The 70th anniversary of the unconditonal surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945

Detveloping

On May 8, 1945 the Allied Powers accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany in a ceremony performed in Berlin. Because of the hour, it was May 9 in Moscow, which is why the Allied victory over Germany is celebrated on that date in Russia.

For the United States, which carried the brunt of the war in the Pacific, World War II did not formally end until September 2, 1945, when ceremonies formalized the surrender announced by Japan on August 15.

Commemoration ceremonies were held this year in Western Europe on May 8, and a large Soviet-style military parade and celebration were held today in Moscow, on June 9.

The Moscow parade was highly significant, as it was boycotted by the leaders of the West as a result of Moscow’s invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea in February and March, 2014, and its invasion of the eastern Ukraine by special operations and irregular forces, beginning in April, 2014.

These forces seized government buildings by force and set up the self-denominated Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the eastern Ukraine. By August, thousands of regular Russian troops, tanks, artillery, as well as advanced air-defense systems, had moved into the Donbas, after the border between Russia and these areas had been effectively dismantled by Russian or Russian-led forces.

What are euphemistically referred to as the “separatist” forces are now quite clearly led by and under the direction and control of Russia, according to NATO, which has stated that some 12,000 Russian troops remain in the Donbas, with thousands more menacingly poised on the border.

The boycott is highly significant as evidence of Putin’s and Russia’s isolation from the West.

It reminds us not only of what was achieved 70 years ago in defeating German fascism, but also how far Vladimir Putin has taken us back down the road that leads to totalitarianism and policies of militarism and aggression.

“Victory in Europe Day or “VE Day” marked the end of the war in Europe and the victory of the Allied powers over the European Fascism of Germany and Italy.

But, despite hopes spawned by the Yalta Conference and agreement in February, 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met to set the postwar arrangements for the states of Eastern Europe, the surrender of the Germans did not signify an end to totalitarian government in the countries that had been invaded and occupied by Germany–and the Soviet Union.

For the Soviets had also invaded countries, having agreed with Hitler in the infamous Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact of August 23, 1939 (a week before the German invasion of Poland), to share in the division of Poland, and to divide territories of Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”.

Stalin invaded Poland, annexed Polish territories (only some of which were returned after the war), annexed portions of Finland after the 1939-1940 “Winter War”, annexed the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1940, and also invaded and annexed portions of Romania.

Beyond these annexations, the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1949 established through the use of force and intimidation communist governments under its control in the Eastern European countries it occupied, except for Austria which gained its independence in 1955 as the result of an agreement among the occupying powers.

These historical facts are highly significant in view of Vladimir Putin’s remarks endorsing the Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact in November, 2014.

See “Putin approves of 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact and partitioning oaf Poland,” The Trenchant Observer, Novcember 11, 2014.

To be sure, the Soviet Union was an indispensable partner in defeating Nazism and German “fascism” in World War II. Its soldiers and citizens suffered untold losses and other hardships at the hands of the Germans. For their courage and sacrifice, citizens of the United States, England and many other countries will forever be in their debt.

Yet one must distinguish between the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation and their leaders, on the one hand, and the Russian and other peoples of the Soviet Union who bore these sacrifices, on the other.

It is worth recalling that Stalin was responsible for the massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers, police and intellectuals in what became known as the Katyn Forest massacre (or Katyn massacre) in April and May, 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland. As noted above, he was responsible for subjugating the peoples of eastern Europe to totalitarian communist rule, which lasted until the Berlin Wall came down in October, 1989.

Other Soviet leaders used Russian tanks to put down rebellions and revolutions in Poland in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, keeping totalitarian regimes in place. Brezhnev also invaded Afghanistan in 1980.

So as we celebrate the defeat of Germany and Nazism now, on the 70th anniversary of the German surrender in Berlin in 1945, let us bear in mind that the defeat of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes has not been fully achieved, and that the virus of militarism and aggression which led to World War II remains alive, today, in Russia.

The United Nations was founded in December, 1945, in large part “to avoid the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold suffering upon mankind.”

The bedrock principle upon which the U.N. and the hope of peace was founded was the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Unfortunately, so long as Russian troops occupy the territory of a European state as a result of military conquest, and are engaged in ongoing military aggression against that state, hopes for peace in Europe, and elsewhere, will remain in doubt.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.