Shared responsibility to history and future | Daily News


 

Shared responsibility to history and future

Russian President Vladimir Putin-Poster reads “Glory to the Victorious Red Army”
Russian President Vladimir Putin-Poster reads “Glory to the Victorious Red Army”

Neglecting the lessons of history inevitably leads to a harsh payback. We will firmly uphold the truth based on documented historical facts. We will continue to be honest and impartial about the events of World War II. This includes a large-scale project to establish Russia’s largest collection of archival records, film and photo materials about the history of World War II and the pre‑war period.

Such work is already underway. Many new, recently discovered or declassified materials were also used in the preparation of this article. In this connection, I can state with all responsibility that there are no archive documents that would confirm the assumption that the USSR intended to start a preventive war against Germany. The Soviet military leadership indeed followed a doctrine according to which, in the event of aggression, the Red Army would promptly confront the enemy, go on the offensive and wage war on enemy territory. However, such strategic plans did not imply any intention to attack Germany first.

Of course, military planning documents, letters of instruction of Soviet and German headquarters are now available to historians. Finally, we know the true course of events. From the perspective of this knowledge, many argue about the actions, mistakes and misjudgements of the country’s military and political leadership. In this regard, I will say one thing: along with a huge flow of misinformation of various kinds, Soviet leaders also received true information about the upcoming Nazi aggression. And in the pre-war months, they took steps to improve the combat readiness of the country, including the secret recruitment of a part of those liable for military duty for military training and the redeployment of units and reserves from internal military districts to western borders.

Nazi aggression

The war did not come as a surprise; people were expecting it, preparing for it. But the Nazi attack was truly unprecedented in terms of its destructive power. On June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union faced the strongest, most mobilised and skilled army in the world with the industrial, economic and military potential of almost all Europe working for it. Not only the Wehrmacht, but also Germany’s satellites, military contingents of many other states of the European continent, took part in this deadly invasion.

The most serious military defeats in 1941 brought the country to the brink of catastrophe. Combat power and control had to be restored by extreme means – nationwide mobilisation and intensification of all efforts of the state and the people. In the summer of 1941, millions of citizens, hundreds of factories and industries began to be evacuated under enemy fire to the east of the country. The manufacture of weapons and munition that had already started to be supplied to the front in the first military winter was launched behind the lines in the shortest possible time, and by 1943, the rates of military production of Germany and its allies were exceeded. Within 18 months, the Soviet people did something that seemed impossible, both on the frontlines and at the home front. It is still hard to realise, understand and imagine what incredible efforts, courage, and dedication these greatest achievements were worth.

The tremendous power of Soviet society, united by the desire to protect their native land, rose against the powerful, armed-to-the-teeth, cold-blooded Nazi invading machine. It stood up to take revenge on the enemy who had broken and trampled on peaceful life and people’s plans and hopes.

Protecting the Motherland

Of course, fear, confusion and desperation were taking over some people during this terrible and bloody war. There was betrayal and desertion. The harsh splits caused by the revolution and the Civil War, nihilism, mockery of national history, traditions and faith that the Bolsheviks tried to impose, especially in the first years after coming to power – all of this had its impact. But the general attitude of the Soviet citizens and our compatriots who found themselves abroad was different – to save and protect the Motherland. It was a real and irrepressible impulse. People were looking for support in true patriotic values.

The Nazi ‘strategists’ were convinced that a huge multinational state could easily be brought to heel. They thought that the sudden outbreak of the war, its mercilessness and unbearable hardships would inevitably exacerbate inter-ethnic relations and that the country could be split into pieces. Hitler clearly stated: “Our policy towards the peoples living in the vastness of Russia should be to promote any form of disagreement and split.”

But from the very first days it was clear that the Nazi plan had failed. The Brest Fortress was protected to the last drop of blood by its defenders representing more than 30 ethnicities. Throughout the war – both in large-scale decisive battles and in the protection of every foothold, every metre of native land – we see examples of such unity.

The Volga region and the Urals, Siberia and the Far East, the republics of Central Asia and Transcaucasia became home to millions of evacuees. Their residents shared everything they had and provided all the support they could. Friendship of peoples and mutual help became a real indestructible fortress for the enemy.

Soviet valour and unity

The Soviet Union and the Red Army, no matter what anyone is trying to prove today, made the main and crucial contribution to the defeat of Nazism. These were heroes who fought to the end, surrounded by the enemy at Bialystok and Mogilev, Uman and Kiev, Vyazma and Kharkov. They launched attacks near Moscow and Stalingrad, Sevastopol and Odessa, Kursk and Smolensk. They liberated Warsaw, Belgrade, Vienna and Prague. They stormed Koenigsberg and Berlin.

We contend for genuine, unvarnished or whitewashed truth about war. This national, human truth, which is hard, bitter and merciless, has been handed down to us by writers and poets who walked through the fire and hell of front trials. For my generation, as well as for many others, their honest and deep stories, novels, piercing trench prose and poems have left their mark on the soul forever. Honouring veterans who did everything they could for the Victory and remembering those who died on the battlefield has become our moral duty.

And today, the simple and great in its essence, lines of Alexander Tvardovsky’s poem “I was killed near Rzhev …” dedicated to the participants of the bloody and brutal battle of the Great Patriotic War in the centre of the Soviet–German frontline are astonishing. In the battles for Rzhev and the Rzhev Salient alone from October 1941 to March 1943, the Red Army lost 1,342,888 soldiers, including those wounded and missing in action. For the first time, I call out these terrible, tragic and far from complete figures collected from archive sources. I do it to honour the memory of the feat of known and nameless heroes, who for various reasons were undeservingly, and unfairly little talked about or not mentioned at all in the post-war years.

Let me cite another document. This is a report of February 1945 on reparation from Germany by the Allied Commission on Reparations headed by Ivan Maisky. The Commission’s task was to define a formula according to which defeated Germany would have to pay for the damages sustained by the victor powers. The Commission concluded that “the number of soldier-days spent by Germany on the Soviet front is at least 10 times higher than on all other allied fronts. The Soviet front also had to handle four-fifths of German tanks and about two-thirds of German aircraft.” On the whole, the USSR accounted for about 75 percent of all military efforts undertaken by the Anti-Hitler Coalition. During the war period, the Red Army “ground up” 626 divisions of the Axis states, of which 508 were German.

On April 28, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his address to the American nation: “These Russian forces have destroyed and are destroying more armed power of our enemies – troops, planes, tanks, and guns – than all the other United Nations put together.” Winston Churchill in his message to Joseph Stalin of September 27, 1944, wrote that “it is the Russian army that tore the guts out of the German military machine…”

Such an assessment has resonated throughout the world. Because these words are the great truth, which no one doubted then. Almost 27 million Soviet citizens lost their lives on the fronts, in German prisons, starved to death and were bombed, died in ghettos and furnaces of the Nazi death camps. The USSR lost one in seven of its citizens, the UK lost one in 127, and the USA lost one in 320. Unfortunately, this figure of the Soviet Union’s hardest and grievous losses is not exhaustive. The painstaking work should be continued to restore the names and fates of all who have perished – Red Army soldiers, partisans, underground fighters, prisoners of war and concentration camps, and civilians killed by the death squads. It is our duty. And a special role here belongs to members of the search movement, military–patriotic and volunteer associations, projects like the electronic database “Pamyat Naroda” (Memory of the People), which contains archival documents. And surely, close international cooperation is needed in such a common humanitarian task.

The efforts of all countries and peoples who fought against a common enemy resulted in victory. The British army protected its homeland from invasion, fought the Nazis and their satellites in the Mediterranean and North Africa. American and British troops liberated Italy and opened the Second Front. The US dealt powerful and crushing strikes against the aggressor in the Pacific Ocean. We remember the tremendous sacrifices made by the Chinese people and their great role in defeating Japanese militarists. Let us not forget the fighters of Fighting France, who did not fall for the shameful capitulation and continued to fight against the Nazis.

We will also always be grateful for the assistance rendered by the Allies in providing the Red Army with munition, raw materials, food and equipment. And that help was significant – about seven percent of the total military production of the Soviet Union.

The core of the Anti-Hitler Coalition began to take shape immediately after the attack on the Soviet Union where the United States and Britain unconditionally supported it in the fight against Hitler’s Germany. At the Tehran Conference in 1943, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill formed an alliance of great powers, agreed to elaborate coalition diplomacy and a joint strategy in the fight against a common deadly threat. The leaders of the Big Three had a clear understanding that the unification of industrial, resource and military capabilities of the USSR, the United States and the UK will give unchallenged supremacy over the enemy.

The Soviet Union fully fulfilled its obligations to its allies and always offered a helping hand. Thus, the Red Army supported the landing of the Anglo-American troops in Normandy by carrying out a large-scale Operation Bagration in Belorussia. In January 1945, having broken through to the Oder River, our soldiers put an end to the last powerful offensive of the Wehrmacht on the Western Front in the Ardennes. Three months after the victory over Germany, the USSR, in full accordance with the Yalta agreements, declared war on Japan and defeated the million-strong Kwantung Army.

Back in July 1941, the Soviet leadership declared that “the purpose of the war against fascist oppressors was not only the elimination of the threat looming over our country, but also help for all the peoples of Europe suffering under the yoke of German fascism.” By mid-1944, the enemy was expelled from virtually all of the Soviet territory. However, the enemy had to be finished off in its lair. And so the Red Army started its liberation mission in Europe. It saved entire nations from destruction and enslavement, and from the horror of the Holocaust. They were saved at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives of Soviet soldiers.

(To be continued)

(The writer is the President of Russia)


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