This year marks the 71st anniversary of the defeat of German fascism and Japanese militarism by the Soviet Union.
It is of pivotal importance to turn back and learn from the bitter experiences faced by mankind during World War II (1939-1945), which dragged in nearly sixty countries and claimed a staggering 70 million human lives, out of which 27 million were from the Soviet Union.
Russia holds a special place in history as it was the first State to be ruled by workers and peasants following the Russian revolution in 1917. The insurgency and act of reorganising the State by triumphant workers certainly inspired all peace-lovers across the world.
Although leading capitalist countries including Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, USA and Japan had colonies, Germany did not possess any subsequent to World War I. Even though it maintained a strong industrial-base, it had a large population of unemployed youth. Nevertheless, the capitalist countries were faced with an economic depression between 1920-1930.
This was the time Adolf Hitler made his appearance. He intended to dominate the world while annexing colonies, and hatched a secret plot to obliterate the USSR and make it a colony of Germany (Barbarossa Plan).
Hitler attacked Poland in 1939 on a false pretext and annexed Czechoslovakia through the Munich Agreement. However, in 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan signed a tripartite treaty of cooperation in redistributing colonies.
The developments in Europe were alarming. Since the Soviet Union anticipated an attack from Germany, it attempted to convince France and Britain to form an alliance and discontinue the aggression of Germany. But the French and the British delayed or evaded any agreement, hoping to make Soviet Union and Germany bleed to death. On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s Germany attacked the Soviet Union, violating all previous agreements of non-aggression with them. This placed Germany at a finer perch in troops, air power, tanks and mobilizing people and soldiers from annexed countries. However, Hitler’s Barbarossa Plan was expected to last for a mere 14 days, wrote German Commander Halder in his field notebook. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asserted that the fall of Soviet Union was imminent.
The first six months of war was a severe setback for the Soviet Union. It lost 40 per cent of its territory to the Germans. All civilians who were taken prisoner were killed or made slaves. Rule of terror was established in captured territories. The Soviet Union was compelled to rally its entire population to defend the country, thus making it a people’s war.
Towards the second half of 1941, the advancing German forces were halted by the Red army in Smolensk. And within six months of war with the Soviet Union, the Germans lost nearly 500,000 soldiers and officers, while they had lost only 300,000 persons in capturing the whole of Western Europe. Hitler’s forces needed a morale boost and tried to take Moscow. The German troops were only 25-30 km away from the Russian Capital, and the fall of Moscow was inevitable. The stiff resistance and military strategies adopted by the Red Army put the Germans on the run. The battlefront was pushed back by nearly 200-300 km, thus changing the course of World War II. The attacking Germans had only to mark time till the onslaught of the Soviet forces. After the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red army chased the German forces up to Berlin, and put an end to Hitler’s dream of world domination.
The battles of Volgograd (Stalingrad), Kursk and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) are studied by military strategists all over the world. The Soviet Union too contributed to defeat Japanese militarism. After Japan attacked China in Manchuria, the USSR signed a pact with the latter and deployed military and material assistance to China. The Soviet Union also supported the Mongolian people to resist Japanese aggression.
The Soviet initiative to trigger the second front was not heeded till June 1944. With the landing of Normandy in France, the allied forces united to defeat German fascism and Japanese militarism.
The three major wartime conferences between the leaders of the USSR, USA and Great Britain at Teheran (November 1943), Yalta (February 1945) and Potsdam (August 1945), gave rise to the present United Nations Organisation. And with the end of World War II, many colonies tasted freedom. Many super powers had to give up their colonies to the freedom fighters. The USSR supported countries to build their economies to choose an economic model suited to that country.
India, China, Egypt, Vietnam and Cuba stood as nations that maintained close economic cooperation with the USSR, so as to come out of their colonial past. The evolution of the cold-war made the world a dangerous place to live in. Nuclear weaponry were invented and stockpiled while military blocks developed. The dismantling of the Soviet Union and the WARSAW pact countries has created a uni-polar dominance. The supremacy of the USA and the forceful implementation of its economic policies have made the rich become richer, the poor become poorer.
The present Russia is the largest single country on earth, accounting to the greatest land area a nation could occupy. Its rich cultural diversities are a distinguished element. Economically, it is an industrial country with all natural resources.
May 9 is remembered as a day of celebration for the victory of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Hitler’s fascism. This day is observed in Russia too. Today, every country needs the voice of its people to be heard. The United Nations is an institution that can be strengthened to address the concerns of mankind. As the Allied forces routed Hitler’s Germany, present day global economic problems need united action. Trying to isolate Russia with economic blockades and sanctions or drawing it into a military confrontation is not warranted in this nuclear age. Let us salute those fallen heroes by actively campaigning for peace and constructive dialogue, and contribute in whatever possible way to make this world a better place.