Russia yesterday marked 70 years since the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, an event that apparently caught then-Russian -dictator Josef Stalin wholly unprepared and is still remembered by Moscow with deep unease.
The German Wehrmacht launched Operation Barbarossa in the early hours of June 22, 1941, and would sweep through vast tracts of Soviet territory almost to the point of taking Moscow before finally suffering defeats over the winter.
Russia and most other former Soviet states see June 22, 1941, as the true start of World War II, which is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. Within months, key Soviet cities like Kiev and Rostov-on-Don were under Nazi occupation.
In contrast to the military parades and bombastic speeches that mark the May 9 Victory Day -remembering the Soviet defeat of the Nazis in 1945, commemorations of this anniversary were somber.
In cities all over Russia and other republics, people marked the day simply by holding up a candle at mass public meetings, while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Moscow.
A small group of mostly elderly people observed a minute’s silence at the eternal flame at the Kremlin wall at 4am, the hour when summer dawn broke and the first German tanks tore through the porous Soviet border.
Russian society has only in recent years started to realign its remembrance of the heroism of Soviet people in the war with the evidence that Stalin’s brutality and naivety greatly handicapped the USSR at the start of the war.
Stalin, who two years earlier had overseen the signing of a notorious non-aggression pact with the Nazis in Moscow, had been sure that Adolf Hitler’s forces would not attack the USSR in 1941, Western historians believe.
Meanwhile, Stalin’s ruthless purges in the mid-1930s, which cut swathes through the Soviet elite, also took out much of the military leadership who would have been involved in planning defense against the Nazis.
“Would the Fuhrer have dared attack France in 1940 if he had feared the Red Army?” the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper asked.
After the shock of the invasion, Stalin retreated to his dacha, leaving trusty foreign affairs supremo Vyacheslav Molotov to address the Soviet people on June 22 and only giving a radio address himself on July 3.
“Molotov’s radio address is one of the biggest enigmas of the first day of the war,” the mass circulation Moskovsky Komsomolets told its readers. “Why did Stalin, the leader, the head of the government and the country, himself not appear?”
The mistakes of Stalin at the outbreak of war have long sat uncomfortably with the modern Russian state’s bid to promote the Soviet victory in the war as a great national achievement of Russia.
There has been evidence of a cautious change under Medvedev’s presidency, who has condemned Stalin’s crimes more boldly than his predecessor, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
At an unusual news conference this week, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the successor to the KGB, unveiled declassified documents showing how Stalin had been repeatedly warned the outbreak of war was imminent.
SVR Major General Lev Sotskov said that the documents showed that Stalin had been kept amply informed of Hitler’s intentions to launch the attack, but had paid little attention.
“All this information about preparation for an attack was lying on Stalin’s desk,” he said, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “Stalin had been given all the reports.”
“When the attack came, we were not ready,” he said.
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
‘CHAPITOS’: An ex-DEA agent said the sons of the former cartel head are engaged in a battle for control, with the health of the man temporarily in charge a factor The fight for control of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s legacy spilled into the open on Thursday after a gun battle between rival Mexican gangs left 16 dead, authorities said. The 16 men, heavily armed and wearing bulletproof vests, died in a six-hour running shootout near the rural town of Tepuche in northwestern Sinaloa province. “A van with seven bodies was located” after an initial clash, while nine bodies were discovered following a second exchange, Sinaloa Minister of Security Cristobal Castaneda told reporters. Castaneda said that Wednesday’s clash near Tepuche, 25km from the capital of Sinaloa, Culiacan, was “part of a struggle