Staunton, February 22 – Almost 50 years ago, a prominent American specialist on the Soviet Union said the difference between Hitler and Stalin could be summed up in the following way: If Hitler’s generals had told him that he would lose the war by using railroads to send Jews to death camps, Hitler would have chosen to kill the Jews even at the cost of military victory.
Stalin, Jeremy Azrael said, would have made the opposite choice. He would instead have stopped deporting non-Russian groups he didn’t like in order to ensure that his generals would win the war, reckoning that he would always have time to do with the peoples of the Soviet Union after he and they had done so.
Many scholars both in the West and in Russia would still agree with that assessment, but a new article by Yeltsin opponent Ruslan Khasbulatov argues that Stalin and his secret police chief Lavrenty Beria were so committed to deporting peoples from the Caucasus that they acted in ways that delayed their defeat of Hitler by a year and cost the Soviet people untold suffering.
In an article for Nezavisimaya gazeta corresponding to the anniversary of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush in February 1944, Khasbulatov, who is of mixed Chechen and Russian background, argues Beria and Stalin held back troops that should have been used against the Germans to deport the North Caucasians (ng.ru/ideas/2018-02-22/5_7178_deportation.html).
He says that Beria when questioned after his arrest following the death of Stalin admitted as much about the 120,000 Soviet troops he didn’t commit to fighting the Germans. “These divisions were prepared,” he told his inquisitors, “for conducting the operation for deporting the Chechens and the Ingush.”
According to Khabulatov, Beria’s words were half true and half false. On the one hand, there is clear evidence that Stalin planned to deport the North Caucasians well before he did it. But on the other, Beria held the troops back so that he rather than the generals could gain glory later. Anyone else who had done so would have been sacked, but Stalin protected Beria and thus shares responsibility for his actions.
Had Beria and Stalin committed the 120,000 Soviet forces against the Germans when they were critically needed, Khasbulatov says, the Germans would have lost and fled from the Caucasus. “Most probably,” he continues, “the war would have ended a year earlier and all of Germany would have passed under the control of the Soviet Army.”
That they were not committed but instead retained for selfish ambition and the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush, the commentator says, is “the most serious state crime and testimony of the complete inadequacy not only of Beria but also of Stalin” as a military commander.
Instead of fighting Germans, Beria’s lieutenants in the NKVD spent their time in Grozny inventing conspiracies and planting false papers. Most of the names in them weren’t genuine because most Chechen and Ingush men were, unlike the Soviet secret policemen, in the ranks of the Soviet army fighting the enemy as became clear in the 1960s and 1970s.
“The deportation of the Chechen-Ingush people, one of the most ancient in the Caucasus and very close to the Georgians who came to their aide when they landed in misfortune” was undertaken by Stalin and Beria who thought “exclusively about their own skins” and not about their country. They proved “more Russian” than the worst Russian nationalist as a result.
Their crimes, Khasbulatov argues, “should be qualified as genocide. Stalin and Beria are the greatest criminals. This isn’t to deny their outstanding role in the history of the USSR. However even Hitler played an outstanding role in the history of Germany having done much of use for the German people” despite his crimes.
“Stalin and Beria are criminals also because over their long period in power, they trained” a cohort of leaders who shared their contempt for human life and tried to “introduce into the fabric of the Soviet man the gene of obedience and servility toward those in power.” And that has left an impact that still must be addressed.
What is needed, Khasbulatov says, is “the adoption of a law establishing criminal prosecution for any attempt to justify the deportation of peoples.” Such an action would have a much more significant impact on Stalinism than calls for “’repentance’” ever will.
“But the most important thing is that this law will bring a certain peace into our complex poly-ethnic society, and today that is something everyone needs, including those at the very top of the political pyramid.”