The Risk of Misreading Russia’s Intent

Official Washington’s “group think” on Ukraine holds that the crisis is all about Russian “aggression” and “expansionism” even with comparisons to Hitler. But such a hyperbolic interpretation of intent can create its own dangerous dynamics, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

Much of the discourse over the past year about responding to Russian moves in Ukraine has been couched in terms of the need to stop aggressive expansionism in its tracks. Hillary Clinton has even invoked the old familiar analogy to Nazi expansionism in likening some of the Russian actions to what Germany was doing in the 1930s.

With or without the Nazi analogy, a commonly expressed concept is that not acting firmly enough to stop Russian expansionism in Ukraine would invite still further expansion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses a crowd on May 9, 2014, celebrating the 69th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Crimean port city of  Sevastopol from the Nazis. (Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses a crowd on May 9, 2014, celebrating the 69th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Crimean port city of Sevastopol from the Nazis. (Russian government photo)

Underlying such arguments are certain assumptions about wider Russian intentions. If Vladimir Putin and anyone else advising him on policy toward Ukraine see their moves there as steps in a larger expansionist strategy, then the concept of stopping the expansion in its tracks is probably valid. But if Russian objectives are instead focused on narrower goals and especially concerns more specific to Ukraine, the concept can be more damaging than useful.

As long as historical comparisons are being invoked, one possibly instructive comparison is with an earlier episode involving application of military force by Russia or the Soviet Union along its periphery. This episode provides a closer correspondence than pre-war Nazi maneuvers, but it is still distant enough to provide some perspective and a sense of the consequences. It is the Soviet armed intervention in Afghanistan, which occurred 35 years ago as of this December.

Once Soviet forces entered Afghanistan, a key question for policy-makers in Jimmy Carter’s administration was the Soviets’ purpose in undertaking the operation. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance would later summarize in his memoirs two competing answers to that question. One view was that Moscow’s motives were primarily local and, insofar as they extended beyond Afghanistan, focused on worries about possible unrest among Muslims in the Central Asian republics of the USSR.

The other view was that the Soviets had concluded that the relationship with the United States had already deteriorated so much that they should seize the opportunity not only to quell their Afghan problem but to improve their larger strategic position in South and Southwest Asia, moving ever closer to those proverbial warm water ports that have traditionally been a goal of Russian strategists.

The different interpretations had significantly different policy interpretations. An appropriate response to the latter, more expansive, Soviet strategy would be to slow the Soviet advance by making Afghanistan even more unstable than it already was, particularly through assistance to the mujahedeen insurgents.

But if the first interpretation were correct, stoking the insurgency would only prolong the Red Army’s stay, put more nails in the coffin of U.S.-Soviet détente, and perhaps lead the Soviets to make other moves that would start to turn a Soviet threat to Pakistan from a fear into a reality.

It was the expansionist interpretation of Soviet objectives that implicitly became the basis for the Carter administration’s policies. It became so without any thorough analysis by the policy-makers of Moscow’s motives. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser whose thinking became the chief basis for the Carter administration’s policy toward the USSR, did not even think such analysis was necessary. He later wrote that “the issue was not what might have been Brezhnev’s subjective motives in going into Afghanistan but the objective consequences of a Soviet military presence so much closer to the Persian Gulf.”

Thus ensued a U.S. response that included a broad array of sanctions, withdrawal from the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, enunciation of the bellicose-sounding Carter Doctrine about willingness to use force in the Persian Gulf region, and most consequentially, increased material aid to the Afghan insurgents.

Despite the significant differences between that situation and what the West faces today in Ukraine, there are some applicable lessons. One is the importance of careful consideration of Russian objectives, rather than just making worst-case assumptions. Another lesson is the need for humility in realizing that our initial thoughts about those objectives may be wrong.

The Carter administration’s thoughts and assumptions about that may have been wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, a good case can be made today that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was not intended to score strategic gains by moving closer to oil and sea lanes but instead was about avoiding a substantial loss for the Soviets: the overthrow of an existing Communist government in a country bordering the USSR by an insurgency that could lead to trouble among Central Asian residents of the USSR itself.

Another lesson is to be wary of how domestic U.S. politics may push decision-makers in unhelpful directions. A major pusher of Carter’s policies was his political need to get tough, or to be seen getting tough, with the Soviets. When Carter had said in a televised interview shortly after the Soviet intervention that the intervention had helped to educate him about Soviet goals, his political opponents jumped all over this comment as supposedly a sign of naȉveté. Carter’s political weakness at the time also stemmed from the near-simultaneous crisis that had begun a few weeks earlier with the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The constant hammering away by Barack Obama’s political opponents of the theme that Mr. Obama supposedly has been too weak and insufficiently assertive against U.S. adversaries offers an obvious parallel regarding the potential for political considerations pushing policy into unhelpful directions.

Finally there is the importance of taking fully into account all the consequences, including longer range and more indirect consequences, of how the United States responds to Russian moves. A full balance sheet on the results of U.S. aid to the Afghan insurgency would be complicated and subject to argument, but a major downside has been contribution to varieties of militant Islamism that for most of the past 35 years have been more of a worry for the United States, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, than anything the Russians have been doing.

Some of the violent elements that are principal adversaries in Afghanistan today are descendants of elements that received U.S. aid in the 1980s. The Afghan insurgency against the Soviets also continues to be a major influence, as an inspiration and in other respects, helping to sustain transnational Islamist terrorism.

No one has a monopoly of wisdom on what exactly are Russian goals in and around Ukraine today. Maybe even Vladimir Putin does not fully know what those goals will be, and is in large part reacting to moves by Ukrainians and by the West. Applying the framework of what the Carter administration faced in Afghanistan, however, it is reasonable to characterize the objectives as more local than expansive in a larger geopolitical sense.

The most explicitly expansionist thing Putin has done, the annexation of Crimea, can be seen as a one-off given the unusual historical, demographic, and emotional circumstances associated with the peninsula. Much of the rest of Russian policy has to do with the specter of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine. Unfortunately Ukrainian President Poroshenko does not seem inclined to give that issue a rest.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

22 comments for “The Risk of Misreading Russia’s Intent

  1. Phillip K. Dick
    December 8, 2014 at 01:07

    Anybody paying attention to the significance of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia. It commands the waters of the Black Sea, and from there, by way of the Bosphorus Strait, provides naval access into the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Russia’s Nuclear Sub fleet it is not a debate. Obviously the coup in Ukraine instigated by US puppet Nazi fascists jeopardized that important geographical base Crimea. The USA would have done the same w/o question to any important base had a Coup occurred & jeopardized one of it’s bases. We know the base is Crimea was leased from Ukraine & LP / Gas were exchanged at a discounted rate in fair trade. In fact Russia has forgiven some of the outstanding owed debt. The Balaklava Nuclear submarine base working in close association with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet stationed at Sevastopol. It’s really not that difficult to follow or see where this goes w/ the NATO build up & aggression surrounding Russia. Yet not one SAT photo of Russian Tanks inside Ukraine or troops other than Russian troop build up in Russia in defensive positions & drills. To be expected certainly.

  2. Abe
    December 2, 2014 at 15:35

    The Obama administration is trying to rebalance US policy in a way that shifts the focus of attention from the Middle East to Asia, which is expected to be the fastest growing region in the coming century. This policy-change is called the “pivot” to Asia. In order to benefit from Asia’s surge of growth, the US plans to beef up its presence on the continent, expand its military bases, strengthen bilateral alliances and trade agreements, and assume the role of regional security kingpin. The not-so-secret purpose of the policy is China “containment”, that is, Washington wants to preserve its position as the world’s only superpower by controlling China’s explosive growth. (The US wants a weak, divided China that will do what it’s told.)

    In order to achieve its goals in Asia, the US needs to push NATO further eastward, tighten its encirclement of Russia, and control the flow of oil and gas from east to west. These are the necessary preconditions for establishing US hegemonic rule over the continent. And this is why the Obama administration is so invested in Kiev’s blundering junta-government; it’s because Washington needs Poroshenko’s neo Nazi shock troops to draw Russia into a conflagration in Ukraine that will drain its resources, discredit Putin in the eyes of his EU trading partners, and create the pretext for deploying NATO to Russia’s western border.

    The idea that Obama’s proxy army in Ukraine is defending the country’s sovereignty is pure bunkum. What’s going on below the surface is the US is trying to stave off irreversible economic decline and an ever-shrinking share of global GDP through military force. What we’re seeing in Ukraine today, is a 21st century version of the Great Game implemented by political fantasists and Koolaid drinkers who think they can turn the clock back to the post WW2 heyday of the US Empire when the world was America’s oyster. Thankfully, that period is over.

    Keep in mind, the glorious US military has spent the last 13 years fighting sheep herders in flip-flops in Afghanistan in a conflict that, at best, could be characterized as a stalemate. And now the White House wants to take on Russia?

    Can you appreciate the insanity of the policy?

    Ukraine War Driven by Gas-Dollar Link:
    Defending Dollar Imperialism
    By Mike Whitney

  3. Abe
    December 2, 2014 at 15:29

    No to War, Hot or Cold, With Russia
    By Dennis Kucinich

    U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated severely in the past decade and they are about to get worse, if the House passes H. Res. 758.

    NATO encirclement, the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine, an attempt to use an agreement with the European Union to bring NATO into Ukraine at the Russian border, a U.S. nuclear first-strike policy, are all policies which attempt to substitute force for diplomacy.

    Russia’s response to the terror unleashed by western-backed neo-nazis in Crimea and Odessa came after the local population appealed to Russia to protect them from the violence. Russia then agreed to Crimea joining the Russian Federation, a reaffirmation of an historic relationship.

    The Western press begins its narrative on the Crimea situation with the annexation, but completely ignores the provocations by the West and other causal factors which resulted in the annexation. This distortion of reality is artificially creating an hysteria about Russian aggressiveness, another distortion which could pose an exceptionally dangerous situation for the world, if acted upon by other nations. The U.S. Congress is responding to the distortions, not to the reality.

    Similar distortions are developing now in the coverage of events in the eastern part of Ukraine, in Donetsk and Luhansk.

    Tensions between Russia and the U.S. are being fueled every day by players who would benefit financially from a resumption of the Cold War which, from 1948 to 1991 cost U.S. taxpayers $20 TRILLION dollars (in 2014 dollars), an amount exceeding our $18 trillion National Debt.

    With wars re-igniting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Syria being a staging ground for an ongoing proxy war between the great powers, the U.S. treasury is being drained for military adventures, our national debt is piling up, and we are demonstrably less safe.

    Tomorrow the U.S. House will debate and vote on H. Res. 758 which is tantamount to a ‘Declaration of Cold War’ against Russia, reciting a host of grievances, old and new, against Russia which represent complaints that Russia could well make against the U.S., given our nation’s most recent military actions: Violating territorial integrity, violations of international law, violations of nuclear arms agreements.

    Congress’ solution? Restart the Cold War!

    The resolution demands Russia to be isolated and for “the President, in consultation with Congress, to conduct a review of the force posture, readiness and responsibilities of United States Armed Forces and the forces of other members of NATO to determine if the contributions and actions of each are sufficient to meet the obligations of collective self-defense [my emphasis] under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, and to specify the measures needed to remedy any deficiencies…” In other words, ‘let’s get ready for war with Russia.’

    This is exactly the type of sabre rattling which led to the initiation and escalation of the Cold War. It is time we demanded that the U.S. employ diplomacy, not more military expenditures, in the quest for international order.

    It is time the U.S. stepped out of this expensive dialectic of conflict and seek to rebuild diplomatic relations with Russia and set aside the risky adventurism in the name of NATO.

    If you agree, please contact your congressperson today, 202-224-3121, and ask them to vote against H. Res. 758.

  4. Don G.
    December 2, 2014 at 13:38

    Russia is not trying to expand and never was. Putin obviously had no choice on Crimea as it was a naval base. Until the US/Nato decided to encroach further on Russia there were no problems. And the US/Nato knows damn well that Russia had no plans for expanding. Only stupid propagandized people are buying into that kind of nonsense.

  5. historicvs
    December 2, 2014 at 11:21

    In all this talk of aggression and comparisons to Germany, let us not forget that one of Hitler’s strongest motivations in trying to rapidly build Germany into a superpower was the growing threat to world peace that he saw coming from the United States. The catastrophic results of U.S. meddling in the Great War were very much remembered by Germans. And it is startling to read, for example, as I have, a detailed prediction of the U.S. assault on Vietnam in a 1942 German “propaganda” magazine (Signal magazine, English edition printed in Paris), or to see the United States routinely mocked in the National Socialist press as the phony “Democracy of Dollars” entirely controlled by the plutocrats of Wall Street.

  6. December 1, 2014 at 20:04

    Brzezinski was less worried about what Russia had in mind than what they could be baited into, sc. “their Vietnam”. A generational Russia hater (his family were szlachta who fled to Canada from the war), he saw the idea as one not to be missed.

    From his interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (1998):

    “Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs that the American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahiddin in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. Is this period, you were the national securty advisor to President Carter. You therefore played a key role in this affair. Is this correct?

    Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahiddin began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention [emphasis added throughout].

    Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into the war and looked for a way to provoke it?

    B: It wasn’t quite like that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

    Q : When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan , nobody believed them . However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?

    B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime , a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

    Q: And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?

    B : What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

    Q : “Some agitated Moslems”? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today…

    B: Nonsense! It is said that the West has a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid: There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner, without demagoguery or emotionalism. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is t h ere in com m on among fundamentalist Saudi Arabia , moderate Morocco, militarist Pakistan, pro-Western Egypt, or secularist Central Asia? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries…”

    • December 1, 2014 at 20:07

      The “Great Game” is alive and well, and at the heart of all this Russia hounding. See Mackinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History”, 1904

    • GeorgyOrwell
      December 2, 2014 at 09:42

      Thanks Steve Carpenter for laying this all out so that I did not have to. I was busting a gut at this writer who seems blissfully unaware of the facts. Soviets invade Afghanistan, what are their intentions? What rubbish! Brezinskie admitted years later that they set a trap and the USSR fell into the trap. Then the Carter Administration feigned outrage and indignation at the Soviets actions. They were shocked, SHOCKED, you see!!

  7. Edgars Tarkanijs
    December 1, 2014 at 17:34

    “The most explicitly expansionist thing Putin has done — the annexation of Crimea — can be seen as a one-off given the unusual historical, demographic, and emotional circumstances associated with the peninsula.”

    I’m trying to be critical of every bit of information that comes along. As for the one I quoted above, how are the “historical, demographic. and emotional circumstances” of Crimea that much different from those of other post-Soviet territories that are still inhabited by people who consider themselves Russian and who face various nationalistic sentiments of other peoples in their respective countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan etc.)?

    If you ask me, any kind of nationalism is mental confusion. Nevertheless, it is a factor in modern society and politics. So, seeing that it was a significant factor in the Crimea situation, what makes it less likely to be a significant factor in other post-Soviet places where Russian nationalism co-exists with other local nationalism?

    • F. G. Sanford
      December 1, 2014 at 19:37

      Obviously, history was not one of the subjects at which you excelled. Catherine the Great ruled Crimea before George Washington was old enough to smoke marijuana. Catherine, contrary to American versions of history, never had sexual relations with a horse. But George’s letters prove that he definitely was a ‘toker’. Crimea has been Russia’s only warm water port since then, and it is a strategic resource Russia would never sacrifice. Kruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1956 never assuming the Soviet Union would break up. He did that most likely because he happened to be a Ukrainian. Crimea is the inspiration for Lord Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, which commemorates Britain’s less than well considered attempt to “poke the bear” at Balaclava in 1854. Tennyson called it the valley of Death for a good reason. They never rode back.

      Half a league, half a league,
 Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred.
”Forward, the Light Brigade!
”Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred.

      The United States fully supported an identical act of separatism when we bombed Serbia to ‘liberate’ Kosovo. The argument was that the Serbs were engaged in “ethnic cleansing”, the exact war crime Ukraine now commits against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. We did more or less the same thing in Iraq and Libya based on the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect”. The act by which a country recovers ethnically or linguistically related territory which it formerly controlled is called “irredentism”. It’s the same excuse Israel uses to claim Palestinian land, but it lacks the ethnic or linguistic rationalization which might otherwise confer legitimacy. Maybe you could propose a new “Cold War” doctrine to replace the old one: how about, “The Domino Theory of Irredentism”? I think it could catch on.

      • Edgars Tarkanijs
        December 2, 2014 at 04:49

        Thank you for the input.

        Also, while I do indeed have a lot to learn about history (which is why I asked a question here), the sneering undertone in the first sentence of your comment added nothing constructive to the discussion and could have, therefore, easily been avoided. Anyway, thanks again for clarifying on what I was asking about.

        • F. G. Sanford
          December 2, 2014 at 07:28

          You’re right, it was sneering, and I accept your indignation. This issue has been beaten to death, but people seem to keep finding ways to express disbelief that Russia would defend its own interests, as if somehow, that makes them the perpetrators of the putsch WE engineered.

          • Edgars Tarkanijs
            December 3, 2014 at 17:47

            I appreciate your strength in accepting my objection.

  8. Abe
    December 1, 2014 at 15:08

    “The Risk of Misreading Russia’s Intent” is another ladleful of thin gruel masquerading as analysis.

    Far from Pillar’s carefully worded “reacting to moves by Ukrainians and by the West”, Russia understands perfectly well that the Ukrainians move at the behest of the West.

    Presidential and Parlimentary elections in Ukraine have done nothing to disguise the fact that Kiev has been on a very short economic and military leash since February.

  9. Abe
    December 1, 2014 at 12:40

    For NATO and its stable of media outfits and politicians, Libya’s use of ballistic missiles was considered the use of “weapons of mass destruction” against Libya’s “own people,” while Ukraine’s use of ballistic missiles is a matter to be covered up and spun.

    Such a revelation regarding NATO’s response to blatant war crimes by its proxy regime in Kiev from CNN – a Western corporate media outlet – illustrates that not only is Kiev committing in reality the atrocities NATO cited in fiction to justify its intervention in Libya, but also that NATO itself is helping Kiev continue committing these war crimes. By providing Kiev with both political impunity and direct material support that has incrementally expanded since the conflict began earlier this year, such atrocities will only escalate as hostilities grind on.

    The West’s constant deferral to “international norms” when condemning the actions it provokes of other nations through its own belligerence reveals the depths of hypocrisy and depravity within which Western foreign policy dwells. If what the West practices, including the selective enforcement and violation of human rights whenever it suits its political agenda constitutes “international norms,” then perhaps it is time for new “norms.”

    Human Rights Ignored Amid NATO’s War in Ukraine
    By Tony Cartalucci

  10. Abe
    December 1, 2014 at 12:39

    The spin by the Washington establishment has been relentless: Russia is expanding towards a 21st century empire.

    Here, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explains in detail how this is undiluted rubbish. What has actually happened is that Moscow deftly called the Brzezinski-inspired bluff in Ukraine – with all its overtones. No wonder the Empire of Chaos is furious.

    And yet there is a solution to defuse the current, hysterical rush to war logic. HereI have examined in some detail how Washington is playing Russian Roulette. Now it’s time to advance a modest proposal – as it has been floated by a few concerned analysts from the US, Germany and Asia.

    Essentially, it’s very simple. It’s up to Germany. And it’s all about undoing Stalin.

    Stalin, at the outset of World War II, took East Prussia from Germany and moved the eastern part of Poland into Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine was originally from Russia; it is part of Russia and was given by Lenin to Ukraine.

    So let’s have East Prussia returned to Germany; the eastern part of Poland returned to Poland; and eastern Ukraine as well as Crimea – which Khrushchev gave to Ukraine – returned to Russia.

    Everyone get their share. No more Stalin. No more arbitrary borders. That’s what the Chinese would define as a “triple win” situation. Of course, the Empire of Chaos would fight it to death; there would be no more chaos manipulated to justify a crusade against bogus Russian “aggression”.

    Will Russia, Germany save Europe from war?
    By Pepe Escobar

    • Abe
      December 1, 2014 at 14:03

      Escobar’s “modest proposal” to redraw the map of central and eastern Europe ignores the extensive territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II.

      In 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Poland’s borders were redrawn in accordance with the decisions made by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference of 1945 due to insistence of Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union already controlling the area.

      The prewar eastern Polish territories of Kresy, which the Red Army had invaded in 1939 (excluding the Białystok region) were permanently annexed by the USSR, and most of their Polish inhabitants expelled. Today, these territories are part of sovereign Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania.

      In turn, postwar Poland received the Free City of Danzig and the former territory of Nazi Germany east of the Oder-Neisse line, consisting of the southern two-thirds of East Prussia and most of Pomerania, Neumark (East Brandenburg), and Silesia. The German population fled and was forcibly expelled before these Recovered Territories (official term) were repopulated with Poles expelled from the eastern regions and those from central Poland.

      German Reichsdeutsche (German citizens) and citizens of other European states who claimed German ethnicity were forced out of eastern Europe to migrate to Germany and Austria during the later stages of World War II and the post-war period.

      The areas of expulsion included former eastern territories of Germany, which were transferred to Poland and the Soviet Union after the war, as well as areas annexed or occupied by Nazi Germany in pre-war Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, northern Yugoslavia and other states of Central and Eastern Europe.

      By 1950, a total of approximately 12 million Germans had fled or been expelled from east-central Europe into the areas which would become post-war Germany and Allied-occupied Austria. Some sources put the total at 14 million, including migrants to Germany after 1950 and the children born to the expellees. The largest numbers came from territories ultimately ceded to Poland and the Soviet Union (about 7 million), and from Czechoslovakia (about 3 million). During the Cold War, the West German government also considered as expellees about 1 million ethnic German colonists settled in territories conquered by Nazi Germany in east and west Europe. This was the largest of all the post-war expulsions from Central and Eastern Europe, which displaced more than 20 million people in total. The events have been variously described as population transfer, ethnic cleansing or genocide.

      The long-term goal of Nazi Germany was to Germanize or eradicate the population of Poland, Czechoslovakia and certain western parts of the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany’s Generalplan Ost envisioned the eventual extermination of between 45 to 70 million “non-Germanizable” people from Central and Eastern Europe, but they lost the war before these aims could be achieved. The expulsions were part of the geopolitical and ethnic reconfiguration of postwar Europe; in part spoils of war, in part political changes following the war, and in part retaliation for atrocities and ethnic cleansings that had occurred during the war.

      It is almost 2015, and Europe is still wrestling with the consequences of the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol that divided territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”, anticipating potential “territorial and political rearrangements” of these countries. Thereafter, Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.

      Stalin did not instantly interpret the protocol as permitting the Soviet Union to grab territory. Stalin was waiting to see whether the Germans would halt within the agreed area, and also the Soviet Union needed to secure the frontier in the Far East.[112] On 17 September the Red Army invaded Poland, violating the 1932 Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact, and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. This was followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland.

      Nazi Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with its invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

      For decades, it was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of the secret protocol to the Soviet–German Pact.

      It was only after the Baltic Way demonstrations of August 1989, where two million people created a human chain set on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Pact that this policy changed. At the behest of Mikhail Gorbachev, a commission investigated the existence of such a protocol. In December 1989, the commission concluded that the protocol had existed and revealed its findings to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union. As a result, the first democratically elected Congress of Soviets passed the declaration confirming the existence of the secret protocols, condemning and denouncing them.

      Both successor-states of the pact parties have declared the secret protocols to be invalid from the moment they were signed. The Federal Republic of Germany declared this on September 1, 1989 and the Soviet Union on December 24, 1989, following an examination of the microfilmed copy of the German originals.

      The Soviet copy of the original document was declassified in 1992 and published in a scientific journal in early 1993.

      • a.z
        December 2, 2014 at 07:51

        thank you that was informative

    • Abe
      December 1, 2014 at 14:42

      Escobar is incorrect in stating that “Stalin, at the outset of World War II, took East Prussia from Germany”. Germany lost almost all of this territory to Poland at the end of the war.

      The East Prussian seaport city of Königsberg was largely destroyed during World War II. Its ruins were captured by the Red Army in 1945 and its German population fled or was removed by force. is a seaport city. In 1945, the city became part of the Soviet Union pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement (as part of the Russian SFSR) as agreed upon by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference.

      Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after the death of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Mikhail Kalinin, one of the original Bolsheviks. The survivors of the German population were forcibly expelled and the city was repopulated with Soviet citizens. The German language was replaced by the Russian language.

      The city was rebuilt, and, as the westernmost territory of the USSR, the Kaliningrad Oblast became a strategically important area during the Cold War. The Soviet Baltic Fleet was headquartered in the city in the 1950s. Because of its strategic importance, Kaliningrad was closed to foreign visitors.

      The town of Baltiisk, just outside Kaliningrad, is the only Russian Baltic Sea port said to be “ice-free” all year round, and the region hence plays an important role in maintenance of the Baltic Fleet.

      Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kaliningrad Oblast became an exclave, geographically separated from the rest of Russia. This isolation from the rest of Russia became even more pronounced politically when Poland and Lithuania became members of NATO and subsequently the European Union in 2004. All military and civilian land links between the region and the rest of Russia have to pass through members of NATO and the EU.

      In July 2007, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that if US-controlled missile defense systems were deployed in Poland, then nuclear weapons might be deployed in Kaliningrad. On November 5, 2008, Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said that installing missiles in Kaliningrad was almost a certainty. These plans were suspended, however, in January 2009.

      But during late 2011, a long range Voronezh radar was commissioned to monitor missile launches within about 6,000 kilometres (3,728 miles). It is situated in the settlement of Pionersky in Kaliningrad Oblast.

      Of all the Russian regions, Kaliningrad depends most on its links to the EU. The economic sanctions imposed after the events in Ukraine in 2014 have strained Kaliningrad’s finances. For example, when Moscow banned the import of Lithuanian dairy and Polish meat, Kaliningrad had to transport Belarusian equivalents through EU territory.

      • Abe
        December 1, 2014 at 15:28

        In December 2013, Russia confirmed that the Iskander SS-26 mobile theater ballistic missile system had been deployed in Western Military District, a region that includes Kaliningrad.

        US missile defense assets deployed by Europe have undermined Russia’s security, upsetting the post-Cold War strategic balance.

      • Abe
        December 1, 2014 at 15:59

        The Russian Federation’s Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad received S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in 2012.

        The current version of the S-400 anti-aircraft weapon is capable of targeting strategic bombers such as the B-1, FB-111 and B-52H; fighter airplanes such as the F-15, F-16, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and F-22; stealth airplanes such as the B-2 and F-117A; strategic cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk; and ballistic missiles.

        Russian responses to NATO expansion have been strategically logical and measured.

        • Bob
          December 2, 2014 at 01:16

          I love your comments!

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