Common roots of World War II and of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. IPN debate

Society started to feel the pressing need of peace and confidence, especially against the background of the harsh war that is being waged by Russia on Ukraine. Experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Common roots of World War II and of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” discussed why this war is taking place, where its roots come from, what lessons are taught by the past for realizing its reasons and what solutions can be identified for bringing this war to an end as swiftly as possible and in the most just way possible.

Igor Boțan, the permanent expert of IPN’s project, said the war is apparently a conflict between political entities, which are usually states, and is an armed confrontation based on different claims. In essence, the war is a way of imposing the enemy’s will – a political issue by which a subject tries to change by force the behavior of another subject, to oblige this to renounce the freedom, ideology, the right of ownership, to concede natural resources, territories, etc. “If we refer to the characters of wars, these surely evolved in time. Wars in the past were conducted for conquering territories, enslaving the population and appropriating their wealth,” noted the expert.

According to him, in the Middle Ages, for example, the wars were dynastical, as the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. A period of religious wars followed, while in the period of imperialism, there were colonial wars. “World War I is the apogee of these conflicts between the great empires. World War II is like a follow-up to World War I and was a war of revenge waged by Germany on European countries, initially in an alliance with the Soviet Union. It is very important to realize that the current war in Ukraine is also primarily a war of revenge,” stated Igor Boțan.

He noted that the hybrid wars are now popular. These are hostile actions within which the attacker does not resort to a classical military invasion, but suppresses the opponent using all kinds of hidden stratagems, sabotage, cyber war and other methods to weaken this. Classical examples of hybrid wars were those waged by the Soviet Union and the Communist camp on the free world. A hybrid war took place in Donbas since 2014 until 2022, while on February 24, 2022, the president of Russia Vladimir Putin started a classical war against Ukraine.

The chairman of the Association of Historians of the Republic of Moldova Anatol Petrencu, doctor habilitate of history, said the historians have always compared events in order to better emphasize and characterize the existing phenomena. “As Germany after World War I felt somehow offended, humiliated by the powers that signed the Treaty of Versailles, Russia, after Putin came to power, also felt somehow humiliated after the disappearance of the USSR. Even yesterday, Putin said that 25 million Russians found themselves in independent states, former union republics, and Russian territories were also lost, as he said. It should be noted that Putin, primarily since 2003-2007, has raised the problem of reinstatement of Russia,” said the historian.

Anatol Petrencu noted that after World War II, the wise persons of Europe came together to discuss how to avoid wars. They reached the conclusion that the wars start because the borders are not recognized. After a lot of discussions, a Final Act was signed in 1975 in Helsinki by 33 states and then by others, including the U.S. and Canada. In that document, the state leaders stipulated that the borders cannot be changed by force, if only by consent. The leader of the USSR Brezhnev was among the signatories.

The historian said that after the Soviet Union fell apart, the borders between the former union republics were recognized by everyone, by the West and also by Russia. “When we speak about Russia’s war in Ukraine, we must bear in mind that Russia, as the lawful heir of the USSR, bears responsibility for what is signed in 1975. Under Yeltsin, Russia also signed a treaty by which it recognized the borders, including of Ukraine. There was also the memorandum of Budapest by which the Russians pledged to never claim Ukrainian territory. However, after all these international commitments...” said Anatolie Petrencu. According to him, it is important for the people to know that the international treaties should be respected as they enable to solve problems by other ways than the war.

Petre Opriș, Romanian military historian who settled in Poland, author of a number of scientific books about the political-military history of the 20th century, said that no one imagined on August 31- September 1 that an order to invade Poland would be signed and that World War II (1939-1945) would start. No one could imagine on September 1, 1939 what would follow and no one used the term World War II.

“These things help us realize the successive or sometimes concomitant military conflicts in that period we characterize under the name of World War II. Evidently, it was a military conflict started by Germany against Poland,” said the military historian, whose participation in the debate was prevented by technical connection glitches.

The debate entitled “Common roots of World War II and of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” was the first installment of the series “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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