On September 1, 1939, Nazi troops stormed through Poland’s western border, capturing territory as they defeated Polish forces right up to around the nation’s midpoint. On the 17th of the same month, troops from the neighboring USSR poured into Poland from the East — but not with the intention of engaging the Nazi occupiers as one might expect. In an often-forgotten bit of pre-World War II history, the USSR had actually entered into a non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany in the form of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact just days prior to the Nazi invasion.
Without a declaration of war, the USSR effectively saw Poland’s claim over the region as forfeit and simply moved in to capture the Eastern portion of the nation, in accordance with their standing agreement with the Nazis. By 1941, of course, this agreement would be dissolved and the USSR would go on to play a vital role in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany, but as valuable as that change of heart proved to be, it doesn’t erase the reality of the two-pronged invasion weathered by the Polish people in the fall of 1939.
That is, unless Russia has anything to say about it. Earlier this week, when the Polish embassy in the UK posted a tweet commemorating the USSR’s invasion of their nation 80 years ago, they immediately drew the revisionist ire of the Russian government.
#OnThisDay in 1939, the USSR joined Germany in invading Poland, attacking from the east in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet pact. 🇵🇱 was engulfed in #WW2, as the Soviet & Nazi German invaders divided its territory. Watch @Roger_Moorhouse explain what happened. #80WW2 pic.twitter.com/ehniJpCyz7
— Polish Embassy UK 🇵🇱 (@PolishEmbassyUK) September 17, 2019
From the vantage point of most historians, the Polish tweet was historically and factually accurate. In the decades since, the world has come to learn that the Nazi government had met with the USSR in secret negotiations based on how they would eventually divvy up the European continent, including giving the USSR back the territory they lost at the end of the Polish-Russian war nearly two decades prior.
However, modern day Russia has long since learned the power of managing perceptions on the world’s stage, and rather than allowing Poland to recount Russia’s past transgressions in such a public forum, they chose to counter Poland’s claims with an unusual tweet that argues Russia didn’t invade Poland, before seemingly justifying an invasion if any such thing were to have happened…
The USSR is often accused of invading Poland. Wrong! The Nazis attacked Poland on 1 September. It was not until 17 September, with Polish government fleeing & forces defeated, that the Red Army entered “Polish territories” – Belarus and Ukraine occupied by Warsaw since 1920 pic.twitter.com/supwmNBH90
— Russia in RSA 🇷🇺 (@EmbassyofRussia) September 17, 2019
It seems Russia is suggesting that their invasion wasn’t a real invasion because the Polish government was already reeling from that other invasion on their Western flank, but if they had invaded it would have been totally cool because Poland had it coming for occupying Belarus and Ukraine. This isn’t the first time Russia has tried to claim World War II didn’t begin until years later, going so far as to blame European nations for both not standing up to Hitler sooner and not giving him better alternatives to war.
Of course, coming from the same nation that used its military to forcibly annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 before spending the five intervening years since simply claiming that they didn’t, the revisionist history approach shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone at this point.
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