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Disinformation:

DISINFORMATION: In 1939, the USSR liberated Poland and saved it from the Nazi genocide

Disinformation

82 years after the USSR invaded Poland, which was already being attacked by Nazi Germany, the MFA and state press  in Moscow call the 1939 aggression an “act of liberation” and accuse the West of spreading propagandistic theories against Moscow.

NEWS: “On September 17, a Red Army military campaign was launched in the eastern regions of Poland. The academic community and the press (especially the foreign one) have described the event in contradictory ways, and many propagandistic theories are distributed with the aim of presenting the USSR as an aggressor state, similar to Hitler's Germany. […] The actions carried out by the Red Army protected the population in western Poland from the Nazi genocide”, according to a Facebook post by the Russian MFA, quoted by the state press.

“On September 17, 1939, the Red Army launched a liberation campaign in Poland. Soviet forces reached the Curzon line and did not allow the German Wehrmacht to approach Minsk. The peoples of western Belarus and western Ukraine welcomed the Soviet military with great joy”, the Moscow Foreign Ministry says in a tweet, taken over by the Russian press (Lenta.ru, RBK, Novaya Gazeta and others), along with a video illustrating the “liberation campaign”.

“According to documents, the Ukrainian and Belarusian people welcomed the Russian solders as liberators. The soldiers in the front row were greeted with flowers”, the documentary posted by the MFA and popularized by the media shows.

Reality

NARRATIVE: The Soviet Union did not invade, but liberated part of Poland in 1939.

LOCAL CONTEXT / ETHOS: Recently, Russia's MFA and President Vladimir Putin have been trying  to justify the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact or present it as a necessity of the time, which allowed Moscow to save Eastern Europe from the Nazi genocide. Moscow is also trying to revive a series of Soviet narratives about communist politics in the Eastern European states.

The narrative about the saving role of the Soviet army is promoted, while the crimes committed by the Soviets until, during and after the Second World War are ignored and denied. Such narratives are adapted depending on the country - Veridica has recently debunked one regarding Romania and its “liberation” from the Red Army and the Tudor Vladimirescu Division, made up of Romanian anti-fascist volunteers .

The meta-narrative about the liberating Soviet army is based on the same scheme: portraying the state that was “liberated” (de facto, occupied) as one that did not have enough political will to fight the Nazis, using distorted historical arguments to justify the USSR's need to defend itself, presenting the state attacked by the Soviets as a bankrupt political entity, ignoring or incorrectly  mentioning the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and extrapolating the realities 80 years ago to the political situation today. For example, according to the message promoted by Russia's MFA, thanks to the Soviet “liberators”, Minsk was saved from the Nazi invasion and the Ukrainians welcomed the Soviets with great joy - an allusion to today's realities in Belarus and Ukraine, which the Kremlin is striving to bring back to the Russian world and targeting them with its neo-imperialist project.

Russia's MFA and the Russian press do not mention the Soviet-German agreements to invade sovereign states or the crimes committed by the USSR (deportations, famines, political persecution), mentioned, along with those of Nazi Germany, in a  2019 European Parliament resolution 2019.

PURPOSE: The purpose of this narrative is to present the actions of the Red Army as an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian and Belarusian people, who were saved from Nazi crimes following the invasion of Poland.

WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: The Soviet army invaded Poland 17 days after Nazi Germany’s attack. On August 23, 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in Moscow, which provided, through its secret agreements, for the division of the territories of sovereign states between the USSR and Germany. In fact, until the invasion of Poland, that state had been divided at the negotiating table by Soviet and Nazi leaders. It is therefore an act of aggression planned in advance, and not a campaign of liberation.

The notion of “liberation campaign” appeared in the Soviet press and in the official speeches of communist leaders immediately after the invasion of Poland in 1939. According to Soviet historiography, the Red Army liberated western Belarus and western Ukraine from the bourgeois occupation of Poland. Most of the “liberated” territories were annexed to the USSR. Until now, Russia's MFA has not used the phrase “liberation campaign” when discussing the events of September 1939. Using it now is an indication of the fact the Russian political elite still counts on this concept and on the policy of rewriting the history of Eastern Europe.

In reality, the “liberation” of Poland was a bilateral, German-Soviet invasion and annexation campaign. The Soviet Union and Germany signed a pact in August 1939, which contained secret protocols for dividing the states in Northern and Eastern Europe into spheres of German and Soviet influence. Germany and the Soviet Union were to rule Poland. The pact provided the Soviets with additional space for defense / offensive in the west, presenting an opportunity to regain the territories ceded under the Riga Peace and to unite the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples in the east and west under the Soviet government. As in the case of other states, including Romania, the invasion and annexation of some Polish territories is presented as an act of liberation, often from an invented foreign oppression.

OFFICIAL REACTIONS: The Polish MFA reacted to the video distributed by Russia's foreign policy department. “There was no liberation campaign, but an act of aggression, carried out together with Nazi Germany. The Polish state did not cease to exist on September 17, 1939, and the inhabitants of the occupied territories became victims of the crimes of the Soviet state”,  said the press secretary of the Polish MFA, Łukasz Jasina.

  • Publication / Media:
    Lenta.ru, Rbk.ru, Novaya Gazeta
  • Date of publication:
    17/09/2021
  • Language / Target audience:
    Russian-speaking readers from the former post-Soviet countries
  • Amplification:
    Social media
  • Political affiliation:
    The Kremlin
  • Key narrative:
    The Soviet Union did not invade but liberated part of Poland in 1939
Marin Gherman

22 Sep 2021
Marin Gherman

12 minutes read
  • 82 years after the USSR invaded Poland, which was already being attacked by Nazi Germany, the MFA and state press in Moscow call the 1939 aggression an “act of liberation” and accuse the West of spreading propagandistic theories against Moscow.
  • Recently, Russia's MFA and President Vladimir Putin have been trying to justify the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact or present it as a necessity of the time, which allowed Moscow to save Eastern Europe from the Nazi genocide. Moscow is also trying to revive a series of Soviet narratives about communist politics in the Eastern European states. The narrative about the saving role of the Soviet army is promoted, while the crimes committed by the Soviets until, during and after the Second World War are ignored and denied.
  • PURPOSE: The purpose of this narrative is to present the actions of the Red Army as an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian and Belarusian people, who were saved from Nazi crimes following the invasion of Poland.
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