Welcome to the Party, Russia

Yeltsin
Yeltsin partying like it’s 1991.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it had no concept of what a free market was (with the exception of the illegal black markets). However, when the Iron Curtain came crashing down, American companies were quick to enter the new market that contained millions of new potential customers.

Gorbachev, who is often credited with the dissolution of the Soviet Union (for better and worse), embraced the idea of a free market. He even appeared in an international TV spot, pitching pizza for Pizza Hut, a commercial that I remember seeing as a kid in the late ’90’s (although he only decided to make the appearance so he could fund his foundation).

The commercial shows that the former Soviet Union, Russia especially, has gone through a huge change since its rebirth. Buying food within a Soviet Union grocery store (I use that term loosely) was likely to get you sick from food poisoning. If someone who defected to the U.S. from the Soviet Union and they were taken to an American grocery store, they would often accuse the Americans of staging the store for propaganda purposes.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=17b_1391723098

However, some in the former Soviet Union and even the Warsaw Pact had a different understanding of what exactly capitalism is. In the following video, it is explained Mr. “Ivanov” sees no difference in selling condominiums and bombs because it is all capitalism.

It is clear that the old Soviet economy is out and a new, more liberal economy is in. Some may lament over the nostalgia of a bi-polar world that was split between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., but it is easier to argue that their are more winners when Russia and the rest of the former Soviet states are intertwined with the rest of the world’s economy.

McD
Я люблю его!

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/affj6c/jason-jones-live-from-sochi-ish—commie-dearest

Juggernauts on Ice

cccphockey
Playing hockey in Russia on a national level was greatly intertwined in politics and propaganda.

Compared to the Western nations of Canada and the United States, the Soviet Union was a late bloomer when it came to hockey. While the North Americans started playing hockey as we know it in the late 19th century, the Soviets didn’t really start playing ice hockey until the 1930’s, and the sport wasn’t nationalized until after WW2 (although they played a sport called “Bandy”, sort of field hockey on ice, since the 1890’s). However, when the Soviets did start, they blew up the world stage. The legacy of Soviet hockey can still be felt today. From the 1950’s until the collapse of the Union, the Soviets won nearly every international competition they played in, earning an overall record of 738-110-65 in international play. While the Soviets didn’t win every single game, they seemed to win the ones that counted. The question that was often asked wasn’t “Who will the championship?” but rather ,”Who will the Soviets beat to win the championship?”

Firsov
Anatoli Firsov. Considered one of the greatest hockey players ever and one of the reasons why the Soviets dominated the sport during the 1960’s.

The 1960’s seemed to be a golden age for the Soviet Union. They started the decade off by beating the United States and putting the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin. They also dominated on the ice. Starting in 1963 and going all the way until 1976, the Soviet National Hockey team won every World Championship and Olympic Gold Medal. For Russians, hockey wasn’t a sport. It was a way of life, and a source of national pride. Not to mention, playing hockey was a method to spread the ways of communism like a form of religion. The Soviets even claimed that the CIA was sabotaging their attempts to foster better relations with the Canadians over their shared love of hockey (Although it is hard to tell how truthful these claims were due to propagandist tones).

sovietgold
The СССР 1976 Olympic hockey team with their gold medals. This had been a common sight for the world to see for more than a decade.

Officially, no professional athletes were allowed to participate in the Olympics. However, the Soviets blurred the lines between amateur and professional athletes. Even though the elite hockey league in the Soviet Union, called the Soviet Championship League, had talent comparable to the NHL, it was technically an amateur league because players were required to be part of the armed forces and got payed for their military service rather than playing hockey.

From an American perspective, the most memorable moment in Cold War sports was the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic hockey game between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. The world regarded the Soviet hockey team as second to none, and the American hockey team was fielded by college athletes, who of course didn’t have any professional experience. In short, it was a game that the U.S. was not supposed to win. Vladislav Tretiak, the starting goal tender for the Soviet team, was also considered to be the best at his position in the entire world. However, he had an uncharacteristically weak performance in the first period, allowing the game to remain tied at 2 goals a-piece. The Russian coach, Viktor Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with the back-up goalie, Vladimir Myshkin. Tretiak argued that the U.S.S.R. would have beaten the Americans as he would have stopped the shots that got by Myshkin. It is interesting to note that many people don’t even recall the gold medal game (which the U.S. won). The “Miracle on Ice” was the game to get into the gold medal game.

Starting in 1976, exhibition games between NHL teams and Soviet league hockey teams took place in what is known as the Super Series. Since the games took place in the United States, it was another chance for the Soviets to show off their skills. While most of the North American fans loved to hate the Soviet players, a lot of them started to wonder if they would ever see them play in the NHL. When the Soviet Union collapsed, they got their chance.

players2
L to R: Sergei Federov, Pavel Bure, and Alexander Mogilny. These were the first among Russian players to play for the NHL.

In the post Cold War world of hockey, many players from the former Soviet Republics migrated to the NHL in search of higher pay, fame and the chance to play in the world’s most competitive hockey league. Some players even managed to “defect” before the collapse, most notably Jaromir Jágr from Czechoslovakia who was drafted in 1990 by the Pittsburgh Penguins (He would help the team win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992).

Evgeni Malkin, Michal Neuvirth
Two of the top Russian players in the NHL today. Left to Right: Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

In the years immediately following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian hockey suffered as far as level of competitiveness as the top Russian players left to play in the NHL. However the creation of Russia’s newest league in 2008, the Kontinental Hockey League, abbreviated as KHL (In Russian: Континентальная хоккейная лига КХЛ) has created a league that is similar in talent and size to the NHL. While the NHL attracts many Russian players, the KHL also attracts many non-Russian players. Some Russian players who have traditionally played in the NHL have gone back to the KHL, most notably top tier player Ilya Kovalchuk.

NHL: Florida Panthers at New Jersey Devils
Left: Ilya Kovalchuk when he played for the New Jersey Devils of the NHL. Right: Kovalchuk playing for СКА Saint Petersburg “Soldiers” of the KHL.

The KHL also gives tribute to its Soviet heritage by naming the league’s champion trophy the Gargarin Cup (After Yuri Gagarin, of course). KHL Commissioner Alexander Medvedev stated that the cup was named after Gagarin because even today, Gagarin is a household name among Russians and he represents achieving great accomplishments.

MMGgagarin
Metallurg Magnitogorsk won the Gagarin Cup in 2014.

Even with the Cold War over, politics still plays a role in KHL-NHL relations. There are some who see the KHL as a direct threat in the talent pool to the NHL. There has not been an exhibition game between the KHL and NHL since 2010 (The Phoenix Coyotes beat Dinamo Riga 3-1 in Riga, Latvia), and the powers-that-be at KHL seem to want nothing to do with the NHL. While it is understandable that the KHL would want their league to seem like the best alternative to the NHL, especially among Russian players, perhaps they should take a page out of the Soviet’s playbook and demonstrate their competitive edge on the world stage. One can hope that competition between hockey players around the world will foster better ties among their respective countries.

Suggested viewing: Be on the lookout for “Red Army”, a documentary scheduled to be released January, 2015. It is about the life of the Soviet Red Army hockey players.

Citations and links (in order of appearance):

“First Commandment of a Soviet Athlete.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 15.5 (1963): 31. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Lyakhov, V. “With Prompting from the C.I.A.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 17.52 (1966): 23-24. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Super Series 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers vs. Central Red Army. Edmonton, Alberta, 1985. Television.

Campbell, Ken. “All-star Rosters Show KHL Is No Threat to NHL.” PosttoPost. N.p., 29 Nov. 2013. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

 

A New Frontier for Good ….. or Evil?

postage
A Soviet postage stamp commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the launch of the Sputnik satellite.

On October 4th, 1957 the Soviet Union showed the world why they, too were a superpower. On that day, they launched the first man-made satellite  into Earth’s orbit. Sputnik 1, which simply means “satellite” in Russian, was launched for all the world to see. Also, for those who wanted to listen to Sputnik, they could do that as well. From an American standpoint, there was much concern surrounding the fact that the Soviets could put anything man-made into space. The regular beeps that were transmitted from the satellite were even thought to be some kind of code, perhaps a way for the USSR to gather intelligence on the USA (Although now we know the Sputnik did nothing but send out beeps which had no significance). The Cold War brought tensions on both sides, and with every scientific breakthrough there was also a military application to go along with it. The United States’ (and perhaps the world) was more concerned with the delivery system of the satellite, because if the Soviet Union can put Sputnik on the nose of a rocket, they also put a nuclear warhead on it.

Propaganda
The Soviets took advantage of their triumphs through propaganda. The caption reads, “The creative forces of socialism are endless!”

Earlier, on August 12th, 1953, the Soviets detonated their first hydrogen bomb. Now, with the Soviets being the first ones to cross into space, a legitimate fear existed in the United States that they could be struck by a nuclear weapon in a matter of minutes, rendering the natural defenses of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meaningless. NASA was formed and on January 31st, 1958 the Americans successfully launched their own satellite, Explorer 1.

DF-ST-88-03442
The Distant Early Warning (DEW) line. A system of radar stations designed to detect a nuclear attack from the USSR.

Now the two superpowers had the know-how to build ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) and both had the capability to wipe the other off of the face of the planet faster than it takes an a pizza delivery to get to your house, at the turn of a key or the push of a button. This aspect was very dangerous and chilling. While both the United States and the Soviet Union suspected the other could launch they were kept in check by the other. Both had early warning systems. These warning systems could not protect the populations of the two nation-states, but they could provide enough time to launch a counter-attack. This meant that if either one of the two superpowers were to launch a nuclear attack on the other, they would be annihilated in the ensuing counter-strike. The theory of mutually assured destruction had existed since the late 19th century, but it was now a reality. Despite both sides knowing that the other would always have the ability to attack after getting hit themselves, that didn’t stop them from always trying to amass more nuclear weapons than their adversary.

armsrace
Once they became nuclear powers, both the United States and the Soviet Union built their arsenals at break neck speeds. It wasn’t until the START treaties that they drew down their numbers.

With space being the new front of war, the United States and the Soviet Union might as well have been neighbors instead of on opposite sides of the globe. Both sides would continue to develop newer and more sophisticated ICBMs, capable of attacking multiple locations with one missile, on the account that there was more than one warhead (some missiles had as many as 10!).

NoWar
It’s clear that the Russian people feared nuclear annihilation as much as the Americans. Caption reads “No more war!”

While there are many contributing factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, one key factor was the American SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative, also referred to as the “Star Wars” program). The SDI never came to fruition, but the possibility of the United States launching an attack, while being able to survive the counter-strike put the USSR at a disadvantage they couldn’t hope to overcome.

ISS
File photo of the International Space Station.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both Russia and the United States have cooperated in space, with both countries’ astronauts manning the ISS (International Space Station) and conducting research that furthered scientific advancement for the good of all mankind. Both countries have worked closer together when it comes to space. In fact, since the U.S. has terminated its shuttle program, it now pays Russia to fly American astronauts up into orbit.

Space is a medium that can be used for good or evil. With the Cold War over, it would seem that present day space faring nations would use it for good. However, there are certain rouge states that want go the route of nuclear armament. The human race can only hope that cooler heads will prevail.

Suggested Movie:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a dark comedy about nuclear annihilation between the USA and USSR.

Videos/Citations used (in order of appearance):

SPUTNIK 1 CBS NEWS SPECIAL REPORT ON TV, October 6 1957. Dir. CBS News. YouTube. YouTube, 6 Oct. 1957. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

U.S.S.R. “First Soviet Hydrogen Bomb Test (1953).” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Aug. 1953. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

NASA. “The Launch of Explorer 1.” YouTube. YouTube, 31 Jan. 1958. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

“Wilkie Collins and Mutually Assured Destruction.” The Wilkie Collins Society (Spring 2009) Web.

United States. Federation of American Scientists. LGM-118A Peacekeeper. Washington, D.C. Web.

“THE STRATEGIC DEFENSE INITIATIVE (SDI): STAR WARS.” Cold War Museum. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

Malik, Tariq. “NASA to Fly Astronauts on Russian Spaceships at Nearly $63 Million per Seat.” Space.com. Purch, 14 Mar. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.

If it Looks, Walks, and Sounds like a Nazi, it’s Probably a Nazi

UAnazi
Ukrainian protester throwing out Nazi salute.

During World War 2, Ukraine found themselves in a peculiar spot. On one hand, the Ukrainians had experienced a genocide from the Soviet government in the form of a manufactured famine known as the Holodomor (from the Ukrainian Голодомор, meaning “Extermination by hunger”) which killed approximately 4 million people. Because of this genocide, it’s easy to see why many Ukrainians sided with the Nazis during the occupation. Two main groups that sided with the Nazis was the the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (abbreviated UPA) and the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, which was an actual German military unit manned by Ukrainian volunteers. While the UPA fought against both the Nazi occupation force and the Soviets, it was the initial goal of the political wing, the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist) that wanted to create the UPA to “unite with the German Army …. until [our] final victory.” However, Germany didn’t accept the proposal and in 1941 began a campaign of repression.

azov
The Azov Battalion, part of the Ukrainian National Guard uses symbols that were common with Nazi Germany.

Fast-forward to 2013, when protests broke out in Ukraine over a decision by President Victor Yanukovych to back away from an EU association agreement and choosing to go with a Russian bailout package instead, and citizens accused Russia of unjustly trying to spread its influence over Ukraine with President Yanukovych being too pro-Russian. In 2014, the protests turned violent. After Yanukovych was ousted from office, Russia sent troops into Crimea to “secure” military assets which belonged to them as well as protect ethnic Russians living in the area. Depending on who you ask, Russian invaded, or annexed, Crimea. After that point, a civil war in which was fought mostly between pro-Russian militias in the east and Ukrainian forces.

crimea
A map highlighting the Crimean peninsula. Note its proximity to Russia.

In a way, Ukraine is like two countries within one. A lot of the eastern part is pro-Russian, while much of the west is pro-European. To counter the pro-Russian militias, some groups have adopted symbols that were used by the Nazis. The “SS” lightning bolts are joined together at the corners. The Azov Battalion uses these symbols often and insist that it’s nothing more than the letter “N” with a line going through it. Some have been even more blatant with displaying Nazi symbols.

helmet
Ukrainian soldier with swastika and SS lightning bolts on helmet.
UkraineSS
The symbol that the anti-Russian Ukrainians have rallied around….
SS
…and the original Waffen SS lightning bolts.

When it comes to ridding Ukraine of unwanted foreign influence, many people will claim that it doesn’t matter what symbol is used, the ends justify the means. It’s clear that a large amount of Ukrainians don’t want anything to do with Russia, and considering their history it’s easy to see why. Both sides of this civil war have produce strong ideologies in which there is no middle ground (perhaps pro-Russians want Moscow to spread it’s influence if not to its former glory, then at least to include ethnic Russians living outside the borders). When calls to patriotism go out, history plays as a great motivator. Despite the fact that Ukrainian liberation movements were tied with the Nazis in WW2, they still take pride in that because it still symbolized a struggle for Ukrainian independence.

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Billboard referring to the annexation referendum of 2014: March 16, we choose (picture on the left) or (picture on the right).

 

Amid the current unrest in the Ukraine, the organization of the Ukrainian nationalists have now adopted the swastika as their symbol for the organization. The swastika is often associated with the German Nazi Party that reached its greatest heights during World war II. Thus, the swastika is recognized with death. Ukraine, not least of all was subject to cruelty by the German Nazis and Hitler. Therefore, it can be confusing as to why such a controversial symbol would be adopted by a nationalist organization. According to the article, “Why are Swastikas Hot in West Ukraine,” the leader of the organization Ostip Stokhiv stated that the swastika was adopted because it is a strong symbol. The previous symbol of the organization which was a lion making its way up a steep hillside was not garnering attention to the organization. However, when the symbol was changed to a yellow swastika on a black field, it caught people’s attention and the party became more popular. Ukrainian soldiers, particularly those in the west, have begun wearing the swastika and SS letters on their uniform, such as their helmets.

"Idea Of The Nation" Supporters Demonstrate In Lviv
Ukrainians bearing flags with modified swastikas.

The east and west areas of the Ukraine are very split in their allegiances. Eastern Ukraine backs Russia and the victory by the Red Army over the German invaders “while in the Ukrainian-speaking west, where most of the anti-Soviet insurgents fought, monuments have been erected and streets have been named in their honor” as stated by the article “Ukraine’s controversial WWII Legacy Lives On as a Nation Remains Divided Over Nazi Allegiances.” Many in western Ukraine have taken to praising Stepan Bandera. Bandera was a Ukrainian nationalist as well as a leader of the independence and nationalist leader for Ukraine against the Soviet Union. He is known for having sided with the Germans in World War II in fighting the Soviets. However, he is also notoriously known as a murderer and led massacres against ethnic groups. Western Ukraine appears to be using the symbol of the swastika, the SS, and Banderas as it applies to them. Many in western Ukraine see Bandera as a hero and fighter for independence as the articles “Hero or Villian” suggests. Western Ukraine appears to focus on how Bandera’s symbol represents their fight for freedom from Russian influence.

bandera_02_wide-6e8043d31cb7bd197d81327b6fe7b88cc30504ad-s40-c85
Ukrainian woman carrying portrait of Stepan Bandera.

It is possible that the reunification of Ukraine after the Poland invasion can be seen as the beginning of the tension and differences in beliefs as parts of Ukraine had been separated and then forced back together. Those in the Ukraine do not seem to be neo-Nazis. Instead several articles, such as “Why are Swastikas Hot in West Ukraine” and “Ukraine’s controversial WWII Legacy Lives On as a Nation Remains Divided Over Nazi Allegiances,” claim that the swastika and SS symbols have been adopted because they strike a chord with the people and get the organization noticed.

 

Citations:

 

Nemtsova, Anna. “Why are Swastikas Hot in West Ukraine.” The Daily Beast (October, 17, 2014). Accessed October 27, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/17/why-are-swastikas-hot-in-west-ukraine.html.

 

“Stepan Bandera.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 27, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepan_Bandera.

 

Shapiro, Ari. “Hero or Villian? Historical Ukrainian Figure Symbolizes Today’s Feud.” NPR (May, 20, 2014). Accessed October 27, 2014.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/05/20/312719066/hero-or-villain-historical-ukrainian-figure-symbolizes-todays-feud.

 

Danilova, Maria. “Ukraine’s Conrtoverial WWII Legacy Lives On as a Nation Remains Divided Over Nazi Allegiances.” Huffington Post (August 1, 2013). Accessed October 27, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/ukraine-wwii-legacy_n_3688865.html.

 

Crowd with Nazi Symbol Image retrieved from:http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-kiev-regime-is-not-officially-a-neo-nazi-government/5384722.

 

Soldiers’ Helmets with Swastika and SS Symbol Image retrieved from: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ukraine-crisis/german-tv-shows-nazi-symbols-helmets-ukraine-soldiers-n198961.

 

Crows with Bandera Portrait retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/05/20/312719066/hero-or-villain-historical-ukrainian-figure-symbolizes-todays-feud.

 

The Breaking of the Fascists’ Back

lostring
“I lost my little ring” A cartoon referring to the Germans’ loss at Stalingrad. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.

The Eastern front in WW2 (or as the Russians referred to it, the Great Patriotic War) was known to be notoriously bloody. After the battle of Stalingrad, the Nazis were in full retreat. Hitler, in his infinite wisdom (there’s some sarcasm there) decided to mount an offensive attack to recover his losses in what the Germans called Unternehmen Zitadelle (Operation Citadel). This would be a just one part in the largest tank battle of WW2, the Battle of Kursk.

The sheer size and importance of the Battle of Kursk cannot be overstated. The Nazis entered the engagement with over 900,000 men, while the Soviets had more than twice as many at more than a whopping 1.9 million men. When it was all said and done, the Soviets suffered a huge number of casualties from the the technologically and tactically superior Nazis, but simply overwhelmed their enemy by numbers, who at this point had taken a hit to morale after the loss at Stalingrad.

plan
The German plan of attack. Created by Wikipedia contributor “Alexpl”

The German attack began when the Nazis launched two simultaneous thrusts against the Soviet salient (a line in the defense that juts out to form an angle) in the north and south, effectively carrying out a pincer attack. However, the Soviets had already received notice of the impeding attack thanks in part to British intelligence. Since the Soviets had months to prepare for attack, they designed their defenses to be layered, much like a hockey team sets up the neutral zone trap, in an effort to wear down any armored spearheads by having overlapping fields of fire. Also the Soviets were able to move a lot of units out of the salient and were also able to set aside a large reserve force to use for the eventual counter-attack.

When the initial battle started, both sides opened up with artillery barrages, after which German ground forces began their advance along with Luftwaffe close air support. This combined arms tactic that was the trademark of the Nazis used earlier in the war proved very effective against static defenses. While the skies of the northern part of the battle were always up for grabs, the Luftwaffe maintained air superiority through out the battle. That was, until they started running low on supplies. The German planes were also greatly outnumbered and newly modified Soviet planes, such as the Ilyushin Il-2, closed the technological gap between their adversaries. Unlike the Nazis, the Soviets had unbroken supply chains, and any aircraft on the ground that may be destroyed by a German air raid could be replaced within days.

il2
Il-2, the pride of the Soviet Air Force. Property of Igor Artyomenko.

While having air superiority is nice, battles typically can’t be won by air power alone. After the Soviets had whittled Nazi forces down to a more manageable size during Operation Citadel, the time was ripe to launch a pair of their own counter-offensives: Operation Kutuzov in the north and Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev in the south.

In the north, the Soviets made deep penetrations in the thinly spread German forces, paving the way for the liberation of Orel and Smolensk. In the south, large tank skirmishes took place. The Soviets encountered heavy resistance, received heavy casualties and armor losses, and had to pull back to regroup and attack once more. It was the size advantage of the Soviet forces that allowed them to achieve a decisive victory.

kursk
Soviet infantry using a T-34 as mobile cover during the counterattack. Ukrainian SSR wartime photograph.

The number of casualties that both sides received is staggering. The Germans had almost 200,000 men KIA, MIA, or wounded. The Russians had significantly higher numbers, with more than 250,000 killed, missing, or captured and an additional 600,000 wounded or sick. Despite their heavier losses, the Soviets prevailed. While Americans often view the invasion of Normandy as the turning point of the European campaign, it was the Soviet victory at the Battle of Kursk that broke the Nazi back.

battle
Diorama of the Battle of Kursk. Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Moscow, Russia.

Much of this blog post’s information comes from the studies of David M. Glantz, who wrote in great detail concerning Soviet tactics of World War 2, with the Battle of Kursk: Soviet Defensive Tactics at Kursk.

In Soviet Russia, Dictator Overthrows You!

bolshevik3
Left to Right: Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky.

When looking at a single event in history that has a huge impact on worldwide events right up to our present and even into the future, one has to wonder what may have happened if things turned out a little differently. Stalin became the most powerful man in the world’s largest country, and did it over many dead bodies. However, Stalin himself said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” That begs the question: what are two deaths considered? Did Stalin lose sleep over betraying people who were once considered his friends and allies? (I don’t think Stalin lost sleep over anything)

Lenin may have been the architect of the Soviet revolution, but Stalin was a great opportunist and used anything he could to his advantage. Stalin was not an individual who beat around the bushes. His thuggish methods existed long before he actually became General Secretary. Russia wasn’t the only nation that was changing governments through revolution. Stalin’s country of origin, Georgia, had managed to gain its own independence as the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) and it was legally recognized by the Soviet Russia in 1920.

Tbilisi
The Red Army in Tbilisi, Georgia. 1921

However in 1921, Stalin orchestrated an invasion of Georgia by the Red Army. Up until WW1, Georgia was part of the Russian Empire and Stalin sought to bring it back under Soviet Russian control. This was contrary to Lenin’s belief that all Soviet states should exist as equals. Lenin suffered a stroke, which forced him to limit his political involvement. Stalin visited Lenin often, acting as his connection to the outside world, but the two bickered often and their relationship deteriorated. Lenin made a testimony that criticized Stalin concerning his his political views, rude manners, and excessive hunger for power. Lenin suggested that Stalin be removed from his position of General Secretary. Stalin made sure that these words never reached the public. Once Stalin successfully buried Lenin’s last wishes, he could concentrate on his other rivals.

Lenin_and_stalin_crop
Stalin used this doctored photograph as part of his claim to be Lenin’s successor. The photograph is the combination of two separate pictures.

Trotsky became famous among the Bolsheviks for his role in leading the armed overthrow of the provisional government. Trotsky had a clear vision of how the revolution should take place, and many considered him to be the next leader upon Lenin’s death. However, he had a conflicting personality that put him at odds with other Bolshevik leaders.

Against Stalin’s policies, Trotsky called for a continued world revolution and Stalin saw this as a threat to the newly formed Soviet state. Trotsky also criticized the new government for cracking down on democracy in the communist party. In response, Stalin and his supporters launched  a propaganda campaign against Trotsky.

"Peace and Freedom for the Sovietdom." Stalin's rival Trotsky is depicted as a devil. There is also an anti-semitic message portrayed in this poster.
“Peace and Freedom for the Sovietdom.” Stalin’s rival Trotsky is depicted as a devil. There is also an anti-semitic message portrayed in this poster.

Trotsky was removed from his post, and later exiled from the U.S.S.R. He eventually was granted asylum in Mexico. Even on the other side of the planet, Trotsky would not be safe from the long arm of Stalin. Trotsky was found guilty of treason during one of Stalin’s purges to remove all political foes. Trotsky survived a machine gun attack on his home August 20th, 1940 but was killed by Ramón Mercader, a Spanish communist with an ice axe the very next day.

trotskygone
Stalin wanted Trotsky out of the picture, both figuratively and literally. Here are two pictures with Trotsky standing next to Lenin. In the doctored photos Trotsky is removed.

Stalin violently and thoroughly removed any opposition to his power, either real or imagined. While it is impossible to tell what might have happened in Russia if it were someone else besides Stalin who rose to power, it is easy to argue that it would have been preferable to having Stalin in charge.

Citations:

Lang, David Marshall. A Modern History of Soviet Georgia. New York: Grove, 1962. Print.

Service, Robert. Stalin: A Biography. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2005. Print.

“Stalin Banishes Trotsky.” History.com. A&E Television Networks. Web. 21 Sept. 2014. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/stalin-banishes-trotsky>.

When the Tsar is away, the Monk will play

ww1russia
Russian WW1 propaganda poster. Top reads “Great European War.” Bottom is too small to read. Something about a great Russian hero fighting.

At the outbreak of the Great War, Russia had the world’s largest army at almost one and a half million soldiers. With reserves activated and fully mobilized, this number expanded to five million. At first, the Russians made large, quick gains by striking first into East Prussia (modern day Kaliningrad Oblast) and Galicia. By the end of 1914, Russia controlled almost all of this territory. The Russians would push the Austrians back and hand them a crushing defeat at Przemyśl. 1914 was a good year for the Russian military, but it wouldn’t last.

Przemyśl
“Siege of Przemyśl.” August von Meissl. 1914. Watercolor and gouache on paper.

Russia, a year after the start of the war, had received huge losses (to the tune of over 500,000 casualties). Tsar Nicholas II, in an effort to boost morale took direct control of the armed forces. He left his wife, Alexandra to run the country in his stead. Maybe things would’ve run smoothly if she actually ran the empire, but instead a strange man named Rasputin (or as some of the nobility liked to call him: the Mad Monk) had an unhealthy amount of influence over the Tsaritsa.

One of the reasons Rasputin had sway over Alexandra was that her son, and only male heir, Alexei suffered from hemophilia which prevented his blood from clotting. At this point Rasputin had already built a reputation with the royal family, and was invited by Alexandra to have a look at the boy. While little Alexei showed no signs of improvement under the care of doctors, Rasputin used his magical and holy powers. The following day the child showed great improvement. In actuality, one of the things that Rasputin did was insist that doctors stop giving Alexei aspirin, which thinned the blood as a side effect.

Rasputin
Staring right into your soul. Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.

Before World War I began, Rasputin advised Tsar Nicholas II not to get involved, claiming that he had a vision that a war would mean the end of the Romanovs as well as Imperial Russia. However, when the Tsar made the decision to go to the front, both Alexandra and Rasputin praised his choice (although Alexandra probably was influenced by Rasputin, and Rasputin knew he would have even more influence if Nicholas was not in Russia).

It seemed that everyone else in positions of political power wanted Nicholas to stay because they also knew that Rasputin would have even more sway. Because the last word rested with Alexandra, Rasputin was untouchable. Many members of the Duma were forced out or left, disgusted. Because Alexei’s illness was kept from the public, rumors that Rasputin was sleeping with the Tsaritsa had made their way to the general public and the monarchy was seen as a joke without credibility.

Many felt that Rasputin was hijacking the Russian monarchy and did much to destroy the legitimacy of the royal rule. With bickering between the crown and the Duma, both of their political power cracked under pressure from a failing war on foreign soil and popular protests at home. Members of the Russian nobility had assassinated Rasputin to end his influence, but perhaps because of him the government of Russia was weakened to the point that its end was inevitable.

comic
Rasputin was killed just as easily as the next person, but wild rumors followed him in death just as they did in life.

Additional Reading:

Gilliard, Pierre, and F A. Holt. Thirteen Years at the Russian Court: (a Personal Record of the Last Years and Death of the Czar Nicholas Ii. and His Family). London: Hutchinson & Co, 1921. Print.

Pares, Bernard. The Fall of the Russian Monarchy: A Study of the Evidence. London: Cape, 1939. Print.

The Murder of Rasputin

The not so Quiet Riot

Alex II
Alexander II “The Liberator.”

Around the late 19th to early 20th century, Russia was in a bad state of affairs. By this point in time, Russia had established the pattern of being on the wrong side of history when it came to military engagements. While the Tsars of Russia were hesitant to change, Alexander II was by Russian standards quite liberal and saw reforms were necessary to modernize his empire and avoid another Crimea War styled defeat.

Unfortunately for the Russian Empire, that would not be the case. Because Russia wanted to establish itself as a modern imperial nation, it sought to expand its power and influence in the East. The Empire of Japan saw this as a threat to their interests and, after failed negotiation attempts, decided to go to war.

In a move that bears resemblance to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japan attacked the Russian Pacific fleet stationed at Port Arthur 3 hours before the Russians received a formal declaration of war.

Port Arthur
Japanese print depicting the destruction of a Russian naval vessel.

To put things into perspective, no European power had ever lost a war against a non European nation. The fact that the Russians were getting thrashed by Japan, who was perceived to be an underdog going into the war was a huge insult to Russia. Russia was badly losing another war, and this combined with other woes that the Russian people faced lead to discontent which built up to a full revolution in 1905 on the home front.

At this point, the revolution and the military blunders seemed to reinforce one another. The decisive naval Battle of Tsushima (known as the Sea of Japan Naval Battle to the Japanese) set morale within the Russian military at an all time low. On the Russian battleship Potemkin, the spark that set off a mutiny was when the crew was served food consisting of rotten meat infested with maggots.

mutiny
Poster illustrating the Potemkin mutiny. Caption at the bottom reads “Glory to the Peoples’ Heroes of the Potemkin!”

It wasn’t that the food was bad that led to the mutiny, but rather when the ship’s executive officer, Ippolit Giliarovsky, threatened to shoot crew members for refusing to eat the tainted meat.

The mutineers wrested control of the ship, hoisted up a red standard that had become synonymous with the revolution, and even actively participated in aiding striking workers rebelling in the city of Odessa.

statue
Statue commemorating the crew of the Potemkin in Odessa, Ukraine.

Eventually, the Potemkin, and the revolution as a whole would fail. However, Tsar Nicholas II would only delay his fate by another 12 years.

Citations:

Freeze, Gregory L. “Revolutionary Russia 1890-1914.” Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. 249. Print.

How Togo Won the Battle. (1905, Jun 02). New York Times (1857-1922)

Believes Mutiny has Ended. (1905, Jul 02). New York Times (1857-1922)

Ivan beshoff, Last Survivor of Mutiny on the Potemkin. (1987, Oct 28). New York Times (1923-Current File)

How the W̶e̶s̶t̶ Steppes were won.

cossack
Self portrait of Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ with two men in Cossack dress. Karelia, Russia.

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky was well known in the late Imperial, and even early Soviet, period of Russia for his work in photography. He spent ten years of his life chronographing Russia in color photographs.

Prokudin-Gorsky often photographed different people of Russian. In the photograph above, he is sitting with two men wearing traditional Cossack garb. While I can’t cover everything about the Cossacks, I can at least brush over their colorful history (doesn’t everything in Russia have a colorful history?).

Russia is a melting pot of culture, merging east and west. A large part of this is due to the Mongol invasion during the 13th century. Using the Eurasian Steppe as a highway, and being master cavalry warriors, the Mongols were able to easily defeat Kievan Rus’.

Eventually, the Russians were able to beat back the Khans, and a large reason for that is that they decided to fight fire with fire, so to speak.

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Napoleonic War era uniforms of Lifeguard Cossacks. P. Courcelle

As I look at the Cossacks, I think that they are quite similar to other cultures. Take the American Gunslinger, for example: He is romanticized as this individual who has this freedom. He may not always be in agreement with authority and will fight for what he truly believes in. The Cossack is similar in a couple of ways to this.

In a nutshell, Cossacks are semi-autonomous. In exchange for their military service, they are granted special privileges. There were many times when the personal freedoms of the Cossacks came into conflict (real or otherwise) with the central Russian government. This was especially true once the Bolshevik’s came to power.

German Cossack
Cossacks serving in the German Wehrmacht during WW2.

During WWII, there were many Cossack groups that decided to fight against the Soviets and their allies. Not only did the Cossacks take issue with government’s consolidation of power, but some saw this fighting as a continuation of the Russian Revolution from 20 years prior.

After the war, the Western allies made a deal to send the Cossack POW’s back to the USSR. Many Cossack POW’s were captured in Lienz, Austria by the British were sent back to Russia, despite promises that they would not. This incident is known as the betrayal of Cossacks at Lienz.

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Kuban Cossacks in a parade.

It wasn’t until the Perestroika period that Cossacks became an integral part of Russian culture once again, and they were given a lot of the privileges that they once enjoyed.

 

Mongolian invasion:

http://www.mongabay.com/history/russia/russia-the_mongol_invasion_the_rise_of_regional_centers.html

Cossacks in Lienz:

http://www.cossacks-lienz.net/

Здравствуйте мир!

kremlin

Hello world! I am comrade Slattery, your tour guide for the beautiful, yet sometimes tragic, history of Russia. I am a student myself, so this will be a learning experience for the both of us. Why Russia? A better question is “why not?” In the words of Sir Winston Churchill : “Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” In less than 100 years, Russia went from being an imperial monarchy, to a Soviet dictatorship, to federal republic. Russia is also an old country that can trace its roots to the same era during the Byzantine Empire. I look forward to exploring the “Bear of Eurasia.” After all, this blog is «Для России-Матушки!»

 

Artwork: Civilization V. Take 2 Interactive. 2010. Video game.