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A fast-track course on the alternative history of Central and Eastern Europe, or Tucker Carlson's interview with Vladimir Putin


There were several misrepresentations of history in an interview conducted by US journalist Tucker Carlson with Russian President Vladimir Putin and published, among other, on the X portal on 8 February, 2024. In the half-hour lecture on how the Kremlin perceives the history of Central and Eastern Europe, which the Russian president gave at the beginning of the interview, several misrepresentations were made about Poland and Ukraine: Poland collaborated with Hitler before 1939 and jointly partitioned Czechoslovakia;  Ukraine is an artificial state created at Stalin’s will;  The name 'Ukraine' was invented by Poles

The first of the false claims was made by Putin at the 12’52” mark of the interview. He said that in 1939, Poland had cooperated with Hitler and he offered the country a treaty of friendship and alliance, demanding in return that Poland give back to Germany the so-called Danzig corridor which connected Germany with East Prussia and Königsberg. The Russian president stressed that after the First World War this territory was transferred to Poland, and instead of Danzig the (free—FH) city of Gdansk was created. Putin added that Hitler asked Poland to hand over the corridor amicably and that the Poles had refused. Despite that, according to him, Poland collaborated with Hitler and together partitioned Czechoslovakia.

However, it is not true that Poland collaborated with Hitler before the outbreak of the Second World War. In fact, on 26 January, 1934, Poland signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, which was an attempt to defend independence, and not collaboration. The pact was part of the so-called ‘equal distance’ policy proposed by Jozef Pilsudski (the Polish statesman who served as the Chief of State and first Marshal of Poland) in the 1930s. It was a policy of normal relations with both Germany and the Soviet Union but an alliance with neither.
In the Polish Radio programme ‘White Spots’ experts commented more extensively on the subject. They said that Piłsudski played for time, predicting that the better mutual relations would last no more than four years. Earlier, on 25 July, 1932, Poland had also signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. The pact that opened the way to war and which Putin did not mention in his interview (and Carlson did not ask about) was signed on 23 August, 1939 by Germany and the USSR. This agreement, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, contained a secret amendment providing for the division of Central and Eastern Europe between the two totalitarian regimes. It was the direct cause of the outbreak of the Second World War, as it gave Germany the green light to attack Poland.

Putin's words about Poland's alleged collaboration with Hitler are part of a well-known Russian historical narrative published quite often on social media after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. According to this narrative, Poland collaborated with Hitler, its non-aggression pact with Germany was the cause of the outbreak of war and, as the 'hyena' of Europe, it may lead to the outbreak of another by dragging NATO countries into it.

#FakeHunter has repeatedly fact-checked social media posts accusing Poland of allying with Hitler (see footnotes). Meanwhile, Poland and Germany's declaration of non-violence was only a short-lived ceasefire and an attempt by Poland to limit the threat from its western neighbour.
The genesis of the Non-Aggression Pact is linked to German policy in the 1930s. At that time, the country sought to revise the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, including the recovery of lands lost after the First World War. This is why Poland was a particularly inconvenient state for Germany, as it had part of the territories considered as German. As early as 1938, Germany demanded that Poland agree to the annexation of Gdansk to Germany and the construction of an extraterritorial highway and railway line through Polish Pomerania to East Prussia.
Poland signed the Pact in 1934 when Hitler had only been in power for a year. As Professor Marek Kornat said on the Polish Radio in the 'White Spots' programme, Hitler was not yet in a strong enough position to reveal his true cards. According to Kornat, he decided to postpone plans for expansion formulated in ‘Mein Kampf’ for a better moment.

Janusz Osica, PhD, in the programme ‘Sound Guide to Recent History—Germany’, explained that in 1934, Hitler declared himself a friend of Poland and a politician in favour of peace. "The priorities were otherwise, as Hitler's aim was to remilitarise Germany. When the Wehrmacht started to become a powerful force and at the same time, he obtained the permission of the Western countries to annex Austria and later in Munich to occupy part of Czechoslovakia, Poland was next," Osica said.

By the end of 1938, the Third Reich’s Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop demanded Polish consent for Germany's annexation of Danzig and the construction of an extraterritorial highway connecting East Prussia with the rest of the Third Reich. On 5 January, 1939, Adolf Hitler repeated these demands in a conversation with the foreign minister of the Poland’s Second Republic and, in March 1939, Poland received them in writing.
On 31 March, 1939, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stated in his speech that the United Kingdom felt obliged to give Poland immediate support in the event of hostilities that might threaten Polish independence, and in response to British guarantees to Poland, on 28 April, 1939, Hitler said in the Reichstag (the German parliament) that he considered the non-aggression pact with Poland to be unilaterally violated.

Poland did not carry out jointly with Hitler the partition of Czechoslovakia. The Third Reich annexed part of Czechoslovakia's territory in 1938, in accordance with the Munich Agreement, therefore with the consent of the Western states. The Polish-Czech conflict over Cieszyn Silesia had been going on since the end of the First World War, when the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire provided an opportunity for the rebirth of Poland as an independent state and the creation of a Czechoslovak state. After Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, Poland took advantage of this and occupied Trans-Olza, a part of Cieszyn Silesia.

In 1920, it was granted to Czechoslovakia by the Supreme War Council, when a solitary Poland was fighting the Bolsheviks. The 1920 Spa Conference decision came after 1919, when the Czechoslovak army invaded Cieszyn Silesia, starting the Polish-Czechoslovak conflict over the border. At that time, 100,000 people of Polish nationality ended up in Czechoslovakia. More than 1,000 Poles who participated in the armed conflict were taken as prisoners. In 1938, Poland used the ethnic argument to occupy Trans-Olza. 
"On 5 November, 1918, the local Polish and Czech authorities demarcated the territory of Cieszyn Silesia according to the nationality of its inhabitants: the areas where Poles were the majority were to go to Poland, the areas where Czechs lived—to Czechoslovakia," Prof. Tadeusz Kisielewski explained in a Polish Radio programme 'Sound Guide to Recent History—Czechoslovakia'. At the same time, it was believed that the issue would ultimately be resolved by the governments in Warsaw and Prague.

However, as Kisielewski explained, there were fierce disputes at Versailles between the Polish National Committee headed by Roman Dmowski and the Czech National Council headed by Tomáš Masaryk and Edvard Beneš. "The demarcation contradicted Masaryk's and Beneš's concept of incorporating all the lands of the former Czech kingdom into the Czechoslovak state. Cieszyn Silesia was considered a principality that was part of the Czech crown. Beneš, who represented Czechoslovakia at the Paris Peace Conference, was supported by France," Kisielewski added. 

On 29 January, 1919, violating the provisional agreement, Czechoslovak forces entered the part of Cieszyn Silesia allocated to Poland. Fighting continued until 3 February, when the government in Warsaw, under pressure from the Triple Entente, agreed to a new demarcation. The Czechs took over parts of the Cieszyn and Fryštát regions. The agreement did not satisfy either side and the Czech army launched another attack on the night of 23-24 February. However, they encountered resistance not from the local self-defence group, but from the Polish Army. The attack was repelled and the next day a provisional agreement was signed and Cieszyn was granted to Poland.

The issue was finally resolved at the Spa Conference in July 1920. The Second Polish Republic was then at a critical juncture in the Polish-Soviet war. By an arbitrary decision of the Supreme War Council, more than half of the disputed territory fell to Czechoslovakia (approx. 56 percent), including the districts of Cieszyn (the town itself was divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia) and Fryštát, where the majority of the population was Polish. The border was based on the line of the Olza River. From then on, the lands granted to the Czechs were known as Trans-Olza. 


In a fast-track course of the European history given to Carlson and viewers of his channel, Putin—not for the first time—was trying to tell the world that Ukraine was an artificial state, without a history, created on historically Russian lands and that Ukrainians are not a separate nation but merely part of the great Russian family of nations. Thus, they had no right to sovereignty. According to Putin, Russians had every reason to refer to Ukraine as an artificial state that was shaped at Stalin’s will (19’58” mark of the interview). 

Meanwhile, Ukraine is a country with centuries-old traditions, and its creator was certainly not Joseph Stalin. Although historians argue about the origins of Ukrainian historiography, most of them derive Ukrainian distinctiveness from the Middle Ages and Kievan Rus'. The baptism of Vladimir the Great (Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev) in 988, through which Christianity appeared in Rus, is considered as the beginning of Ukrainian history. It is true that for many centuries, the lands that now belong to Ukraine were within the borders of other states, but to deny Ukrainians their national and cultural distinctiveness on such a basis is a cynical game played by Moscow.

Over the centuries, Ukraine has been part not only of the Russian Empire, but also of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and yet none of these states but Russia questioned Ukraine’s right to self-determination. Besides, the lack of statehood did not prevent Ukrainians from developing national liberation attitudes. Already in the 19th century, the modern idea of a Ukrainian nation was created. And the first state with ‘Ukraine’ in its name—the Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR)—was established even before the October Revolution. The UPR began to form on 17 March, 1917, just two days after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Full independence and the official creation of the new country was declared on 25 January, 1918.

Two weeks later, however, Kiev was occupied by Bolshevik troops and the UPR authorities had to flee to Volhynia. The Ukrainian authorities were left between the resurgent Polish Republic, the Bolsheviks advancing from the east and the 'White' army, that is, Russian troops loyal to the Tsar. The lack of support at peace conferences and military weakness led to the collapse of the UPR. Its lands became part of the Second Polish Republic and Soviet Russia as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The latter, however, cannot be regarded as the nucleus of an independent Ukraine, so the statement that Ukrainians owe their independence to Stalin is simply not true. 

Stalin's policy towards Ukraine was not to support Ukrainian aspirations for independence. On the contrary; the period of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was a time of extermination of Ukrainians. They accounted for as much as 70 percent of the Gulag prisoners, and during the Holodomor in the first half of the 1930s, the Stalinist regime starved to death several million Ukrainians. It was not until the perestroika and the impending collapse of the Soviet Union that the opportunity for an independent state opened up for Ukrainians. Ukraine proclaimed it on 24 August, 1991, and a few months later the USSR ceased to exist. The first country to recognise Ukraine's independence was Poland.


Contrary to what Putin said at the 6’10” mark of the interview, the Polish-Lithuanian union was not formed in the 13th century and Poles did not invent the names ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Ukrainians’ to diminish their connection to Russia.

The Russian president talked about the southern part of the Ruthenian lands, including Kiev, that gradually began to gravitate towards the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He mentioned the Polish-Lithuanian union of the 13th century and another one which, according to him, a few years later resulted in the subordination of the Orthodox Church in Poland and Lithuania to the Pope. Putin stressed that during decades the Poles were engaged in Polonisation of this part of the population by introducing their language and instilling that this population was not Russians. Because they lived in the borderlands, they were Ukrainians

The President of the Russian Federation gave Tucker Carlson and his audience an alternative version of history. The events he mentioned are the Polish-Lithuanian Union, which was concluded in Krewa in 1385, i.e. in the 14th century. It was the first of several legal acts binding Poland with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Its goal was to resist together the state of the Teutonic Order. The act that recognised the Vatican's sovereignty over the Orthodox Church in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the union concluded in Brest-Litovsk in 1596, so not a few years but more than two centuries after the conclusion of the Polish-Lithuanian union.

The name 'Ukraine' was first mentioned in the Kiev Chronicle in 1187, that is, two hundred years before the signing of the first of acts binding the Republic of Poland with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. ‘Ukraine’ as not only a term for the Cossack state, but also in the sense of "homeland" came into general use in the 17th century. Given that this was the time of the bloody Polish-Cossack wars, Tucker Carlsson and his audience should have no problem imagining that the people Putin talked about were not particularly susceptible to being 'branded' by Poles.

The origin of the name of the land and the people who inhabited it is—especially from the point of view of an American audience—a seemingly trivial issue. However, should not be. By fostering the belief that the Ukrainians are Russians, and that throughout the history they were simply made to believe by European colonisers that they are Ukrainians, Putin believes he can justify his aggression against the country as Moscow simply takes back what is its own.