What do Poland and Syria have in common?

Posted on: October 17th, 2015 by Will Rodriguez 15 Comments
,L – Warsaw Uprising August 1944 (PD-Polish), R – Syrian Civil War October 2015 (Reuters)

What do Poland and Syria have in common?  Both have been playgrounds for Russian adventurism and political manipulation by the application of brute (sometimes brutal) military force.

History tells us of the product of the Molotov-Ribbentrop meeting.  Ribbentrop  was Hitler’s foreign minister and Molotov was Stalin’s representative.  At the meeting they agreed to invade and split Poland.  The actual beginning of WWII hostilities is well known to have begun with the 30 day defeat of the, at the time, well respected Polish military.  The world was amazed at the rapidity and overwhelming nature of the Nazi assault.  What escaped the world’s notice at the time and for decades later was the Russian invasion of Poland and immediate subjugation of Poland’s people.  The climax of that largely clandestine and unpublicized effort was the marching of about 20,000 Polish officers and cadets into the Katyn forest where they were cold bloodedly executed for being potential threats to Russian control.

For decades the Soviet Union successfully denied the Katyn forest massacre.  The lies were as imaginative as they were insidious.  The ploys included breaking relations with the Polish government in exile when it asked the Red Cross to investigate and blaming the Germans even though they weren’t in that part of Poland when the executions happened.  Katyn was only officially acknowledged by the Soviet Union by Premier Gorbachev in 1989.  It was a short contrition period.  Indicating business was back to usual, Russia has been engaged in an active misinformation campaign denying the numbers murdered by the NKVD (Soviet WWII era secret police), blaming the Nazis again and even raising Soviet prisoners that died of disease in the 1920’s as a counter-Katyn to minimize Russian guilt.

The murder of 20,000 Polish officers, cadets, teachers, priests and government officials facilitated Russia’s control of Poland but not enough.  A couple of years later the radio Moscow urged the Polish resistance to rise in Warsaw as their inexorable red military machine ground the Nazis under it.  The Poles did and the Russians inexplicably stopped.  They stopped for over two weeks until the Warsaw uprising was crushed despite the pleas of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.  Western allies even dropped supplies and offered air support but the Russians denied landing rights.  16,000 resistance fighters were killed and upwards of 150,000 Warsaw residents were killed many to Nazi firing squads.  As the Free Polish resistance was shattered, Russia then resumed its advance.  The potentially pesky underground was taken care of by the Nazis after the Russians had encouraged them to rise in revolt.

Fast forward to today.  Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani travels to Moscow and has a Molotov – Ribbentrop-esque meeting to plan a joint intervention into Syria.  Almost two weeks ago Russia deployed significant military forces into Syria.  Much of the world applauded the Russian incursion.  None spoke up against it and only a few in the most lukewarm terms mentioned some concern about the number, manner and goal of the Russian intervention.  Meanwhile the Russians engaged in a very public offensive mesmerizing the world with military might and portraying the strikes as surgical and targeting ISIS.  The strikes are neither.  Russia/Putin exclusively targets forces arrayed against Assad excluding ISIS.

Amongst all the concern and even some foolish enthusiasm over Russia’s actions what has been largely unrecognized is Russia is shaping the political outcome in Syria much like it did in Poland during WWII to include a massive disinformation campaign.  After any resistance to Assad that has or could possibly garner western support is destroyed the only choices will be Assad (Russia/Iran) or ISIS similar to the WWII choice of Nazism vs. Communism.  Even if the world decided to weigh in there would be no organized moderate Syrian opposition to support.  Instead of meditating on what 250,000 Syrians died for or what the future consequences will be, the world will hold its nose, support Putin/Assad/Iran or at least stand aside as they re-establish Assad’s control of Syria.  Besides the moral abdication of any responsibility for what is happening or will happen in the region people will naively expect the middle east to return to the ante bellum status quo.  That is not going to happen.  Russia and Iran have much greater ambitions in the region.  If not they would have welcomed the West’s feeble attempts to do something in Syria.

The parallels to previous history are extremely hard to ignore as are the lessons.  Then, like now, the West ignores a concrete record of Russia utilizing its military to kill political rivals in an area they wish to subjugate.  Russia also employs an effective disinformation campaign that leverages the West’s self-destructive desire for peace at any cost as well as the typical useful idiots who believe and often parrot Russian disinformation.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • toril

    Proving once again that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.  Interesting article Will with a lot to ponder.

  • LawyerHandle

    Some reports that Russia will soon be expanding into Libya… Now that might get Europe’s attention as it would potentially disrupt their near monopoly over Libyan energy resources.
    Stunning if true: Algeria press says Russia considering Libya intervention, already conducting recon flights http://t.co/nyhTxK1tOQ— Borzou Daragahi (@borzou) https://twitter.com/borzou/status/655721843664535552

  • YankeePapa

    …One “annoying” tendency in schoolbook histories in the U.S. about the start of WW2 was how so many declared that Germany “invaded” Poland while Russia “occupied” the other part.  How many Polish soldiers crushed under “occupying” tanks?
    …The Nuremberg trials were a good thing… though it was interesting to have Soviet participation in prosecuting those guilty for invading countries in acts of naked aggression.  Of course the Soviet actions in Katyn forest never cluttered up the proceedings. 
    …This is as good a place as any to mention that the U.S. Air Force is once more committing “obsolete” (allegedly obsolete since before Gulf War One) into a combat theater.  This time to Turkey.

    -Yankee Papa-

  • YankeePapa

    …Speaking of our good friends the Soviets… uh, er… Russians…  We just signed an agreement that in theory is supposed to avoid “misunderstandings” and “unfortunate incidents” between our air forces and theirs over the skies of Syria.  
    …Left unsaid I suppose… was what happens if American aircraft are flying close air support to ground forces belonging to anti-Assad factions who are in combat with ISIS forces… in the middle of their combat on one particular battlefield have Russian air strikes materialize against our “allies” in the same place during the same engagement where our team is providing CAS.  Both air units just ignore each other and just continue working?
    -Yankee Papa-

  • YankeePapa 
    As with the rest of our policy e.g. leading from behind, we’ll let the Russians finish their strikes before conducting ours IF we launch them in the first place.

  • YankeePapa 
    I also disagree with the title of the link you supplied.
    The Russian military did not surprise us we have in fact been part of their modernization at times and intimately aware of their transformation.  Heck, I’ve written about them.




    Now what “surprised us” was the Russians actually having the temerity to employ those forces.  I guess the administration’s post election “flexibility” as well as the “Red Line” that wasn’t sent a message that couldn’t be ignored except by the supremely naive.

  • LawyerHandle 
    Great stuff.

  • Michael_mike

    Just when I was wondering whether Obama was giving away FSA position … it turn out that Carter did. Not that they can’t find any alone but WTF? (unofficially or not I doubt it got carried out without any governmental approval)


    “I sent [Putin] a message Thursday and asked him if he wanted a copy of our map so he could bomb accurately in Syria, and then on Friday, the Russian embassy in Atlanta—I mean in Washington, called down and told me they would like very much to have the map,” Carter said at his Sunday school class in Georgia, according to a video of his remarks first aired by NBC News. “So in the future, if Russia doesn’t bomb the right places, you’ll know it’s not Putin’s fault but it’s my fault,” he added as the audience laughed.

  • Michael_mike 
    Stunning.  To include the fools that laughed.

    I guess Jimmy Carter is concerned about not being the worst so he’s trying to even the score?

  • YankeePapa

    majrod Michael_mike ,
    …I am not surprised in the least.  During the Clinton administration Carter went to North Korea (he had a standing invite) and got along fine with Kim.  Carter had tried very hard to get all U.S. forces out of Korea while he was President (without asking anything in return from the North…)  
    …Carter called the White House and announced that he was going to hold press conference to announce that North Korea would comply with U.S. demands re newly energized nuke program.  
    …Clinton administration later implied that Carter there on their suggestion, but shock at call from Carter in North Korea makes one wonder.  In the event Kim just bought time, and the Clinton administration had an excuse to do nothing. 
    …Some will rant that Carter is a “traitor…”  Hardly… but at least a traitor knows what he is doing.  Carter is a loose cannon with delusions of competence.

  • still46

    An interesting analysis, but this is what breaks the parallel: Russia and Iran are supporting the endogenous Syrian government (however brutal and inhumane), in contrast to the Poland example in which Russia and Germany destroyed a credible endogenous government in favor of foreign control. 

    From Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, the largest stumbling block to US nation-building efforts has been the lack of a credible host-country partner. According to the New York Times, there are some 7000 groups fighting in Syria right now (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/30/world/middleeast/syria-control-map-isis-rebels-airstrikes.html). Let me say that again: seven thousand groups. In your own piece, you write: “Even if the world decided to weigh in there would be no organized moderate Syrian opposition to support.”

    Poland had a government and a military that represented its people. What do the Syrian rebels have? When was the last major victory for the FSA? What percentage of Syrians support them? I am sympathetic to the idea that the West could have established “safe zones” for refugees to prevent the crisis befalling Europe right now, but I just don’t see a credible alternative to the al-Assad government.

  • still46 
    My comparison doesn’t rest on whether an indigenous gov’t exists or not.  My point is Russia has a history of using military force and disinformation to subvert a nation to its own ends and advantage. 

    “Russia is shaping the political outcome in Syria much like it did in
    Poland during WWII to include a massive disinformation campaign.”

    But even if my point had an indigenous component to it, you do realize that the communists that came to power in Poland were Polish.  That’s indigenous.
    There are actually many examples of successful US nation building since Vietnam and before (Guatemala, El Salvador, .Columbia, Grenada and Panama).  Reliable partners can be found.  One has to win the military fight and then support long enough for change to take hold.
    Ignoring the NYT’s overwhelming bias, the NYT counts every unit commanded by a separate commander as a separate organization.  If we applied that same standard to our own revolution the numbers would stack up quite high.  That 7000 number leaves a lot to be desired as a measure of how fractured the rebel forces are though there is no doubt they are more fractured than our Revolutionary Forces.  I would encourage looking at the ISW’s analysis.
    You are using my quote, 
    if the world decided to weigh in there would be no organized moderate
    Syrian opposition to support.”
    out of context.

    It refers to a not so distant time in the future after the Russians/Iranians and Assad have killed anyone we could possibly support.  Our policies have contributed to the destruction of moderate forces.  First we provided paltry support when there were many moderates and then left them out to hang when we failed to enforce the “Red Line”. Chaos is almost always guaranteed when leadership fails to exist.

    I would not contest that Syria is a huge mess today.  That mess though is a direct result of American withdrawal from the world and I correctly predicted what would happen.  More of what made the situation bad in the first place is hardly the answer.  Reminds me of the definition of madness e.g. repeating the same thing one did to get in a bad situation and expecting different results.

    You ask who the Syrian people have forgetting that the whole revolt was a popular movement subverted by Assad and the Russians as they emptied the prisons of Salafists, prioritized killing moderates over hard core Islamists and sowed a hugely successful campaign of portraying all rebels as Islamic terrorists. 

    You may not see a credible alternative but you also don’t assess what a successful Russia/Iran/Assad middle East will look like.  It will not look like the region before the revolt.  And again we come back to my comparison.  We sided with Russia after Russia and Nazi Germany split Poland.  It cost us almost half a million American lives and still plunged half of Europe into totalitarianism for half a century.  This time we are even less willing to commit.  What will it cost the world this time.
    Those that forget history…
    When one can’t see alternatives one creates them but that takes leadership, resolve and resources.  We lack two of those.  In the end we’ll dedicate resources whether we want to or not and everyone will wish for the good old days when we could have stopped that future enemy early.

  • still46

    majrod still46You point out that the Polish Communist leaders that took over under Soviet rule were indigenous. However, prior to Soviet support, they were a sub-state agitator group aligned against the existing government. Isn’t this more similar to the FSA than the al-Assad government? One question is whether the FSA has popular support. The flood of young Syrian men fleeing to Europe rather than fighting for the FSA indicates a negative answer to that question, not to mention the pathetic US training effort that resulted in “four or five” fighters on the battlefield as of last month (http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/capitol-hill/2015/09/16/isis-fight-sasc-concerns/32499119/). Let’s also not forget the potential ethnic cleansing that could result from an FSA/Sunni victory over the Shiites, Christians and Druze that are loyal to al-Assad.

    You state that there are historical examples of successful US nation-building. Note that I did not say that no such examples existed – only that a credible host-country partner is necessary.

    I admit that the NYT number may be a biased over-estimate. However, as you yourself admit, even the ISW graph shows a fractured country. I wonder how the ISW classifies the “Syrian Rebels” as a monolithic force. I think the comparison to the American Revolution is inappropriate and absurd. The British colonial government was imposed from an ocean away in a time of primitive communication technology, as opposed to the al-Assad government which is based in Syria itself. Furthermore, the victory of the American Revolutionaries tautologically represents the modern-day US interest – are we so sure that a Syrian rebel victory will promote the American interest? What if they massacre the Shiites, the Druze and the Christians? What if they align themselves with Sunni radicals like al-Nusra or ISIS?

    You correctly point out that I do not paint an optimistic picture of a Russia/Iran/al-Assad ME. Sorry, I don’t think that pro-American forces will take over all of Syria and impose Western-style democracy on the region. I do, however, think that Iran and Russia will expend inordinate resources on propping up al-Assad. Do I think the US can benefit from pressing them to spend even more by supporting anti-Assad rebels? Definitely. Do I think we have a credible alternative government at this point? No way.

  • still46 majrod 
    My comparison doesn’t rest on the indiginous roots of a governing group.  BTW, speaking of distance, the Free Polish Gov’t was in exile.  The Polish communists were in country but again, that’s not the point either.
    Measuring FSA support by counting  “Syrian” men fleeing to Europe leaves a lot to be desired since the overwhelming majority of those men aren’t Syrian.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3240010/Number-refugees-arriving-Europe-soars-85-year-just-one-five-war-torn-Syria.html
    If there is ethnic cleansing if the FSA should somehow be victoious we should attempt to stop it.  What do you suggest we do with the ethnoic cleansing happening now both by ISIS against Christians and the haphazerd way Assad’s Allawite’s and Iran’s Shia are waging indescrimnate war on Syrian Sunnis or does your humanitarian concern only include the Druze and Christians?  It’s hard to raise an objection to something that may happen when one isn’t objecting to the same thing happening today.

    My comparison to the American Revolution isn’t absurd.  If one counted the rebel forces commanded by different commanders and raised in various states during our revolution one could easily come up with several thousand groups like the NYT’s reports for the Syrian rebels.  That’s the only way in which I compared the situation to our Revolution.

    Why does Syrian democracy have to be Western style?

  • YankeePapa