufspringen. Wider besseren Wissens wird da vermutet und gegeifert. Ekelhaft. Wir sollten froh sein, dass es diesen Mann gibt. Ohne ihn hätten wir schon lange Krieg in Europa und in der Welt... na vielleicht schaffen es der Westen und seine Verbündeten und die USA noch, die Truppen sind ja schon unterwegs Richtung polnischer Ostgrenze. Ich reibe mir die Augen: Wie blöd und wie geschichtsvergessen kann man sein...

Bernd Muhlack | Fr., 24. Januar 2020 - 21:56

… soll Jesus angeblich gesagt haben; Matthäusevangelium.
Im Gegensatz zu meiner Tochter, bin ich des englischen nicht fließend, trefflich mächtig, folglich das simple deutsch!
(Bevor ich etwas falsches sage/schreibe).

Ich möchte diese "Kriegsschuld" einmal anders darstellen.
Mein Opa Jupp hatte drei Brüder (u 4 Schwestern; sie sind hier jedoch irrelevant).
Er war der älteste, Jahrgang 09. Alle vier Brüder erhielten innerhalb einer Woche ihren "Einberufungsbefehl".
Während Opa stolz mit einem "angelegten" Besen durch die Küche marschierte, (Tata, Tata, Tata!) waren seine jüngeren Brüder geschockt (heut zu Tage sagt man: traumatisiert).
14 Tage später ab zur Wehrmacht!
Die Jungs haben sich niemals mehr gesehen!
Nur mein Opa überlebte.
Er war letztlich an der Ostfront, sowjetische Gefangenschaft in Dnipropetrowsk, Ukraine; ein Arbeitslager. 1949 kehrte er schwer krank zurück.
In 1975 ist er an Krebs gestorben, der Obergefreite J.G. … mit dem "Verwundetenorden" erster Klasse!

Bernd Muhlack | Fr., 24. Januar 2020 - 21:59

BP von Weizsäcker hielt im Bundestag eine Rede ob des 40. Jahrestages des Kriegsendes.
Der Kapitulation, der BEFREIUUNG!
Diese hervorragende Rede sollte Pflichtlektüre für jedermann sein!
Schuld, Verantwortung, wo sind die Grenzen?
Heut zu Tage würden ihn die üblichen Verdächtigen in die rechte Ecke stellen!
(Nein, zu BP Steinmeier besser kein Kommentar; obwohl ich immer höflich bis sehr derb-humorig bin!)
1938: die Münchner Konferenz; dürfte bekannt sein.
Hitler: "Ich sah unsere Gegner, sie sind Würmer!"
Dem Anschluss des Sudetenlandes folgte die "Zerschlagung der Rest-Tschechei!"
Dann die Unterschriften von Ribbentrop sowie Molotow.
"Seit 05:45 wird zurück geschossen!"
Für den Beginn eines "Krieges" ist meist eine Lüge, neudeutsch FAKE hilfreich. Man nennt das auch Wording, Framing.
"Historiker" werden immer wieder neue Erklärungen finden, für alles - (Bankverbindung ist ja bekannt, oder?)

"Isch bin ein Börliner!"
Mr. Gorbatschow, tear down this wall!"