Press-Conference by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy "80th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Second World War"
A.: The topic of our press conference might sound a little bit academic and I am absolutely sure that many of you wondered what was the idea of bringing this topic to the press conference. I am historian by background a little bit. I have very bad memory for names and dates, that is why I chose to be a historian. I was struggling with this during my whole academic life, but I managed to remember at least something from the subjects that I was taught and I understand that history is really very important because it embraces everything. It has connection to arithmetic, to physics, to music, to culture so this is the mother of subjects if I can say so.
In my country we pay very much attention to history. History is not a very easy topic. It reflects the political situation in this or that region of the world. Some people approach it from the position that was once pronounced by Napoleon: history is a number of lies and these lies change with epochs and with governments. We do not think it is a number of lies because there are historic facts that can be proven and it can really matter very much.
This is exactly the case with the event that triggered my press conference. On 1 September we will mark the 80th anniversary of the bloodiest war in our history and hopefully this is the last war in our history by such extent. The number of victims differ, but I think average calculations show that about 55 million people became victims of the Second World War and more than half of this number is victims from the former Soviet Union member States. They were a lot of civilian victims – two thirds of the whole number, but also military victims. That is why in my country you can hardly find a family that is not affected by this event. Therefore we, the people living in Russia, are very much on alert all the time when historic events are discussed and when the issue of the Second World War or the Great Patriotic War that started on 22 June 1941 is discussed.
At some point of my career I worked in Poland for 3 years and I was honored to serve there when the 70th anniversary was marked. It was a very difficult political endeavor for everybody, because the political situation in Poland was not easy. Our relations were also not at the best level, but at the same time we managed to guarantee the presence of then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Westerplatte. He delivered a wonderful speech there and he had good meetings with Polish leadership. This was an icebreaker for our relations.
That is why I personally was very much bewildered when I learned the Polish Presidential Spokesman had announced that Russia is not invited there to the 80th Anniversary events. It is not about us willing to be invited everywhere, it is about us being puzzled because only 10 years have passed since last time we were about to mark such an event. It clearly shows how big the transformation in the world has gone during these 10 years and what is the difference now in the attitude towards historic events. This is very alarming, that is why we really wanted to bring this issue to your attention.
History remains history, but a lot of political action or inaction, and political declarations are usually based on historic events. There are a lot of facts that build the basis for our perception of the beginning of the Second World War. The depth of your analysis is usually defined by the conclusion to which you want to come at the end of this analysis.
If you just start your analysis with the fact that on 23 August 1939 the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression pact, then of course your vision of history is predefined. But this is a very shallow analysis, which is dominated today unfortunately in Eastern Europe and in Poland in particular.
In order to understand the context of these events we must dig further and we need to understand that at that time in Europe, maybe five, seven years before the beginning of the Second World War, it was absolutely clear, that the war with Hitler was inevitable. The policy of the great States of the European continent was very much determined by search for ways to avoid the war, or avoid participation in, or get the biggest benefits from not being attacked first. A lot of politicians at this time clearly hoped, that there would be war between the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany and these two States would annihilate each other which would make a new opening for the world. There were a lot of these primitive theories and they hoped that under such scenario other countries would be spared.
However, it was absolutely clear that the policy of the appeasement of Hitler led to the situation where Hitler became more and more powerful. The Soviet leadership understood, that it would have to make certain diplomatic moves to avert immediate beginning of the war.
In 1939 there was a big danger, that the USSR would have to fight the Nazi Germany from the first day. It is necessary to say that there were a lot of efforts in Europe at that time, and especially efforts from our part to build an anti-Hitler coalition, mobilize action and give a common response to this threat. These were very active efforts – we had negotiations first and foremost with France and the United Kingdom. But they were to no avail. There was a political reasoning behind this, nobody was a big fan of the Soviet Union, and they had their own interests. We need to remember the Munich agreement of 1938, as the result of which Czechoslovakia was absolutely betrayed by Western powers and a lot of countries participated in the partition of Czechoslovakia, including Poland.
I am giving you this picture not because I want to lecture you on history, but because I want you to understand the events of that time you need to look through the eyes of those who lived back then. If we analyze everything through our positions, through the concepts of today, we will inevitably get a wrong perception of what was happening. From the point of view of politicians and from the point of view of moral standards of politics of that time any non-aggression pact between States, any non-aggression pact with Hitler was something very common and very achievable. They were not analyzing threats through the lens that we have today. So there were non-aggression pacts of Hitler Germany with Poland. The Baltic States were also signing agreements with Hitler.
We – I mean the Soviet Union – tried very hard to maintain neutrality, but it was not achieved. Everybody was trying to achieve certain safeguards against Hitler; some of them successfully for some of the countries, some – not, but the Soviet Union was not avoiding this diplomatic exercise as well, so this famous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was also part of our efforts. And we analyze it through this lens. It was stated several times, including by then Prime-Minister Putin, in Gdansk 10 years ago that this pact was a mistake. Of course, everybody makes mistakes and at that point there were a lot of mistakes. On the other hand this mistake allowed us, according to the calculations of many historians, to avoid waging immediate war on Hitler. And there are very many studies these days that you can read, and you will understand the reasoning that the Soviet leadership had by entering into negotiations with Hitler and by making this pact.
I will not tire you with the details, but there was logic behind this and there were practical dividends. A lot of people consider today that if the Soviet Union had not made this step Hitler would have had easier opportunity to take Moscow and Leningrad, and the war would have been over very soon. Of course you never know right now, there is no conjunctive mood for history, but serious politicians and serious historians show in this direction.
Coming back to 1 September, it is a very tragic day. Poland became the first victim of World War II. This country had a terrible fate – a lot of Poles were killed. And, of course, Holocaust was very much present in Poland at that time. We really wanted and we still want to share our feelings with everybody on this tragic day and to say that we remember these events and really want to avoid any of such situations in the future. But we were deprived of this opportunity this time.
When the Presidential Spokesman of Polish Office was asked why Russia was not invited, on the other hand – Germany was invited and the U.S. wasinvited. The answer was like this: “We are not analyzing this event through historic prospective. We are analyzing it through current today’s politics.” This is very dangerous. This is exactly what we really want to avoid – politization and falsification of history and glorification of those who do not deserve to be glorified. That is why we risked to raise this topic today in front of you, because there are very many cases of history being re-written.
Vandals who were collaborating with Nazis are becoming heroes. I can cite a lot of examples in today's Ukraine, for example the situation that really deserves very much attention, and I know that there are a lot of signals from diplomatic missions there in Kiev to the authorities of Ukraine that something is going on there. For political reasons, it is now very widely publicized. Such trend is also present in the Baltic States where the Waffen SS brigade that was created in 1943 by Hitler’s decree is now treated as heroes, and this runs counter to the decision of the Nuremberg Tribunal. We have always condemned this. I think this year we saw the political situation in some of the Western countries dictate and define the fact that they become even more eager to re-write history and change the attitude towards recent and non-recent historic events.
I tried to find opinion polls about the perception of the events of WW2. They are numerous, not many of them are illustrative. For example, recent opinion poll in France: the question is “Who gets the most credit for victory over Hitler?”. In 1945, 70 % of the French responded that it was the Soviet Union, about 20 % – that it was the United States and the rest said it was the UK. Now the situation is totally opposite. 70 % – the United States, 20 % – the Soviet Union, for the UK it remains more or less the same.
This is also very illustrative. The poll was conducted a couple of years ago, but I think that today the trend is even more alarming. This bears fruit, this bears result. People, especially young people, are more and more ignorant about who started the war, who you were fighting with.
I was really astonished when some of friends of my children showed me computer games about the Second World War where the United States was fighting the Soviet Union, and the latter was together with the Nazi Germany. Of course, it is a simulation. If we ask them, they say “come on, this is a game”. But children play these games and they will remember, that they were fighting with Americans against the Soviet people and Nazis.
This is a very important point. When I was starting my work in Poland, the trend of putting the Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union at the same level was very weak. A lot of Poles said that both regimes inflicted great damage on their country. They have some reasons to think so, but this is questionable. Nevertheless, it was a very low-voice situation. Now I think it is more and more frequent, when people say: “It doesn’t matter. On one hand it was one totalitarian regime, on the other hand – another totalitarian regime. They both cracked Poland and they started the war. So it doesn’t matter very much". This is the logic that is more and more voiced. I want to tell you, that this is not true. You can have whatever attitude towards the Soviet Union, you can have whatever attitude towards communist ideology and Stalinist ideology, but it is not equal, far from the equal to Nazi ideology. I will give you only one reason.
Nazi ideology means, that there is one nation that is put above every other nation. The main idea, the main task for Hitler was to win, to get more space for aryans. All the other nations were considered slaves or inferiors, not to mention Jews, Gypsies and some others.
In the Soviet ideology, which was also totalitarian of course, everybody was equal. Even such notion as nationality was almost non existent. In Soviet passports it was not obligatory to put nationality, because the bearer was part of the Soviet people. The idea was to start a world revolution and to liberate everybody. To liberate from bourgeoisie, from capitalism. I am not saying it is good or bad, but this is a different type of ideology. It is an ideology in favor of liberty, in favor of making people free. Very many people will say, that is questionable, but still the ideology is very much different. That is why we always oppose this false starting point that these two regimes were equal.
Another worrying point is that now some historians say it was not that difficult for the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany, because there was extreme frost. Now we encounter other allegations. There are more and more situations like this, which becomes a trend.
I want to remind you of the figures. 27 million people died in the Soviet Union and it was an enormous loss for my country. You can read plenty of material about it on the Internet or elsewhere. This is very sad for us to hear such things and it makes us sad to learn that our country is omitted at such important events that will commemorate the 80th anniversary. This is not an insult to us. We can make our own events dedicated to this date and we will speak. This is an insult to the whole of Europe, to the memory of those fallen. This is an insult to Poles themselves. In Poland alone there were 600 000 – even more – Soviet soldiers who died there. There are graves of this number of soldiers. You cannot betray the memory of those who came there, who were absolutely sincere in their desire to liberate this land from fascism, and we need to respect their memory. And this is kind of disrespect. I really wanted to limit myself to this. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer.
Q.: I agree with you that the Soviet Union had the largest share in both victory and suffering. But what amazes me now is that Poles 10 years ago invited the Russian Federation because they did suffer under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
My question is: you have a big anti-fascist campaign as a result of WW2 victory. Yet the Russian Federation is backing far right parties in Europe, West and East. It is Marine Le Pen in France, some representatives of the “Alternative” in Germany, freedom party in Austria, founded by ex SS-men. Why aren’t you doing anti-fascist campaign in Western Europe also? It is your legacy.
A.: First of all, it is very difficult to classify all the far rightist movements as Nazi movements. I never saw them march the streets with Nazi symbolic, with lanterns lit as in 1933. On the other hand, in Kiev they do so. They have Nazi emblems, symbols – it is quite clear. Still nobody pays any attention to this. It is very questionable. I would doubt very much what you say, that these are neo-Nazi groups. There are neo-Nazi groups, but we are not cooperating with them at all. Your suggestion or your assumption that we back these movements. What do you mean by “back”?
Q.: Well, thousands euros for Le Pen.
A.: That is something new for me. Really.
Q.: In the last election in France. I am not saying, that they are fascists, neo-fascists, but there are certainly people among them, who were quite open about it. And you do not want to create 1930s again.
A.: Absolutely not. But you also need to take into consideration one fact. It takes two to tango. If somebody wants to speak with us – we are ready to speak with them. I have not heard about many European parties right now, that would not be afraid to speak with Russia and that would propose to speak with Russia and that would voice understanding of our reasoning and our policies and so on and so forth. It would be unwise of us not to notice this. Take Le Pen’s movement in France, it is not a marginal movement. She was a presidential candidate, so her policies and her party program were very much analyzed. If it were about neo-Nazism, I am absolutely sure, that the French would have forbidden it. So that is marginal within marginal. We are not supporting this. Our position is quite clear – no ambiguity.
I forgot to mention that every year we introduce special General Assembly resolution against glorification of Nazism and in support of combatting any forms of xenophobia and extremism. Guess who always votes against this resolution? The United States and Ukraine. There are a lot of abstentions, because the European Union has a very specific position, but most countries support this.
Q.: You mentioned how before WW2 there was the appeasement by the Soviet Union to Hitler.
A.: There was appeasement by the European States, not by the Soviet Union.
Q.: Yes, and also you mentioned how it was done in order to make sure Hitler would not attack them. Then suddenly Germany attacked the USSR. How this historical fear is explaining your anti-NATO policies in Eastern Europe right now? And how is that explaining your policy in Syria? Is this policy in Syria part of the same paradigm of self-defense or is it, as critics say, a new kind of expansionism of Russian influence in broader regions?
A.: I really do not see these issues through the same optics as you do. Briefly – in Syria it is about defending and upholding the international law. Our position is against any international interventions and action that seeks to undermine legitimate governments. You should first and foremost analyze this through this optics.
Same thing with Venezuela. You will find answers in the same folder as those on Syria.
As for the NATO, the angle you take to look at things is very interesting. Russia’s being opposed to NATO enlargement comes from the understanding that NATO was and is a kind of a rudiment from the Cold War – the period when there were the Eastern and Western blocs, the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the NATO. They were counterbalancing each other. Then at some point, when the world began to change, there was an agreement. It was only verbal, but it was equally understood everywhere. Its essence was: when the Cold War mentality was dismantled, the two pacts would cease to exist, which was the case with the Warsaw Pact, but not with the North Atlantic Treaty.
How do you think we should view the existence of a military bloc that is against Russia, has anti-Russian ideology, holds Russia for a foe and an enemy (this is not a secret), and that possesses a lot of military installations in closest proximity of Russian borders? Of course you can look at this from another angle and say that it was our country that placed itself so close to NATO bases, but this is not how we analyze it. There are military people in my country whose job is to assess and counter threats. They cannot ignore that a powerful military bloc with military expenditures ten times as large as that of Russia, that this bloc is there and behaves aggressively. It has nothing to do with the Cold War, nor with WW2. It is the reality that we face, and we need to analyze those challenges in terms of what we have now.
As for Syria, I partially answered that, but we will get back to it after we are done with the history part.
Q.: A question about the next year Victory Day celebration on 9 May that Russia prepares at the moment. 17 leaders have already confirmed their participation in the event. I wonder if Russian authorities are going to invite the UN Secretary-General.
A.: I think it has been announced that he is invited. I need to double check, but I think it was announced during his visit to Russia. In any case, he is most welcome.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador. It is well-known that the rise of Nazism came as a result of unfair treatment in Versailles 100 years ago, where Germany was treated as a bankrupt country. There was also promiscuous use of sanctions and trade wars that prevailed.
These days we are witnessing that sanctions are imposed against many countries at the same time. Are we repeating history? In your view, is the today’s world repeating what happened before and after Versailles? Without Versailles, there probably would not have been a Nazi party ruling in Germany?
A.: I do not see direct parallels. If we assume that we live at time that is pretty the same as that of the Versailles Treaty, then we should also assume that there is a defeated party that faces reparations, unfair conditions and limitations for the development of armed forces. However, this is not the case for today.
You are right that there are many alarming signals that we have today. It is the policy of exclusion, sanctions, making coalitions that is very erroneous in our understanding. We are in favor of multilateralism. We think we can deal with the problems of today by creating inclusive rather than exclusive unions. We do not want to guarantee security of some States at the expense of others. To do so would be a mistake. There are a lot of trends like this happening today.
Your position says we are facing the situation that might be somewhat similar to that of Versailles, which was the eve of a big war. Indeed, there are some tells that indicate we are in a dangerous situation right now. For us it is the tolerance to glorification of Neo-Nazism that is the most alarming. If we do not take it at its face value, if we do not say that we do not tolerate those things, then all of us will face big problems in the future. There will be double standards in this regard.
When I was working in Poland, and Ukraine had a different government, there was lots of criticism about glorification of Bandera and those who worked with him, because they had killed so many Poles and committed so many massacres against them as well as Jews, Russians, etc. People were saying this openly. At that time it was a big issue in Polish-Ukrainian relations.
Then the tide changed. Glorification became more intense. There appeared more and more monuments to Bandera, Shukhevych and others in Ukraine. However, the voice of Poland has become very soft. We have certain documents regarding this matter.
I can quote a letter that Ambassadors of Poland and Israel in Kiev sent to the mayor of Ivano-Frankovsk (a city in Ukraine). It is against the unveiling the monument to Roman Shukhevych on 24 May this year. The letter reads: “We take the opportunity to protest your decision and wish to remind the kids of Ivano-Frankovsk, their parents and grandparents that Roman Shukhevych was personally responsible for taking the lives of tens of thousands of their equals by bullets, fire, rape, torture and other beastly methods only because they prayed to God in Polish and Hebrew”. This letter is not publicized. I downloaded it from Twitter feeds of some people who really also think glorification of Nazism is something shameful.
Have you heard anything about this from Mass Media? Nothing. This is very serious. The attitude changes and political aims start to dominate assessments of what is happening (and not happening) at the moment. This is really very tragic.
Q.: Some countries and communities claimed compensation from Germany for the atrocities committed against them. However, you paid the heftiest price for the war – 27 million as you said statistics shows. Still you have not claimed any compensation. Why is that?
A.: The best compensation for us will be a peaceful world without wars where people can cooperate and not fight. It has always been at the center of our ideology. I think there were some reparations in terms of land. Germany lost a big part of its territory. Mostly to Poland. The Kaliningrad region I think was also part of the landmass transferred to the Soviet Union after the war. I am not an expert, of course. I believe there was some kind of compensation, but it was not to the extent you mentioned, and it was not articulated in treaties or elsewhere.
Q.: Ambassador, I thank you for this unusual press conference. I was also a student of history. Just like you, I do not remember many of the dates.
A.: Than makes the best historians, you know.
Q.: Yes, and just like you, I believe history is very important, especially if we want not to repeat history. If I got it right, you said that at that time, even before Munich, the capitalistic world was betting on a war between the Nazi Germany and the USSR for their advantage. The idea of Stalin and the communist party was: “We are not going to be the victim of the Germans because the world wants that”, and thereafter they signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop. That makes sense.
But then there are things that do not go with this logic, at least entirely. The Soviet Union invades Finland – a country that does not seem so dangerous to make a prevention invasion. And then, when finally operation Barbarossa happens in June 1941 and Hitler invades the Soviet Union, Stalin does not expect invasion at that very moment.
Yes, the history is written by the winners, but there were really crimes committed by all the nations during war. In fact, Stalin and the Soviet Union committed a lot of crimes, the United States committed a lot of crimes. There is the responsibility of those who started the war, and it is for sure with the Nazi Germany. I am not trying to say who is good and who is bad. At war all are bad.
My colleague was mentioning there was something strange happening. You are talking a lot about Neo-Nazism, but then in Western Europe (not only in France, also in Italy) there are signs that Russia is being (I do not want to use the word “supportive”) at least non-neutral to these parties. Because these parties are considered anti-European, anti-EU, does Russia think a weak Europe is a better for Russia’s safety? Or will it be better to have Europe strong in order not to repeat history?
A.: With your permission, I will start from the last part, because I have a bad memory, so I remember it better. I am joking, of course.
Not in our wildest dreams do we want to have a weak Europe. We want to have Europe strong, but we want Russia to be part of this Europe. It appears that not many European countries are really thinking this way. Especially after the enlargement of 2004, the accession of Eastern European States, the rhetoric has changed a lot. Russia is clearly being portrayed as an enemy in many countries, especially in Eastern Europe. The voice of former Western European countries has also changed because there is the common European position, sanctions, etc.
I do not try to tackle why it is so, because this is complicated. We would have spent three hours discussing it and probably would have required a bottle of vodka to better understand each other, but I do not have vodka in front of me.
Again, we do not support far rightists. Support is a very strong word. We react to the attitude that this or that party has towards Russia. If a party (like Le Pen’s party) says it understands what and why Russia is doing, understands that Russia is treated unfairly, if it is kind of echoing what we are saying in the world, it would be very strange of us to say this party is bad and we do not like it, because some people in France say it is extremist. This is not a reason for us.
We judge people by things that people think or do vis-à-vis Russia. This is a big difference. Again, I have not heard any examples of us being sympathetic with an extreme far-right or with a neo-Nazi party which, as far as I understand, are very much marginalized in European countries. Our position here is absolutely clear and unambiguous.
It is a very good question from a historian to a historian about the events of 1940-1941. We need to adapt our understanding of what has happened by imagining what people at this time were thinking, how they lived, what were their priorities and what was the optics they were using in that situation.
Finland, as you know, was formerly a part of the Russian Empire. The border between the independent Finland and Russia was very close to Leningrad that is Saint Petersburg now. The city of Vyborg, that we now have in the Russian Federation, belonged to Finland. Of course, it is not a reason for starting a war because there are a lot of situations when capitals are on the border but the rhetoric that we heard from the Finns at this point and the fact that the Finns were not neutral were important in this regard.
I am not justifying Stalin’s actions. I just want to find a reasoning. So if the war started, which was very much predictable, Finland was to be part of the coalition with the Reich, then Leningrad (which was important as an industrial hub of the Soviet Union and is still very important for Russia) would fall within several days. So tactically, Stalin tried negotiations, he tried to make Finland neutral but he did not succeed. The same situation was in the Baltic States, by the way. We were hoping that they would be neutral and it would have saved a lot of trouble for them. But they were not. They all agreed on certain arrangements with Hitler. If you analyze through this perspective, you will understand that this was a kind of a defensive move. It was very questionable, very tragic – you are absolutely right that a lot of people died and our Army was absolutely unprepared for that.
There was then a blockade for 900 days, as you know. But Leningrad did not fall. Because of the Soviet-Finnish war, the border became about 40 kilometers farther, and it was a game changer at the time. The same way some historians say about the result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when the Soviet troops entered Poland on 17 August 1939 and the border was moved to the West. This move also saved Moscow from being taken by fascists because we managed to build some more fortifications there. During this Barbarossa operation the advance was very quick but still there was some more resistance.
You know that if Hitler had started the war earlier and the weather conditions had been better, he would have got more chances. It would not be the turning point of the war, I am absolutely sure that history would have developed the way it did. Napoleon took Moscow but it did not bring him a victory. Nevertheless, a lot of people say that because of this move, because of the fact that the border was several hundred kilometers to the west, Moscow was not taken. It is very difficult to prove. I am not saying that I am not supporting this now, I did not say that it was a right move. I just try to understand the reasoning of these people. And I clearly see the reasoning of these people given the fact it was not the first move that we made to have peace with Hitler. We made many attempts with other countries, and the Brits and the French quite clearly and publicly indicated that they did not want to make any arrangements with the Soviet Union.
Q.: Do you really believe Stalin knew that Hitler was going to invade? He was paralyzed for 2 weeks, he did not believe that it was happening. Did he believe that Hitler would take all Europe and would leave the Soviet Union?
A.: I think that it is absolutely ridiculous to think so. Stalin was quite aware that inevitably at some point of time there would be some fight with Hitler. But he was sure that he had some more years or months, I do not know. So he was not expecting to start at that moment. You know that he disregarded a lot of reports from our spies and the other world that the war would start soon. From Japan, for example, from Richard Sorge.
When I analyze these events, when my friends in Poland who are not big fans of Stalin, as you may imagine, ask me this question, I say: “Let’s distinguish between Stalin and the Soviet people despite the fact that leaders matter”. Stalin was hiding for two weeks, everybody was wondering what happened. Kiev was already taken. The most of the territory was already taken, but Stalin kept silent. He was in shock, it was quite sure. But people were already fighting. When I spoke with my friends in Poland, I always answered them: “Look, for us the victory is not the victory of Stalin, it is the victory of the Soviet people. Because regardless of everything – all the hardships, all the deaths and devastations that we faced – it was the Soviet people who moved this fascist machine to Berlin.
We honor the memory of those who fell in Poland, they were ordinary people, they all had a life ahead of them, they had children. They all had reason to be cowards but they were not, they went there and they died for the liberty of Poland, the way as they understood this liberty. All respect and memory are for this. Is it not about Stalin. Again, a lot of Poles say: “Well, Russia brought a lot of devastation to Poland, you treated us badly, and that is why we cannot be good friends with Russia”. I asked them a question – where were Poles treated in a worse way than Russians were in the Soviet Union? In Germany they said that Germans were a superior race, a superior nation. So they would live well and the others would be slaves.
But everybody went to GULAG, not only Poles. We all lived badly at that time. We all faced the same political and other problems. And you cannot say that Russia was superior, or Belorussia was superior, or Ukraine. We all were treated like Soviet people without any nationalities. It was more important whether you were a worker or a capitalist than whether you were a Pole or a Russian. And that is a big difference. I am not saying this is good or bad. That made difference between the two countries at that time. They could not cooperate at all, even theoretically, because ideologically they were very far from each other. Germans were absolutely very far. A Union and common goals could not be imagined at all.
Q.: How is it related to the work of the United Nations?
A.: I think there is a direct implication. The UN is a product of this historic epoch. It was possible for us to create this forum of diplomacy and multilateralism only because of the fact that we wanted to cooperate with each other. This institution was created by the Soviet Union and the others. We managed to put aside all the problems and ideological differences that we had in order to find a club where we all would be able to cooperate, an organization that would really move forward world politics and prevent us from any new world wars. That was a successful move.
If the foundations of that time and the basic principles of historic analyses are questioned then at some point the United Nations might be questioned. This is very dangerous, so there should be certain logical limit to this. Yes, back then people were different but I repeat that you cannot view the events of that time through the same optics that we use right now when we analyze historic events – it is a mistake. You need to look at the events through the eyes of people who lived back in that epoch.
If you take any heroes, any big personalities, kings of Europe or Russia, whatever, and try to analyze their actions now, in our eyes they would be they would be criminals. They might have not been tolerant to LGBT. There might have been too few women represented in some parliaments, but at that point that was normal and we need to accept it. There were plenty of things that were normal back then and that sound a bit strange today. This is history but it should not be turned into politics now and it should not be the basis for division, hatred, xenophobia, etc. That is why we are putting in the spotlights these historic events of 80 years ago.
Q.: This is very important that you raised this issue now because there are many conditions and I was recently given a quote by Angela Merkel who said that the conditions in the world today are almost identical to the conditions in the world of the 1930s. I would appreciate it if you would address the economic roots that made it possible for Nazism to arise.
The Holocaust museum in Washington said 23 million Germans were on the verge of starvation at the time the Nazi party came to power. Today it is publicly known that eight individuals own more wealth then more than half the human beings on this planet which is an extremely destabilizing situation. To what degree would you identify the risks we are running today as a result of economic instability, the collapse of the values of the former Soviet Union, the rise of what has become a best crony capitalism? This is becoming a fairly scandalous situation. The United Nations has been taking positions and this goes back to 1991 when resolution 678 was voted to destroy a rock, ostensibly because of the invasion of Kuwait, but then again you had resolution 1973 about Libya and so forth… The question is: what are the economic similarities between the global economic situation today and that in the 1930s and what degree did this give rise to the popularity of Nazism in certain areas? To what degree is this underpinning the glorification of Nazism?
A.: Well, first of all, let’s be absolutely clear – the Soviet Union is a part of history. You can regret it or you can be joyful about this but it is a part of history. I can only quote my President saying that first of all the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Yes? That is the part that is most frequently quoted, but there is the other part that is not quoted at all. He said: Those who do not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, they have no heart; but those who want to re-establish the Soviet Union they have no mind. That is really how we view it. The Soviet Union is history. Now we have Russia, we have other States.
The answer to your question lies first of all in the fact that the political context in the 1930s was absolutely different from what we have now. Maybe I am too idealistic, but now we have the United Nations. We have more safeguards from the war, from devastation, from situations like that, so you cannot compare the League of Nations and the United Nations that we have now. If we really fulfill what we all promise in terms of these development goals and the development agenda, I think many of the problems that you highlighted will disappear, disparity for sure.
Of course this is dangerous and it does not improve the situation in the world in any case but there are instruments now in our hands and we need to use them. We are speaking not of the fact that we like these instruments. We have them, and we need to use them. Back in the 1930s we did not have these instruments and that is a difference. That is why I am more upbeat, more optimistic here. In order not to make the same mistakes we need not to forget about the history and lessons it taught us. Of course we have to account for the context we have right now, because there cannot be immediate parallels with whatever historic events you have in mind.
Q.: But yourself said in the Security Council on 22 August that the U.S. and NATO spend over 1 trillion dollars on weapons whereas Russia spends only 60 million. Wouldn’t it be infinitely better if this money was spent on the SDGs? But there is the reality – it is not spent on SDGs, and military expenditure is increasing. The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty recently is a very dangerous development. It seems there are trends that the United Nations has no ability to control.
A.: That is why we are here. All the diplomats, the Security Council, the General Assembly are working to avoid this situation. The position that I voiced at that meeting is not only Russian– it is shared by many. We understand that there is a big problem but we have all the instruments to correct this problem. If we stick to multilateralism, then we have the solution. If we stick to unilateralism, then the situation might be dangerous. The UN is really a very important product of this historic époque that matters a lot today. We need not to forget about history, including in the context of the functioning of the UN and history of its formation. That was my point. Let’s now close the history part and take a couple of questions on current issues.
Q.: On Syria. Russia announced a ceasefire in Idlib. Can you give us more details. Does it include any sort of exception for counter-terrorism operations to continue? Will Russia engage with humanitarians penholders on the draft resolution before the UNSC?
A.: I do not have the details of the ceasefire. I assume that all ceasefires and their conditions are similar. We have resolutions of the SC that clearly define combatting terrorism as our priority. The most important fact is that this is not the first ceasefire and, I am afraid, not the last one. Fate of all the previous ceasefires was the same – terrorists immediately broke them. I hope this one will last. But I really have doubts given the situation on the gfround. Let’s hope, let’s keep our fingers crossed.
As for humanitarian resolution, I was absolutely clear yesterday in my statement at the UNSC. There are humanitarian problems and we try to resolve these issues. Still, there are some similarities in the situations –when the Syrian Army gets initiative on the ground, there comes another initiative of a humanitarian resolution. We question a lot of information, a lot of alleged facts that are being cited by the international organizations that work in Syria. The UN, as you know, does not have presence in Idlib. That is why they can only trust certain sources that give them information about a structure of certain objects, killing of civilians.
Actually, the sources of this information are not trustworthy for us. There al lot of organizations clearly lied several times, clearly produced fake news and information that was repeatedly denied by the people involved. That is why we question very much the intensity of this humanitarian problem that is being highlighted by our western colleagues.
We try to engage in dialogue with them. If we come to a certain position that would correspond to the decisions of the UNSC, to the necessity of fighting terrorism, I do not think there will be a problem. The problem is that sometimes our positions on this issue are very much different. And while saying that they want to combat terrorism, some of our Western partners in fact are not doing anything or doing the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do. All that makes the story very much complicated.
You remember, yesterday my British colleague said that there were more babies than terrorists in Idlib. I do not know, really. It is very difficult to give any assessments, but this sounds very populist and absolutely not true.
Q.: On the DPRK. Does Russia support the publication of the mid-term report of the panel of experts? Do you have any comments?
A.: Frankly speaking, I do not have any comments. I did not see this file yesterday and the day before yesterday. So there could have been some developments. It is not my immediate dossier.
Q.: My question is about the Russian presidency in the UNSC next month. Could you please uncover the priorities of the Russian Federation? Should we expect the participation of Russian Foreign Minister in some SC meetings?
A.: I think we have all the reasons to expect participation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in some of the SC meetings. It would not be polite of me to “eat the bread” of Ambassador Nebenzia who will be dealing with journalists extensively on 3 September. Forgive me please, but I will not give you the details of our program. I will tell you that there are a couple of events that we foresee, they are devoted to the regional cooperation. You will learn the details on Tuesday.