Izvestia (Dec 13, 1941) honors Vlasov amongst eight other heroes of the Battle of Moscow.
Anybody who has spent any amount of time questioning the standard Soviet narratives about the first half of the 20th century will invariably be called a Vlasovite at some point. So far as neo-Stalinists are concerned, the turncoat general is an embodiment of monarchism, nationalism, White Guardianism, liberalism, Russophobia, fascism, Far Rightism, Nazism, Ukro-Nazism… feel free to insert any sovok expletive of your choice. They consider Vlasov to be the embodiment of a schizophrenic hodgepodge of mutually contradictory ideologies that serves as a convenient moniker to denote the enemies of their hive mind. Meanwhile, there is also a smaller tribe of wehraboos ranging from befuddled liberals to outright Naziphiles who buy into the above Soviet characterization of Vlasov hook, line, and sinker – with the critical addendum that they consider most or all of those to be good things. For all intents and purposes, they are opposite sides of the same Soviet ideological horseshoe.
But it just so happens that this entire narrative is almost entirely false. To demonstrate this, let’s have a close look at Andrey Vlasov’s actual biography.
Andrey Vlasov signed up to the Red Army early on in 1919, and joined the Communist Party in 1930. He made a successful career in the USSR, writing in his autobiography that he “carried out agitation work… was elected a member of the military tribunal… never had membership in other parties or opposition movements, nor participated in them. Never had any doubts [about the system]. Always stood hard on the line of the Party and always fought for it.”
Consequently, he did not have any troubles during the Red Army purges. To the contrary, as a member of the military tribunals of the Leningrad and Kiev military okrugs, he was one of the perpetrators – and one of the more zealous ones at that. Historians have been unable to find a single case where someone was found innocent on Vlasov’s initiative.
Next he was sent on a secret mission to China in autumn 1938 as part of a group of military advisors. Foreign travel in the Stalinist state was highly restricted, indicating that the Soviet authorities had a high degree of confidence in him. On his return, he was given command of the 99th Rifle Division, which was soon recognized as one of the best divisions in the Army in 1940. For this, Vlasov awarded with a golden watch by Marshal Timoshenko.
It has to be acknowledged that Vlasov had considerable military talent, and proved himself an able commander in the catastrophic months immediately after the German invasion of the USSR. His units evaded encirclement, he was recognized in the Soviet newspaper Izvestia, and awarded with the Order of the Red Banner for his role in the defense of Moscow. The only reason that his army was eventually surrounded and destroyed – and Vlasov himself captured – was on account of Stalin’s customary refusal to countenance retreats.
During his captivity in 1942-44, Vlasov was promoted by elements of the German military who wanted to use him as a figurehead around which to create an anti-Stalinist military force under German tutelage (the key figure, Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt, was a Baltic German who had fought for the Whites in the Civil War). However, this came to naught, since Hitler was uninterested, and saw any such Russian force as an impediment to his plans to Germanize all of European Russia. For his part, Vlasov whiled away the days playing cards under house arrest in Berlin, complaining about his living conditions and how the Germans viewed him as an Untermensch (“In Vinnytsia, after my capture, I had to wash my own clothes. I was not given a towel, and had to make do with a floor rug. Sure, I was a prisoner – but a General, nonetheless. But for the Germans I was an Untermensch, for whom a floor rug would suffice“), and about the unwillingness of the Germans to utilize his knowledge (“I know Stalin personally… I know all the top Soviet commanders, I can tell you what each one is capable of. But you Germans apparently know better. My opinion is of no interest to you.“).
By August 1944, Germany was getting desperate, and Hitler finally relented to Vlasov’s requests to raise the Russian Liberation Army (ROA), thanks to the intercession of Himmler, who had previously been strongly opposed to him.
This was soon followed by the Prague Manifesto in November 1944, which is the closest thing the “Vlasovites” ever had to an actual political program. Here are some highlights from it:
1. The Manifesto itself was proclaimed on behalf of “the Peoples of Russia” [i.e. not Russians as such, but the “multinational peoples of the Russian Federation,” to use the modern politically correct jargon].
2. It condemned the “powers of imperialism headed by the plutocrats of England and the USA, the greatness of which is built upon the persecution and exploitation of other nations and peoples”, who are “covering their criminal aims with slogans of defense of freedom, democracy, culture, and civilization.” [i.e., against democracy].
3. It praises the February Revolution for overthrowing the “obsolete Tsarist government”, which was supposed to realize Russians’ “desires for fairness, general well being, and national freedom” [i.e. a straightforward promotion of the liberal program that celebrates February, which is directly opposed to Russian nationalism].
4. “Liquidation of forceful repopulations and mass exiles” [i.e., the return of the Chechens and the Crimean Tatars; which, in the event, ended up happening under Khrushchev].
5. “Discontinuation of the war with Germany and a honorable peace with Germany” [reminder that this is November 1944, when Germany’s cause is already hopeless].
6. “Self determination” and “self rule” for the “peoples of Russia” [i.e. presumably the independence of the Ukraine, Belorussia, and so forth, which is in direct opposition to the White program of a “Russia One, Great, and Undivided“]
7. The main object of its criticism is not even the USSR as such, but the “Stalinist clique” that has usurped power and betrayed the holy ideals of the Revolution such as “social justice” and “people’s rights” [i.e. not the position of a Russian nationalist, or even of an anti-Communist, but of an International Leftist].
8. Would “decisively reject all reactionary projects” [i.e. a return to early Bolshevik bromides against Great Russian chauvinism].
In the end, the ROA barely had time to get involved in any fighting. Its most notable battle was fought against the Germans, to protect the Prague uprising from a punitive Waffen-SS assault in May 1945. They had to leave soon after, since the Prague Rada was dominated by Communists; the Americans, too, refused to shelter them, due to existing agreements with the Soviets, and extradited them to the USSR. The ringleaders, including Vlasov, were hanged in Moscow in 1946, while the rest would spend the next few years in Soviet prison camps.
In the end, this purported “army” of “Russian liberation” failed to fight a single battle against Stalinism. Like all classic scapegoats, Vlasov was not so much tragic as pathetic; not so much demon or hero, as banally irrelevant.
Summing up, what we have in Vlasov is a faithful Stalinist servant who played a direct role in the mass terror against the commanders of the Red Army, who turned renegade soon after falling into German captivity, and henceforth promoted an idiosyncratic blend of pro-multinationality, progressivism, and German imperialist interests.
The Vlasovite program is perfectly congruent with the ideals of the rootless liberal elites who ruled Russia in the 1990s, and continue to exercise significant cultural and economic power today. Liberal elites who are themselves in large part just the mutant offspring of the late Soviet nomenklatura. (The case of Nobel Peace Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich is particularly instructive: A woman who transitioned seamlessly from writing cringeworthy odes to the ethnic Polish founder of the Soviet secret police Dzerzhinsky to penning hysterical Russophobic screeds, she is perhaps the quintessential representative of this “sovok-liberal” class).
It also has precisely zilch to do with Russian nationalism, which stands for a unitary Russia, condemns both revolutions, and has no truck with either liberalism or Stalinism.
Even so, it is of course Russian nationalists, not the sovoks (from whence he came) nor the liberals (where he arrived), who for some reason have to answer for Vlasov.
The explanation for this is that is a symbiotic relationship. The neo-Stalinists get to avoid hard questions as to why millions of Soviet citizens, many of them Russians, collaborated with an enemy committed to their own extermination – as much as 10% of all Soviet citizens who bore arms in WW2 fought on Hitler’s side, recreating the Civil War on a smaller scale. Meanwhile, the Russian liberals, their subsets such as Ukrainian nationalists (who like to call the Russian flag a “Vlasovite rag”), and Western Russophobes committed to a weak and nationally emasculated Russia all get to paint Russian nationalists as Hitlerite collaborators. The ultimate, mutual goal of all of these factions being to continue to marginalize, denigrate, contain, and repress Russians.