Last week's 70th anniversary of World War II has reopened old wounds and ignited an ugly battle of words between Russia and its neighbors, Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states.
Poland and the Balts accuse Stalin's Soviet Union of having stabbed them in the back in 1939 by becoming a partner in aggression with National Socialist Germany.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCEPA) recently held the USSR and Germany `equally responsible for World War II.' After 70 years of disinformation, it's about time we face the facts.
"A flat-out lie," angrily retorted Russia's president, Dimitry Medvedev.
The Soviet Union lost some 25 million dead in World War II. Russians are quite right in believing that they, not the US and British Empire, defeated Hitler's Germany. Russians fought with incredible heroism, suffered unthinkably casualties and damage, and ground Nazi Germany into dust.
The Allies played an important but comparatively far less important role in Europe against an already defeated and exhausted Germany.
Underlining Moscow's worrying rehabilitation of Stalin's memory and the gradual erasure of his crimes, Medvedev claimed the Soviet dictator saved Europe from Hitler and rejected all attempts to equate him with Hitler.
But the facts tell us a different story. Stalin was an even worse mass murderer than Hitler by a factor of three or four. He alone ordered the deaths of 6-7 million Ukrainians in the mid-1930's. Stalin was also a much cleverer strategist, war leader and diplomat than Hitler, who stumbled into a war that Germany could not possibly win and for which it was woefully unprepared.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin admitted the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which partitioned Poland between Germany and the USSR and handed the Baltic states and Romania's Bessarabia to the Soviets, was `immoral.'
Putin failed to add the Soviet invasion of Finland in November, 1939. Or another arrant act of aggression that has gone down the memory hole: the 1941 joint Soviet-British invasion of Iran to grab its oil, an act every bit as illegal and reprehensible as the Soviet-German joint invasion of Poland.
But Putin insisted the 1938 Munich Pact signed by Britain and France with Hitler that returned Czechoslovakia's ethnic German Sudaten region to German-Austrian ownership was also deeply immoral. He reminded Poland of its unsavory role in carving up bleeding Czechoslovakia. He blasted East European critics of Russia as `collaborators with Fascism.'
Interestingly, we know that Hitler was determined to undue the pernicious effects of the post-World War I `peace' treaties (Versailles, Locarno, etc.) that cruelly dismembered the German Reich, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Hitler set out to restore his nation's 1914 borders and make Germany food-independent by annexing fertile Ukraine.
But it is little understood that Stalin was also bent on historic and geographic rectification. He sought to erase the effects of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, imposed on defeated, revolution-torn Russia by the German-led Central Powers.
The draconian treaty tore away a quarter of Russia's population and industry, and vast swathes of Russian-ruled territory: Poland, the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Crimea, Bessarabia and Finland. Like Hitler, Stalin was determined to regain lost territories. This he largely did in a series of clever steps from 1920-1939. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Winter War against Finland were the final acts in the restoration of the borders of the old Russian Tsarist Empire.
A fascinating book, The Chief Culprit by Viktor Suvorov (US Naval Institute Press), the pseudonym of a defector from Soviet military intelligence GRU, makes explosive new revelations about Stalin's role in igniting World War II. My old friends at KGB say the GRU boys are amateurs. But it was GRU that got two or three high level agents into Franklin Roosevelt's White House and shaped America's wartime foreign policy.
Suvorov's argument is simple. Stalin cleverly lured Hitler into war by offering to divide Poland. Stalin outsmarted Hitler by first agreeing to jointly invade Poland, then delaying the Soviet intervention for two weeks, thus focusing the world's outrage against `Nazi aggression.' The Soviet occupation of half of Poland went almost unnoticed.
Stalin knew that Germany's invasion of Poland would cause Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Stalin expected to pick up the pieces after Germany, Britain and France had exhausted themselves and were ripe for invasion and Communist revolution.
Stalin also knew Germany was no match for the USSR. Hitler had only 3,332 tanks, most of them light vehicles armed with machine guns or 20mm cannon. Contrary to our images of a fast-moving motorized blitzkrieg, 75% of German military transport was horse-drawn (think how much hay and how many hay wagons are needed to feed 750,000 horses.) The Wehrmacht had no winter uniforms. The German High Command foolishly expected to win the war against Russia in only three months - before winter set in.
Most important, Germany had no raw materials save coal. Its only sources of oil were Romania and Russia. Germany had only enough oil for a two-month campaign against the Soviet Union. It had no motor lubricants suitable for Russia's -20 to -30 F winter weather.
From digging in GRU files, Suvarov asserts that in the spring of 1941, Stalin was poised to launch 170 divisions, 24,000 tanks and thousands of warplanes in a surprise blitzkrieg against Western Europe, supported by mountains of munitions and more reserve armies from Asia and the Far East. One of the first targets was Ploesti, Romania, Germany's sole source of oil (except for ersatz fuel from coal). Germany was also Italy's sole source of oil. Losing Ploesti would have knocked both industrially weak Axis powers out of the war.
The Red Army and Air Force were deployed in vulnerable offensive formations hard on the new German-Soviet border. Stalin ordered all 1,000-plus defensive casemates of the formidable Stalin Line defending the USSR's western border destroyed to emphasize the offensive mission of the Red Army.
But Hitler struck first. Learning of the Soviet threat, Hitler secretly massed his armies and attacked on 22 June, 1941. Operation Barbarossa caught the Russians flat-footed: warplanes on the ground, tanks on rail cars, munitions in the open. The US Navy accomplished the same feat against the Japanese carrier force at Midway.
Soviet ground forces were quickly enveloped, cut off and destroyed in vast numbers. Had they been positioned in defensive deployments behind the casemates and artillery positions of the Stalin Line, which ran unbroken from the Baltic to the Black Sea, this rout would not have happened.
Soviet propaganda later tried to cover up Stalin's plan to attack Europe, claiming his forces were outmoded and unprepared, and generals incompetent. According to the party line, Stalin only signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact to buy time to prepare for war. This view still prevails today.
Not so, claims Suvarov. His view will infuriate mainstream historians. I poured through Suvarov's meticulous military analysis. To me, as a veteran military analyst, teacher of strategic studies, and war correspondent, his figures appear to confirm that Stalin was just about to attack Western Europe when Hitler pre-empted him.
Four years later, in 1945, Stalin's Red Army had taken half of Europe. But, contends Suvarov, had Hitler not attacked first in 1941, Stalin's 30-million man army, backed by mammoth industrial production, would have overwhelmed all of Europe in a 1941 surprise blitz.
Suvarov's unstated conclusion: Hitler saved Western Europe from Stalin. He argues, less convincingly, that Hitler's offensive into Russia led to the inevitable downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991 - and the real end of WWII.
In the author's view, if Poland had given back German-populated Danzig to Germany, war might have been avoided. He also contends that the British Empire collapsed because of its fatal decision to go to war with Germany in 1939 over Poland, a nation it could not possibly defend. Hitler made a fatal error by not invading Britain, though the Germans had done absolutely nothing to prepare for an amphibious invasion.
Suvarov's contentions are heretical and will be assailed by mainstream historians wedded to the historical party line. We need to clear away these lingering clouds of wartime propaganda and begin understanding what really happened.
Hitler, in his own warped thinking, believed he was actually doing good for mankind. Stalin had no such illusions. His only interest was raw power. Both were wild beasts who were ready to devour Europe.