Sounding the alarm bell for the West to recognize the possible outcomes of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact (known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that was signed on August 23, 1939), 82 years ago, on August 26, 1939, The Ukrainian Weekly’s front-page editorial noted multiple areas of concern for Ukraine.
The editorial noted: “In regards Soviet Ukraine, it is quite safe to assume that since the Soviets are not on Germany’s side, the so-called Western democracies, including America, are likely to begin to take some interest in the national aspirations of the 33 million Ukrainians under Moscow’s misrule. There will no longer be any reason for them to ignore or gloss over the terrible conditions under which the Ukrainians are forced to exist over there, as they have done in the past. For Russia has definitely shown to them that she is no longer with them. America, furthermore, will now have additional proof of the fact that […] as a democracy she never had nor ever can have anything in common with Russian autocracy. The policy of the democracies, therefore, will in all probability be aimed at weakening Russia and thereby deprive the Axis Powers of a possible ally in case of war. And one of the ways to do it, of course, will be to advocate freedom for the various nationalities now in that ‘prison house of nations,’ especially for the Ukrainians, the most numerous and powerful of them all. For without Ukraine under her control, Russia will become just a third or fourth rate power. Such a policy, incidentally, can be pursued by the democracies in time of war or peace.”
Dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the editorial continued, would require the commitment of democracies as well as the strength of the Ukrainian national movement in Soviet Ukraine. Additionally, the success of such a policy would depend on “how skillfully the representatives of this movement abroad play their hand.” Ukraine, it added, must avoid the mistakes of 20 years prior (in 1918), when the fate of Ukraine rested in the balance and when skillful diplomacy might have tipped the scales of international relations in favor of Ukrainian independence.
The fate of western Ukraine, under Polish rule, was largely dependent on how a war between Poland and Germany would play out, with expectations being that Poland would be quickly routed by the Germans. Other scenarios included the partitioning of Poland between Germany and the Soviets, or a combined partition between Germany, the Soviets, Hungary and Romania. If no war was to come, the mistreatment of Ukrainians under Poland would likely not receive much condemnation from the major powers.
But Poland would not be the end of the goal of eastward expansion of German-occupied lands, with Germany recognizing the value of keeping Ukraine out of Soviet hands.
“…To put this matter in a nutshell, Germany will probably rule her Polish and Ukrainian minorities in the same traditional manner of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, by playing off one against the other and by strongly favoring the Poles, who will use their influence to dominate and persecute the Ukrainians, just as they did before the [First] World War.”
Another possibility in the event of a Polish-German conflict was the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state, similar to the Western Ukrainian National Republic of 1918-1919. “If this happens,” the editorial explained, “then the democracies will have a chance to redeem their broken promise made to the Ukrainians 20 years ago, and thereby show that they are democratic in spirit as well as in name.”
All of these possibilities, it added, “point unswervingly to the utter necessity for all Ukrainians to strengthen themselves as a nation and to center their reliance for their salvation upon no one but themselves. In the meanwhile, it would be well for all powers to realize, once and for all, that no solution of European troubles is possible as long as the 45 million Ukrainian nation is denied its freedom and independence.”
Ukraine this year marks the 30th anniversary of its renewed independence, and yet these celebrations are bittersweet, as not all of Ukraine can be called free or independent because of Russia’s military occupation of Crimea and the eastern Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.
However, all who identify as Ukrainian have clearly declared their independence and freedom, and that continues to be a threat to Moscow.
Source: “Berlin-Moscow pact and Ukraine,” The Ukrainian Weekly, August 26, 1939.