80th anniversary of the treacherous attack of Nazi Germany and its allies on the USSR
BY Valery Utkin
A lot of water has flowed under the bridges since then, but still there is pain in the hearts of many people of the former Soviet Union and Russia. On June 22, 1941, 80 years ago, a treacherous attack of Nazi Germany and its allies on the USSR was launched, and the Great Patriotic War began.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this war was the hardest ordeal in the history of the peoples of the multinational Soviet State, a tragedy for the mankind, which brought incredible grief and untold sufferings, and crippled the fate of several generations. The USSR faced cruelty and barbarism, the ideology of racial superiority, and responded with unparalleled courage, sacrifice, the greatest uplift of spirit and patriotism, solidarity and brotherhood.
After an aggressive Nazi regime came to power in Germany in 1933, it was only a question of time when its desire to conquer new territories would turn into a full-scale world conflict. After launching the war in 1939, Wehrmacht (German Army) put under control most of Europe leaving the USSR and the Great Britain to face the oncoming fascist threat.
From September 1939 to June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union was not an ally of Nazi Germany. Whatever the Soviet-German rhetoric was after the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, there was no talk of friendship, much less an alliance. The Third Reich accumulated resources to strike the USSR, and the Soviet Union tried to delay the attack. This was understood at that time by the ruling circles of the Great Britain, France and the United States which maintained diplomatic relations with Moscow and did not regard Russia as an enemy.
At about 4.00 a.m. on June 22, 1941, Hitler’s infantry backed by heavy artillery, tanks and aircraft attacked the Soviet Union’s territory in violation of all prevailing treaties and without declaring a state of war. On the Eastern front the Nazis troops at that time had 4.3 million of soldiers, 166 army divisions, 4,3 thousand of tanks, more than 42 thousand of guns and mortars, about 4,7 thousand of airplanes, 200 ships. The group of Soviet troops numbered 3,2 million of soldiers, 59,7 thousand of guns and mortars, 1660 new tanks and 2700 battle planes, as well as a number of outdated tanks and aircraft. Despite the sudden and massive assault by Nazis, the Soviet Red Army fiercely resisted the enemy from the first day of the war. The Blitzkrieg, or the “lightning war” that was planned by Germany to defeat the Soviet Union within a few months, went awry almost immediately in 1941. The staunch defense of Brest Fortress, the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), the Arctic region, the cities of Kiev, Odessa and Sevastopol, as well as the battles of Rzhev, Smolensk and Moscow, rendered the Blitzkrieg plans obsolete.
The USSR became the first state in the world that managed to slow down and then stop Hitler’s expansion. This was of fundamental importance for the entire course of the war. After the defeat of France and the capture of practically all of Western Europe by the Nazis, a mortal danger hung over the Great Britain.
The Soviet Army courageously stood its ground, eventually pushing the enemy back, defeating Nazi troops near Moscow, Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and Leningrad, as well as in the Caucasus, in the Battle of Kursk, in Ukraine on the right (West) bank of the Dnieper River, in Belarus, and during the Jassy-Kishinev and Vistula-Oder offensives and the Battle of Berlin. All the peoples of the Soviet Union made their contribution to the victory over Nazism. Without the heroism, valor and mutual assistance shown by them, it would have been impossible to stop and destroy the enemy.
After June 22, 1941, it became finally clear that the Third Reich headed for the total destruction of Jews and all peoples that the Nazis considered inferior. The Holocaust spread to the occupied Soviet territories and became truly monstrous. Massacres of Russians, Belarusians, Gypsies and representatives of other nations and nationalities were carried out. Collaborators, primarily Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, took part in the genocide of the Soviet people.
It is inappropriate to consider the hostilities on the Soviet-German front only as one of the episodes of the Second World War – on a par with the military actions of the Allies in North Africa, in the Pacific Ocean theater of operations, their landing in Sicily and even the Second Front, which opened in Europe in June 1944. The size of the Armed Forces on both sides, the scale of battles and strategic operations, the number of losses and other data refute statements of this kind and unequivocally prove that the outcome of the war was decided in the East. The assertion, widespread in the West, does not stand up to criticism, according to which the landing of the Allies in Normandy was the decisive factor in the defeat of Germany, as well as the turning point in the war. Yes, it was helpful, but not decisive.
The Great Patriotic War lasted 1,418 days, almost 4 years. A total of 27 million Soviet people were killed, including 18 million civilians and 8.7 million soldiers. Four million people were tortured and killed at Nazi death camps. Two thirds of those who died on the battlefields were young men from 19 to 35.
That war was indeed an epochal event. It was not only a global battle that exceeded in scale all previous armed conflicts in the world history. For the first time the stake in this struggle was the preservation of the life of humanity. The Red Army made an overwhelming contribution to the defeat of the Nazis regime in Europe in 1944-1945. Millions of Soviet soldiers gave their lives to liberate the most of the countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe from the Nazi occupation.
Through 80 years on, we remember those who fell on the battlefield, those who were tortured in the camps and who died of hunger and from their wounds, all those who sacrificed their lives defending their country’s unquestionable right to remain a free nation and who gave the world this day that liberated it from war.
“We must not forget either about the horrors of the war or the results of that war or about what united us during that war in order to better use all this knowledge today and unite our efforts in the fight against contemporary threats and act more effectively in the future,” the Russian President Vladimir Putin said in one of his interviews.
The examination of the events of the Great Patriotic War is far from complete. Historians from various countries play a major role in this process. We appreciate their work for the sake of historical truth and understand the related discussions, but we state with full responsibility that the assessment of the offences of the Nazi leaders made by the Nurnberg Tribunal and confirmed by the UN General Assembly cannot be forgotten.
Unfortunately, today certain political forces of the world try to diminish the role of the Soviet Union in the victory against the Nazis and to rehabilitate those who fought alongside Hitler’s executioners, served the occupation regime in the European countries and participated in the atrocious Holocaust, as well as in other crimes against humanity.
The States where the battles of the World War II took place bear a special responsibility for preserving the monuments to the victorious heroes. Our shared duty is to not just honour the memory of those who died for freedom and peace on Earth, but also do our utmost today to defend the cause they fought and gave their lives for. Only then, we will have a chance to shape our common future free of wars, xenophobia and hostility.
Eighty years is not the longest period of time in human history, however, the lessons learned cannot be forgotten, otherwise, we will be forced to relive the most horrific of its pages.
* Valery Utkin is the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Namibia