Shaun Walker: Signed in Moscow... the document which divided a continent

Share
Related Topics

Few pieces of paper are as controversial as the one signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov. The foreign ministers of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia put their signatures to a non-aggression pact, as a jovial Joseph Stalin smiled from behind them. A week later, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. In a secret addendum to the treaty, which only became public after the war, the two powers agreed to slice up central and eastern Europe into spheres of influence. The Soviets got the Baltic States and part of Poland, and had invaded the territories by the middle of 1940.

In the West, the pact is seen as the key trigger for war. Countries which subsequently had to endure decades of Soviet or Communist rule have suggested the Soviet invaders were no better than the Nazis, an allegation which infuriates Moscow.

In July, a resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) equated Stalinism and Nazism, and called for 23 August, the date of the Nazi-Soviet pact, to become a day of remembrance across Europe for the victims of both regimes. The Russian delegation stormed out in fury, and the head of the delegation called it an "insulting anti-Russian attack".

In the past decade, the defeat of Nazi Germany in what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War has been transformed into something of a national idea. Any attempts to portray a more nuanced version of the war years have been met with outrage among Russian officials. The Soviet Union lost millions more troops than any other country, and the line is that the Soviet Union was the unequivocal saviour of Europe. Last year Stalin came third in a poll to name the greatest Russian of all time, and most of his support in contemporary Russia is based on his reputation as a war leader.

Many Western historians have portrayed Stalin as an inept leader in the run-up to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. It has been suggested he was taken completely by surprise, having refused to believe intelligence passed to him by his generals. Most Russian historians, on the other hand, claim that Stalin was preparing for war all along, and signed the Nazi-Soviet pact simply to gain time to prepare.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently  

Shia LaBeouf to Luis Suárez: Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015