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Washington Examiner: 'Spaghetti at the wall': Russia rewriting World War II history to justify modern aggression

Several Twitter accounts belonging to the Russian Foreign Ministry have been pushing false narratives about the Soviet Union's involvement in World War II in what experts believe is an attempt to justify the Kremlin's recent actions, writes Washington Examiner.

The Russian accounts launched the hashtag #TruthAboutWWII on Aug. 19, four days before the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which established a non-aggression agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Included in the treaty was a secret clause that divided Europe into Soviet and Nazi spheres, which scholars agree lead to the outbreak of World War II. The Soviets denied the existence of the secret clause.

"Russia's World War II historical revisionism fits squarely in the Russian narrative of encirclement by the West," Carisa Nietsche, a researcher with the Center for a New American Security told the Washington Examiner. "This encirclement is then used to justify aggressive Russian action."

Russia's Twitter accounts have attempted to rewrite the history of the pact, claiming the Soviets were effectively forced into the agreement — as opposed to making a self-serving, mutually beneficial deal with Hitler. The tweets noticeably disregard the secret agreement dividing up Europe. Instead, they place the blame on the West and downplay the agreement itself.

"Russia uses the Munich Agreement of 1938 to justify why they joined forces with Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939. Russia argues that the Munich Agreement of 1938 — which was an agreement between the UK, Germany, France, and Italy to cede the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Germany — is proof that the Western world was conspiring against them, since the agreement didn't include the Soviet Union," Nietsche said. "Thus, Russia claims they felt encircled by the West and needed to join forces with Nazi Germany to protect themselves. Similarly, Russia claimed to be provoked and encircled by the West to justify their invasion of Crimea."

Analysts with the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics lab pinpointed the original tweet starting the hashtag, which came from an account belonging to Russia's mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Accounts belonging to the Russian Embassy in the United States and the Russian mission to the European Union were also key amplifiers. 

Heritage Foundation scholar James Carafano said Russian rewriting of history was "super predictable."

He told the Washington Examiner: "They literally heat both sides of the fire. They literally underwrite fascist groups, and they publicly excoriate the Europeans and everybody else for tolerating the fascists, promoting the fascists, and that the Russians are really the only guys fighting the fascists."

Carafano acknowledged the Soviets bore tens of millions of casualties during the war, but added that "their hands are hardly clean."

"They were perfectly happy to let the Germans destroy everybody in Europe, because the Russians thought they would leave them alone," he said. "So they were probably the biggest appeasers out there."

Nietsche explained that Russia conveniently re-branded World War II as the "Great Patriotic War" decades ago. Instead of a coalition of allies defeating the Nazi enemy, the Soviets claimed it was the patriotic effort of the Russian people. Rewriting the history surrounding the start of the war is another way Putin can propagate a "besieged mentality among Russians," thus solidifying his power, Nietsche said.

Experts agree pushing these narratives is also useful when engaging ethnic Russians abroad and to provoke European adversaries like the Poland, which was targeted in a tweet by the Russian embassy in South Africa on Tuesday. 

This particular strategy doesn't appear to be effective, with dozens of twitter replies on the Russian posts rejecting or mocking the claims.


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