USSR’s participation in World War II: about real victories and defeats, about what propaganda does not say, about what myths and nostalgia reveal. IPN debate

Experts consider the mythologization of World War II by the authorities of the Russian Federation started together with the launch in 2005 of the Ribbon of Saint Gheorghe and the elimination of two of the five stages of the war from the Russian history and ideology. The two eliminated stages refer to the cooperation between the USSR and Hitler’s Germany during the initial period of World War II. The experts noted the central motif of the mythologization is “Russia saved the mankind from the Nazi plague”. Respectively, Russia can claim the role of architect of world order and can dare to assess and label everyone. In 2021, there were adopted amendments to the federal law on the perpetuation of the Soviet people’s victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. In accordance with this law, any attempt to identify and draw parallels between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was banned. The issues were developed in IPN’s public debate  “USSR’s participation in World War II: about real victories and defeats, about what propaganda does not say, about what myths and nostalgia reveal”.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that historians consider the Second Word War consisted of five stages. The initial stage was September 1939 - June 1941 when Germany and the Soviet Union were allies. Germany attacked Poland and the Soviet Union joined in two weeks later. Afterward, the Soviet Union attacked Finland. In a year, it occupied the Baltic States and Bessarabia. The second stage was June 1941 - November 1942 when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and later, in December, Japan attacked the United States. The third stage was November 1942 - June 1944 when the Soviet Union started the counteroffensive against the Nazi troops and the three leaders of the Anti-Hitler Coalition met in Teheran. The fourth stage was June 1944 - May 1945, which started with the opening the second front on June 6, 1944 and ended with the surrender of Germany on May 9, 1945. The last stage was May-September 1945, which ended with the Potsdam meeting and the surrender of Japan.

‘The Great Patriotic War excludes the first and last stages. The first stage was the period during which the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were allies and divided Europe by common consent, in accordance with the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that was declassified two years ago. This way, everyone saw that such a plan existed and the allies acted in accordance with this plan. The final, fifth stage was excluded because the Soviet Union had an agreement with Japan and, owing to this agreement, 40% of the Lend-Lease goods came through the Far East, including through Vladivostok, under the Soviet flag and Japan permitted this even if it formed part of the Axis alliance,” explained Igor Boțan.

As to the Lend-Lease, the expert said that the relevant law was promulgated by the President of the U.S. on March 11, 1941 and it played a decisive role in helping the allied states that opposed the Axis alliance. “After Nazi Germany attacked Poland and the Soviet Union joined in this attack, the Anti-Hitler Coalition consisted of three states. In 1942, it included 26 states, while in 1944 it already included 54 states that opposed the Germany-Italy-Japan Axis. Under the Lend-Lease Act, the Soviet Union received over 17 million tonnes of finished products , including vehicles, devices, tanks, food and fuel, which cost the U.S. Treasury over US$11 billion. At present, this sum is equal to about US$170 billion. This is the support that the Soviet Union received through the Lend-Lease program during World War II,” said Igor Boțan.

The president of the Association of Historians of the Republic of Moldova Anatol Petrencu, Doctor Habilitate of History, said that the German-Soviet war of June 1941 was planned beforehand and Germany and Hitler didn’t hide the invasion plan. “Even if they were allies at that moment, on June 22, 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and this wasn’t alone as there was a coalition of states. In contrast, the Soviet Union was alone and probably only Mongolia formed an alliance with this. History repeats itself. Now Russia has North Korea, Syria and Belarus among its allies, while Ukraine is supported by the whole civilized world, with some exceptions,” stated the historian.

According to him, the myths justify the Red Army’s defeats at the initial stage at a time when the German army advanced vigorously. “During the first months alone, about 3.5 million soldiers were taken hostage. The hostages were so many in number that the Germans didn’t know what to do with so many prisoners. Then Stalin invented a myth and said that this was ”a treacherous attack” staged by those of whom something like this wasn’t expected. He said they didn’t expect that his friend Hitler would attack and it was an undeclared war. This is not yet true. Germany declared a war on the Soviet Union on the night of June 22, 1941, through ambassador Schulenburg, who was accredited to Moscow. But the Soviets said that it was a surprise for them and this way they explained the huge losses. There are many arguments showing that Stalin knew that Hitler was preparing to wage a war,” noted Anatol Petrencu.

According to him, the Soviet Union also prepared for war against Germany. Later, there was published the Soviet Union’s War Plan that showed the USSR was to advance towards Warsaw, which was under German control, and to attack Germany, from Warsaw towards Berlin. “There was no concrete date. It was to take place in mid-July 1941. Which are the causes for the defeats? First of all, it was the Bolshevik regime that was concentrated around Stalin who dictated and no one had the right to own initiative. For instance, Tukhachevsky was killed because he had his own opinions about the armament of Germany. The army wasn’t equipped as well as the German army was. But I think the most important thing was the lack of motivation to fight. A lot of the soldiers drafted into the army didn’t want to fight as their parents or grandparents were deported to Siberia. They felt the results of the terror of 1937-1938. They hated the regime of Stalin and believed that Germany would free the Soviet Union from Stalinism,” said Anatol Petrencu.

Political commentator Nicolae Negru said that Stalin and the USSR laid emphasis on the so-called treacherous surprise attack and efficient defense wasn’t possible therefore. In reality, the USSR was preparing to attack Germany.

“On the other side, the fact that over 3 million soldiers were taken hostage during the first months of the war was ignored. Many yielded up voluntarily. So, on the one hand it was a surprise attack. On the other hand, they didn’t say what happened in reality: how badly the Soviet soldiers were armed in comparison with the German soldiers, their discipline, strategic tactic. They didn’t say that between 1937 and 1938, a whole class of superior officers of the Soviet Army was simply annihilated. The same Tukhachevsky and not only he,” explained the commentator.

According to him, the Soviet Army was simply decapitated. “This thing wasn’t said as the myth of conquering nation that cannot be defeated, as Stalin considered, would have been destroyed,” said Nicolae Negru.

The public debate entitled “USSR’s participation in World War II: about real victories and defeats, about what propaganda does not say, about what myths and nostalgia reveal” was the seventh installment of IPN’s project “100 years of USSR and 31 years without USSR: Nostalgia for Chimeras”, which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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