Alphen, Netherlands. August 21st. Seventy-five years ago at 2330 hours on August 23rd, 1939 one of the most dangerous and destructive documents ever drawn up between two European states was signed in Moscow. Named after the respective Soviet and German Foreign Ministers of the day the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (better known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact) was an exclusive non-aggression agreement that carved Eastern Europe into spheres of unwelcome Nazi and Soviet influence. In effect the Nazi-Soviet Pact marked the real start of World War Two. On the one hand, the Pact eased the way for Hitler who no longer faced the prospect of a “zweifrontenskrieg”. On the other hand, the Pact finally forced London and Paris to face reality and give Poland security guarantees that actually meant something. World War Two broke out just over a week later on September 3rd. As an exercise in cynicism the Pact remains unsurpassed. At its heart was a notorious Secret Protocol which breached all tenets of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations concerning secret diplomacy and strategy. The Protocol stated as follows:
“On the occasion of the signature of the Non-Aggression Pact between the German Reich and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics the undersigned plenipotentiaries of each of the two parties discussed in strictly confidential conversations the question of the boundary of their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. These conversations led to the following conclusions:
1. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna area is recognized by each party.
2. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula, and San.
The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish state and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments.
In any event both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.
3. With regard to South-Eastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares; its complete political disinterestedness in these areas.
This protocol shall be treated by both parties as strictly secret.
Moscow, August 23, 1939.
For the Government of the German Reich:
Plenipotentiary of the Government of the U.S.S.R.:
Nazi Germany was eventually cast into the dustbin of history but only as a result of World War Two and at the cost of 53 million lives. Thankfully, modern Germany has nothing to do with such an obscenity. Indeed, the very ethos and existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union in which it plays such a leading and enlightened role reflects modern Germany’s utter rejection of those few ghastly sentences above.
Russia is also a modern and civilised country and is not the Soviet Union of old and yet of late it has been behaving as though it was. In 2014 not only is the Russian War Plan for Eastern Ukraine clear for all to see it is already being enacted. There has also been a whole raft of secret agreements between Moscow and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine including the infiltration of significant numbers of Russian personnel and equipment.
One such agreement led to the stationing of the Russian SA-11 surface-to-air missile on Ukrainian soil which shot down Malaysian Flight MH-17 on July 17 resulting in the murder of almost 300 innocent people. Former senior US official and Russian expert Strobe Talbot rightly says that Russia’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine is already under way. The aim; a new Russian protectorate in Ukraine called the Union of Donetsk and Luhansk Republics established on self-proclaimed borders.
The toll is mounting. As of 15 August 2119 people had been killed in Eastern Ukraine with some 5100 people wounded. At present some 60 people are being killed or wounded daily with some 156,000 people displaced. 190,000 people have fled to Russia with just over 22,000 people having fled Donetsk and Luhansk last week alone in what is in effect street-to-street fighting.
The planned meeting next week between President Poroshenko and President Putin could make the difference between open war and peace. Therefore, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the signing of this criminal document President Putin has a chance to demonstrate to fellow Europeans that he fully understands this is 2014 not 1939. And, that Russia believes in and is bound by the rule of international law in a Europe the borders of which are also established by law not force.
If an agreement can be reached in Moscow between the presidents it must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, open a new dialogue on the future of Ukraine-Crimea, and establish proper rights for all minorities within Ukraine. Then Europe as a whole can return to the twenty-first century and Russia return to the family of European nations to which it rightfully belongs.
However, for such an accord to be reached other Europeans need to show political backbone – no shady deals. Seventy-five years ago the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in part a consequence of Britain’s appeasement of Nazi Germany. In 2014 Berlin and other European capitals must be careful that they too do not mistake self-interested, short-term appeasement for ‘strategy’.
Indeed, for all Russia’s undoubted historical ties with Ukraine there is a fundamental issue at stake in this struggle; the right of free and independent states to choose their allegiances and alliances freely unhindered by unwelcome spheres of influence.