Kommersant is usually a quite good newspaper, but published an article on Russian military purchases abroad that makes a serious historical mistake (partial English version here). Ivan Safronov is the reporter, but may not be responsible for the error. The article as a whole is an excellent survey of the issues surrounding the import of munitions, but its teaser paragraph claims “For the first time in the history of the Russian military, it had begun the purchase of weapons abroad.”
This neglects, of course, the imperial Russian army’s extensive purchases of weapons, particularly during World War I. It neglects the extensive Soviet purchase of systems, models and designs from abroad during the interwar period. The Soviet tank industry, for example, was essentially founded on designs from Vickers, Carden-Loyd, and Christie: the T-26, the T-27, and the BT series. And, of course, the Soviet Union used Western weaponry extensively during World War II as part of Lend-Lease.
In an accompanying survey of expert opinion, the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen quite rightly points to World War I and Lend-Lease, though not the interwar period closest to my heart. Sergei Maev, though, claimed that “During the First World War, tsarist Russia paid in gold for ten million rifles, but the rifles never reached our borders until the end of the Civil War.” In actual fact, looking just at the United States (I don’t have figures for other suppliers at hand), Russia ordered 3.6 million rifles, and had 400,000 delivered by the February Revolution. While I would never claim that as a sterling performance by American industry, it’s a long way from nothing. Maev, who’s head of DOSAAF, Russia’s chief voluntary organization supporting the military, and a former director of Rosoboronzakaz, really ought to know better.
In keeping with the Soviet tradition of marking the birthdays of important historical figures, the Voice of Russia (Russian text here) marked the 110th anniversary of the birth of General Nikolai Fedorovich Vatutin. While the profile is in general terms a good one, several things about it struck me as more representative of the current state of Russian military historiography than of the actual historical record.
Vatunin isn’t as well known in the West as he ought to be. His record at the 1943 Battle of Kursk and the subsequent liberation of southern Russia and eastern Ukraine from the Germans is an impressive one. Vatunin’s problem is that he died during the war, and as a result left no memoirs and played no role in the shaping of the war’s history in the way that comparable figures like Aleksandr Vasilevskii or Sergei Shtemenko could.
What the article focuses on, though, is Vatutin’s role as an “inconvenient [neudobnyi] general,” one who stood up to the country’s misguided political leadership on the eve of war. While this is an interpretation with obvious resonance in current circumstances of Russian military reforms that are opposed by the bulk of the high command, it’s not clear to me what grounds there are for this judgment in the historical record.
Vatutin’s rise to prominence postdated the 1937 purges, and so he didn’t have much opportunity to say anything especially controversial until 1938. While he did participate in the Main Military Council (the Soviet military’s collective deliberative body) in the pre-war years, it’s not clear that he said or did anything especially noteworthy. The Voice of Russia article cites Mikhail Miagkov to claim that Vatutin, not Georgii Zhukov, was the major force behind the May 1941 idea of a spoiling attack to disrupt Hitler’s obvious preparations for an invasion of the Soviet Union. This likewise seems to me to lack much foundation. Vatutin here seems to be useful as a man who spoke truth to power, and then conveniently died. To credit Zhukov as the real force urging more active measures against the Germans would bring in all sorts of complications with Zhukov’s subsequent political career.
What struck me, though, was how little the article made of the circumstances of Vatutin’s death. He was ambushed by Ukrainian nationalist partisans in early 1944, and died of his wounds in hospital. While the article certainly mentions this fact, it does little with it. Given the Kremlin’s current preoccupation with East European nationalist movements, and its tendency to label as “falsification” any history that sympathizes with them against the Soviets, this was a missed opportunity to lambast the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
The following video surfaced this past week on Youtube in the context of President Dmitrii Medvedev’s recent efforts to reform and professionalize the country’s police force.
Its subject is Col. Aleksei Nikolaevich Isakov the (now former) deputy director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Lomonosov district (raion) of Lomonosov region (oblast) not far from St. Petersburg.
The video depicts the drunken colonel emerging from his office wearing only his MVD BVDs and…
I seem to post a disproportionate number of pieces complaining about falsification of the problem of falsification of history, but I can’t help myself when I keep being fed new material. The latest evidence: an ITAR-TASS story (hat tip to Johnson’s Russia List) claiming in its headline that “Russian historians shatter WW II myths.”
Here’s the question: where in the piece is there a single specific example of a myth about the war that Russian historians have shattered? I say this not to demean the work of Russian historians, many of whom are doing fine research. I say it to point out a recurring aspect of Russian official and semi-official discourse on World War II, which is that it is plagued by evil-doing historians who mythologize and falsify the war. There’s never any specific indication of who exactly it is that is doing these terrible things, or of what exactly it is they say that is so awful and wrong.
“In sum, the old belief in congruence between national identity, territoriality, statehood and citizenship in the European Union is being challenged and undermined in three related ways. First, the supremacy of nation-states as institutions of governance is being eroded. Governance in Europe is becoming increasingly polycentric and multi-levelled. This involves the emergence of overlapping spheres of political authority at several spatial levels—local, regional, national and European.” (Gaddafi, p. 274)
“At the turn of the twenty-first century, the idea that there is or should be a congruence between national identity, territoriality, statehood and citizenship is being challenged and undermined in three related ways. First, the pre-eminence of nation-states as institutions of governance is being eroded . . . Governance in Europe is increasingly polycentric and multi-layered. For Anderson (1996) this involves the emergence of overlapping spheres of political authority at several spatial scales (local, regional, national and European). (Painter, p. 5)
“Second, in many parts of the world, state-based national identities are being challenged by regionalist or minority nationalist interests, undermining the alignment of identity and nation-state. Successful mobilisation behind regionalist goals can intensify the rate of reconfiguration of both governance and identity. Third, international migration has increased cultural diversity. Members of diasporas may form distinct regional populations, such as Russians in North-East Estonia, or they may be dispersed more evenly. Both situations will undermine the link between citizenship and national identity. In Estonia, Russians are even denied formal citizenship on grounds of ethnicity.” (Gaddafi, pp. 274-5)
“Second, in many parts of Europe state-based national identities are challenged by regionalist or minority nationalist identities. These challenges undermine the fit between identity and nation-state. In addition successful mobilisation behind regionalist goals can lead to increased political autonomy or secession, intensifying the restructuring of governance and potentially reconfiguring both the rights-based and the identity-based aspects of citizenship. . . . Third, international migration has increased cultural diversity. In some cases members of diasporas form distinct regional populations, such as the Russians in north-east Estonia (Smith and Wilson 1997). In other cases they may be dispersed more evenly. Both situations undermine the link between citizenship and national identity. In Estonia, Russians are denied even formal citizenship, on grounds of ethnicity.” (Painter, p. 5)