Baltic Independence

Having been forcefully occupied and integrated by the Soviet Union as per the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were not incredibly loyal to the Soviet Union. From 1940 onward, Moscow underwent Sovietization policies similar to old Tsarist Russification policies. They suppressed Baltic languages and culture as well as migrating ethnic Russians into the region to quicken the pace of homogenization. This was obviously not popular among natives of the Baltic and these policies combined with Soviet disregard for the environment and private property prevented any reconciliation between the natives and the Soviet government. The 1980’s saw a massive rise in pro-independence protests and movements in the Baltic region. These protests were primarily sparked by Gorbachev’s reforms, specifically Glasnost, which allowed criticism of the government. With criticism of the government now allowed, the authority of the communist parties in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia crumbled. 

From 1987 to 1991 a period of civil protest and resistance against Soviet authority known affectionately now as the “Singing Revolution” saw millions of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians peacefully fight for their Independence and civil autonomy. The greatest demonstration of these protests came on August, 23rd 1989 during a protest called “The Baltic Way”. “The Baltic Way” saw a human chain of over 2 million people stretching 600 km or about 372 miles from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania. Eventually after almost four years of protests and peaceful resistance the Gorbachev regime recognized privately that they were going to lose the Baltic States. The Baltic revolutions were a major part of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On September, 6th 1991 the Soviet Union recognized the Independence of all three Baltic States and three months later, the rest of the Soviet Union would separate. The reaction in the West was positive with Iceland being the first nation to recognize the newly freed Baltic. Since their occupation in June 1940 by the Soviets, the US, UK, Canada, and NATO had maintained representatives for the Baltic States and always maintained that those countries were rightfully independent from the start. The Singing Revolution was a major step towards the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. It was, ironically, Soviet imperialism that saw the demise of the Union. If Stalin had left the Baltic alone, they may have not later inspired other Soviet Republics to leave.


Freeze 461-464


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The Soviets in Afghanistan (1979-1989)


In April 1978, the government of Afghanistan was overthrown in a Leftist military coup putting the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan into power. This unpopular new government, backed by the Soviet Union, proceeded to begin to purge it’s political adversaries and dissidents. This coupled with the radical modernization and anti-religious policies of the Communist party led to an uprising that ranged throughout both the rural and urban regions of the devoutly Islamic country. In addition to the revolt against the government, the PDPA was also rife with infighting between it’s two main factions which each vied for control of the Party. In September of 1979 the leader of Communist Afghanistan Nur Mohammed Taraki was assassinated by his second in command Hafizullah Amin. Seeing the inherent chaos in Afghanistan and fearing the collapse of a friendly neighboring communist state, Leonid Brezhnev decided to deploy the Soviet 40th Army. On Christmas Eve 1979, Soviet troops took the Afghan capital of Kabul, overthrowing Amin and replacing him with Soviet puppet, Babrak Karmal.

The USSR’s intervention in Afghanistan was widely decried by both its Western rivals and Islamic countries alike. Most outspoken was Pakistan, who with a Soviet controlled Afghanistan, was surrounded on both sides by enemies with India already breathing down its neck. The war itself quickly became a fiasco as Soviet troops could quickly seize the population centers but could not nail down the rural districts which were rife with insurgents. Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain made it difficult to move armored vehicles through anywhere but main roads which made them easy targets for ambushes. The Soviets found in Afghanistan, as the United States did in Vietnam, that air power, particularly helicopters, were essential in hunting down and destroying cells of the “Mujaheddin”.

The Mujaheddin were a loose collection of Liberals, Islamic fundamentalists, and Arab volunteers all grouped together in a disorganized group of cells. They share an ironic similarity to modern terrorist groups in fact. It must be pointed out that each group was decentralized and not particularly skilled at fighting. These men were often just farmers who picked up whatever they could find to fight for their God and their tribe. The Mujaheddin used a wide range of ambush tactics, taking advantage of the hills and caves of rural Afghanistan to make quick attacks and melt away before the Soviet forces could mount a counterattack. Their weapons were initially poor, with some carrying British rifles captured by their great great grandfathers during the wars with the British in the late 1800s. However, as it progressed both their weapons and tactics became more sophisticated with help and assistance.

Part of the Soviet strategy to defeat the Mujaheddin in their rural enclaves involved the heavy bombing of the countryside, murdering thousands of innocents and displacing over 2 million people. Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, support from the CIA and Arab sympathizers in the form of weapons and advisors would make their efforts almost useless. New anti material weapons, effective against soviet armored vehicles and aircraft, began increasing the Soviet casualty rate. It was clear that there was no victory in sight. It was not that the soviets were being defeated on the battlefield by the ill-equipped Afghan rebels, but that it would forever be an expensive occupation with no real benefit.

The conflict continued into the late 80’s when it was clear that the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc in general were falling apart. With over 15,000 killed and almost 50,000 wounded, the Soviets decided to cut their losses and withdraw from Afghanistan signing a Peace accord with the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in 1988. In February 1989 the last Soviet soldiers left Afghanistan, abandoning the Communist government and letting the Mujaheddin sort out the rest.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is a relatively unknown conflict. However, it laid the groundwork for the fall of the Soviet Union. The high cost of the war, coupled with international pressure abroad really helped in isolating and accelerating the death of the Soviet bloc. The failed Soviet intervention also laid the groundwork for the Taliban and inspired the growth of radical Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda, Al Shabab, and ISIS. The lessons learned by the Islamic fighters in this war are still being used against NATO forces in Afghanistan to this day entrenching the US in a similar hopeless quagmire.

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Lavrentiy Beria: A look into a different post Stalin Soviet Union

Lavrentiy Beria was the leader of the NKVD under Joseph Stalin. To give some perspective, the NKVD was the predecessor to the KGB and it basically was the secret police. It was the premier intelligence agency in the Soviet Union and it was used by the government to enforce Soviet economic and social policies. They ran the Gulags and state work camps as well as “took care” of any dissidents and Political undesirables. Beria was an important figure in Stalin’s regime. He organized the Katyn massacre after the Soviets occupied Poland, he also controlled all NKVD field units and affiliated partisans during the Great Patriotic war. He was also in charge of Stalin’s purges and before the death of Stalin, was preparing to eliminate the rest of the old Bolsheviks, in particular Vyacheslav Molotov who is most known to history for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Overall, Beria was the most influential and trusted of Stalin’s minions. 

Ironically, he hated Stalin. He was seen to have been the only member of the central committee to have rejoiced at his passing. Kissing Stalin’s hand as he lay on his deathbed one moment, only to immediately stand and spit after seeing he was unconscious. He seemed quite pleased when Stalin died and began to make preparations for taking power immediately after. Shortly after the death of Stalin, Beria became the First Deputy premier of the Soviet Union under Georgy Malenkov. As Malenkov was a weak man, Beria planned to use him and then seize power. Under Malenkov, Beria’s authority increased and he began to basically run the Soviet Union himself, much to the chagrin of the Central Committee and in particular Nikita Kruschev. 

Beria’s ambitions for the Soviet Union were quite different from the precedent Stalin head set up. Immediately after Beria was in charge, he oversaw the release of millions of prisoners and shut down many gulags as well as providing general amnesty for all those who had been convicted of crimes. Beria also began reducing the traditional pro Russian focus by halting the persecution of ethnic minorities in Georgia and Ukraine. Beria was also skeptical of the wisdom of the Soviet land grabs after WWII. According to other members of the Central committee, Beria openly suggested the transfer of the Kaliningrad Oblast to Germany, part of Karelia to Finland, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic to Romania and the Kuril Islands to Japan in exchange for a political detente. The last straw came during the 1953 East German uprising when Beria seemingly proposed the Unification of Germany in exchange for economic aid from the United States and the end of the Cold war.

The other members of the Central Committee were mortified. Nikita Kruschev acted quickly, rallying the committee to his cause. In an elaborate plot Kruschev organized an ambush and during a Presidium meeting Beria and all of his key associates were arrested. He was accused of treason, terrorism, and counterrevolutionary activity. Beria was also a known rapist and pedophile. This was an open secret to the ruling party members, even Stalin would not leave Beria alone in a room with his daughter. Beria was known to invite women to his sound proofed office under false pretenses and rape them. As they left his men would present them with a bouquet, indicating that the sex had been consensual. If the woman refused the flowers, she would be arrested. Beria also would entice wives of political prisoners with sex in exchange for relaxed treatment for their husbands. Unfortunately for these women, Beria never gave special treatment and many times their husbands were already dead. Beria also slept with girls as young as 14. 

As a result, there was no shortage of reasons to get rid of Beria and no one mourned his death. He was executed on December 23rd 1953 by General Pavel Batitsky. He was shot in the head and cremated, his ashes being dumped in a nearby forest.

Beria’s visions for the Soviet Union could have been much more liberal than even gorbachev and the Cold war could have ended much sooner. However, he was a horrible person and his regime very likely could have been just as brutal as Stalin as he got older and maybe more paranoid.


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Stalin and The Borders of Poland

When it became clear that the Germans would lose World war II in 1943 discussions began on what the world would look like after the fall of the Nazis. In particular the Polish border was of some concern. Being the initial flash point for the war, and the longest occupied nation, Poland felt entitled to German land as compensation for their oppression, the Western allies also strongly supported this opinion. Poland’s eastern border had been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 per the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Poland was not keen on forgetting it. Despite this situation there was little Poland could do to change their border to the east. Understanding that this resentment may lead to problems in Stalin’s post-war sphere Stalin proposed moving Poland’s western border west substantially, as seen in the diagram above.

At the Tehran and Yalta conferences, of 1943 and 1945 respectively, The Eastern and western borders of Poland were debated. The United States and Britain, recognizing the wrong done to Poland by the Soviets, petitioned Stalin for the eastern borders of Poland to be altered so as to include the majority Polish city of Lwow, now in modern day Ukraine. Stalin refused but instead offered Poland generous compensation in the form of parts of East Prussia, Silesia, and all parts of Germany up to the Oder and eastern Neisse rivers. It was expected that all Germans who lived in these areas were to be expelled back to postwar Germany. 

At Yalta, Stalin reacted to US pressure to give up Lwow by now offering Poland a border along the Western Neisse river and not just the East. They also threw in the 2000 year old German city of Stettin, now Szczecin, even though it was technically West of the Oder-Neisse line that was set up. Though Winston Churchill was hesitant in handing such a majority German and historically important city over to Poland only for its population to be expelled, the Western Powers were ultimately satisfied with this deal and finalized these borders at the Potsdam Conference. In establishing these borders, Stalin had created a strong Polish state at the expense of Germany and placated the Western Allies, successfully increasing their buffer between the Soviet Union and its new Capitalist rivals. Unfortunately, as a result of this arrangement, millions of Germans were expelled from their ancestral homes and ethnically cleansed by the Polish and Soviet governments. Thousands would die but it was the blood price for the millions of Russians and Poles who had suffered similar fates at the hands of the Germans only a few years earlier.;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–/RV=2/RE=1586775104/RO=10/;_ylu=X3oDMTBydWNmY2MwBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM0BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–/RV=2/RE=1586775104/RO=10/




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Cossacks on the Railroad

A Sign of Rapid Change

This picture is particularly compelling as it poignantly shows Russia’s transition from its feudal and rural past and its road to industrialization. In the frame we can clearly see Cossacks. The Cossacks were a vital part of Russia’s history as they often led the expeditions of conquest eastward against steppe tribes and Mongolian successor states. these men are the perfect representation of old Russia, hard and traditional. the great irony of course is that what they are guarding is a very symbol of what will eventually wipe them out. The railroad that the Cossacks are protecting is a clear sign of the rapid economic, political, and social reforms that swept through Russia in the latter part of the 19th century. These reforms, and their inadequate implementation directly led to the conditions that would foment the growth of the 1905 Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. With the birth of the Soviet Union also came the death of the Ancient culture and privilege of the Cossacks.





Russia A History; Gregory L. Freeze, page 216

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