How Russia does annexations?
In response to a recent #China ambassador in France comment about “unclear legal status” of the former #USSR states[^1] a number of Eastern European countries voiced their protest. For example, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania MFA:
Lithuania never joined the USSR. Moscow illegally occupied our territory, so we resisted until we restored our independence and the Red Army went back home.[^2]
Why there's even a controversy around such an apparently obvious fact? It's due to how Soviet #Russia annexed these countries. And they did it quite cleverly, preserving a delicate balance of brute force, forgery and theatrical legitimacy, balanced enough to be practical for them but also to be acceptable to be used as a fig leaf for the international community. This allowed them for over half a century maintain a “consensus of ambiguity” in the West: when one historians would talk of occupation, others would refer to the “people's referendums and elections” or “Soviet reconstruction of Poland”, and other classic Soviet-constructed clichés in a “it was not black and white” spirit.
Can't speak for Lithuania as I don't know our friendly neighbour's history well enough, but in case of #Poland this is how it was done:
- After Germany was defeated by the Allies who then already included USSR, the Soviet troops found themselves all over the territory of Germany-occupied Poland. Red Army was followed by NKVD. Massive looting of Polish territory by Soviet troops continued between 1946 and 1948. Under official orders of Kremlin Soviet troops took away everything they could, from private property to whole factories, farms and even rail tracks.[^3]
- Soviets created a puppet Polish “Provisional Government of National Unity” and held 100% control of the territory with Red Army and NKVD, continuing purges, arrests, show trials and executions of former anti-German resistance who did not pledge allegiance to the Soviets. For example Witold Pilecki, the man who brought the first solid evidence of the genocide in Auschwitz and fought in Warsaw Uprising... was then accused by Soviets of being “Nazi collaborator” and executed.[^4]
- In 1946 the puppet government organised a referendum on judicial reforms whose results were entirely falsified.[^5] Why bother? Because in Yalta in 1945 they declared independent and internationally monitored elections will be performed in Poland. The referendum was a delicate trial balloon on the reaction of the West. Apart from admitting the falsifications and “thoughts and prayers” there was none.
- Consequently, in 1947 Moscow organised full-scale elections which were also entirely falsified.[^6] This way they kind of “legally” passed all authority over Poland to the single Polish and 100% Moscow-controlled communist party, which they only gave away in 1989.
- Soviet looting of Poland continued all this time, as they weren't yet 100% certain if they will keep control. It reached such an extent that even the puppet Polish authorities protested in secret communications to Moscow that it undermines perception of Russians as “friends and liberators” of Poland. Moscow didn't care because anyone with “undermined perception” could be arrested or executed. Overall, Soviet plunder of Poland was estimated at $54 billion, a fraction of which was then returned in the form of Soviet investments in industries perceived necessary by Moscow, who then boasted massively about how they “helped a brotherly socialist republic”.[^3]
This is exactly how it happened in other Eastern European countries, with adjustments to local specifics.
And if you see some historical similarities to the 2014 “referendums” in 2014 Donbass, Crimea, 2022 in occupied regions of Ukraine, it's because it was the very same playbook they executed in Eastern Europe in 1946-1947: loot, kill, stage some fake referendums and elections, take 100% control and... pretend “they joined voluntarily”.
If Russia succeeded in #Ukraine in 2022, that's what they planned for the whole country. Was that a good plan? Judging by Western lukewarm reaction to 1946-1947, and then 2014, in long-term Russia's plan was good enough. Look, today only 9 years have passed since Russian invasion in 2014 but you can clearly see mainstream voices accepting occupation of Crimea as “not entirely legal but kind of OK”.
Today's absurdity of Russia-staged “referendum on joining Zaporizhzhia oblast' into Russia”[^7] when not a single Russian soldier even managed to enter the very town of Zaporizhzhia (!) is obvious to everyone who watch the conflict closely. Most people likely heard about these “not entirely legal” referendums but do not realize the full extent of the violation of laws and common sense. That's today. Do you think in 50 years anyone would care about that?
Therefore, if you are a bit unsettled by a rather dramatic reaction of Eastern European countries to Russia's or China's statements questioning or undermining their sovereignty today, it's precisely because we have seen first hand where these words lead...
- [^1]: https://www.kyivpost.com/post/16199
- [^2]: https://social.kyiv.dcomm.net.ua/@rubrykaeng/110253606460301710
- [^3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_looting_of_Poland#The_Soviet_Union
- [^4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witold_Pilecki
- [^5]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1946_Polish_people%27s_referendum
- [^6]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_Polish_legislative_election
- [^7]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_annexation_referendums_in_Russian-occupied_Ukraine