Putin Preparing Russians for War Much as Stalin Did in 1938-1939

Vladimir Putin file photo with VOA logo; screen shot from video still

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, March 9, 2019)

Two out of three Russians now believe that their country will be involved in a major war (a-nalgin.livejournal.com/1661358.html), the result of a concerted effort by Vladimir Putin and his regime to convince them of that, an effort that in many ways resembles the one Stalin engaged in during the late 1930s.

Just how close the parallels are is suggested by historian Aleksandr Gogun in an article describing the Soviet dictator’s declarations in 1938 and 1939, parallels that are not only for other countries that may be the victims of Moscow’s aggression but also for Russian elites (svoboda.org/a/29806629.html).

File Photo of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph StalinThere were two key events in those years which followed the end of the Great Terror, the historian says, the appearance in 1938 of the Short Course of the History of the VKP(b) which articulated the idea that the USSR could engage in an aggressive war and not just a defensive one and the 18th Congress of the Bolshevik Party in March 1939 which emphasized this point.

Just before the Short Course was released at the end of 1938, Stalin declared: “Bolsheviks are not simply pacificists” who fight only if attacked. “That is untrue. There are cases when Bolsheviks themselves will attack if the war is just, if circumstances are suitable, and if conditions favor the outcome … When we speak about defense this is a veil.”

We use it because all governments do, Stalin said. “When ‘you live with wolves, you have to howl as they do.’ But it would be stupid” to act according to one’s words rather than one’s interests.

Shortly thereafter, Gorgun points out, the 18th congress assembled, a meeting to which “historians up to now have not devoted attention to even though undoubtedly it was even from the formal side of things, the main political event in the USSR in the year of the start of World War II.” Its stenographic record shows that Stalin’s argument about war was at the center of it.

In his speech to the congress, Stalin said that the Soviet Union must avoid being drawn into major conflicts but should be open to the possibility that its forces could be successfully deployed in smaller ones, a message that was echoed by all speakers at the meeting, as Gorgun details.

But more than that, this message guided Moscow’s policies in 1939-1940, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact keeping Moscow out of a major conflict with Germany while allowing Moscow to occupy portions of Poland, seize the Baltic countries and western Ukraine and Belarus, and launch a war against Finland.

“The speeches and atmosphere of this congress,” the historian continues, allowed Stalin and his minions to send a clear message to the Soviet population: war was coming, and Moscow would exploit that development as best it could, not simply defend against possible attacks – a message Putin has made delivering in recent months as well.