Büyükelçi Alexei Erkhov’un, ODTÜ Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü Öğrencileri için "İkinciDünyaSavaşı: Gelecek İçin Dersler" Konulu Konferans
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Büyükelçi Alexei Erkhov’un, ODTÜ Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü Öğrencileri için "İkinciDünyaSavaşı: Gelecek İçin Dersler" Konulu Konferans


Within the context of the coming celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the victory over nazism I would like to share with you some reflections and ideas related to this remarkable date. I will also try to analyze how the experience and lessons of the WWII could be useful today – at least to understand what went wrong that time, what is happening nowadays, to what extent a nightmare of a new world slaughter can be threatening us and how we could avoid negative and even worst-case scenarios in the coming years.

First of all, let me mention the complicated nature of the phenomenon of world-wide hostilities of planetary scale. Big wars have always been the scourge of the mankind and, more precisely, of the European continent – let us recall, for example, the Hundred Years’ War of XIV-XVth centuries between Britain and France, or the Thirty Years’ War of the XVIIth century. The XIX century was also full of large-scale military conflicts in which Russia and Turkey, by the way, actively participated. But only the XXth century which many poets, philosophers and thinkers believed to become a «Golden Age», a kingdom of progress, peace and prosperity, turned out to have brought to life much greater-scope wars covering almost the whole globe and resulting, as described in the UN Charter, in “untold sorrow to mankind’. The losses of WWI are estimated at 20 mln people (military and civil population combined together), the number for the WWII is even more horrible – 70 mln.

Let me give you some figures illustrating the scale of the conflict and the gravity of losses. 61 state participated in the WWII with 1,7 bln population; 110 mln people were mobilized  to serve in their armies. Length of the frontlines: 3-6 thousand kilometers for the Soviet-German front, 300-350 km in Italy, 800 km in France. The death toll for the Soviet Union was more than 26 mln, including approximately more than 10 mln as military casualties (i.c. soldiers and officers killed, m.i.a. or having died later of wounds or perished in Nazi concentration camps); civil population casualties were also substantial: 7,4 mln died in hostilities or just slaughtered by the occupants, 4,1 mln died of starvation and deceases,
2,2 – died in Germany ater being displaced there for slave labor needs.

For the others the death toll was not least impressing: China – dozens of millions, Germany – up to 8 mln, Poland – 6 mln, Yugoslavia – 3 mln etc, etc, etc.

And let us not forget that it is to the WWII that we all owe the first experiences of such terrible things like death camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka-2 and others where millions of men, women and children were brutally assasinated), like “carpet bombings” of big cities and, last but not least, like the use of atomic bombs against the civil population which was the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Material damage caused by the war was also very important: in the USSR, for example, 1,7 thousand cities and towns were entirely ruined, 70 thousand villages demolished, 32 thousand factories destroyed – up to 30% of the national wealth of the country was lost.

Turkey was lucky enough not to take part in this world-scale calamity.

I wouldn’t elaborate here on deep-rooted reasons of  why on Earth groups of states clash with each other more or less regularly trying to reshuffle the global balance of powers and gain the capacity to control the strategic resources and territories (although this aspect of world history is very interesting by itself). I would like to concentrate more on some practical points and conclusions.

First of all I would draw your attention to the sad reality of interconnection and interdependence of world wars. In fact, the geopolitical foundations for the WWII were laid by the Versailles system installed by the states who considered themselves the winners of the WWI. As a result of the war the political map of the world drastically changed: four empires disappeared – German, Austrian, Russian and Ottoman. New states and state entities emerged. But much more important was the winners’ desire to impose the famous “vae victis” principle upon the defeated nations depriving them fr om territories, resources, armies, defense capacities, and – as it was largely believed – even hopes for a better future.

This was the moment where many seeds of the WWII were planted. The states who suffered a military defeat, Germany first of all, felt humiliated and frustrated. Their strong commitment to a revisionist agenda became an objective result of such a humiliation and frustration.

By the way, this period demonstrated the natural proximity of Russia’s and Turkey’s historic destinies. The Allies, as it turned out, wanted Turkey to drink – and, as we say, “bottom up” – the cup of poison they prepared for all the other defeated nations. So came the Sevr peace treaty truly considered in Turkey as a national disaster – both territorially and politically. And it was only the heroic struggle of the Turkish people proudly standing behind the Founder of the Republic and his fellow comrades-in-arms that made it possible to disobey the invaders and push them away, leaving the sovereign national territory to its natural owners – the Turks. And let us not forget how helpful and valuable was then for the young Turkish Republic the assistance rendered by the young Russian Socialist Republic. Once again, some figures: since 1920 up to 1923 the Soviet Russia delivered to Ataturk’s army 37812 guns, 324 machine guns, 66 canons, 63 mln cartridges and 14 thousands shells, which in general made more than one half of all the cartridges, one forth of all guns and canons and one third of all shells used by the National army of Turkey. And the gold – 80 mln TL worth which was more than that time Turkey’s one year national budget.

The greed and merciless dictate of the WWI winners were between the reasons that paved the way to the WWII. This is one of the lessons to learn. Another lesson: the failure to establish a comprehensive system of international security may end in disaster. The League of Nations created after the WWI, a kind of ancestor of the present UN, proved to be just a tool in the hands of a group of states, unable to prevent and stop regional and larger-scale conflicts. And the absence of a strong international organization empowered to take and enforce efficient decisions, as well as to support a flexible checks and balances system, was just another factor contributing to what happened.

The question is: how and why? First, the League of Nations was very far fr om being comprehensive. By composition and by substance. Composition – because it had 58 members but did not include such important states as Germany, Japan, the US and the Soviet Union. The US – because Washington did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles and not because of the isolationist views of American leaders (let us not remember that the US and its monopolies, being very far away fr om any continental isolation, played a prominent role in the genesis of the Nazi regime), but because of the treaty itself being absolutely imperfect. As for the USSR, it was expelled from the League because of its military conflict with Finland in 1939.

The League was also evidently helpless and uncomprehensive in the substance. Its main proclaimed goals – creation of a collective system for promoting peace and security, disarmament and arms control etc. – were not supported by an enforcement system, efficient and reliable. The decision-taking mechanism was incapable to produce long-lasting solutions to emerging conflicts. It failed to prevent or to stop a war between Italy and Abyssinia, it was unable (of unwilling) to stop the civil war in Spain that many consider a prelude to the WWII.

In my humble opinion, the LN failure was systemic or, if you want, functional. Those who created the League wanted it to become not a universal international organization serving the general interests of the humankind, no, they just conceived it to serve their own goal of preserving the international order established in Versailles. Something they strongly believed to be a kind of a «rules-based order» wh ere they and only they could or would be the ones to decide on what rules exactly the international order will function. The others were to obey. Doesn’t it remind you of something? Something we see today when the US and some of their closest allies try to introduce into international relations a new-generation of s.c. “rules-based order” replacing the whole system of international law?

Such were the discrepancies, faults, and short-comings of the League of Nations, so evident now. So the founding fathers of the League’s successor – the UN – undertook much efforts to correct the mistakes committed and avoid their possible negative impact. Big work was done, and a universal international organization was founded – uniting almost all the states of the world and covering almost all the spheres of international life. The UN Charter was thoroughly and carefully prepared, fixing rights and obligations of states – members, and – which is extremely important – containing the famous Chapter VII enabling the use of force by the international community and establishing the rules for peace-keeping and peace-enforcement operations. The Charter looked, and proved to be, a solid and well-balanced document establishing a complicated but comprehensive multi-track system aimed at giving responses – as adequate as they could be or seem to be – to growing new challenges appearing before the mankind in the post-WWII world, including the one of the nuclear arms race.

Between the main ideas and principles fixing the complex character of the organization being created we must first of all cite the clear distribution of functions between the Security Council, the General Assembly and the other main organs of the UN, as well as the geographic rotation for presidency and membership and many other things including of course the veto right of the UN SC permanent members, which is nowadays so much criticized by so many. But let us not forget that this key principle was and still is an integral part of the complex international checks and balances system which looked rather efficient for a rather long period of time.

Let me spell out a thing which could seem strange but here it is: the veto right is not only for rejecting, it is not only a “Niet”, it is not only something which is used against. On the contrary, it is for a compromise, for the quest of something which could be acceptable for everyone. So it is largely a “Da”, or “Yes”, it is in favor of something and as such it may be not destructive but constructive.

If we look at the history of the UN since 1945 we can come to a conclusion that for decades this organization was more or less successfully fulfilling its primordial task: helping the mankind to avoid a disastrous world war with the use of weapons of mass destruction, which the already existing arsenals are still quite sufficient to physically destroy our planet, and not once, but many times. The UN was helping in many ways – sometimes just by existing, sometimes by providing a terrain for seeking and finding generally acceptable deals and compromises. And here, by the way, the veto right played a very important role drawing the “red lines” and preventing the adoption of unbalanced or unrealistic decisions and resolutions that had few chances to be implemented.

The UN is criticized now for its lack of efficiency and this criticism looks rather well-founded. But wh ere are the principle roots of such an inefficiency? When did it start? I think that one of the main reasons behind the UN’s current relative weakness was just the drastic change in the world’s balance of powers. I presume that the UN was more or less helpful for the bipolar world of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Then the world started changing and at the 90’s took a unipolar shape. And it was precisely this strategic shift that played a major role in the UN loosing its grip. The “only remaining superpower”, the unique “indispensable nation” started behaving as if “the concert of nations”, good-will compromises and consensus decisions were no longer needed – as well as the UN itself as an international mediator, pacifier and an arena for working out efficient collective decisions. Some people so much believed in their omnipresent and uncontestable influence that they started behaving on their own will: they bombed Belgrade, they intervened in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, they started the “regime-change” games all over the world. The results are really disastrous, both for states which became victims of such a policy, and the marginalized UN which obviously started loosing its universal character.

Of course, the UN badly needs a reform, the one that would entail many, many changes – the composition of the Security Council and maybe its prerogatives, as well as the prerogatives of other parts of the UN family, and many many other things. But the reform should be wise, prudent, very cautious and very much supported by all the members. Only in such a way, using not an axe and definitely not a canon but the power of intellect and a collective will of nations, we can achieve something positive for the UN and for all of us together.

Let’s return to the period between the two world wars. One more lesson which is so important and meaningful for out times. The so-called “appeasement” of the potential aggressor, largely believed to be behind the growing power of Germany in the 30’s. This state, almost annihilated as a result of the defeat in the WWI, destroyed, robbed and raped, in the 30’s emerged as a strong political and military power. Why did it happen? The answer is evident: because those who believed themselves to be the masterminds of the world politics permitted and even helped Germany to flex its muscles and to proceed freely with the rebirth of its industry, army and navy.

Judge by yourself. In 1933, right after the Nazi regime came to power in Berlin, Germany left for good the League of Nations and the Conference on disarmament, and the West (first of all the Great Britain and France) abstained from any clear reaction. In early 1935 Germany’s armed forces reached half a million thus violating the military articles of the Versailles treaty, and in February 1935 the British and French governments simply agreed to cancel these articles. In June 1935 a British-German Naval agreement was signed enabling the four-times growth of the German Navy and unlimited submarine fleet built-up. In 1936 German troops occupied the Rhine area – no counteraction from the West. In 1938 the Nazis openly invaded Austria and annexed it – and nothing was done to protect this independent and sovereign state.

Then came Czechoslovakia’s turn opening one of the most shameful pages of the world history. Hitler’s regime started by openly claiming an autonomy for the country’s German population and ended up in blackmailing the British and especially the French by a war. So the two states representing the “collective West” started by convincing the Czech authorities to provide necessary freedoms for the German national minority and ended up in Munich in September 1938 by presenting an ultimatum to the Czechs and forcing them to offer a substantial part of their country to Germany – one fifth of the territory and one-forth of population not speaking of one half of the country’s heavy industry.

The end of the game was fast to come: in March 1939 Germany simply invaded Czechia and Moravia and declared this region its protectorate, and a marionette government, totally pro-German, was created to govern Slovakia.

These were the results of the policy of “appeasing” the Nazi regime which was evidently preparing itself for a large-scale war. Didn’t they know in the West of the aggressive nature of this regime? They knew it perfectly well as Hitler and his kin never tried to hide their long-range plans and intentions. Let us see what the Nazi leader was openly declaring in “Mein kampf”, his program book written in 1925-1926: “We, national socialists, deliberately put an end to Germany’s pre-war foreign policy… We give up the eternal German strive to the West and the South of Europe and definitely point our finger to the lands to the East… We deliberately make a shift to the policy of conquest of new lands in Europe. And when we speak of new lands in Europe we mean first and foremost Russia and neighboring states …”

Maybe they were unaware at the West of the inhuman and anti-Semitic nature of Hitler’s rule threatening European peoples and especially European Jews by annihilation? No. The oppression, torture, arbitrary arrests and concentration camps started in 1933 and the whole Europe knew about it. And after the famous “krystall nacht” (Crystal night) of 1938 – the all-Germany Jewish pogrom – it became crystal-clear for everyone that it would be the Jews who will be between the first victims of the Nazi policy of extermination.

So why? Why didn’t they stop Hitler? Of course you all may make your own guesses. For many Russian scientists, historians and politologists the answer is obvious: because it was to the East that the Nazi regime was pointing its finger, not to the West. It was “Russia and neighboring states” which were Hitler’s objective. It was to the East that those pretending to be deciding the fate of the world were pushing the military machine steadily reviving and growing.

And it was to ensure the German army is approaching the Soviet boundaries that they were ready to sacrifice the independence and freedom of Austria, Czechoslovakia and, as it turned out, Poland, Baltic states and many others.

Such was the general feeling of many people in Moscow. So what were Stalin and Molotov supposed to do in these circumstances? What will you do when you see a cannibal living close to you and having already declared an intention to have you at lunch as a main dish (let us not forget the proclaimed “strive to the East”) starting to demolish the last wall between you and him? Right, first you try to arm yourself. That’s what the Soviet Union was doing during the 10 years of its “industrialization” pre-war policy. Second, you call the other neighbours to try to get together and maybe stop the aggressor. That was precisely what Moscow did. Let me cite you a document: “To the Ambassador of the USSR in Prague.

1. To the question of President Benesh if the USSR is prepared to help Czechoslovakia immediately and efficiently under the presumption that France also keeps its obligations and helps it, you may definitely give an affirmative answer.

2. The same answer may be given to the second question of Benesh – if the USSR helps Czechoslovakia as a member of the League of Nations in case the Czechs apply to the Council of the League in conformity with Articles 16 and 17 of the Charter.

Approved by: Stalin /signature/”.

The cable was sent right in the moment when Chamberlain and Daladier were pressing for the capitulation of Czechoslovakia in Munich.

Many documents of this period are now published. Of course it is always very easy to wisely judge the participants of the battle which is long over, or, as we say in Russian, “to waive fists after the fight”. But, anyway, it is clear that Moscow was ready to help stop the aggression – together with the others. The “others” were not.

And it was clear afterwards that Poland would be the next prey of the Wehrmacht – the German army. One more citation: “Top Secret. Transcript of the meeting in Fuhrer’s (Hitler’s) cabinet, May 23, 1939. Hitler delivering one of his famous long speeches: “Poland will always be at the side of our adversaries. Poland has always had a hidden intention to use every opportunity against us. We do not mean Danzig. We mean to expand of our living space to the East and to ensure our alimentation security, as well as to resolve the Baltic problem… Poland’s utility as a barrier against Russia is to be doubted… So it is out of question to mercy Poland and we only have to attack Poland at the first chance… But a conflict with Poland launched by attacking it may be a success only if the West stays out of the game. Be it impossible, it would be better to attack the Western powers and, with this, to put an end to Poland”. Such was a decision; implementation followed.

Well, what will you do with such a neighbor? Right. That was exactly what Stalin did. He made an attempt to agree with the West on a mutual security arrangements. There were many contacts, many negotiations in the first half of 1939. It was too long a story, but the end came in August: British and French military missions came to Moscow. Their last meeting with Field Marshall K.Voroshylov took place at the 21st of August and a decision was taken to cancel the negotiations for a later non-specified date without any concrete decision taken. For weeks the Russian side was trying to get from its partners a more of less concrete guarantee of an eventual collective response to an eventual – and very, very predictable – Nazi aggression. No reply. So the Soviets were obliged to act on their own. On the 23d of August Joahim von Ribbentrop, the German FM, came to Moscow and the famous Non-aggression Pact was signed.

This document is still largely discussed. Moscow is blamed for having signed it. But why? Was it prohibited for the others? No. Many European states did it earlier: like Poland, for example, in 1934, like Great Britain in 1938, right after Munich, like France in December 1938 and many others. After all, non-aggression is non-aggression. So what was wrong? Repartition of “zones of influence” coming out as an integral part of the Pact? Well-well-well, it is not to some European capitals, accustomed to this kind of practices, to blame others for the “Real-politik” games, which are sometimes, blunt and even cynical.

What happened later? If you’re not yet fed up with my citations, here’s one more: “all I undertake is against the Russians. If the West is so deaf and blind to fail to understand it, then I will be obliged to agree with the Russians, to beat the West and then, after its defeat, to turn back against the Soviet Union”. Who said it – of course, Adolf Hitler, speaking to the LN commissary on August, 11, 1939.

Summing up: what conclusions could we draw by studying the period of two world wars for today? Many things seem to be changed. But let us mind the following.

1. The big reshuffle in world finance, economy and politics is a regular phenomenon and what we see now is just a part of this never-ending game.

2. We are on the threshold of very, very big changes and the revisionist policies of those who believe themselves to be the “galactic chess-players” could cost the humankind new millions of victims, new millions of fortunes being lost – unless we all, taking lessons from the XXth century, unite our forces opposing the new warmongers organizing new world-wide slaughters for us and our children.

3. What we really need here (of course, besides a strong and solid threat assessment brainstorm) will be a large-scale collective security effort. In the 30’s of the XXth century we failed to create a collective security system – let us not repeat the same mistake, or it will be too late.

4. How? Wh ere? Who? Good questions. Let’s search for the answers together. But this quest for common answers to common challenges should be really common – without seeking unilateral favors for those who look bigger and stronger. Or taller. Or just longer – everything is so relative in this best of the worlds.

Thanks for your kind attention. You know, it was my first time ever experience of speaking to a camera, without seeing your eyes and feeling your reaction to what I say. So I will be much delighted to have a feed-back. If you want, share with me you feeling of what I said in writing, since we still have no chance to see each other for a certain time. If you have any questions, I’ll be delighted to answer them later – at our coming new U-tube meeting. I wish you all luck, health and chance for this Holy month of Ramadan. Mutlu olsun.