Seventy-five years ago, Adolf Hitler attacked the USSR, thus ending a period of almost two years when he and Joseph Stalin were formally allies as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and a much longer one during which the Soviet Union and Germany, two outcasts in the international community, cooperated covertly.
It cannot be said too often that the peoples of the Soviet Union paid an enormous price in lives and treasure to defeat Nazi Germany, but it must not be forgotten that in many ways they were forced to do so because of the policies of their own government before the war and its intentions of spreading communist rule into Europe after it.
That is especially important now in both Russia and the West. On the one hand, polls show that Russians increasingly accept the official version that Stalin’s policies had nothing to do with the start of the war or the ways in which so many Soviet citizens died during its prosecution.
And on the other, many in the West also accept the official Kremlin line about the war, one that ignores the Hitler-Stalin alliance and Stalin’s brutality toward his own people and others in the name of promoting the idea that the alliance between the West and Moscow after June 22 is the only thing that should be remembered and re-instituted.
In both cases, the very real sacrifices of the Soviet peoples are used as a kind of universal moral solvent that allows the Kremlin to this day to divert attention from the crimes, domestic and international, of Stalin and the Soviet system which was prepared to sacrifice all human values in the name of spreading communism and advancing Soviet power.
The story of Stalin’s culpability for World War II is usefully recounted in detail by Andrey Zubov in a lecture, the first part of which is published today in Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta.” As he shows, it was Stalin’s desire to expand his power and not Western malfeasance that blocked an alliance that might have stopped Hitler.
The work of Zubov and others like him in Russia and the West deserve the closest attention not only from historians but also from political leaders and the populations of both Russia and Western countries because of the ways in which the Kremlin today is whitewashing the past and using its version to advance its own agenda.
On this date, however, it is perhaps more important to focus on the war itself and how, thanks to the Soviet government and Stalin personally, the peoples of the USSR and then the peoples of the countries Moscow occupied suffered so much that might have been avoided had those in the Soviet capital pursued different policies.
That is provided by opposition Russian politician Gennady Gudkov in a remarkable essay posted on the Ekho Moskvy portal today, a commentary which is especially important because it links what happened 75 years ago under Stalin to what is happening in Russia again today under Putin.
“The further we are from the tragic date [of June 22, 1941] and the more secret materials the archives reveal, the more obvious a terrible truth becomes: the massive losses of Soviet citizens [following the German invasion] were to a SIGNIFICANT DEGREE the result of the failed policy of Stalin and his entourage,” Gudkov says.
War in Europe was “inevitable,” he continues, and Germany was to blame for pursuing it. That cannot and must not be denied, “but the lives of tens of millions of Soviet citizens COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED, if the country had not been ruled by a paranoid dictator convinced in his ‘genius’ that he was always right.”
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on the division of Europe which was concluded in 1939 forever has compromised the Stalinist clique because it made the USSR an ally of fascist Germany for several pre-war years. Precisely this agreement, alas, in fact allowed Hitler to unleash a new WORLD WAR in September 1939.”
And Stalin’s actions while he was Hitler’s ally show that the Soviet dictator believed that Hitler was someone he could trust and for a long time. Thus, the Red Army attacked Poland as the Germans did, tried to seize Finland, occupied the Baltic countries and part of Bessarabia, and even held “joint military parades with the Wehrmacht.”
Gudkov notes in passing that “a significant number of future generals of the German army had studied in the USSR on the eve of the war,” a fact that highlights not only Stalin’s perfidy in 1939 but the way in which the Soviet system had long been prepared to help the Germans rebuild their power in secret and again threaten Europe.
Stalin’s faith that Hitler would never attack him meant that the Soviet dictator not only continued to supply the Nazi regime with resources right up to June 22 but also did not take the simplest defensive measures that might have saved so many Soviet citizens from destruction in the first days of the war.
The Russian politician-commentator says that in his view, “even the Germans did not expect from Stalin so many ‘gifts,” because they could not imagine that the Kremlin leader could not see that war was coming given all the evidence of that fact. And Stalin’s faith in his fellow dictator continued even after the invasion.
As Gudkov notes, “it is already well-known that Stalin frightened and shocked by defeats of the first weeks of the war attempted to stop the rapid attack of Hitler’s forces by offering the Germans a new ‘Brest peace.’”
World War II continues to cast a dark shadow over Russia, he continues, given the way in which the massive losses affect the country’s demography and Stalin’s successful rewriting of history inform the calculations of the current Kremlin rule and, as a result of propaganda, the thinking of many in Russia and in the West.
“Today is the Russian day of memory and sorrow,” Gudkov says, but then he asks are Russians really sorry about “the millions of dead and wounded by whose blood our Victory was won – or are [they] again ready to be drawn into any fight, be it in Ukraine or Syria” or even into a war that would leave the world a pile of “’radioactive dust’?”
Militant and unquestioning patriotism is again on the rise, Gudkov points out, and Russia is “bristling with weapons.” But Russia today “does not have the potential – human, economic, technological or military – which the USSR had back then.” And it doesn’t have any allies, even on the territory of the former USSR.
Yes, he concedes, Moscow does have “a nuclear ‘club,’” but this is not as compelling an argument with others as many still assume, especially in the intoxication they fall victim of when the Kremlin’s version of World War II is the only one they have. “Perhaps,” Gudkov concludes, “it would be better to learn from the mistakes of our own history than … to repeat them.”
“Or is this not our path?” he asks.
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