17 January 2021
Martin Dewhirst reviews Two Essays: Coming Up From Behind or How the Soviet Union Won the War; If World Domination is the Aim then Strike First! by Mark Solonin, translated by David Loutit. Independently published, 2021. pp102. ISBN 9 798494 370945. See Amazon. £6.50.
President Putin’s recent eccentric reinterpretation of his country’s history, plus his instructions to Western leaders and readers on how they should weaken NATO, have reignited interest in the dangers of appeasement, with some pundits trying hard to suggest what the West might do to win time and yet calm down the ageing, ailing and increasingly dangerous Russian leader. After nearly eight years of war against Ukraine, he is in ever greater peril of going down in history as a loser, the Russian leader who ‘lost’ Ukraine for ever.
Comparisons have been drawn with Western appeasers in the 1930s who hoped that by making concessions to Hitler they were reducing, rather than increasing, the risk of another world war. In fact, of course, the greatest appeaser of Hitler was none other than Iosif Stalin. Thanks to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, Hitler was able to concentrate for some time on attacking much of Western Europe, before recklessly venturing to wage war on two fronts by invading the USSR.
But was not Stalin himself planning to wage war on Germany once he thought the time was ripe? In the UK an eminent anti-Soviet defector who uses the pen-name ‘Viktor Suvorov’ is perhaps the best-known expert on this subject, which has been addressed more recently by the Russian historian Mark Solonin (now, alas, also having had to leave Russia). A few months ago I reviewed here what appears to be his first essay to have been published in book form in English. The good news is that he seems to have found a committed translator who has just released two more works by Solonin which have recently become much more relevant than when they originally came out in Russian.
The first is not about ‘why’, but about ‘how’ the USSR helped much of the rest of the world to defeat Nazi Germany. Naturally, this is in part because of the Nazi leadership’s own mistakes. The invaders of the USSR could, for instance, have reached Moscow rather more quickly in 1941, but for some strange reason decided to take their time (p.6). Moreover, the invaders, on the whole, maltreated those they occupied on their way towards the Russian capital so badly that they inevitably and counter-productively provoked more resistance than an even slightly more intelligent approach would have done (pp.10-11). And then, of course, there was the extremely generous Western Lend-Lease programme, which originated as far back as in January 1941 (pp.14-15). According to Solonin, Stalin had three options when the Nazi-Soviet war began in June of that year: surrender, fight back, or agree to a sort of re-run of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: win time by handing over European Russia to Hitler and establishing a diminished USSR in the Urals, Siberia and Far East (perhaps, I might provocatively add, allowing Hitler to take Perm’, but not Sverdlovsk). This may be fantasy, but it could explain the West’s continuing extraordinarily generous Lend-Lease strategy (pp.38-42), without which Hitler might well have won. Soviet losses in the Great Fatherland (or Patriotic) War were colossal and at least some of those who were killed are compared here to the men who shouted “Caesar, those who are about to die salute you!” (p.46). At a ceremony in Moscow just after the end of the war, ‘25 toasts were raised – not one to the fallen’ (p. 47).
The second essay here, ‘Strike First!’, provides additional support for Suvorov’s book Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? Was Soviet strategy defensive, offensive, or both? See especially pp. 78-81, 83, 86, 88 and 93-96. Here is an example: ‘…the Red Army High Command never had (at least from 1936, […]) a truly defensive plan, and never had any other intention but to carry out a large-scale offensive outside the USSR. It was never intended that the enemy would be given the advantage of a first strike. The starting point of operations in each and every one of these Great [Soviet] Plans is always the advance of our [Soviet] forces and never an invasion by the enemy’ (p.95).
Solonin concludes by suggesting that ‘Stalin’s empire did not know or acknowledge the rule of law, only unwritten understandings’ (p.99). Putin also operates via ponyatiya (understandings). The West, on the whole, seems to find it even more difficult to understand his understandings than it was to understand Stalin’s. This little book is, or should be, a great help.