Why do they hate Russia that much? Settling score of a brutal past
Why do they hate Russia that much? Settling score of a brutal past
The war in Ukraine which now entered its 500th days and counting, has really polarized the world at large and Europe in particular. And while it is easy to understand why some countries, for geopolitical, economic, or strategic reasons are willing and ready to assist the Ukraine in its fight against Russia (such as the USA and the UK), it is noticed that some other countries have manifested a great and enthusiastic drive to back it and have offered generously everything under their disposal in that regard. The question is why these countries are giving so much and in due process antagonize the Russians and get their wrath.? Before attempting to answer this interesting question, let’s look at the table below which lists the countries which assisted the Ukrainians per their GDP;
Of the 10 countries listed, three were part of the former Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), four were satellite states of the former Soviet Union and part of the defunct Warsaw Pact (Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic) (Slovakia and the Czech Republic made up the former Czechoslovakia), and one had a major war with the former Soviet Union, Fidland, which has been recently accepted as a new member of the NATO alliance along with Sweden.
Is it really a coincidence that the top three on the list were occupied by the former Soviet Union? And despite the fact that they have small economies, they committed so much to Ukraine in its war against Russia (which made up almost 80% of the Soviet territory)? And the next two (Poland and Slovakia) had difficult histories with the Soviets. This article would focus on such questions.
The Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
The Soviet Union, Russia and the Baltic States
The Baltic states have a lot in common, yet each is unique with three different languages bearing legacies of distinct cultures. Estonia is Finno-Ugric and looks north. Lithuania, a millennium-old nation, was once in a commonwealth with Poland and looks south. Estonia and Latvia have large Russian minorities while Lithuania has small Polish and Russian minorities which are ideologically more in line with the native Lithuanians than typically is the case of Russian minorities. All three were part of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union; all three are now members of both NATO and the EU (The Baltic Sea Region at an Inflection Point, NDUP, March 10, 2023.)
The three independent Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – were invaded and occupied in June 1940 by the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Stalin and auspices of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that had been signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August 1939, immediately before the outbreak of World War II (Taagepera, Rein (1993). Estonia: return to independence. Westview Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0813311999.) The three countries were then annexed into the Soviet Union (formally as “constituent republics“) in August 1940. On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and within weeks occupied the Baltic territories. In July 1941, the Third Reich incorporated the Baltic territory into its Reichskommissariat Ostland. As a result of the Red Army‘s Baltic Offensive of 1944, the Soviet Union recaptured most of the Baltic states and trapped the remaining German forces in the Courland Pocket until their formal surrender in May 1945 (Davies, Norman (2001). Dear, Ian (ed.). The Oxford companion to World War II. Michael Richard Daniell Foot. Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0198604464.)
Colonization of the three Baltic countries was closely tied to mass executions, deportations and repression of the native population. During both Soviet occupations (1940–1941; 1944–1991) a combined 605,000 inhabitants of the three countries were either killed or deported (135,000 Estonians, 170,000 Latvians and 320,000 Lithuanians), while their properties and personal belongings, along with ones who fled the country, were confiscated and given to the arriving colonists – Soviet military and NKVD personnel, as well as functionaries of the Communist Party and economic migrants
(Abene, Aija; Prikulis, Juris (2017). Damage caused by the Soviet Union in the Baltic States: International conference materials (PDF). Riga: E-forma. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-9934-8363-1-2.)
On March 11, 1985 Mikhial Gorbacheve assumed power in the Soviet Union and embarked on some creative and reformist measures to revive the country and its sagging economy (Glasnost and Perestroika.) These and other events began to show cracks in the rigid centralized system which governed the communist country for many years, and the former Baltic states were the first to show descent in challenging the central government in Moscow and show strong willingness to secede from it.
On 11 March 1990 the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet declared Lithuania’s independence (Hiden & Salmon (1994). p. 158.) Pro-independence candidates had received an overwhelming majority in the Supreme Soviet elections held earlier that year (Hiden & Salmon (1994). p. 160.) On 30 March 1990, seeing full restoration of independence not yet feasible due to large Soviet presence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared the Soviet Union an occupying power and announced the start of a transitional period to independence. On 4 May 1990, the Latvian Supreme Soviet made a similar declaration (Hiden & Salmon (1994). p. 162.) The Soviet Union immediately condemned all three declarations as illegal, saying that they had to go through the process of secession outlined in the Soviet Constitution of 1977. However, the Baltic states argued that the entire occupation process violated both international law and their own law. Therefore, they argued, they were merely reasserting an independence that still existed under international law.
The Soviet government recognised the independence of all three Baltic states on 6 September 1991 after the end of a failed coup d’etat against Gorbachev on August 23 of that year.
Poland, Russia and the war in Ukraine
From the beginning of the war in the Ukraine, Poland and its backing of actions against Russia has been constantly in the news. Polish politicians never hide their distaste for Russia and Putin and use every opportunity to express such sentiment. On March 2, 2022, Polish President Andrzej Duda slammed the leaders of France and Germany over their phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying it was like having talks with Adolf Hitler during World War Two (Reuters, June 9, 2022.)
To say that Poland and Russians (and the Soviet Union before that) have had tumultuous and complex relationships throughout history is an understatement. And it all began with the previously mentioned Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that had been signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August 1939. Through this pact, Poland was butchered between the two superpowers.
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact contained a secret protocol specifying the spheres of influence in Eastern Europe both parties would accept after Hitler conquered Poland. The Soviet Union would acquire the eastern half of Poland, along with Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia (History Channel, November 15, 2022.)
Soon after the pact, Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September, 1939. After the invasions, the new border between the two countries was confirmed by the supplementary protocol of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty. In March 1940, parts of the Karelia and Salla regions in Finland were annexed by the Soviet Union following the Winter War. The Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Romania (Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertsa region) followed. The Soviets used concern for ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians as a pretext for their invasion of Poland. Stalin’s invasion of Bukovina in 1940 violated the pact, since it went beyond the Soviet sphere of influence that had been agreed with the Axis (Brackman, Roman The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life (2001) p. 341.)
On 1 September, Germany invaded Poland from the west (Roberts 2006, p. 82.) Within a few days, Germany began conducting massacres of Polish and Jewish civilians and POWs, (Datner 1962, p. 11.) which took place in over 30 towns and villages in the first month of the German occupation (Garvin, JL. “German Atrocities in Poland”. Free Europe: 15.) The Luftwaffe also took part by strafing fleeing civilian refugees on roads and by carrying out a bombing campaign ( Davies 1986, p. 437.) The Soviet Union assisted German air forces by allowing them to use signals broadcast by the Soviet radio station at Minsk, allegedly “for urgent aeronautical experiments.” Hitler declared at Danzig:
Stalin had decided in August that he was going to liquidate the Polish state, and a German–Soviet meeting in September addressed the future structure of the “Polish region.”( Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 131.) Soviet authorities immediately started a campaign of Sovietisation ( Weiner, Myron; Russell, Sharon Stanton, eds. (2001). “Stalinist Forced Relocation Policies”. Demography and National Security. Berghahn Books) of the newly-acquired areas. The Soviets organized staged elections, (Kozłowski, Bartłomiej (2005). “”Wybory” do Zgromadzeń Ludowych Zachodniej Ukrainy i Zachodniej Białorusi”. Polska (in Polish). PL: NASK. Archived from the original on 28 June 2006. Retrieved 13 March 2006) the result of which was to become a legitimisation of the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland ( Gross, Jan Tomasz (2003). Revolution from Abroad. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 396. ISBN 0-691-09603-1.)
The Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish underground resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. It occurred in the summer of 1944, and it was led by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa). The uprising was timed to coincide with the retreat of the German forces from Poland ahead of the Soviet advance ( “German–Russian agreement”. Rapallo: Mt Holyoke. 16 April 1922. Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2009.) While approaching the eastern suburbs of the city, the Red Army temporarily halted combat operations, enabling the Germans to regroup and defeat the Polish resistance and to destroy the city in retaliation. The Uprising was fought for 63 days with little outside support. It was the single largest military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II (Treaty of Berlin Between the Soviet Union and Germany”. Yale. 24 April 1926.)
There was always an argument about why the Soviets stood while the Germans butchered the Polish resistance, but it remained a sour spot in the Polish psyche till this day. It was suggested, among other things, that the Soviets, who expected the Poles would resist their upcoming domination just as much that of the German’s, wanted the Nazis to crush the resistance and “soften” its will for any future scenarios.
Available historical records confirmed such assumptions. Declassified documents from Soviet archives reveal that Stalin gave instructions to cut off the Warsaw resistance from any outside help. The urgent orders issued to the Red Army troops in Poland on 23 August 1944 stipulated that the Home Army units in Soviet-controlled areas should be prevented from reaching Warsaw and helping the Uprising, their members apprehended and disarmed. Only from mid-September, under pressure from the Western Allies, the Soviets began to provide some limited assistance to the resistance (Kennedy-Pipe, Caroline (1995). Stalin’s Cold War. New York: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-4201-1.)
Soviet control over the Polish People’s Republic lessened after Stalin’s death and Gomułka’s Thaw, and ceased completely after the fall of the communist government in Poland in late 1989, although the Soviet-Russian Northern Group of Forces did not leave Polish soil until 1993. The continuing Soviet military presence allowed the Soviet Union to heavily influence Polish politics. The Polish People’s Army was dominated by the Soviet Union through the Warsaw Pact, and Poland participated in the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to suppress the Prague Spring reforms in Czechoslovakia (“Milestones: 1961–1968 – Office of the Historian”. history.state.gov. Retrieved 4 October 2021.) The Soviet Politburo closely monitored the rise in political dissent in Poland in the late 1970s and the subsequent rise of the anti-communist Solidarity trade union after the 1980 Lenin Shipyard strike ( “Solidarity in Poland”. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 22 June 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2021.) The Soviet state newspaper Pravda denounced the Gdańsk Agreement between the Polish government and Solidarity in similar terms to state media coverage of Alexander Dubček‘s government during the Prague Spring (“Soviet Evaluation of Polish Solidarity Crisis”. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2 September 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2021.) It subsequently pressured the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party and Wojciech Jaruzelski‘s government into declaring martial law (“Soviet Letter to the Polish United Workers’ Party”. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2 September 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2021.)
Jaruzelski in a TV studio announcing the introduction of martial law, 12/13/1981
Poles remember vividly the tanks of General Wojciech Jaruzelski the streets when Martial law was declared on the 13th of December 1981. And for more than seven months the government drastically restricted everyday life by introducing martial law and a military junta in an attempt to counter political opposition, in particular the Solidarity movement, with direct orders from Moscow.
What the people of Poland didn’t know at that time is that the creation of the independent solidarity movement was the first nail in the communist coffin not only in Poland but the entire Soviet empire, and it, along with other events, such as the ill fated invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier, ended that empire ten years later.
Soviet influence in Poland finally ended with the Round Table Agreement of 1989 guaranteeing free elections in Poland, the Revolutions of 1989 against Soviet-sponsored Communist governments in the Eastern Bloc, and finally the formal dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (“Warsaw Pact Dissolves”. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 22 June 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2021..)
T-55A on the streets during Martial law in Poland, 1981
Polish and Russian relationships after the collapse of the Soviet Union
Certainly the antagonizing issues between Poland and the former Soviet Union and the tumultuous history between the two carried its impacts after the disintegration of the latter in 1991.
Relations between modern Poland and Russia suffer from constant ups and downs (Peter Cheremushkin, “Russian-Polish relations: A long way from stereotype to reconciliation”, Intermarium, vol. 5, no. 3. (2003), School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.) Among the constantly revisited issues is the fact that Poland has moved away from the Russian sphere of influence (joining NATO and the European Union)( Andrzej Nowak, The Russo-Polish Historical Confrontation, Sarmatian Review, January 1997 Issue) and pursuing an independent politic, including establishing a significant relations with post-Soviet states; for example, Poland was the first nation to recognize Ukraine’s independence and Polish support for the pro-democratic Orange Revolution in 2004 against the pro-Russian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine has resulted in a temporary crisis in Polish–Russian relations.
Occasionally, relations will worsen due to remembrance of uneasy historical events and anniversaries, such as when Polish politicians bring up the issue of Russia apologizing for the ’39 invasion, the Katyn massacre (which many Polish citizens and politicians see as genocide, but Russian officials refer to as a war crime rather than a genocide), or for the ensuing decades of Soviet occupations; ( Richard Bernstein, After Centuries of Enmity, Relations Between Poland and Russia Are as Bad as Ever, New York Times, 3 July 2005.) In turn, Russians criticize Poles’ perceived lack of thankfulness for liberation from Nazi occupation (Peter Cheremushkin, “Russian-Polish relations: A long way from stereotype to reconciliation”, Intermarium, vol. 5, no. 3. (2003), School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.)
The Polish sensitivity towards Russia’s invasion of other countries was manifested in 2008 during the invasion of Georgia. Polish President Lech Kaczyński flew to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi as a show of support to the country. Kaczyński held a speech in front of the Georgian parliament in which he warned that Russia was trying to re-establish its dominance in the region by force (“Words that stopped Russia”: Polish President’s Georgia speech remembered”. TVP World. 12 August 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2023.) The Polish government afterwards led a group of eastern European countries in proposing sanctions against Russia, drawing anger from the Russian government (“Russia continues criticism of missile shield during Poland talks”. Deutsche Welle. 9 November 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2023.)
And in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its subsequent support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Poland repeatedly requested the additional permanent deployment of NATO military assets to Poland following (“Ukraine crisis: Poland asks Nato to station 10,000 troops on its territory”. The Telegraph. 1 April 2014.)
Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia
Till January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia was one country. On that day it separated peacefully into two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Before the Second World War, the nation of Czechoslovakia had been a strong democracy in Central Europe, but beginning in the mid 1930s it faced challenges from both the West and the East. In 1938, the leadership in Great Britain and France conceded the German right to takeover the Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement, but the Czech government condemned this German occupation of its western-most territory as a betrayal. In 1948, Czech attempts to join the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan to aid post war rebuilding were thwarted by Soviet takeover and the installation of a new communist government in Prague. For the next twenty years, Czechoslovakia remained a stable state within the Soviet sphere of influence; unlike in Hungary or Poland, even the rise of de-Stalinization after 1953 did not lead to liberalization by the fundamentally conservative Czech government.
In the 1960s, however, changes in the leadership in Prague led to a series of reforms to soften or humanize the application of communist doctrines within Czech borders. The Czech economy had been slowing since the early 1960s, and cracks were emerging in the communist consensus as workers struggled against new challenges. The government responded with reforms designed to improve the economy. In early 1968, conservative leader Antonin Novotny was ousted as the head of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and he was replaced by Alexander Dubcek. The Dubcek government ended censorship in early 1968, and the acquisition of this freedom resulted in a public expression of broad-based support for reform and a public sphere in which government and party policies could be debated openly. In April, the Czech Government issued a formal plan for further reforms, although it tried to liberalize within the existing framework of the Marxist-Leninist State and did not propose a revolutionary overhaul of the political and economic systems. As conflicts emerged between those calling for further reforms and conservatives alarmed by how far the liberalization process had gone, Dubcek struggled to maintain control.
Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning tank in Prague
during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968
Soviet leaders were concerned over these recent developments in Czechoslovakia. Recalling the 1956 uprising in Hungary, leaders in Moscow worried that if Czechoslovakia carried reforms too far, other satellite states in Eastern Europe might follow, leading to a widespread rebellion against Moscow’s leadership of the Eastern Bloc. There was also a danger that the Soviet Republics in the East, such as Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia might make their own demands for more liberal policies. After much debate, the Communist Party leadership in Moscow decided to intervene to establish a more conservative and pro-Soviet government in Prague.
The Warsaw Pact invasion of August 20–21 caught Czechoslovakia and much of the Western world by surprise. In anticipation of the invasion, the Soviet Union had moved troops from the Soviet Union, along with limited numbers of troops from Hungary, Poland, East Germany and Bulgaria into place by announcing Warsaw Pact military exercises. When these forces did invade, they swiftly took
control of Prague, other major cities, and communication and transportation links. Given the escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict in Vietnam as well as past U.S. pronouncements on non-intervention in the East Bloc, the Soviets guessed correctly that the United States would condemn the invasion but refrain from intervening. Although the Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia was swift and successful, small-scale resistance continued throughout early 1969 while the Soviets struggled to install a stable government. Finally, in April of 1969, the Soviets forced Dubcek from power in favor of a more conservative administrator. In the years that followed, the new leadership reestablished government censorship and controls preventing freedom of movement, but it also improved economic conditions, eliminating one of the sources for revolutionary fervor. Czechoslovakia once again became a cooperative member of the Warsaw Pact.
There were also long-term consequences. After the invasion, the Soviet leadership justified the use of force in Prague under what would become known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that Moscow had the right to intervene in any country where a communist government had been threatened. This doctrine, established to justify Soviet action in Czechoslovakia, also became the primary justification for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and even before that it helped to finalize the Sino-Soviet split, as Beijing feared that the Soviet Union would use the doctrine as a justification to invade or interfere with Chinese communism. Because the United States interpreted the Brezhnev Doctrine and the history of Soviet interventions in Europe as defending established territory, not expanding Soviet power, the aftermath of the Czech crisis also lent support to voices in the U.S. Congress calling for a reduction in U.S. military forces in Europe (Office of the Historian, Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968.)
The Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia left a sour taste in the mouths of its citizens. The picture of Soviet tanks roaming the streets of Prague while citizens throwing objects on them is so much attached to their conscience. They saw their movement of reforms, which became so much synonymous with other reforms around the world and dubbed as “Prague Spring” , being crushed by the communist giant in Moscow.
With regards to the relationships between Russia and the Czech republic after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the splitting of the old old Czekoslavakia, remained relatively friendly throughout the 1990’s and the 2000’s. However, from 2014, and as a response to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the Czech Republic has participated in enacting economic sanctions against Russia. In March 2018, the Czech Republic expelled three Russian diplomats as a reaction to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom (Julian Borger, Patrick Wintour, Heather Stewart. Czechs expel three Russian diplomats after UK chemical attack. Reuters. Published on 26 March 2018.)
In March 2018, the Czech Republic arrested and extradited a Russian hacker into the United States on American request ( Czech Republic defies Russia, extradites ‘hacker’ to United States. Deutsche Welle. 30.03.2018.)
On 17 April 2021, the Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš announced that the Czech Republic was expelling 18 Russian diplomats it had identified as GRU and SVR spies — after the Czech intelligence agencies had concluded that Russian military intelligence officers, namely members of Russian military intelligence GRU’s unit 29155, were involved in two massive ammunition depot explosions in Vrbětice (part of Vlachovice), near the Czech-Slovak border, in October 2014 (“Czech Republic Expels 18 Russian Diplomats Over Depot Blast; Searches For Skripal Poisoning Suspects”. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 17 April 2021. Retrieved April 18, 2021.) Shortly after, the Czech Republic formally informed the NATO allies on the matter and requested a joint statement at the NATO level as well as a follow-up North Atlantic Council meeting “to discuss other possible coordinated steps” ( “Czech Republic informs NATO allies why it expelled Russian embassy staff”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. 2021-04-21. Retrieved 2021-04-22.) In the wake of the expulsion, Bloomberg News commented that “in a rare act of unity, Zeman took the government’s side against Putin” (Russia’s Circle of Friends Just Got Smaller in East Europe”. Bloomberg News. 2021-04-22. Retrieved 2021-04-23.) The Russian government responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats ( “Livid Russia expels 20 Czechs after blast blamed on Skripal suspects”. Reuters. 18 April 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2021.)
Slovakia relationship with Russia
Since its creation as an independent state in 1993, and unlike the Czech Republic, Slovakia has had a relatively friendly relationship with Russia. However, after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine started, Slovakia, as one of the EU countries, imposed sanctions on Russia, and Russia added all EU countries to the list of “unfriendly Nations(Lee, Michael (8 March 2020). “Here are the nations on Russia’s ‘unfriendly countries’ list”. CTV News.)
Slovakia joined other countries in spring 2022 in declaring a number of Russian diplomats persona non grata.
On 16 February 2023, Slovakia’s parliament defined the Putin regime as “terrorist” and formally designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism (RFE/RL. “Slovak Parliament Designates Russia A State Sponsor Of Terrorism”. RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 2023-02-16.)
Bulgaria, Russia and the invasion of Ukraine
The last on the list of past communist countries in terms of support for Ukraine and actions against Russia, is Bulgaria. From 1945 to 1948, the country became entrenched within the Soviet sphere of influence under the control of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) which oversaw a program of Stalinization in the late 1940s and 1950s, and joined the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Political repression was widespread (David Walker & Daniel Gray, “Bulgaria, People’s Republic of” in The A to Z of Marxism (Scarecrow Press, 2009), pp. 36-39.) Bulgaria became highly dependent on Soviet patronage. Soviet technical and financial aid enabled it to rapidly industrialize. The USSR provided Bulgaria with energy and a market for its goods (Bulent Gokay, Eastern Europe Since 1970: Decline of Socialism to Post-Communist Transition (Routledge, 2001), p. 19.) Bulgaria also received large-scale military aid from the Soviet Union, worth USD $16.7 billion between 1946 and 1990.
It is safe to assume that by and large the Soviet relationship with Bulgaria was relatively on good terms. It is also noteworthy that Bulgaria did not undergo a retaliatory measure by the former soviet union or its client government in Sofia for a major event as in Czechoslovakia or Poland. But as a NATO member since 2004 and an EU member since 2007, Bulgaria joined other European powers in taking retaliatory measures against Moscow since its invasion of Ukraine. This may partially be due to it being one of the poorest countries in Europe. 65 percent of the population is currently unable or barely able to cover their living expenses. This is due to the high level of indebtedness of state-owned companies in the energy sector and hospitals, poor infrastructure and the threat of population decline. GDP per capita is 12.77 euros (Business Standards, July 23, 2023.)
Measures taken by Bulgaria against Russia after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine started, Bulgaria, as one of the EU countries, imposed sanctions on Russia, and Russia added all EU countries to the list of “unfriendly nations” (Lee, Michael (8 March 2020). “Here are the nations on Russia’s ‘unfriendly countries’ list”. CTV News.)
On 24 March 2022, the Bulgarian prime minister announced the recalling of the Bulgarian ambassador in Moscow for consultations, in the wake of “undiplomatic, sharp and rude” comments reportedly spouted by the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria (“Bulgaria to recall its ambassador to Russia for consultations”. Swissinfo. 24 March 2022.)
The Hungarian exception
If there is an exception to the list above of past Soviet occupied states and satellites Other than East Germany which had the best of terms with the Moscowe and now is part of Germany, a prominent opponent of Moscow), it is Hungary. This is rather odd given that Hungary in particular was on the receiving end of a brutal soviet-led crackdown, the Budapist massacre of 1956, which is commonly used as a vivid example of communist brutality against dissent against Moscow.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956, also known as the Hungarian Uprising, was a countrywide revolution against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic (1949–1989) and the policies caused by the government’s subordination to the Soviet Union (USSR.) The uprising lasted 12 days before being crushed by Soviet tanks and troops on November 4, 1956. Thousands were killed and wounded and nearly a quarter-million Hungarians fled the country ( “This Day in History: November 4, 1956”. History.com. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
As of now, Hungary is the only past communist country which is on good terms with Moscow and has stubbornly resisted any actions against it with regards to its invasion of Ukraine more than 500 days ago.
The question is why Hungary, who has been a NATO member since 1999, and an EU member since 2004, is taking such a stand? The answer lies in the complexity of the Hungarian relationships with Russia and with Ukraine which led Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to adopt such a policy. William Nattrass summarized the factors behind such a stance; “First off, it’s important to highlight that Hungarians have strikingly negative attitudes toward Ukraine. While Russia has harmed Hungary at various times in the past, Ukraine is seen as wronging Hungarians in the present.
Relations between Budapest and Kyiv took a dramatically negative turn in recent years, when Ukraine introduced restrictions on national minorities intended to combat Russian influence. Hungarians claim minority communities in Transcarpathia — a region of Ukraine ceded by Hungary after World War I — faced hostility because of these policies.
Since then, Orbán has been accused of fostering resentment. Tensions flared in 2018 over a video that apparently showed diplomats illegally issuing Hungarian passports to people in Transcarpathia. Later, in 2019, Hungary was accused of trying to influence the outcome of elections in the region, and blocked Ukraine’s NATO membership negotiations over the row.
Today, from the Donbas to Kosovo, events are again proving the potency of nationalist narratives over lost territory and peoples separated by the claimed injustices of history. Yet, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the simple fact that many Hungarians have negative views of both Russians and Ukrainians is pertinent.
And while these views have clearly influenced Hungarian government policy on both military aid and sanctions, other historical, economic and cultural factors have played their part as well.
Many Hungarians worry about the gravitational pull that wars can have on neighboring countries. In the early 1990s, Hungary only narrowly escaped being sucked into the wars in the Balkans, after it was revealed that Budapest had been supplying tens of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles to Croat forces.
Orbán’s economic model built around geopolitical ambivalence has influenced the country’s resistance to energy sanctions as well. Orbán describes Hungary as a “transit economy,” which can only thrive by drawing investment and opportunities from both East and West.
In this context, German-Russian energy cooperation is paradoxically believed to be fundamental to Hungarian national security. Orbán argues that the German-Russian energy axis remains the only way to stop Eastern Europe from becoming “dependent on the Americans” for energy and military protection. Though, his warning against American energy dominance does seem bizarre given that Hungary, Germany and others have had few qualms about relying on Russia.
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban
Finally, the economic arguments against cutting Russia off dovetails with Hungary’s growing cultural rift with the West. The progressive values rejected by Orbán are also mocked by Moscow, and Orbán has portrayed the country as emblematic of traditional mores. “Russians speak an old language. When we listen to them, it’s as if we are hearing the sounds of the past,” he said.
With Orbán presenting Western progressivism to Hungarians as dangerous, it should come as no surprise that Russia’s more traditional cultural values exert a certain appeal. As Attila Demkó, head of the Center for Geopolitics at Budapest’s Mathias Corvinus Collegium, says: “After 12 years of pressure from the EU and the West,” many Hungarians fall into the trap of feeling that “if the West is ‘bad,’ there must be some ‘truth’ in what Russia is doing.”
And as Orbán voters believe they’ve been demonized by their supposed Western allies in recent years, why, they might ask, should they back a sanctions program?
Hungary’s stance on the Ukraine war isn’t based on popular pro-Russia social currents. Rather, it is the result of historical and recent political factors, many of which have been shaped by Orbán himself.
Simply put, Hungary isn’t pro-Russia. But even so, President Vladimir Putin’s invasion hasn’t made it pro-Ukraine either (Politico, Hungary’s ‘pro-Russia’ stance was inevitable, William Nattrass, September 15, 2022.)
This article was focused on a list of countries which have demonstrated strong will to take a stand against Russia for its invasion of its neighbor Ukraine more than 500 days ago. The study concluded that there is a strong correlation between such a stand by these countries and historical events which were perpetrated by the former Soviet Union during the 20th century against these countries which ranged from supporting puppet regimes to crush internal revolts, to military invasion, to an all out right annexation of independent states. Such brutal legacy, this writer believes, played a major role in taking such a stand by those countries. It was even clearer that one of those countries had a softer reaction against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine than others because it had relatively good treatment by the former Soviet Union. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the more brutal treatment by the Soviets the bigger the drive of those countries to stand against Russia and vice versa.
In addition to historical atrocities committed by the former Soviet Union, those countries all have a well-founded fear of Russian invasion. If not for anything it will be the presence of large Russian communities present in those countries which the Russian can use as a pretext for invasion or even annexation.
One exception, however, was observed, Hungary, which was on the receiving end of a ruthless and brutal invasion in 1956 by the Soviets to crush a popular revolt which killed, injured, and exiled hundreds of thousands. This exception was attributed to the complexity of the Russian and Ukraine relationships on one hand with that of Hungary on the other in addition to some social and economic factors.
*Nadum Jwad is freelance writer who lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada