I got an e-mail from an old friend the other day. In it he reminded me of the viewpoint of the Russians. A viewpoint that isn’t portrayed in Pravda, or any where else for that matter (except in history books), but I‘m sure underlies a lot of the Russian Psyche.
Russia is in the center of the Eurasian continent. As such it has been the epicenter of empire builders from both East and the West. They have been invaded many times. The Mongols were especially brutal in conquest. With the Second World War less than a century ago, it still stings the Russian soul.
Russia and Germany had signed a non aggression pact. They were, at the time, allies. Stalin was incredulous that his ally had attacked. At first he thought it was some kind of mistake. But when the death toll rolled in the reality of his allies plans were a cold bath. ‘Sturm Drang Osten’ wasn’t dead, it had changed names.
In 1941, with the name of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler invaded the newly expanded Russia with one million five hundred thousand troops. The two million Russian troops stationed along the new boarder were annihilated, to a man. The battle hardened German army and Luftwaffe led by the panzer divisions rolled unstoppable through Eastern Poland into Russia. The fall of 1941 found the Germans knocking at the doors of Moscow, Leningrad, and the Crimea’s throat in the hands of Field Marshal Von Manstien.
Weather in the fall of that year in Russia was unusually wet and muddy. The panzers became mired in the stuff. The supply routes, now long over rebedded railroad tracks, subject to partisan attacks and over muddy dirt trails, became unreliable. With this, the War machine’s treads became plugged and ground to a temporary halt.
This gave the Russians, who had lost almost everyone put up against the Germans, a moment to dig in the new battle lines and bring in new troops to stiffen them. Without the mobility of the panzers and with the ongoing shortage of supplies, the Germans were finally repelled… for now.
The Russians by this time had lost millions of people in the conflagration. And the hunger of the war for, Russian blood, Jewish blood, Gypsy blood… human blood, was unquenchable. The winter was a savior for the Russian army and air force. The Germans had foolishly neglected to bring winter gear. They had winter gear…but it was in Germany. The supply train wasn’t up to the task of delivering it to the troops and bringing Jews and Gypsies to the gas chambers. The troops would have to go without.
Finally the Germans began to loose some troops… At the hands of the Russian winter. Thinning the battle hardened troops to be replaced with new recruits blunted the spearhead, the Germans would have to reduce the spears from three to two in the spring and summer campaign… to keep the spears sharp.
The Germans didn’t totally waste the winter however, They now had the Ukraine fully in their grip. Realizing the error of murdering everyone they came across, and wondering why they were so despised, the German SS moderated their behavior toward the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians hated the Russians, their overlords. Stalin had only in the last decade 1920s-1930s stolen the food grown by the Ukraine and sold it on the world market. Then used the money to industrialize the Soviet Union. This, of course, resulted in the starvation of fifteen million Ukrainians. Amazingly, the Ukrainians that were left held a grudge over this.
Knowing this the SS actively recruited Ukrainians into special Ukrainian SS units. They were used in POW camps, Death camps, and against the Soviet Army. The Ukrainians weren’t devoted National Socialists however, they were fighting for a purpose. They wanted freedom. Knowing the only real road to freedom is in military power, they began gathering military power. The Ukrainian SS had a horrendous death rate…on paper. They were going underground to build an eventual gorilla army.
Meanwhile the spring brought on a new campaign season. Abandoning the attack on Moscow Hitler’s army turned towards the Caucasus, and Stalingrad. But the Weirmacht wasn’t fighting an untrained army, without a head, any more. The Russians had learned from The Germans how to conduct, modern three dimensional, war. The Germans had now fallen into the trap that Lycurgus warned the Spartans against, “do not fight any one city too much, else you will teach them how to fight.” The Germans hadn’t counted on the Soviet Unions wherewithal. The ability to absorb so many casualties, and still keep fielding a bigger and bigger army. Surviving long enough to learn.
The Germans under General Paulus attacked Stalingrad. Covering his flanks with Italian and Rumanian allied troops, Paulus forced his way into Stalingrad with his elite German Sixth Army. Sixth Army fought house to house and building to building for Stalingrad. By the time Stalingrad was mostly in the hands of Sixth Army, Stalin’s generals launched operation Uranus.
The Soviets had massed Guards Tank armies supported with the new Katusha rockets. Launched from American trucks brought in from Archangel. The Massed barrage of Katushas almost obliterated the Axis troops that protected Paulus’s flanks. The Italians collapsed the Rumanians at first put up stiff resistance but were soon overwhelmed, Sixth Army was trapped in Stalingrad, by this time The city of death. Hoth tried an abortive attempt to resupply and evacuate Stalingrad but was repulsed by the better Soviet T-34 tanks.
Loss of the Sixth Army was more than Germany could replace. For all intents and purposes the war with Germany was over. All that was left was to kill more people. This all had happened by February 1942. America was only one month into the war.
By the end of the war twenty million people had died in the Soviet Union. But the bloodshed wasn’t over. Ukraine wanted independence from the USSR. They wanted freedom. The underground army the Germans had unwittingly trained began an insurgency against the USSR. Stalin being the ruthless tyrant that he was brutally suppressed it, the lucky ones ended their lives in the gulags. This culminates a history of conquest and re conquest in central Eurasia.
With this history in the modern memory it is clear why the Russians and the other members of the former USSR fear, each other, and the rest of the world. Fear that may or may not be irrational, but is rooted firmly in reality. And a fear that permeates their every action. In the Cold War and today.
With this history in mind, what about the Russian actions, or the Georgian actions, or the Polish actions, or any other peoples actions from the former USSR’s sphere of influence do we find odd?