As Europe celebrated the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, the Debunk EU researchers examined how it was covered in pro-Kremlin media. Since the beginning of summer, 382 articles have been analyzed on the subject, and most of them — 70%, had positively highlighted this treaty between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which influenced the outbreak of World War II. It is estimated that these messages could have potentially reached more than 240 million contacts.
“Today, more than three decades after the collapse of the USSR, the pro-Kremlin media is systematically trying to rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. There has been a recent intensification of this process due to the European Parliament’s resolution adopted last September which emphasized the equal role of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in causing World War II and condemned the crimes against humanity committed by both countries. After this event, we noticed at least five activations of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact communication on Kremlin-friendly websites and decided to analyze the last stage of it, from June 1 to August 25,” says Algirdas Kazlauskas, Chief Analyst at Debunk EU.
The narrative which states that the Baltic states were not occupied, but joined USSR willingly and democratically, received the highest number of mentions (129). Another very popular claim was that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact does not stand out from the legal context and the agreements concluded between other states at the time (115 mentions) and that the Soviet Union was not to blame for the outbreak of World War II (106 mentions).
The relevance of the Baltic states’ issue can be noticed when looking at the amount of references: the mentions of Lithuania (18.1%), Latvia (17.1%) and Estonia (14.2%) accounted for almost half of all the countries mentioned. According to A. Kazlauskas, these figures and the popularity of the narrative denying the occupation of the Baltic States reaffirm that this issue is of great concern to the Kremlin-friendly media. “The issue of denial of occupation remains the most sensitive, as current Baltic politics and their achievements of the past 30 years are in a great contrast to the Kremlin’s official propaganda about voluntary accession to the Soviet Union and the losses to the Baltic states after its collapse.”
The analyst points out that the most commonly used strategy to reduce the negative role of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet Union’s crimes against humanity during World War II is to deny their illegal actions and blame those nations that suffered from this aggression themselves. “The researched articles often refer to the Baltic states as Nazi allies (22 mentions), so the Soviet Union was allegedly forced to secure a buffer zone and suppress the established Nazi underground by deporting alleged collaborators to Siberia (7 mentions),” says Kazlauskas.
“We have noticed that Poland is often mentioned as almost the main initiator of World War II (38 mentions), as it has contributed to the German occupation of part of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The image of Poland as an aggressor and an ally of the Nazis allows the Kremlin to present the invasion to this country in 1939 September 17 not as the beginning of World War II, but as the restoration of historical justice. In general, Poland has recently become a target of disinformation spread by the Kremlin in order to negatively affect its rising international status, military and economic power in the region,” says Debunk EU analyst.
Kremlin-friendly media articles cite the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as one of the major achievements of Soviet diplomacy, helping to postpone the supposedly inevitable war with the Nazi Germany for at least two years (46 mentions). In these articles, the Munich Betrayal is considered to be the beginning of World War III, when Great Britain and France ignored the aggression launched by Germany against Czechoslovakia in 1938.
“These publications have concealed the fact that the parties to this agreement have publicly condemned their actions, while the official Kremlin has recently spoken about lifting the condemnation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Let us remember that a few months ago, parliamentarian A. Zhuravliov brought an initiative signed by the publicly known activists to the Russian Duma, calling for the lifting of the condemnation,” Debunk EU analyst points out. According to him, Kremlin’s reluctance to acknowledge the fact of the occupation of the Baltic states also shows dangerous tendencies — the reluctance to recognize the independence of these countries.