Poland knew that Hitler announced his expansionist plans against the Slavic East in his 1925 infamous manifesto so it was a mistake to participate in chipping apart Czechoslovakia and refusing the Soviets’ overtures for an anti-Nazi alliance thinking that’ll save it. This was the point that President Putin meant to convey in his interview with Tucker, though he wasn’t as clear as he probably thought that he was at the time while speaking impromptu without any notes.
President Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson, which subverted popular media expectations and also spent considerable time on Poland, included a part where the Russian leader briefly summarized the lead-up to World War II. This section also focused on Poland and subverted plenty of expectations too due to the way in which he related these events. Here’s what he said according to the official Kremlin transcript, which will then be analyzed to clarify his intentions:
“In 1939, after Poland cooperated with Hitler — it did collaborate with Hitler, you know —Hitler offered Poland peace and a treaty of friendship and alliance (we have all the relevant documents in the archives), demanding in return that Poland give back to Germany the so-called Danzig Corridor, which connected the bulk of Germany with East Prussia and Konigsberg.
After World War I this territory was transferred to Poland, and instead of Danzig, a city of Gdansk emerged. Hitler asked them to give it amicably, but they refused. Still they collaborated with Hitler and engaged together in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia.
So before World War II, Poland collaborated with Hitler and although it did not yield to Hitler’s demands, it still participated in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia together with Hitler. As the Poles had not given the Danzig Corridor to Germany, and went too far, pushing Hitler to start World War II by attacking them. Why was it Poland against whom the war started on 1 September 1939? Poland turned out to be uncompromising, and Hitler had nothing to do but start implementing his plans with Poland.
By the way, the USSR — I have read some archive documents — behaved very honestly. It asked Poland’s permission to transit its troops through the Polish territory to help Czechoslovakia. But the then Polish foreign minister said that if the Soviet planes flew over Poland, they would be downed over the territory of Poland.
But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the war began, and Poland fell prey to the policies it had pursued against Czechoslovakia, as under the well-known Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, part of that territory, including western Ukraine, was to be given to Russia. Thus Russia, which was then named the USSR, regained its historical lands.”
The Russian leaders’ words prompted a flurry of condemnations among those who interpreted them as comparing himself to Hitler and justifying the Nazis’ invasion of Poland, though he arguably no such intent as will be explained in this piece. For starters, readers should familiarize themselves with his magnum opus on this subject from summer 2020 titled “75th Anniversary of the Great Victory: Shared Responsibility to History and our Future”, which comprehensively explains his point of view.
In fact, the insight that he shared in his latest interview was largely a rehash of what he wrote about nearly four years ago with respect to Poland’s controversial interwar diplomacy, particularly its participation in Czechoslovakia’s eventual dissolution. Warsaw had at the time assessed the USSR to be a greater threat than the Nazis, which shared their fears of communist expansion, hence why it refused the Red Army transit rights to save that erstwhile state that Poland itself played a role in chipping apart.
Their partition of modern-day Belarus and Ukraine after the Polish-Soviet War also led to rampant distrust that spoiled any possibility of Warsaw ever agreeing to grant Moscow the rights that it requested to save Czechoslovakia even if Poland hadn’t participated in its eventual dissolution. The aforementioned statements of verifiable historical facts aren’t being shared to excuse Poland’s policies at the time, but simply to explain the paradigm through which they were formulated.
Hitler’s infamous manifesto had already been published over a decade prior and it was thus well known that he harbored explicitly stated expansionist plans against the Slavs, specifically the Soviet Union, whose Ukrainian breadbasket couldn’t be invaded for “Lebensraum” without passing through Poland. He envisaged subordinating it into a vassal by annexing the Danzig Corridor and then exploiting that country as an anti-Soviet launching pad at a later time, but his plans were pushed forward by events.
Poland had the right to refuse the Nazis’ demands, but such might never have been made had Poland not participated in chipping apart Czechoslovakia a year earlier and had instead granted the Red Army transit rights to respond or at least agreed to form a broader anti-Nazi alliance with it and the West. Moscow had been trying to assemble exactly that, but to no avail, as President Putin explained in detail in his previously cited magnum opus from summer 2020.
After having been appeased at Munich, around which time Poland also played a role in Czechoslovakia’s eventual dissolution, he set his sights on Lithuania’s Klaipeda/Memel Region, after which he then sought to annex the Danzig Corridor from Poland. When Warsaw refused, due to part to it being hyped up with security guarantees from the Anglo-Franco Alliance, Hitler launched the Nazis’ first blitzkrieg that he’d been preparing for since 1933. He’d have preferred more appeasement but finally acted in its absence.
This sequence of events was foreseeable since Poland knew that Hitler announced his expansionist plans against the Slavic East in his 1925 infamous manifesto so it was a mistake to participate in chipping apart Czechoslovakia and refusing the Soviets’ overtures for an anti-Nazi alliance thinking that’ll save it. This was the point that President Putin meant to convey in his interview with Tucker, though he wasn’t as clear as he probably thought that he was at the time while speaking impromptu without any notes.
Hitler’s long-held and explicitly stated plans for invading the Soviet Union and particularly its Ukrainian breadbasket that he was obsessed with for “Lebensraum”, as were his predecessors during World War I, were therefore pushed forward by Poland’s uncompromising attitude. He expected that it would also appease him after its role in Czechoslovakia, especially due to it sharing his assessment of communism as Europe’s greatest threat, and that’s why he was so surprised by its Western-emboldened refusal.
To reiterate an earlier point, Poland had the right to refuse the Nazis’ demands and that was the morally correct policy, but President Putin’s point is that events might never have even gotten that far had Hitler not been appeased at Munich a year earlier, nor had Poland chipped apart Czechoslovakia too. That threw a wrench in Hitler’s plans to peacefully subordinate Poland as a vassal and then exploit it as an anti-Soviet launching pad at a later time, ergo why President Putin said he felt compelled to militarily act.
Hitler could have backed down, but he wasn’t one to take no for an answer, plus he was obsessed with reincorporating Imperial Germany’s lost regions prior to expanding into the Slavic East for “Lebensraum”. That’s why he decided to push his plans forward instead of risking the scenario of them becoming unattainable if the incipient (but at that time illusory) anti-Nazi alliance strengthened. This is a valid point that doesn’t equate to President Putin comparing himself to Hitler or justifying the latter’s invasion.
Only ill-intentioned propagandists would draw a parallel between the events leading up to the Nazis’ invasion of Poland in 1939 and those that preceded Russia’s special operation in 2022. These are two completely different conflicts that can’t be compared by any honest observers. President Putin brought up the first-mentioned simply to correct the historical record after Poland led the EU in laying equal blame on the Soviets for World War II in 2019 and to add further context to the ‘Ukrainian Question’.
As a history buff who rarely gives interviews to Western journalists, the Russian leader probably didn’t realize at the time how his impromptu summary of events leading up to that conflict would be spun, but he obviously didn’t intend to compare himself to Hitler to justify the Nazis’ invasion of Poland. Those who’d like to learn more about his perspective on World War II should reference his earlier cited magnum opus from summer 2020, which explains everything more clearly and in much greater detail.