What if Britain stayed neutral during World War II?

Soviet President Vladimir Putin The most powerful man in the Kremlin and his reinterpretation of history

In an essay, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects Moscow's responsibility for World War II and declares the Soviet Union a victim. His theses cause a stir - not only for reasons of content, but also because the Russian embassy sent the article to numerous Eastern European historians with the request that the theses be included in publications. But how tenable are Putin's arguments?

MDR ZEITREISE asked two well-known historians for an assessment. Russia's head of state is doing propaganda, says Joachim von Puttkamer, professor of Eastern European history and director of the Imre Kertész college in Jena. Professor Stefan Rohdewald from the University of Leipzig explains that Putin wants to claim the role of the Soviet Union in the post-war order for today's Russia.

Interview with Prof. Joachim von Puttkamer

Prof. Puttkamer, what is Putin's interpretation of history? It seems that he wants to reinterpret the consequences of the Munich Agreement and the Hitler-Stalin Pact. The Munich Agreement rises to the real reason for the war, with a heavily complicit Poland, while the importance of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the role of the Soviet Union is trivialized.

It is a very unconventional interpretation that Putin is putting forward here. It is far from research discussions and is clearly politically motivated. Because from Putin's contribution, one thing becomes clear to me above all: how hurtful it is obviously for the Russian government, with a view to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, to be placed on the side of those who are jointly responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War .

Putin is trying to set a very strong counter-accent here, with obvious propaganda intentions. In doing so, he falls back on interpretative models that the Soviet Union has already used, namely that the Soviet invasion of Poland was defensive, that it was necessary in order to create a time buffer and to be able to prepare for a possible German attack. And that you had been left alone by the Western powers, that you had no other choice. All of this is boiled up again here and even sharpened.

Prof. Joachim von Puttkamer studied Eastern European history and economic policy in Freiburg and London. Since December 2002 he has been Professor of Eastern European History at the University of Jena. Since 2010, he and Dr. Michal Kopeček the Imre-Kertész-Kolleg "Europe's East in the 20th Century. Historical Experiences in Comparison."

And how was it actually?

That was a highly attractive solution for Germany. The war was indeed a done deal, but the fact that a war on two fronts could be avoided in this way made the German warfare much easier. That was also clear to Stalin. So the main responsibility for the attack on Poland rests with Germany, of course, in order to avoid any misunderstandings, but Stalin has made himself an accomplice.

Imagine if Stalin had made it clear to Hitler: If you march into Poland, we will prepare a two-front war for you together with England and France. Then the situation in autumn 1939 would have been completely different. Poland would still have become a battlefield, but Putin would not have to listen to the accusation that Stalin made himself an accomplice to Hitler.