Russia could shoot itself in the foot with policy of historical manipulation says leading historian

An inconvenient truth: German and Soviet officers greet each other after the invasion of Poland. Public domain

Russian lies about the start of the Second World War could backfire as more people around the world take an interest in the causes of the war and learn about Soviet culpability, a leading British historian has claimed.

In an interview for PAP Roger Moorhouse added that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was manipulating historical facts to shift attention away from his country's current problems.

Putin has gone on the offensive, pushing his version of history.DMITRY ASTAKHOV / SPUTNIK / GOVERNMENT PRESS SERVICE POOL/PAP/EPA

Moorhouse pointed out that Russia has become embroiled in several damaging scandals in recent months, including a doping controversy in sport, and suffered setbacks in Ukraine. Therefore, he said, Putin's focus on history and his attempts to portray Poland as a perpetrator of the war rather than a victim were designed to distract the public.

An author specialising in the history of the Second World War, Moorhouse is best-known for his 2014 book ‘The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941’.

Stalin and Ribbentrop shake hands after the signing of the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics pact on August 23, 1939, in which the two countries agreed to carve up Poland.Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H27337 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Putin has also resorted to manipulating history, Moorhouse said, because Russia considers World War Two as a founding myth, in which the Soviets could only be a victim or victor. Therefore, it was unacceptable for the Soviet Union or the Red Army to be charged with adverse or morally dubious conduct during the war.

An expert on the start of WWII, Moorhouse’s believes Putin’s policies could backfire.TFN

But, added the acclaimed historian, Putin's historical manipulations could prove counterproductive because his comments have created a greater interest around the world in the history of 1939. Moorhouse said the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact for example, which even a decade ago was little known in the West, was now becoming more wildly known, as was the fact that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies from 1939 to 1941.

He noted, however, that it may prove far more difficult to change public awareness in this respect in Russia, where most people knew only the official version of the war's history.

Numbers vary depending on the source material, but all agree that the Red Army committed anything between half-a-million and a million men to the campaign. These were further bolstered by a minimum of 4,000 tanks and 2,000 aircraft.Public domain

According to Moorhouse, all Poland and the West can to do to curb Russia's historical manipulations is to consistently and patiently counter them with the truth. In this context, he said that the response by Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, to Putin’s allegations of Polish complicity in the outbreak of the war was very appropriate.

Moorhouse said that it was of key importance for Western politicians not to allow themselves to be foiled by Putin. He also suggested they should stay away from this year's Victory Day celebrations in Moscow in May to prevent the Russian leader from exploiting their presence to spread his false, post-Soviet narrative about World War Two.

An author specialising in the history of the Second World War, Moorhouse is best-known for his 2014 book ‘The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941’.Press materials

Asked how he saw Russia's future in the coming years, Moorhouse said he would like to see Russia moving towards a civic society model and improving relations with Europe, but, he added, he could not see this happening soon.