One country’s ambassador to another is generally supposed to do his best to keep the relations between the two at an even keel. Friendly would be better, but civil is the minimum requirement.
But suppose an ambassador was given a different task: to make sure the relations went from bad to worse. How would he go about it?
The quickest way would be to insult the host country by stating that the most tragic event in her history was her own fault. This trick certainly worked for Sergey Andreyev, Putin’s ambassador to Poland.
It has to be said that Russia and Poland haven’t been the best of friends since before either country got its present name. However, if we narrow the historical perspective to the last 100 years or so, the hostility between the two has been more pronounced than ever.
Shortly after the Bolsheviks grabbed Russia they sent their cavalry in the general direction of the Channel. Germany and France were the targets but, unfortunately for the impatient Soviet youngster, Poland lay in the way. Unaware that the Red steeds had winds of progress behind them, the Poles routed the Red Army ineptly led by the subsequent hero-martyr Tukhachevsky.
The Soviets got their own back in 1939, when their pact with Nazi Germany partitioned Poland between the two evil powers. A week later, on 1 September, the Second World War started.
Contrary to the popular misapprehension, the war against Poland wasn’t exactly a cakewalk for the Nazis. Though originally stunned by the blitzkrieg, the Poles managed to regroup to the east of the Vistula, and their resistance was growing stronger by the day.
The Germans were paying the price for their arrogance. Expecting a bloodless takeover, like those of Austria and Czechoslovakia, they hadn’t prepared for the war properly. As a result they were running out of essential supplies, especially aircraft bombs.
Their new Soviet allies (why by then had amassed more weaponry than the rest of the world combined) helped, restocking the Nazis’ arsenal, as they later did during the Battle of Britain. But the Nazis demanded more tangible action, and the Soviets obliged. On 17 September they knifed Poland in the back by attacking her from the east. That put paid to the resistance, and the two predators divided the spoils stipulated in the pact.
The SS Einsatzgruppen came in the Wehrmacht’s wake and began to exterminate Jews in the western part of Poland. Similarly, the Soviet army was followed in by the NKVD, which had by then gathered vast experience in mass murder.
Several hundred thousand Poles were immediately deported to Siberia, to the accompaniment of pistol shots fired through the heads of the usual suspects: aristocrats, priests, teachers, writers, scientists, administrators – and POW officers. The widely publicised massacre of 22,000 such people at Katyn and elsewhere was the culmination of that process, far from its entirety.
It took Poland another 50 years to regain her independence from Russia and subsequently to be blessed by the presence of Mr Andreyev. As part of the blessing, they were astounded to hear that the ambassador’s version of events was rather different from the truth.
The Soviet Union, explained His Excellence, didn’t really attack Poland. And even if it did, the dastardly Poles had only themselves to blame. They oppressed their Ukrainians, whom Russia has an historical duty to protect (a view not universally shared in the Ukraine, it has to be said).
Not only that, but Poland had refused to enter the anti-Hitler coalition the Soviets had desperately sought (presumably while also seeking a coalition with Hitler).
The Poles gasped and tried to guess what on earth the good ambassador could possibly have meant. Having failed to figure out the puzzle, they made the irrefutable ethnic point that neither Molotov nor Ribbentrop was Polish.
It’s pointless wondering why Putin’s diplomats ignore elementary etiquette, never mind the truth. After all, Andreyev’s superior, Foreign Minister Lavrov routinely uses the foulest of obscenities in his official capacity.
Once, for example, when his British counterpart made a timid observation about civil rights in Russia, Lavrov said “Who are you to f***ing lecture me?” proving thereby that the KGB school excels at teaching colloquial English, split infinitives and all.
Putin’s diplomats clearly see themselves not as mere envoys, but as the vanguard in the war on the West, which should put us all on guard. Poland in particular has every reason to worry, what with her unfortunate geographical position just west of the country currently under Russian attack.
Putin is trying to exacerbate Russia’s current pariah status, possibly to prime his brainwashed populace for a subsequent military adventure. But hey, if you listen to some of our pundits, that’s all right: Vlad, after all, is the strong leader we so sorely lack.
P.S. Jeremy Corbyn has promised that, should he ever become PM, he’d never use, whatever the provocation, nuclear weapons, to which he is “totally and morally” opposed. Of course it was only Nato’s readiness to use such weapons that prevented the Soviet conquest of Europe, a development to which Corbyn would have been opposed neither totally nor morally. Our mutual friend Vlad should take notice.