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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Defense of Polish Attack Rings False

Today is one of the most important dates in Russia's history. It is also one of the least known. If asked, most people would be hard pressed to answer that today, Sept. 17, is the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union's entry into World War II.

All the war memorials, of course, say the Great Patriotic War began in 1941 - when Germany invaded the Soviet Union - and ended in 1945. But it was on Sept. 17, 1939 that Soviet troops, acting under a secret treaty with the Soviet Union's ally, Nazi Germany, invaded eastern Poland. German troops had attacked Poland on Sept. 1, beginning the war.

After seizing eastern Poland, the Soviet government deported some 1.5 million Poles to labor camps. At least 15,000 Polish officers were killed by secret police. Afterward, the Soviet Union and German divided up Poland and the Baltic states according to secret agreements already concluded before the start of the war.

It's bad enough that this tragic date is not remembered. But instead of simply leaving this event in Orwell's Memory Hole, the Russian Foreign Ministry decided to try to explain things away in a statement on the occasion of the anniversary. It was a case of digging one's self in deeper. Unless, of course, a subtle intimidating nudge at new NATO member Poland was the underlying idea.

No, the Foreign Ministry said, invading a neighboring state in 1939 was not an act of aggression. It was just an attempt to seize territory to use as a buffer against Nazi aggression. Soviet actions "were dictated not so much by the desire to seize others' territory as by the need to protect the security of the country."

This idea - that Poland and Russia's neighbor states in the Baltic exist mainly to hinder invaders of Russia - is one that ought to be expunged from national consciousness forever. Russia's cries of fear about invaders ring hollow indeed to Poles, Balts, and the other peoples of Eastern Europe. Most of the time, the shoe has been on the other foot. In any case, Russia is the one that has been protesting the loudest against NATO drawing "dividing lines in Europe." The quickest way to draw a dividing line is to suggest that your neighbor's sovereignty is not absolute.

We don't sympathize with NATO expansionism either, nor with the West's ignoring Yugoslav sovereignty in turning Kosovo into a NATO protectorate with dubious prospects. But the recent adventure beyond NATO's borders in the Balkans isn't an excuse to imply that tsarist and Soviet geopolitics are any guide for Russia today.