It has been 84 years since Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow their Non-Aggression Treaty, better known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The Treaty was accompanied by a secret Protocol, which partitioned Eastern Europe into spheres of influence between the parties. A little later, the German foreign minister von Ribbentrop, the one who put his signature under the Pact and the secret Protocol together with his Soviet counterpart, declared that he had not come to Moscow to ask the Soviet Union for military assistance against Britain and France. Germany was strong enough to beat Poland and its Western allies, Hitler’s minister insisted. Stalin’s reaction was, too, preserved in the archives of the time: “Germany’s position to refuse any military aid is worthy of respect. However, a strong Germany is a prerequisite for peace in Europe. Therefore, the Soviet Union is interested in a strong Germany”.
They announce peace, then start a war
The Soviet propaganda machine, including the official newspaper Pravda, touted the whole thing as a “peace deal”. But just a week later, on 1 September 1939, Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland to mark the start of World War II. Already on 17 September 1939, it was the Russian Army’s turn to attack Poland from the East. It was precisely in September 1939 – and not on 22 June 1941 – that the Soviet Union became a participant in WWII, which it triggered by attacking Poland together with its ally Nazi Germany.
The Soviet Union’s undeniable complicity in the gobbling up of Poland by Nazi Germany is also demonstrated by the fact that just one day after the Soviet invasion of Poland, Stalin conveyed to the Germans the idea that he was categorically against the preservation of any kind of Polish statehood. Stalin’s position was very readily accepted by Hitler. In the spirit of this understanding, on 20 September 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a formal agreement in Moscow to coordinate military operations in Poland. Communist Moscow and Nazi Berlin were now two true brothers in arms. Among the many tragic consequences of this odious alliance of the two bloody dictators was the mass execution by the Soviet NKVD of Polish imprisoned officers in the Katyn forest near Smolensk in April 1940.
The Soviet-Nazi Pact opened wide the gates of escalation of World War II across Europe. In the spring of 1940, Germany victoriously attacked the allied Franco-British armed forces on French soil. On 18 June 1940, Molotov conveyed to the German ambassador in Moscow von Schulenburg “the warmest congratulations” from the Soviet government on “the brilliant success” of the Wehrmacht, which had just ended with the military defeat of France.
Germany’s triumphant campaign in the West in May-June 1940 led Stalin to activate the clauses of the secret protocol to the Soviet-Nazi Pact, moving swiftly to annex the Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In the summer of 1940, fearing a quick peace deal in the West (the situation in Great Britain seemed hopeless to many), Stalin sought to further expand the territory of the Soviet Union before any such talks could begin. So, after the Baltic States followed Bessarabia and the northern part of Romanian Bukovina, with the Soviets instantly declaring in the spirit of the Soviet-Nazi alliance that those actions were not directed against Germany, but much to the contrary, served “fundamental state interests of the USSR and Germany”.
An ultimate lie
On 26 June1940, the Soviet Government issued an ultimatum announcing Romania the Red Army would start marching into Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, starting on 28 June 1940, 2:00 PM, Bucharest time. Per the ultimatum, the occupation would unfold gradually over four days, with lines set for each day which the Soviets promised not to cross to allow time for Romania to withdraw its troops and administration. But these, of course, were all lies. The Soviets started crossing the Nistru River into Bessarabia already in the morning at 6:30 AM. Bucharest had ordered its troops to abstain from any armed retaliation, and the sudden invasion triggered a real ordeal for hundreds of thousands of Romanians, military and civilians, who were scrambling to evacuate across the Prut River in the face of the Red Army, which was brutally violating its own terms.
The immediate result of the Soviet Union’s annexation of these Romanian territories in 1940 was a mass exodus of native population: as many as 300,000 refugees crossed the Prut River, the new border with Romania. Similarly, 80,000 ethnic Germans from Bessarabia and 30,000 from Northern Bukovina were evacuated to Germany in the fall of 1940, and in their place, about 10,000 families from Ukraine settled in.
With the Stalinist Soviet regime established in the new territories, a whole series of crimes against humanity unfurled, including genocide, deportations and organized famine. From 28 June to 4 July 1940, for example, 1,122 dissenters were arrested in the counties of Chernivtsi, Chisinau, Cetatea Alba and Balti alone. Early in the morning on 14 June 1941, about 5,000 families were deported from Bessarabia. In August 1940, over 53,000 young Bessarabians were sent to forced labor inside the Soviet Union, and this happened time and again during 1944-1949 to another 80,000 young people, many of whom never returned home. During the famine orchestrated by the Soviet authorities in 1946-1947, about 200,000 people perished in Bessarabia. Early in the morning on 6 July 1949, about 11,000 peasant families from Bessarabia were deported to Siberia.
Throughout the Soviet period in these territories lost by Romania to the USSR, there was a permanent awareness among society of an act of historical injustice done to the Romanian people. The reunification of these territories with Romania was an unexpressed aspiration for many Romanians, who considered the occupation of this territory by the Soviets in 1940 and then again in 1944, and the communist domination that followed, to be a national tragedy and an assault on national consciousness. This is why the collapse of communism, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Moldova are perceived by more and more Moldovan citizens as preconditions for reunification. These perceptions are reinforced by a number of decisions adopted by the Moldovan Parliament in the sense of reaffirming the Romanian identity of the Moldovan state. These include the decree to reinstate the Romanian language as the official language and to revert to the Latin script, the introduction of the blue-yellow-red tricolor as the national flag and the coat of arms with Romanian symbols, and so one.
A decisive step?
Romania was the first country to recognize the Republic of Moldova after it proclaimed independence on 27 August 1991. The statement issued by the Romanian Government on this occasion made it clear that the authorities in Bucharest viewed the independence of Moldova as an act of emancipation from Moscow’s control and a step towards reunification with Romania: “The proclamation of an independent Romanian state on the territories annexed by force pursuant to the secret agreements of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact represents a decisive step towards the peaceful abolition of its disastrous consequences directed against the rights and interests of the Romanian people”.
At the same time, it is also important to recall that the political and territorial consequences of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact were already abolished once, when the Romanian army liberated the territories occupied by the Soviet Union by participating in the military operations against the USSR in the early phase of the German-Soviet war. In the second part of the war, after the Axis was crushed in the East, the Red Army occupied Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina again in 1944. This time around, it had nothing to do with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
After the war the Pact had no value
So, these Romanian territories remained part of the Soviet Union not as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which had no value at the end of the war, but as a result of the Peace Treaty of 10 February 1947, which established a political and territorial reality based on the relations between the victors and the vanquished ones following WWII. Demanding the annulment of the consequences of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact today, in reference to the border separating the Romanians on either side of the Prut, actually means demanding the annulment of the political and territorial consequences of the 1947 Peace Treaty. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is totally irrelevant for the configuration of the borders between Romania and the Republic of Moldova at present.
The German model maybe?
Today, the unification of the Republic of Moldova with Romania may take place according to the German reunification model. This must obviously take into account the existing international framework, and in particular the Helsinki Final Act, which states in its ten fundamental principles that “frontiers can be changed, in accordance with international law, by peaceful means and by agreement”. These ten principles are reconfirmed by the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe and reiterated by the 1992 CSCE Helsinki Summit Document: “The Challenges of Change”.
So, the restoration of Romanian national unity within the Romanian borders as they were before 28 June 1940 can happen through perfectly democratic means that respect the principles of international law, given the prevalence of the Romanian identity among Moldovan society. The Romanian society on the right side of the Prut is by definition prepared for this to happen. In this sense, the extinguishing of the historical debt caused by the 1939 Soviet-Nazi Pact in relation to the Romanian people on both sides of the Prut depends primarily on the success of the identity policies promoted in Chisinau, the only ones capable of interrupting the trend of stagnation and underdevelopment for the Republic of Moldova.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.