Vladimir Putin: The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II
The Russian president offers a comprehensive assessment of the legacy of World War II, arguing that "Today, European politicians, and Polish leaders in particular, wish to sweep the Munich Betrayal under the carpet. The Munich Betrayal showed to the Soviet Union that the Western countries would deal with security issues without taking its interests into account."
The Volga region and the Urals, Siberia and the Far East, the republics of Central Asia and Transcaucasia became home to millions of evacuees. Their residents shared everything they had and provided all the support they could. Friendship of peoples and mutual help became a real indestructible fortress for the enemy.
The Soviet Union and the Red Army, no matter what anyone is trying to prove today, made the main and crucial contribution to the defeat of Nazism. These were heroes who fought to the end surrounded by the enemy at Bialystok and Mogilev, Uman and Kiev, Vyazma and Kharkov. They launched attacks near Moscow and Stalingrad, Sevastopol and Odessa, Kursk and Smolensk. They liberated Warsaw, Belgrade, Vienna and Prague. They stormed Koenigsberg and Berlin.
We contend for genuine, unvarnished, or whitewashed truth about war. This national, human truth, which is hard, bitter and merciless, has been handed down to us by writers and poets who walked through fire and hell of front trials. For my generation, as well as for others, their honest and deep stories, novels, piercing trench prose and poems have left their mark in my soul forever. Honoring veterans who did everything they could for the Victory and remembering those who died on the battlefield has become our moral duty.
And today, the simple and great in its essence lines of Alexander Tvardovsky's poem "I was killed near Rzhev ..." dedicated to the participants of the bloody and brutal battle of the Great Patriotic War in the center of the Soviet-German front line are astonishing. Only in the battles for Rzhev and the Rzhevsky Salient from October 1941 to March 1943, the Red Army lost 1,154, 698 people, including wounded and missing. For the first time, I call out these terrible, tragic and far from complete figures collected from archive sources. I do it to honor the memory of the feat of known and nameless heroes, who for various reasons were undeservingly, and unfairly little talked about or not mentioned at all in the post-war years.
Let me cite you another document. This is a report of February 1954 on reparation from Germany by the Allied Commission on Reparations headed by Ivan Maisky. The Commission's task was to define a formula according to which defeated Germany would have to pay for the damages sustained by the victor powers. The Commission concluded that "the number of soldier-days spent by Germany on the Soviet front is at least 10 times higher than on all other allied fronts. The Soviet front also had to handle four-fifths of German tanks and about two-thirds of German aircraft." On the whole, the USSR accounted for about 75 percent of all military efforts undertaken by the anti-Hitler coalition. During the war period, the Red Army "ground up" 626 divisions of the Axis states, of which 508 were German.
On April 28, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his address to the American nation: "These Russian forces have destroyed and are destroying more armed power of our enemies – troops, planes, tanks, and guns – than all the other United Nations put together". Winston Churchill in his message to Joseph Stalin of September 27, 1944, wrote "that it is the Russian army that tore the guts out of the German military machine…".
Such an assessment has resonated throughout the world. Because these words are the great truth, which no one doubted then. Almost 27 million Soviet citizens lost their lives on the fronts, in German prisons, starved to death and were bombed, died in ghettos and furnaces of the Nazi death camps. The USSR lost one in seven of its citizens, the UK lost one in 127, and the USA lost one in 320. Unfortunately, this figure of the Soviet Union's hardest and grievous losses is not exhaustive. The painstaking work should be continued to restore the names and fates of all who have perished – Red Army soldiers, partisans, underground fighters, prisoners of war and concentration camps, and civilians killed by the death squads. It is our duty. And here, members of the search movement, military‑patriotic and volunteer associations, such projects as the electronic database "Pamyat Naroda", which contains archival documents, play a special role. And, surely, close international cooperation is needed in such a common humanitarian task.
The efforts of all countries and peoples who fought against a common enemy resulted in victory. The British army protected its homeland from invasion, fought the Nazis and their satellites in the Mediterranean and North Africa. American and British troops liberated Italy and opened the Second Front. The US dealt powerful and crushing strikes against the aggressor in the Pacific Ocean. We remember the tremendous sacrifices made by the Chinese people and their great role in defeating Japanese militarists. Let us not forget the fighters of Fighting France, who did not fall for the shameful capitulation and continued to fight against the Nazis.
We will also always be grateful for the assistance rendered by the Allies in providing the Red Army with ammunition, raw materials, food and equipment. And that help was significant – about 7 percent of the total military production of the Soviet Union.
The core of the anti-Hitler coalition began to take shape immediately after the attack on the Soviet Union where the United States and Britain unconditionally supported it in the fight against Hitler's Germany. At the Tehran conference in 1943, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill formed an alliance of great powers, agreed to elaborate coalition diplomacy and a joint strategy in the fight against a common deadly threat. The leaders of the Big Three had a clear understanding that the unification of industrial, resource and military capabilities of the USSR, the United States and the UK will give unchallenged supremacy over the enemy.
The Soviet Union fully fulfilled its obligations to its allies and always offered a helping hand. Thus, the Red Army supported the landing of the Anglo-American troops in Normandy by carrying out a large-scale Operation Bagration in Belarus. In January 1945, having broken through to the Oder River, it put an end to the last powerful offensive of the Wehrmacht on the Western Front in the Ardennes. Three months after the victory over Germany, the USSR, in full accordance with the Yalta agreements, declared war on Japan and defeated the million-strong Kwantung Army.
Back in July 1941, the Soviet leadership declared that the purpose of the War against fascist oppressors was not only the elimination of the threat looming over our country, but also help for all the peoples of Europe suffering under the yoke of German fascism. By the middle of 1944, the enemy was expelled from virtually all of the Soviet territory. However, the enemy had to be finished off in its lair. And so the Red Army started its liberation mission in Europe. It saved entire nations from destruction and enslavement, and from the horror of the Holocaust. They were saved at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives of Soviet soldiers.
It is also important not to forget about the enormous material assistance that the USSR provided to the liberated countries in eliminating the threat of hunger and in rebuilding their economies and infrastructure. That was being done at the time when ashes stretched for thousands of miles all the way from Brest to Moscow and the Volga. For instance, in May 1945, the Austrian government asked the USSR to provide assistance with food, as it "had no idea how to feed its population in the next seven weeks before the new harvest." The state chancellor of the provisional government of the Austrian Republic Karl Renner described the consent of the Soviet leadership to send food as a saving act that the Austrians would never forget.
The Allies jointly established the International Military Tribunal to punish Nazi political and war criminals. Its decisions contained a clear legal qualification of crimes against humanity, such as genocide, ethnic and religious cleansing, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Directly and unambiguously, the Nuremberg Tribunal also condemned the accomplices of the Nazis, collaborators of various kinds.
This shameful phenomenon manifested itself in all European countries. Such figures as Pétain, Quisling, Vlasov, Bandera, their henchmen and followers – though they were disguised as fighters for national independence or freedom from communism – are traitors and slaughterers. In inhumanity, they often exceeded their masters. In their desire to serve, as part of special punitive groups they willingly executed the most inhuman orders. They were responsible for such bloody events as the shootings of Babi Yar, the Volhynia massacre, burnt Khatyn, acts of destruction of Jews in Lithuania and Latvia.
Today as well, our position remains unchanged – there can be no excuse for the criminal acts of Nazi collaborators, there is no statute of limitations for them. It is therefore bewildering that in certain countries those who are smirched with cooperation with the Nazis are suddenly equated with the Second World War veterans. I believe that it is unacceptable to equate liberators with occupants. And I can only regard the glorification of Nazi collaborators as a betrayal of the memory of our fathers and grandfathers. A betrayal of the ideals that united peoples in the fight against Nazism.