Russia's D-Day message: You're welcome

Some traditions never change. After the fall of the Soviet Union, some might have expected the Russian pretense to have beaten Hitler’s Germany nearly singlehandedly to have dissipated. Or at the very least, to have been met with an acknowledgment that the Soviets played a very large role in starting World War II in the first place.

Instead, the official Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to run with this messaging while the West commemorated D-Day:

Russia told the West on Wednesday the Normandy landings on D-Day in 1944 did not play a decisive role in ending World War Two and that the Allied war effort should not be exaggerated.

Moscow’s comments might irk war veterans in Britain where the 75th anniversary on Wednesday of the largest seaborne invasion in history was marked at a ceremony in Portsmouth attended by Queen Elizabeth and world leaders including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel.

Speaking at a weekly news conference in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova offered a tribute to those who died on the western front of World War Two and said Moscow appreciated the Allied war effort.

“It should of course not be exaggerated. And especially not at the same time as diminishing the Soviet Union’s titanic efforts, without which this victory simply would not have happened,” she said.

Ahem. It’s true that Russia had to contend with more German units than the Allies did in France. This ignores the fact that the Allies had fought the Nazis in North Africa and up the Italian peninsula for several years prior to D-Day, not to mention the naval warfare that the US and UK conducted. Furthermore, even after the Soviets allied with the US, UK, and Free France, they pointedly refused to declare war on Japan, where the US and the Commonwealth were committing massive forces against Hitler’s ally. Stalin declared war on Japan only after the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to demand territorial gains.

Even apart from that, this ignores the fact that Stalin made a greedy agreement with Hitler to divvy up Poland. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in August 1939, a craven and disgusting act, guaranteed the start of World War II. Would Hitler have invaded Poland without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact? Probably, but it would have meant keeping his eastern front prepared for a Soviet reaction. Instead, Hitler overran the Netherland, Belgium, and France … all without Stalin opening up a “second front.”

The Soviets made the mistake of not taking Hitler’s demand for lebensraum seriously and thought they could seize land on the cheap, until Hitler finally turned on Stalin when he thought the time was right. Until then, Stalin’s communist proxies in France, the UK, and the US argued not for a “second front” but for isolationism and a hands-off approach to the conflict in eastern Europe.

Only after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union did Stalin and the communists begin shrieking about a “second front,” ignoring the fact that the Brits had been fighting one in North Africa. (The US joined that front soon after Pearl Harbor.) The Italian campaign tied up a number of German units as well, especially after Mussolini ran out of Rome and the Italians switched sides. The allies attempted a smaller scale invasion force in 1943 at Dieppe to get what would be a third front in Europe, which turned out to be a disaster for the Canadian troops that got trapped there. It was the hard lessons learned at Dieppe as well as those in the Pacific theater that were eventually applied 75 years ago today in the successful D-Day operation.

There’s one other laughable aspect to Russia’s D-Day propaganda, too. The invasion was a massive effort to liberate other countries from the Nazi grip — not just France but also Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and so on. The Russians fought valiantly after the Nazi invasion, but let’s not kid ourselves; they were fighting to free themselves. And when they did manage to push the Nazis out of Russia proper, the Soviets pushed through all of the states of eastern Europe, not to liberate them but to seize them and put them in their own iron grip. They kept those countries prisoner for more than forty years, too.

So what did we learn from Russia’s nostalgic tour through Stalinesque propaganda tropes? Probably that we should have invited Vladimir Putin to today’s ceremonies.

Update: Don’t forget that the MFA also trotted out this nonsense a couple of years ago to complain about Poland’s lack of appreciation for their liberation.