President Obama announced his decision to scrap the U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe on September 17, 2009, the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. He then signed an arms control agreement with Russia in Prague, the prime site of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. On the day of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s funeral, he went to play golf. The 2008 Russian military attack on Georgia was also conveniently forgotten.
All of these decisions were public diplomacy disasters. So here is a short history lesson, which the White House could have used before issuing the joint statement on the Elbe River anniversary and may want to consult before making future decisions on relations with Poland and other Central European allies who have sent troops to fight and die alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Hitler-Stalin pact and the Nazi and Soviet inasions of Poland in 1939 helped to start World War II. President Roosevelt rewarded the Soviet Union for fighting Moscow’s former ally Hitler by giving Russia control over Poland and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe for almost the next half a century. Before Yalta and while Stalin was still Hitler’s ally, he gave orders to murder more than 20,000 Polish POWs, mostly military officers. Many of them were executed at Katyn, where President Kaczynski’s plane crashed. Starting with Roosevelt, the White House and the State Department have for decades tried to cover up the Kremlin’s responsibility for the murders of Polish POWs, as did successive Soviet governments.
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 25, 2010
Joint Statement by the Presidents of the United States of America and the Russian Federation Commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the Meeting of Soviet and American Troops at the Elbe River
April 25, 2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the legendary meeting of Soviet and American troops at the Elbe River, which became a striking symbol of the brotherhood-in-arms between our nations during World War II.
We pay tribute to the courage of those who fought together to liberate Europe from fascism. Their heroic feat will forever remain in the grateful memory of mankind.
The atmosphere of mutual trust and shared commitment to victory, which accompanied the historic handshake at the Elbe, is especially called for today when Russia and the United States are building a partnership for the sake of a stable and prosperous world. We are convinced that, acting in the “spirit of the Elbe” on an equitable and constructive basis, we can successfully tackle any tasks facing our nations and effectively deal with the challenges of the new millennium.