Sunday, May 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Tactics in Ukraine Now Recall Stalin’s Actions There in World War II

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 11 – “The criminal actions of Putin’s spetsnaz forces in Ukraine” are modelled on the actions of Stalin’s special force in Ukraine during World War II, according to a review of a 2012 Russian study of “Stalin’s Commandos” and their operations against Ukrainian partisan forces, according to Gennady Poberezhny.

            Yesterday, Andrey Illarionov posted a review by Rutgers political scientist ennady Poberezhny of Aleksandr Gogun’s “Stalin’s Commandos. Ukrainian Partisan Formations, 1941-1944” (in Russian; Moscow, 2012, full text at (
                According to Poberezhny, what Putin’s special forces are doing in Ukraine at the present time are drawing on what Stalin’s special forces did there during World War II.  The parallels are too close, he suggests, for any other interpretation to be possible.

            First of all, as in the 1940s, the Rutgers political scientist writes, the actions of the Russian special forces are treated as “initiatives from the locality” in order to suggest that they have more support from the local population than they do.

            Second, in support of the special forces, the Moscow media engages in the complete “demonization” of those who oppose them lest anyone think that compromise is possible.  Third, now as 70 years ago, the special forces intentionally provoke situations leading to victims in the  civilian population in order to place the blame on their opponents.

            Fourth, the Russian special forces engage in “repressions against civilians” in order to demonstrate their power even if this turns some against them. Fifth, they plant materials designed to support the propaganda they are spreading. Sixth, they are prepared to use bacteriological weapons and poisons against those they are fighting.

            Seventh, Poberezhny says, the Russian special forces like their Stalinist predecessors spread stories about the supposed banditry of the opposition. Eighth, they use scorched earth tactics, including in the current case the planned destruction of the Karlovsky reservoir in the Donbass and blame their opponents.

            Because of these tactics, Gorgun documents and Poberezhny reports, relations between the Russian special forces and their local allies were and are “far from those of military brotherhood.” The two did and do view each other with the suspiciousness of enemies rather than as allies.

“Gogun’s book is valuable,” Poberezhny says, “because it does not leave a stone on a stone of efforts to justify the crimes committed by saying ‘this after all was war.’” In fact, the political scientist says, “this was militant Stalinism, whose methods the current master of the Kremlin is to a large extent repeating.”

Of course, the situation in the 1940s and the one now are different in certain ways. Seventy years ago, the Germans rather than the Ukrainian nationalists were the prime target. “Now, however, the focus of Putin’s special services and agent network is Ukraine. They are seeking to destabilize the country, continue its post-Crimean dismemberment, and destroy the still very weak Ukrainian democracy.”

Gogun’s book nonetheless shows just how many parallels there are, Poberezhny says. And its model is likely to be canonical given that the Putin regime is insisting on the development of single version of events in World War II and plans to punish anyone who deviates from it. That is yet another dangerous parallel between the two periods.

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