According to this Guardian article, Russia is trying to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which is a very complex matter that was not even recognized until the end of the Soviet Union:

Eighty years after the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression treaty dividing Europe into spheres of influence, Russia has put the original Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and its secret protocol on public display.

Now, Russia has sought to normalise the non-aggression pact, arguing that the treaty had been taken “out of context” of the vicious realpolitik of 1930s Europe.

(..) The governments of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania have released a statement saying the pact “doomed half of Europe to decades of misery”.

I am wondering why bother to make an effort to justify a pact that is so old or even why make it public in the first place. It clearly has some parts that do not favor Russia (e.g. making pact with Nazi). Why not simply let it be forgotten?

Question: Why does Russia bother to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?

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    "I am wondering why bother to make an effort to justify a pact that many do not know or care about or even why make it public in the first place. " Many do know (its public knowledge), many do care and it has already been published before - just not the russian original version.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 8:16
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    @Alexei, with such a question, you are trying to hide the Romanian alliance with Nazi during WW2, or just want to justify it?))) That was not a pact, that was alliance, wasn't it?) Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 11:30
  • @user2501323 - are you referring to the Iron Guard / Legionary Movement? AFAIK it is outlawed in Romania (their signs are not allowed to be used except for art or similar). No, the question is asking about political rationale - if the matter is complex and sensible for so many, why bringing back in the public space. Most of people living today are not concerned with things that happened 80 years ago.
    – Alexei
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 12:10
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    I'm referring to Romaina being ally of Nazi as a state. With its industry, army and population. And it is strange, that Romania join those claimings. Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 12:29
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    Saying that the pact "was not recognized" is incorrect: it was impossible to hide its existence and nobody ever denied it. What Soviet Union did deny (until 1989) though was the secret protocol that assigned different countries in Europe to German and Soviet spheres of influence ans was essentially an agreement to partition and jointly occupy independent European states.
    – Denis
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 13:00

2 Answers 2


Basically, as the article you mentioned explains further, it's part of the Putin-era effort to [re]glorify the Stalinist legacy, and in particular the WWII aspects thereof.

Also, the trend appears to have been exacerbated by the post-2014 events (standoff with the West over the Crimean annexation etc.)

The re-evaluation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact began as early as 2005, when Putin compared it to the Munich agreement and accused the Baltic states of attacking Russia “to cover the shame of collaborationism”. By 2007, as Russia clashed with Estonia over a bronze statue to a second world war soldier, Russian historians were increasingly publishing books and essays defending the pact as expedient.

But praise for the treaty really escalated after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, when Moscow compared far-right support for Ukraine’s revolution to Nazi-era collaboration. The following year, Vladimir Medinsky, the country’s culture minister, called the treaty “a great achievement of Soviet diplomacy”.

There's an older 2015 article that puts in some perspective Putin's change in emphasis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended 1939's Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as Moscow's response to being isolated and having its peace efforts snubbed by Western nations.

At the close of his Sunday meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow — a day after Russian held grand-scale celebrations of the allied victory in World War II — Putin offered a lengthy defense of the controversial agreement that led to the carving up of Eastern Europe.

"The Soviet Union made massive efforts to lay the groundwork for a collective resistance to Nazism in Germany, made repeated attempts to create an anti-fascist bloc in Europe. All of these attempts failed," Putin told journalists at a joint news conference with Merkel, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin.

"And when the Soviet Union realized that it was being left one-on-one with Hitler's Germany, it took steps to avoid a direct confrontation, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed," Putin said.

Merkel offered a diplomatically phrased objection, telling the joint news conference that the "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is difficult to understand without considering the additional secret protocol. With that in mind, I think it was wrong, it was done illegally," she said, according to the Kremlin's Russian-language transcript.


Putin's recent remarks mark a sharp about-face from his comments a few years earlier.

During a visit to Poland in 2009, Putin, then prime minister, denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a "collusion to solve one's problems at others' expense."

"All attempts between 1934 and 1939 to pacify the Nazis by making various kinds of agreements and pacts with them, were unacceptable from the moral point of view, and from the political point of view were pointless, harmful and dangerous," Putin said in 2009 during a visit to Poland's Gdansk, according to a transcript posted on the Russian Cabinet website.

But amid Western sanctions against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin has shifted to an increasing glorification of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and his regime's pact with Nazi Germany.

The New York Times observed the change as of 2014, in the transcripts of a more obscure meeting of Putin with some historians.

President Vladimir V. Putin has revised his opinion of an important piece of Soviet history, calling the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that Moscow signed with Nazi Germany to divide up Eastern Europe not so bad. “The Soviet Union signed a nonaggression treaty with Germany,” Mr. Putin said during a meeting with historians on Wednesday, according to a Russian transcript of the meeting that the Kremlin released Thursday. “People say: ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight? What’s bad about it?” While the Soviet Union is accused of dividing Poland, he said, Poland actually seized part of Czechoslovakia when Germany attacked that country. “Serious research should show that those were the methods of foreign policy then,” Mr. Putin said. Five years ago he had called the very same pact “immoral.” The statement is likely to increase security concerns in Eastern European states, which have been jittery about Russia’s intentions ever since it seized Crimea in March. Mr. Putin signed a law in May mandating five years imprisonment for anyone convicted of trying to rehabilitate Nazism.

Even the 2005 discourse of Putin (an interview on German television that I could only find paraphrased in a book) was not really apologizing for anything, but back then he did mention Western colonialism as a context/equivalent for the Soviet (annexationist) policies:

Putin has even expressed regret for the Baltic states’ historical usage as a ‘token’ in world politics, describing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact as a ‘tragedy’ (Putin 2005e). Yet any questioning of Central and Eastern Europe’s ‘liberation’ by the Soviet Union has met with his immediate rebuttal.

In the Russian context, Putin’s stance over the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact could still be regarded as relatively progressive: despite his insistence that the Nazis’ taking of power in Germany was the starting point for the events that led to the Second World War, he points to the Munich accord and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact as the agreements that both ‘alienated objective allies in the fight against Nazism’ (Putin 2005d). Yet he simultaneously affirms that since the legislative body of the Soviet Union – the Supreme Soviet – ‘produced a clear legal and moral assessment of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact’ in 1989, there is nothing left for Russia to ‘repent’ over any more (Putin 2005e). [...]

In order to disperse Russian responsibility for the fate of the Baltics after the Second World War, he further argues that the West could not lay any blame on the USSR for annexing the Baltic states in particular, since ‘these were the realities of those times, just as colonial policies were the realities of quite a large number of European countries’ (Putin 2005e). Hence, just as the allies ‘divided up the spheres of influence’, the Soviet Union simply ‘established its policies with its close neighbours and its allies … in its own image’ (Putin 2005e).

So, yeah, there was a change in emphasis (over a decade) from equating some historical wrongs to a simpler message of just saying the Soviets were just defending themselves.

The change in emphasis in Russian discourse is accompanied by blaming the West (in part at least) for Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union:

The message from figures in Moscow was that Russia had offered an alliance to France and Britain to counter Adolf Hitler, but that the talks were going nowhere.

The "irresponsible and cowardly policies" of Britain and France had pushed Hitler's Germany to attack the Soviet Union, said foreign intelligence head Sergei Naryshkin.

"Not wanting to wage war on two fronts, Germany made unprecedented concessions to guarantee Soviet neutrality in the Polish campaign," he added.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at the opening of the exhibition, accused a number of countries of making short-sighted decisions aimed at appeasing Hitler.

"Naively calculating that the war would pass them by, the Western powers played a double game. They tried to steer Hitler's aggression eastwards. In those conditions, the USSR had to safeguard its own national security by itself," he said.

And for a bit more (historical) context on this issue of the Anglo-French failed negotiations with the Soviets, the Western academic narrative on that is somewhat different:

The Baltic question figured as a stumbling block in the abortive British-French negotiations with the U.S.S.R. in the summer of 1939. The Western unwillingness to sanction the Baltic states’ absorption by the U.S.S.R. was not shared by Germany.

There is a bit more to this issue than Britannica presents; a more in depth article on the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations paints Chamberlain as extremely distrusting of the Soviets all along, e.g. he wrote in his private correspondence during the negotiations that

I cannot rid myself of the suspicion that they [the Soviets] are chiefly concerned to see the ‘capitalist’ powers tear each other to pieces while they stay out themselves.

And Chamberlain's mistrust of the Soviets became even deeper when informed that the Soviets were also negotiating with the Germans. Owing to lack of replies from London to their proposals, the Soviets also quickly became convinced that they were the ones being deceived.

papers [from the Soviet archives] show that Soviet officials communicated amongst themselves as though they were serious about an anti-Nazi alliance in spite of cynicism over Anglo-French policy. They became angry, and in Litvinov’s case worried, when there was no response from London. They saw that something was wrong when they got conflicting messages from Paris and London about Soviet proposals, and they guessed that it was the same old Anglo-French bad faith. They tried to pin down the British. Chamberlain saw Soviet policy as a ruse to get Britain and France into a war with Germany while the USSR sat aside waiting until the end to spread communist revolution in Europe. The Soviet side saw it the other way around convinced by various Anglo-French attempts to come to terms with Hitler. No wonder everything went wrong. [...]

At the end of July, everything changed. Molotov opened the door to offers from Berlin. The shift in Soviet policy occurred over a period of little more than three weeks, hastened apparently by the Anglo-French delegations’ absence of plenipotentiary authority and by intelligence that a German attack on Poland was imminent.

As that article goes on to detail, during the Cold War both sides blamed each other for the failed 1939 negotiations, and we see a continuation of that dispute today, with respect to the interpretation given to the alternative 1939 negotiations that did succeed, namely those between the Soviets and the Nazis.

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    It's also important that victory in WW2 is one of the events in history that most Russians can relate to and celebrate (almost every other event in Soviet history and afterwards is highly divisive). USSR paid a huge cost in life; almost every family has members who fought in the war or were directly affected by it. This is why its so important for Russian politicians to maintain the heroic and unblemished history of WW2: it's still one of the events that hold the country together. Never mind it wasn't a holiday until 1965 - now WW2 is sacred and anything that tarnishes it must be condemned.
    – Denis
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 13:17
  • Check out this thread of Kasparov but esp the bit about Crimea mobile.twitter.com/Kasparov63/status/1173998098017857536
    – user9790
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 17:37

Short answer.

Because there is nothing to justify. Why still do it - as diplomatic response for attempts of WW2-totals re-interpreting. It is very cute to hear such claims from former nazi allies - as Romania.

Long answer.

Let's make some step back, and observe historic situation in those period.

Historic situation in later 1930s:

About pact itself. Generally, there is nothing to justify. Western countries not only left Czechoslovakia for Nazi, but also left Poland alone in face of German invasion.

Thanks to comment from @Evargalo - I want to try to describe USSR inner position.

USSR motivation for such pact. It is really important - it may help you to understand WHY such pact was necessary. If you read till here, you can imagine international situation.

But you may not know, that some time ago, in middle 1930s USSR tried to create some anti-Nazi coalition. But was not supported by the UK. Only small agreement with France was, as a result: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Soviet_Treaty_of_Mutual_Assistance Also you may read about it here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/3223834/Stalin-planned-to-send-a-million-troops-to-stop-Hitler-if-Britain-and-France-agreed-pact.html

As coalition fails, what else have USSR to do? Sit and wait Nazi invasion alone? Or try to deflect agression with such pact?

But why justify, if so? Diplomatic relations foresee such term as diplomatic response. If some countrie(s) make such claims, there should be response. Let's also consider, what countries make that claim:

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania

Point by point, backwards:

Why such big post?

Because I'm from Russia (as you can see in my profile), and it matters for me personally. You may wonder why in Russia at 9th May, victory day, there is such a big celebration every time.

Just because USSR accepted main Nazi strike, and lost millions of people defending. And war on the eastern front was really total - with civil extermination by nazis and ethnic terror by waffen ss. And USSR lost people not only from western parts of country - soldiers were recruited from each part. You may see memorials in nearly each city, town, or village - even it is on the far east of Russia - because the price of victory was really huge.

Small PS

Voting score fully describes western position towards USSR and Russia. No matter, that West also have treaties with Nazi. No matter, that these states - claiming authors - were(some even ARE) Nazi supporters. You know, okay.)

If you've ever been to Russia you may see posters on civil cars - with phrases "Можем повторить" and victory day symbols. Do you know how it is translated? "We can do it once more".

  • 4
    While some points could be made that the pact could be seen as a good idea for the SU at the time (specially if Stalin believed that the appeasement policies towards a fanatically anti-Communist, anti-Russian regime were based in the Western countries desiring Germany to invade the SU), some points of this answer are highly problematic, e.g.: but also left Poland alone in face of German invasion --> France and the UK went to war with Germany because of the invasion of Poland. True, they could not mobilize fast enough, and could have acted differently but they did commit to the war.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 8:37
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    According to Wikipedia, "In summer 1940 a series of territorial disputes were diplomatically resolved unfavorably to Romania, resulting in the loss of most of the territory gained in the wake of World War I. This caused the popularity of Romania's government to plummet, further reinforcing the fascist and military factions, who eventually staged a coup that turned the country into a dictatorship under Mareșal Ion Antonescu. The new regime firmly set the country on a course towards the Axis camp, officially joining the Axis powers on 23 November 1940." But that was after the M-R pact (1939). Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 9:10
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    In fact one can easily claim that Romania joining the Nazi camp was a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 9:11
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    Likewise, your presentation of the Baltic states as "widely supporting Nazis" also seems problematic considering the timeline. Surely they did that after being occupied. But before, it's not so clear. What is more clear: "The Baltic question figured as a stumbling block in the abortive British-French negotiations with the U.S.S.R. in the summer of 1939. The Western unwillingness to sanction the Baltic states’ absorption by the U.S.S.R. was not shared by Germany." Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 9:37
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    Following your logic we may equally well justify German side - in because of threat of communist expansion and the West being hostile they needed too to preemptively occupy some buffer zone. As Soviets were going to backstab them sooner or later, they were forced to act first. Presumably we should also commemorate all German soldiers, whose sacrifice contained subsequent Soviet expansion and let at least half of Europe stay free during during cold war. (the fun part is, that's not any more flawed reasoning, except of whitewashing of the other totalitarian regime)
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 5:32

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