The alliance that never was
Last week's celebration of D-Day touched a sensitive nerve in Moscow. The Russian arguments - self-righteous and misleading as they are - continue to enjoy considerable currency among many well-meaning people in the United States and Western Europe.
The main Soviet complaint against the celebrations is simple - the emphasis on D-Day is historically and morally misplaced. It gives too much credit to the Allies. Moscow Radio declared that ''it is necessary today to remember once again that the main brunt of the Nazi aggression was borne by the Soviet Union, that our country made the decisive contribution for the victory. . . .''
Almost 40 years since World War II ended, the Soviet government, if anything, is increasing the volume of propaganda based on the triumph of the Russian arms. The regime seems in desperate need of a legitimizing experience, and what is called in the Soviet Union the ''Great Patriotic War'' is commonly viewed as the most important and most successful test of the Soviet system.
The Soviets, in their polemical zeal, appear to manage to persuade even themselves. But there are some facts to consider before embracing the Russian version of history.
* World War II started with a joint Soviet-German invasion of Poland. From September 1939 until they themselves became a target of the German aggression, the Soviets were busy using their arrangement with Hitler to occupy three independent Baltic republics and to annex parts of Finland and Romania. The Soviet media described the French surrender as ''a historic defeat of British-French imperialism'' and during all this period the USSR dutifully supplied the Nazis with material to conduct the war against the Allies.
* In 1941 the USSR signed a neutrality agreement with Japan. Perfectly sensible from the geopolitical standpoint, the agreement still made it easier for Tokyo to attack the United States. The Soviet Union took no part whatsoever in the Pacific war. The Russians sent overwhelming forces against Japanese troops in northern China only on Aug. 9, 1945, when a combination of American victories and the atomic bomb pushed Japan into considering surrender.
* The Soviet liberation of Central Europe turned into a brutal rape. Central European nations found themselves enslaved once again. Some of them got even less leeway under Stalin than under Hitler.
* Twenty million Soviet casualties were a direct result of Stalin's policies. It was he who destroyed the Red Army's top command and purged thousands and thousands of officers. It was he who ordered a destruction of fortifications in the western military district. And, according to the memoirs of his own commanders, it was he who, during the course of the war, made painfully clear that preoccupation with reducing losses at the expense of military or political efficiency was a punishable offense.
* While Soviet operations undoubtedly helped the Allies to succeed in Normandy, the record does not support Moscow's claims that the Russians timed their summer 1944 offensive to help the Allies.
The Soviet Union fought against the Germans heroically. Stalin himself gradually developed into a formidable military leader. The Soviet defense industry under the leadership of young Gen. Dmitri F. Ustinov, today's defense minister, produced miracles. The Russians have a lot to be proud of.
What they should not do is to pretend that they were philanthropists eager to help others, loyal to their international commitments and fighting for the same cause as the industrial democracies. All these things they certainly were not.
The grand alliance between the Soviet Union and the West was not based on a shared vision of the postwar world, on a similarity of values, or on an identity of long-term objectives. Western powers and the leaders of the Soviet totalitarian empire had only one thing in common - the imperative to get rid of the monstrous Hitler regime. Once this goal was achieved the alliance was bound to disintegrate. Actually, there never was an alliance in the sense that existed between the United States and Great Britain. Soviet historians use a more appropriate term: the anti-Nazi coalition.
The lessons of cooperation with the Soviet Union during World War II suggest that when faced with a mortal danger, the Kremlin out of self-interest can work together with the West. And in the 1980s the threat of nuclear devastation may well allow limited cooperative arrangements to keep the rivalry under control. Trying to accomplish more would mean going against not only the realities of today but also the record of history.