MOSCOW, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin defended a World War II non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at a conference with history students.
Putin said he approved of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which assured neither country would attack the other, but included secret side arrangements -- denied until 1989 by the Soviet Union -- regarding the carving of Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.
"Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then," Putin told the young scholars Wednesday. "The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say: 'Ach, that's bad.' But what's bad about that if the Soviet Union didn't want to fight, what's bad about it?"
Germany and the Soviet Union were at war with each other, in what was called World War II's Eastern Front, by 1941. Putin's comments bolstered critics who contend he seeks historical precedent to reinforce his authoritarian rule and military deployments to Georgia and Ukraine.
On Tuesday, a Russian national holiday, Putin visited a Moscow exhibit highlighting the Rurik dynasty, which founded the reign of tsars over Russia. A section on the 16th century Livonian War and Ivan IV Vasileyvich, better known as Ivan the Terrible, referred to the war as "the West's first anti-Russian information campaign," the British newspaper The Telegraph noted. A comment on the exhibit by Russian state television suggested it was a precedent for modern world events.
"The Europeans tried to portray Russia as a country of cruel and aggressive barbarians. In the end, not strong enough to influence our independent international policies, they were obliged to introduce a raft of economic sanctions against us, as they would be called now."
This week Putin was named the world's most powerful person in a Forbes Magazine survey for the second consecutive year. U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in order, followed Putin on the list.
"As the undisputed, unpredictable and unaccountable head of an energy-rich, nuclear-tipped state, no one would ever call him weak," the magazine said of Putin.