BERLIN (AP) — Seventy-five years after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, which led to the deaths of tens of millions, Germany’s foreign minister warned Wednesday that “Europe is at risk of splitting along new divides,” while Russia’s president drew parallels to the lead-up to the attack and today, saying the West still seeks to isolate his country.
In an op-ed printed in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned “peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted, not even today.”
Referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Steinmeier said “unilateral shifting of borders in breach of international law and the failure to respect the territorial integrity of neighboring countries … take us back to the times from which we believed we had escaped, times that nobody can wish for.”
Steinmeier urged all sides to return to dialogue, saying “the leaders of today have the duty to draw the right lessons from our common past.”
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall and suggested in remarks to the Duma that the Western Allies had paved the way for the invasion by not working more closely with the Soviets.
“Leaders of some Western countries preferred a policy of containment toward the Soviet Union and tried to put it into international isolation,” he said.
Putin drew parallels to today, saying that Russia has “repeatedly expressed its willingness to talk” about joint responses to international terrorism.
“But just like before the start of the WWII we don’t see a positive response,” Putin said. “Quite on the contrary, NATO is ratcheting up its aggressive rhetoric.”
Though the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany had signed a non-aggression pact in 1939, which led to the division of Poland between the two nations, the Nazis broke that with the June 22, 1941, invasion.
Steinmeier went out of his way to emphasize Germany’s responsibility, calling the invasion part of Adolf Hitler’s “crazy and megalomaniacal” attempt “to subjugate and exterminate the people of the Soviet Union.”
“In all the current debates on Europe’s peaceful order, we must never forget that the aggression, the war of destruction, the ideology of Slavic subhumans, descended upon the peoples of the Soviet Union from Europe, from the West, from Hitler’s Germany,” Steinmeier said.
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this story.