Monday, March 21, 2022

What Winter War was for Stalin, Ukrainian War is for Putin, Russian Nationalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 17 – Stalin and the world expected the Soviet military to make short work of the Finns during the Winter War, but the Finns showed remarkable fortitude and forced the Kremlin leader to accept an outcome far less acceptable to him both immediately and over the longer term, Sergei Levitov says.

            Immediately, the émigré Russian nationalist writer says, Stalin did not get the chance he planned on to include Finland as another union republic in the USSR but had to be satisfied with relatively small changes in the border between the USSR and a still very much independent Finland (

            Putin has invaded Ukraine expecting the Russian Army would quickly triumph over Ukrainian forces but has discovered that Ukrainians are more than ready to die to defend their country and have proven more than a match for Russian troops. As a result, Putin will have no more success than Stalin did.

            He won’t be able to include Ukraine into his imagined “Russian world.” Indeed, one of the most significant consequences of Putin’s invasion is the destruction of that notion. If Ukrainians would rather die than join that Kremlin project, Levitov says, it has no meaning and now never will.

            According to the émigré writer, the parallels between Stalin’s Winter War and Putin’s Ukrainian one are not exhausted by that, especially for anti-Putin and anti-communist Russian nationalists. In 1939-1940, “Russian anticommunists saw the fight between a Finnish ‘David’ and a Bolshevik ‘Goliath’ a testing ground for the future war for Russia.”

            Russian emigres flocked to Finland to fight on the Finnish side, despite the obstacles they faced, the most important being that Finns had great difficult in distinguishing “Russian” from “Soviet.” But despite that, enough took part, including no less a personage than Stalin’s former secretary Boris Bazhenov, that an important idea arose among anti-communist Russians.

            That idea was of a Russian national army that could treat the Soviet government as an occupation regime, an idea that took further shape among Russian POWs in the subsequent war between Germany and the USSR, Levitov argues. Again now, Russian nationalists must recognize that they aren’t fighting a civil war but a war of national liberation.

            If eight years ago, some Russians were able to cooperate with Ukrainians in resisting Moscow’s aggression, now it is clear that “there is no place for Russians in the Ukrainian state.” Ironically, this is Putin’s latest “gift” to Russian nationalists who now must recognize that they must unite the opposition in their own country and liberate it from the occupiers.

            “The Russian anti-Bolshevik movement was distinguished in the past from similar movements in the countries of Eastern Europe in that Russians had ended their civil war while the Latvians, Estonians, Poles and others waged wars of national liberation,” something Russians did not begin to do.

            The situation in Ukraine confused many Russian nationalists. “Until 1991, Ukrainian resistance was situated between two fields: the diaspora wanted to present the world ‘a struggle of Ukraine with Red Muscovy’ but in practice, especially in the central and eastern regions of the Ukrainian SSR, the resistance opposed party and chekist cadres who were native Ukrainians.”

            Then, with the Anschluss of Crimea in 2014 and the beginning of Russian aggression in the Donbass, “a new page opened in Ukrainian history, one of a purely national liberation war.” Russian nationalists could see this, and they have drawn conclusions for themselves, Levitov insists.

            These conclusions are important both for Russia and for Ukraine, he continues. “The tragedy initiated by Vladimir Putin can unexpectedly lead to a paradigm shift in Russian protest from one reflection a civil albeit “cold” war, to a national liberation struggle” and in Ukraine to a search for a different future given the Kremlin leader’s genocidal policies.

            To the extent this happens, Levitov says, Russia will take an honored place about the captive nations of the world and will develop new and perhaps quite original foreign policy alliances “all in the name of saving Russia.” And Ukraine, much of its national elite destroyed by Putin, may be ready to work with Russians who see themselves as having a parallel task.

            In that event, Russians and Ukrainians will enter a new era, one based not on the former trying to suppress the latter as Putin is trying to do but rather on the basis of a recognition in both nations of their common need to engage in national liberation struggles rather than be reduced by civil wars. 

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