My oh my, aren’t we sensitive. Seems like Col. Putin took Prince Charles’s casual yet factually unassailable remark close to heart.
In a way one can understand his feelings. Let’s face it, Hitler isn’t the nicest historical personage to be compared to.
I’m sure Col. Putin would rather be likened to Dr Schweitzer, Mother Teresa or perhaps St Sergius of Radonezh.
Alas, his behaviour is more likely to invoke different parallels, and in Putin’s Russia St Sergius, the great fourteenth-century monk, has lent his name to a frankly Nazi gang (you can see them on the march in my article of 2 May).
Col. Putin’s second choice for an historical doppelgänger would probably be some strong but fair Russian ruler, perhaps Ivan IV (the Terrible), Peter I (the Great) or, closer to home, Comrade Stalin.
Ivan was the first Russian tsar. He united Russia, while exterminating as many Russians as he could and reducing whole cities to ruins floating on filth and blood. For entertainment Ivan loved watching people being tortured to death.
Peter was the first Russian emperor. According to Pushkin, he “chopped a window into Europe”. The Russians, it has to be said, have been using the window mostly for casing the joint and burgling it when the owners looked the other way.
Unlike Ivan, Peter was a hands-on man, who didn’t just watch tortures and executions but carried them out personally. One of those he tortured and then executed was his son and heir (Ivan killed his own son with one mighty blow of his staff without the benefit of prior torture).
Comrade Stalin built the glorious edifice of the Soviet Union whose collapse Col. Putin describes as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” In the process he murdered tens of millions, proving he was indeed a strong but fair ruler. In the school textbooks introduced under Col. Putin, Stalin is described as an effective, if at times harsh, manager.
No doubt Putin sees himself as one too, so why couldn’t Prince Charles compare him to Stalin and be done with it? No, he had to say the ‘H’ word, incurring Putin’s wrath.
How dare he! We were the ones who defeated fascism! We lost 26 million to save the world from Hitler! It’s the worst thing you could say to a Russian strong but fair leader so beloved of Peter Hitchens and admired for his political skills by Nigel Farage!
It’s true that the Soviets elevated the country’s suffering in that war to a religion, and any critical remark of their part in the war is treated as blasphemy punishable by public immolation. Col. Putin is continuing this religious tradition. After all, he did say on 9 May that “the continuity of generations is our greatest asset.”
So no doubt he wouldn’t like to be reminded of a few historical facts, especially those that cast aspersion on the role the Soviets played. This was every bit as wicked as Hitler’s.
Even before they usurped power in 1917 the Bolsheviks had had close ties with the German military. It was the German generals von Seeckt, von Hoffmann and Ludendorf who were instrumental in sending Lenin to Russia in the infamous sealed train (“like a bacillus,” as Churchill put it).
Lenin kept his end of the bargain. Having overturned the only democratic government in Russian history, he immediately signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ceding about half of the Russian European territory to Germany.
When the Bolshevik regime hung by a thread in the early days, the German General Staff ordered all German POWs held by the Russians to form army units fighting on the Bolshevik side. This 300,000-strong German army saved Lenin and his gang when Gen. Krasnov’s Cossacks were about to take Petrograd.
After the Armistice both countries became international pariahs, which drew them close together. In 1922 they signed the Treaty of Rapallo whose published text postulated an exchange of German technology for Russian raw materials. The secret articles of the Treaty provided for a close military cooperation, enabling Germany to circumvent restrictions imposed at Versailles.
Lenin was particularly keen on building up Germany’s military muscle. Germany, he said, would act as “the icebreaker of the revolution”. Lenin knew that sooner or later Germany would seek revenge for the humiliation of Versailles. It would then attack the West, clearing the path for the Bolshevik hordes.
To that noble end between 1926 and 1929 the Soviets established schools for training German tank commanders, fighter pilots and chemical-warfare specialists (Germany was prohibited from operating such facilities on her own territory).
The Panzerschule Kama at Kazan in particular could boast an impressive list of alumni. Walter Model, Heins Guderian, Eric von Manstein, Werner von Blomberg were all graduates, and it was in Kazan that they fine-tuned the tactic of deep pincer thrusts they would later use to such well-publicised success.
In return the Germans effectively rebuilt (or more usually built from scratch) the Soviet industrial plant devastated by the advent of universal social justice.
The same advent deprived Russia of qualified scientists and engineers, most of whom were murdered, starved to death or, if they were lucky, kicked abroad. The vacancies thus formed were filled by German engineers, who used their know-how and technologies to build whole factories, such as the Junkers plant near Moscow.
When Hitler came to power the schools were closed down, and the two countries ostensibly became hostile. The cooperation, however, continued in secret, for Stalin shared Lenin’s great hopes for the ‘icebreaker of the revolution’.
In fact, without Stalin Hitler might not have come to power at all – in the 1933 election the communists wanted to form a bloc with the social democrats, thereby outpolling Hitler with ease. Stalin, however, issued a stern order prohibiting any such union and effectively delivering the election to Hitler.
The secret cooperation between the two predators continued throughout the ‘30s, and the 1939 Pact, which caught the West unawares, was its natural culmination. Hitler attacked Poland a week later on 1 September. Stalin followed suit on the 17th. Both predators were bent on world conquest, but they took different paths.
Hitler turned west, just as Lenin had predicted. Stalin meanwhile created the greatest invasion army ever. His tank force, while years ahead of any other country in quality, outnumbered all other tank forces combined. His air force outnumbered the Luftwaffe two to one. He had twice as many divisions as Hitler, with unlimited resources in reserve. The Soviet juggernaut was ready to roll, flattening Europe under its treads.
The Führer, however, refused to follow the script, according to which he was supposed to invade the British Isles, get bogged down and leave his back unprotected to Stalin’s dagger. Once the Germans realised they were about to be overrun they had no option but to launch a preemptive strike, beating Stalin to the punch by weeks (some historians say days).
The Nazi beast weaned on Soviet oil, metals, rubber, cereals and other strategic materials pounced on the Soviet monster, whose technological claws had been sharpened by Germany.
In the resulting war the Soviets indeed lost 26 million, give or take a few. The Russians have never been good at counting their corpses, on the correct assumption that there’s more where those came from. Neither do they divulge how many of those millions lost their lives to their own side, and that number runs into seven digits. Or perhaps those were on top of the 26 million.
One way or the other, the Russians have every right both to highlight their decisive role in defeating Hitler and to mourn their dead. What they have no right to is the sanctimonious pose of wounded virtue they’re striking.
Hitler was one culprit in the war; Stalin the other. The very fact that Putin laments the passage of Stalin’s empire leaves him open to unflattering comparisons. That he’s trying to rebuild the empire using the methods of the two predators, even more so.
Putin is busily creating a unique concoction: the kleptofascist state. No such beast has existed in modern history, but other beasts have. With those, Col. Putin does have much in common, so he ought to contain his hurt pride.