On Sunday morning June 22, 1941, driven by his hatred of “Judeo-Bolshevism” and his insatiable greed for Lebensraum, Hitler treacherously broke his pact of non-aggression with Stalin and launched the invasion of the Soviet Union. Caught off guard and badly commanded, the Red Army was overwhelmed. But thanks to the heroic resistance of the Russian people, the USSR finally routed the Germans, at the cost of some twenty million dead. It was the beginning of the end for the Nazis.
This is, in broad outline, the story of Operation Barbarossa as told by the victors.
The vanquished, naturally, had a different version. At 4:30 am on the morning of the attack, the Russian ambassador in Berlin received a formal declaration of war, later read to an international news conference, justifying the attack by the “steadily increasing concentration of all available Russian armed forces along a broad front extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.” It justified the attack as preemptive:
Now that the Russian general mobilization is complete, no less than 160 divisions are deployed against Germany. The results of reconnaissance carried out in recent days have shown that the deployment of Russian troops, and especially of motorized and armored units, has been carried out in such a way that the Russian High Command is ready at any moment to take aggressive action at various points against the German frontier.
The US government ignored the German justification, and claimed that Germany’s attack was part of Hitler’s evil plan “for the cruel and brutal enslavement of all peoples and for the ultimate destruction of the remaining free democracies.”Quoted in Mark Weber, “Why Germany Attacked the Soviet Union. Hitler’s Declaration of War Against the USSR – Two Historic Documents,” on unz.com.
In the following months, referring to reports from the front, Hitler claimed that the Soviet forces massed on his Western border were even greater than he had thought, and proved that Stalin’s intention had been to invade not only Germany, but all of Europe. He told a large audience in Berlin on October 3, 1941:
We had no idea how gigantic the preparations of this enemy were against Germany and Europe and how immeasurably great was the danger; how we just barely escaped annihilation, not only of Germany but also of Europe. … Lord have mercy on our Volk and on the entire European world if this barbaric enemy had been able to get his tens of thousands of tanks to move before we could. All of Europe would have been lost.Ibid.
(Quoted in Mark Weber, “Why Germany Attacked the Soviet Union. Hitler’s Declaration of War Against the USSR – Two Historic Documents,” on unz.com.)
Hitler repeated it to the Reichstag deputies on December 11, 1941:
Today, we have truly crushing and authentic material to prove that Russia intended to attack. … [H]ad this wave of more than twenty thousand [Soviet] tanks, hundreds of divisions, tens of thousands of guns, accompanied by more than ten thousand planes, unexpectedly started to move across the Reich, then Europe would have been lost.Adolf Hitler, Collection of Speeches, 1922-1945, online at archive.org.
This remained the line of defense of the military commanders accused of “crime against peace” before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1945-46. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Armed Forces High Command, argued that “The attack on the Soviet Union was carried out to preempt a Russian attack on Germany,” and was therefore a legal act of war.Pretrial questioning, June 17, 1945, quoted in Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II, PLUK Publishing, 2012. His second, General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff, similarly testified: “It was undeniably a purely preventive war. What we found out later on was the certainty of enormous Russian military preparations opposite our frontier. … Russia was fully prepared for war.”Quoted by Adolf von Thadden, Stalins Falle: Er wollte den Krieg (“Stalin’s Trap: He Wanted War”), Kultur und Zeitgeschichte/Archiv der Zeit, 1996, quoted from Daniel Michaels, “New Evidence On ‘Barbarossa’: Why Hitler Attacked Soviet Russia,” The Journal of Historical Review, Sept.-Dec. 2001. Both Keitel and Jodl were denied access to the documents that would prove their point. They were found guilty and hanged.
Was the Soviet threat to Germany and Europe real, or was it just Nazi propaganda? To this day, history textbooks say nothing about it. But it has entered the scholarly debate, thanks to the books of Vladimir Rezun, a former Soviet military intelligence officer who defected to the West in 1978, and wrote two groundbreaking books under the pseudonym of Viktor Suvorov: first in 1988, Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?, and in 2010, after new Russian archives had become accessible, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II. I first learned about Suvorov from Ron Unz’s 2018 article “When Stalin almost conquered Europe,” and I have since read what I could on the subject, starting with articles on Mark Weber’s indispensable site http://www.ihr.org/ , including his own (reposted on unz.com).
Suvorov’s thesis can be summed up as follows: on June 22, 1941, Stalin was about to launch a massive offensive on Germany and her allies, within days or weeks. Preparations had started in 1939, just after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and had accelerated at the end of 1940, with the first divisions deployed to the new expanded Soviet borders, opposite the German Reich and Romania, in February 1941. On May 5, Stalin announced to an audience of two thousand military academy graduates flanked by generals and party luminaries that the time had come to “switch from the defensive to the offensive.” Days later, he had a special directive sent to all command posts to “be prepared on a signal from General Headquarters to launch lightning strikes to rout the enemy, move military operations to his territory and seize key objectives.”Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II, PLUK Publishing, 2012 . New armies were being raised in all the districts, with mobilization now reaching 5.7 million, a gigantic army impossible to sustain for long in peacetime. Close to one million parachutists—troops useful only for invasion—had been trained. Hundreds of aerodromes were built near the Western border. From June 13, an incessant movement of night trains transported thousands of tanks, millions of soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition and fuel to the border.
According to Suvorov, if Hitler had not attacked first, the gigantic military power that Stalin had accumulated on the border would have enabled him to reach Berlin without major difficulty and then, in the context of the war, to take control of the continent. Only Hitler’s decision to preempt Stalin’s offensive deprived him of these resources by piercing and disrupting his lines and destroying or seizing about 65% of all his weaponry, some of it still in trains.
Suvorov displays an impeccable knowledge of the Red Army, and an acute expertise in military strategy. Regarding Stalin’s intentions, generally very secret, he produces numerous quotes from the 13 volumes of his writings. He sifted through mountains of archives and the memoirs of hundreds of Russian servicemen. It is not exaggerated to say that the “Suvorov thesis” has revolutionized World War II history, opening a totally new perspective to which many historians, both Russian and German, have now added details: among Germans can be mentioned Joachim Hoffmann, Adolf von Thadden, Heinz Magenheimer, Werner Maser, Ernst Topitsch, Walter Post, and Wolfgang Strauss, who has reviewed Russian historians on the topic.
Suvorov’s thesis has also generated much hostility. His opponents fall into two categories. Some authors reject completely his analysis and simply deny that Stalin was planning an offensive. When considering the symmetrical concentrations of the German and Russian armies on their common border in June 1941, they interpret them differently: German concentration proves German bellicose intentions, but the same movement among the Russians is interpreted as proof of the incompetence of Soviet generals for defense.
This trend is illustrated by David Glantz’s Stumbling Colossus, about which Ron Unz wrote: “Although purporting to refute Suvorov, the author seemed to ignore almost all of his central arguments, and merely provided a rather dull and pedantic recapitulation of the standard narrative I had previously seen hundreds of times, laced with a few rhetorical excesses denouncing the unique vileness of the Nazi regime.”
Another detractor of Suvorov is Jonathan Haslam, who attacks Suvorov for his “highly dubious use of evidence.” Haslam admits that, on May 5, 1941, Stalin had announced an imminent offensive, but interprets it as Stalin’s prevision of Hitler’s attack. He then adds: “The fact that every piece of evidence at our disposal also indicated that he showed considerable surprise when the Germans invaded on June 22 always created something of a puzzle for historians. How could Stalin both expect war and be taken by surprise at the same time?” To answer this question, Haslam gets lost in fuzzy conjectures, while Suvorov’s answer is the only logical one: Stalin knew war with Germany was imminent, but he didn’t expect Germany to strike first.
Not surprisingly, one of the harshest attacks against Suvorov came from a longtime apologist of Stalin, Tel Aviv University professor Gabriel Gorodetsky (Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia). Gorodetsky calls Suvorov’s books “flimsy and fraudulent” because they “engender myths and consistently and deliberately obstruct the search for truth by simplifying a complex situation.” Yet, as one reviewer notes, Gorodetsky “negligently ignores Suvorov’s work after page eight” and his book is replete with contradictions and unsubstantiated claims.
The second variety of authors criticizing Suvorov are those who agree with him in general, and differ only in details. One French example is a recent 1000-page book by French specialist Jean Lopez, Barbarossa 1941. La Guerre absolue (2019). Lopez does admit that Stalin was preparing to invade Europe, but treats Suvorov as a fraud and, in an earlier essay, discounted as a “myth” the notion that “Hitler anticipated an attack by Stalin,” with this argument: “According to several accounts, Stalin believes that the Red Army will not be ready until 1942. No Soviet attack, therefore, could have been undertaken before that date.”Jean Lopez et Lasha Otkhmezuri, “Hitler a devancé une attaque de Staline,” in Les Mythes de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Jean Lopez and Olivier Wieviorka (eds), Perrin, 2015, online on books.google.fr This is provably false: it is true that Stalin had originally planned his massive offensive for the summer 1942, as Suvorov himself stated. But there is also plenty of evidence that, in 1940, worried by Germany’s quick victory over France, Stalin had accelerated his war preparations. According to General Andrei Vlassov, captured by the Germans in 1942, “the [Soviet] attack was planned for August-September 1941.”Adolf von Thadden, Stalins Falle: Er wollte den Krieg (“Stalin’s Trap: He Wanted War”), Kultur und Zeitgeschichte/Archiv der Zeit, 1996, quoted from the book review by Daniel Michaels, “New Evidence On ‘Barbarossa’: Why Hitler Attacked Soviet Russia,” The Journal of Historical Review, Sept.-Dec. 2001. It is hard to make sense of Lopez’s contradictions.
Even more paradoxical in its treatment of Suvorov is a book released a few weeks ago: Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II, by Sean McMeekin of Bard College in New York. I found out about it while searching (unsuccessfully) for an affordable copy of Ernst Topitsch’s book by the same title, Stalin’s War: A Radical New Theory of the Origins of the Second World War (1987). I expected McMeekin’s new book to quote from Suvorov extensively and favorably. I was surprised to find Suvorov mentioned only once. After noting that Suvorov “turned up thousands of intriguing documents” in support of his thesis and that “scores of Russian historians have investigated the ‘Suvorov thesis’,” producing in the process “two thick volumes” of more documents, McMeekin concludes: “But considerable mystery remains surrounding Stalin’s intentions on the eve of war,” and adds that no clear written document can be produced that unambiguously “proves that Stalin had already resolved on war, whether preemptive, defensive, or otherwise.”Sean McMeekin, Stalin’s War, A New History of World War II, Basic Books, 2021, p. 267
I struggled of make sense of this dismissive comment, since McMeekin actually agrees with almost every major points made by Suvorov. Just like Suvorov, and with the same sources, McMeekin shows that, despite his tactical pretense at “socialism in one country,” Stalin was unconditionally devoted to Lenin’s goal of the sovietization of Europe. His analysis of the way Stalin baited Hitler into a war on the Western front with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is totally in line with Suvorov. McMeekin attributes the same significance as Suvorov to Stalin’s announcement, on May 5, 1941, that “we must shift from defense to offence” (to which he devotes his “prologue”). His interpretation of Stalin’s simultaneous self-appointment as president of the Council of People’s Commissars exactly echoes Suvorov’s: “From this moment forward, all responsibility for Soviet foreign policy, for peace or war, for victory or defeat, lay in Stalin’s hands alone. The time for subterfuge was over. War was imminent.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 20. McMeekin repeats most of Suvorov’s evidence that Stalin’s war preparations were offensive and potentially overwhelming. He insists, like Suvorov, on the undefended air bases built near the border:
The most dramatic material evidence of more offensive Soviet intent was the construction of forward air bases abutting the new frontier separating Stalin’s empire from Hitler’s. The “Main Soviet Administration of Aerodrome Construction,” run by the NKVD, ordered the construction of 251 new Red Air Force bases in 1941, of which fully 80 percent (199) were located in western districts abutting the German Reich.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 222.
In view of the evidence, McMeekin believes that “the ideal launch date for the Soviet offensive … fell in late July or August.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 267.
McMeekin even reinforces Suvorov’s argument that Hitler’s mobilization on the Eastern Front was a reaction to Stalin’s war preparations, rather than the opposite, by showing that, as early as June 1940, the Germans were receiving Intelligence reports that
the Red Army, capitalizing on the Wehrmacht’s concentration in the West, was preparing to march from Lithuania into virtually undefended East Prussia and German-occupied Poland. … On June 19, a German spy reported from Estonia that the Soviets had informed the departing British ambassador in Tallinn that Stalin planned to deploy three million troops in the Baltic region “to threaten Germany’s eastern borders.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 182.
McMeekin uses the same archives as Suvorov, but never gives him credit for first bringing them into the light. The only exception is in a single endnote, where he mentions that one of Stalin’s reasons for believing that Hitler would not attack in June was that he had “learned, via spies inside Germany, that OKW had not ordered the sheepskin coats experts believed to be necessary for winter campaigning in Russia, and that the fuel and lubricating oil used by the Wehrmacht’s armored divisions would freeze in subzero temperatures.” The note says: “Not all of Suvorov’s claims stand up, but this one gels well with Stalin’s sanguine attitude toward reports of the German arms buildup.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 257. In another footnote, McMeekin disputes Suvorov’s claim that Stalin ordered in spring 1941 the dismantlement of the “Stalin Line” of defense that would hamper the advances of his troops: it was not dismantled but simply “neglected”, says McMeekin, before adding: “Here, as elsewhere, Suvorov hurts his case by over-egging the pudding.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 768. Such criticism would be fair, if McMeekin had also acknowledged the overwhelming mass of facts that Suvorov got right.
Apparently McMeekin thought it tactically wise, not only to snub Suvorov even when he proves him right, but also to endorse his most virulent opponent David Glantz (who, he says, was “right to emphasize how poorly prepared for war the Red Army was in reality”)McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 283. even when he proves him wrong, with abundant evidence that in June 1941, the issue of the war “would be determined by who would strike first, gaining control of enemy airspace and knocking out airfields and tank parks.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 270.
It is not difficult to guess the motive for McMeekin’s ostentatious contempt of Suvorov. Suvorov has crossed the line by suggesting that Barbarossa saved Europe from complete sovietization. Although he expresses no sympathy for Hitler, Suvorov agrees with him that, if he had not attacked first, “Europe was lost.” Suvorov has committed an unforgivable sin. It is an untouchable cornerstone of both Western and Russian historiography that Hitler is the embodiment of absolute Evil, and that no good whatsoever could ever have come from him. And so academic historians of the Eastern Front are expected to display their good manners by shunning Suvorov, and by not asking: What if Hitler had not attacked first? They must not suggest that Hitler ever told the truth, or that his military commanders were wrongfully hanged.
Well, if the price for bringing Suvorov’s revisionism into mainstream scholarship is to deny one’s debt to Suvorov, so be it. World War II historians must be smart: one careless phrase or reference can cost you a career and a reputation, as happened to David Irving (not in McMeekin’s bibliography, incidentally). Some obvious conclusions are better left for others to draw. There is no question that McMeekin’s book is a great achievement and it must be hoped that it will become a new landmark in the historiography of World War II. It is already receiving mostly praise in the press, and giving “revisionism” a good name. Over with the “good war”!
McMeekin’s main thesis is that World War II was primarily willed and orchestrated by Stalin, whereas Hitler was only tricked into it. This is precisely what Suvorov meant when calling Hitler “Stalin’s icebreaker”. (This is also, more or less, what A.J.P. Taylor argued in The Origins of the Second World War in 1961).
There are, indeed, slight nuances between McMeekin’s and Suvorov’s perspectives. Rather than insisting on the fact that Barbarossa ruined Stalin’s plan for the conquest of Germany and Europe, McMeekin points out that Barbarossa was for Stalin “a kind of public-relations miracle” that turned him from a “mass murderer and swallower of small nations … into a victim in the view of much of the Western public.” Stalin himself, in his July 3, 1941 radio address, said that the German aggression had brought “tremendous political gain to the USSR,” creating a support in London and Washington that was “a serious and lasting factor that is bound to form the basis for the development of decisive military successes of the Red Army.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 330. That is a good point, but a minor one. From what we know of Churchill and Roosevelt’s secret intrigues before Barbarossa, it is doubtful that Stalin would have been deprived of their support if he had attacked first. Churchill had been urging him to attack Germany since 1940, and Roosevelt had started planning to help him right after his second reelection in November 1940, when he told Americans that their country must become “the great arsenal of democracy,”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 231. and appointed pro-Soviet Harry Hopkins to start making arrangements.
In fact, McMeekin shows that “Roosevelt did everything he could to improve relations with Stalin” from the early years of his long presidency, starting with official recognition of the USSR in 1933. He purged the State Department of anti-Communists and staffed it with sympathizers or outright NKVD agents, such as Alger Hiss. As early as November 1936, he appointed a Soviet sympathizer, Joseph Davies, as his ambassador in Moscow, to replace William Bullitt who had become too openly critical of Stalin. “Where Ambassador Bullitt had seen deception and guile in Stalin’s foreign policy, his successor saw unicorns,” lavishing him with compliments: “You are a greater leader than Catherine the Great, than Peter the Great, a greater leader even than Lenin, etc.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 54-55.
And so, even though Barbarossa made it easier for Roosevelt to turn American public opinion favorably toward Stalin, it doesn’t mean that Roosevelt would have prevented Stalin from gobbling up Europe had he attacked first.
Just like Suvorov, McMeekin gives undisputable evidence that Stalin was planning to invade Europe in 1941, and had planned it for a very long time. Like Suvorov, he points out that the Comintern, founded in Moscow in 1919, aimed at the sovietization of the whole world, as symbolized by its emblem, later incorporated into the banner of the USSR.
Lenin’s primary goal was Berlin. For this, he wanted to blow up Poland, a country reconstituted after the First World War between Russia and Germany. During the summer of 1920, the Soviet cavalry attempted to invade Poland with cries of “to Berlin!” But the Poles pushed back the Russians and inflicted them losses of territory (Peace of Riga). Lenin then proclaimed a new strategy at a Moscow party congress on November 26, 1920: “Until the final victory of socialism in the whole world, we must exploit the contradictions and opposition between two imperialist power groups, between two capitalist groups of states, and incite them to attack each other.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 25.
The failure of the communist uprising in Germany in October 1923, confirmed that fomenting revolutionary unrest was not enough to overthrow Social Democracy in Germany. What was to be done was to help create the conditions for a new world war and, during this incubation period, put a damper on internationalist discourse in order to maintain trade relationships with the capitalist countries (who will ultimately “sell Communists the rope they would use to hang them”).Lenin as quoted by McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 86.
McMeekin agrees with Suvorov that Stalin was the true heir of Lenin, whose public cult he orchestrated: “Stalin’s dialectical view of Soviet foreign policy—in which metastasizing conflict between warring capitalist factions would enable Communism to advance to new triumphs—was firmly rooted in Marxism-Leninism, based on the precedent of Russia’s own experience in the First World War, and clearly and consistently stated on many occasions, both verbally and in print”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 13., most notably in his first major work after Lenin’s death, Foundations of Leninism (1924), in which he recalled that the Bolshevik revolution had triumphed in Russia because the two chief coalitions of capitalist countries had “been clutching at each other’s throats.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 29. When a new capitalist war breaks out, Stalin told the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1925, “we will have to take action, but we shall be the last to do so. And we shall do so in order to throw the decisive weight on the scales, the weight that can turn the scales.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 30. Also quoted in Albert L. Weeks, Stalin’s Other War: Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939-1941, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 108.
While preparing for World War II, Stalin’s domestic policy consisted, on the one hand, in consolidating his control over the population, and on the other hand, in building a huge military-industrial complex. “Stalin’s industrialization drive,” McMeekin writes, “was conceived, sold, and executed like a military operation targeting the capitalist world. … Whenever onerous production targets went unmet, capitalist saboteurs were blamed, as if they had been spies in an army camp.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 34.
Since the first Five-Year Plan was inaugurated in 1928, the Soviet economy had been on a war footing. The production targets of the third Five-Year Plan, launched in 1938, were breathtaking, envisioning the production of 50,000 warplanes annually by the end of 1942, along with 125,000 air engines and 700,000 tons of aerial bombs; 60,775 tanks, 119,060 artillery systems, 450,000 machine guns, and 5.2 million rifles; 489 million artillery shells, 120,000 tons of naval armor, and 1 million tons of explosives; and, for good measure, 298,000 tons of chemical weapons.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 213.
Along with the establishment of a war economy, the first two five-year plans included the collectivization of agriculture. But here too, the goal was closely linked to the war, as Jean Lopez shows. In 1927, reports indicated that the peasant world, under the leadership of the kulaks, would sabotage the war effort. “The worst nightmare of the Bolshevik leaders lies in the emergence of a popular rejection of war similar to that which brought down the Romanov dynasty.”Jean Lopez and Lasha Otkhmezuri, Barbarossa 1941. La Guerre absolue, Passé Composé, 2019, p. 55. This is what motivated the “Great Turn” of 1928, whose victims, either by execution, deportation, or famine, are estimated at between 10 and 16 million. During this time, Stalin sold an average of 5 million tons of grain abroad each year to finance his armaments.
In 1939, all Stalin needed was to maneuver capitalist countries into fighting each other in a new deadly war. That was the main purpose, from Stalin’s viewpoint, of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23, 1939, with a secret protocol for the partition of Poland and the distribution of “spheres of influence”.
Just two months earlier, Stalin was still negotiating, via his Foreign Minister Molotov and his ambassador to London Maiski, the possibility of a military alliance with England and France in order to contain Germany and protect Poland’s integrity. On June 2, 1939, Molotov handed the British and French ambassadors a draft agreement, under which the Soviets might provide mutual assistance to smaller European states under “threat of aggression by a European power.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 82. On August 12, an Anglo-French delegation arrived in Moscow for further discussion. But Stalin then changed his mind, and Molotov did not receive the delegates.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, pp. 81-82 In a speech to the Politburo on August 19, 1939, Stalin explained why he had finally opted for a pact with Germany:
The question of war or peace has entered a critical phase for us. If we conclude a mutual assistance pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will back off from Poland and seek a modus vivendi with the Western powers. War would be avoided, but down the road events could become dangerous for the USSR. If we accept Germany’s proposal and conclude a non-aggression pact with her, she will of course invade Poland, and the intervention of France and England in that would be unavoidable. Western Europe would be subjected to serious upheavals and disorder. In this case we will have a great opportunity to stay out of the conflict, and we could plan the opportune time for us to enter the war. …
Our choice is clear. We must accept the German proposal and, with a refusal, politely send the Anglo-French mission home. Our immediate advantage will be to take Poland to the gates of Warsaw, as well as Ukrainian Galicia …
For the realization of these plans it is essential that the war continue for as long as possible, and all forces, with which we are actively involved, should be directed toward this goal …
Therefore, our goal is that Germany should carry out the war as long as possible so that England and France grow weary and become exhausted to such a degree that they are no longer in a position to put down a Sovietized Germany.
Comrades! It is in the interest of the USSR—the workers’ homeland—that war breaks out between the Reich and the capitalist Anglo-French block. Everything should be done so that this drags out as long as possible with the goal of weakening both sides. For this reason, it is imperative that we agree to conclude the pact proposed by Germany, and then work in such a way that this war, once it is declared, will be prolonged maximally. We must strengthen our propaganda work in the belligerent countries, in order to be prepared when the war ends.
This speech was leaked to the French news agency Havas the same year. Stalin immediately denounced it as a fake in Pravda, which was exceptional on his part. Its authenticity has long been debated, but in 1994 Russian historians found an authoritative text of it in the Soviet archives, and the authenticity is now generally accepted. In any case, there are other sources confirming Stalin’s ploy so that there is no doubt, for McMeekin, that with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, “Far from wishing to forestall a European war between Germany and the Western powers, Stalin’s aim was to ensure that it would break out.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 86. For Stalin,
the benefits of the Moscow Pact for Communism were obvious. The capitalist world would soon be embroiled in a terrible war, and the USSR would be able to spread its territory substantially westward against seemingly helpless foes. All Stalin needed to do was ensure that neither Germany nor its opponents secured a decisive advantage. Once the two sides had exhausted themselves in a death struggle, the path would be clear for the armies of Communism to march in and seize the capitalist world by the throat.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 90.
But how could Stalin be so sure that France and England would not declare war to Russia too? One part of the answer is that he had not broken off negotiations with Great Britain after signing a pact with Hitler. It is even thought that on 15 October 1939, less that two months after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a British-Soviet secret agreement was signed behind Hitler’s back.Toomas Varrak, “The Secret Dossier of Finnish Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim: On the Diplomatic Prelude of World War II”: A Study “Finland at the Epicentre of the Storm” by Finnish historian Erkki Hautamäki, based on a secret dossier originating from Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim, Commender-in-Chief of the Finnish armed forces.
With the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler thought he had countered the British encirclement policy against Germany. And he believed that the pact would protect him from a declaration of war by Britain and France if both Germany and Russia intervened in Poland. He had grossly underestimated Stalin.
When Hitler invaded Poland from the west on September 1, the Red Army did not budge. On September 3, England and France therefore declared war on Germany alone. This was a bad surprise for Hitler. He urged the Russians to launch their attack, but the Russians turned a deaf ear. “On September 3,” McMeekin writes,
Ribbentrop wired Ambassador Schulenburg in Moscow, requesting that he ask Molotov whether the USSR would participate in the Polish war as promised and provide “relief” to the hard-pressed Wehrmacht. Did not Stalin, Ribbentrop asked, “consider it desirable for Russian forces to move at the proper time against Polish forces in the Russian sphere of interest and, for their part, to occupy this territory?”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 96.
Molotov replied on September 5: “the time has not yet come. … it seems to us that through excessive haste we might injure our cause and promote unity among our opponents.” On September 8, a new Wehrmacht communiqué urged the Soviets to move forward as Warsaw was taken. The Soviets responded that the fall of Warsaw was not confirmed and that “Russia being linked to Poland by a non-aggression pact, she cannot march forward.” On September 10, Molotov declared point-blank to Schulenburg that, “for appearances’ sake we should not cross Poland’s border until the capital had fallen,” and that the pretext for Soviet entry into Poland would be to protect “endangered Ukrainians and Belorussians.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 101. Stalin even tried to persuade the Polish government, which had taken refuge in Kuty, to appeal to him for protection. Finally, on September 17, the Polish ambassador in Moscow was summoned at 3 a.m. and handed the following message:
The Polish-German war has shown the internal bankruptcy of the Polish State. During the course of ten days’ hostilities Poland has lost all her industrial areas and cultural centres. Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer exists. The Polish Government has disintegrated and no longer shows any sign of life. This means that the Polish State and its Government have, in point of fact, ceased to exist. In the same way, the Agreements concluded between the U.S.S.R. and Poland have ceased to operate. Left to her own devices and bereft of leadership, Poland has become a suitable field for all manner of hazards and surprises, which may constitute a threat to the U.S.S.R. For these reasons the Soviet Government, who have hitherto been neutral, cannot any longer preserve a neutral attitude towards these facts. The Soviet Government also cannot view with indifference the fact that the kindred Ukrainian and White Russian people, who live on Polish territory and who are at the mercy of fate, should be left defenceless. In these circumstances, the Soviet Government have directed the High Command of the Red Army to order the troops to cross the frontier and take under their protection the life and property of the population of the Western Ukraine and Western White Russia. At the same time the Soviet Government propose to take all measures to extricate the Polish people from the unfortunate war into which it was dragged by its unwise leaders.
Although not mentioning Germany explicitly as an aggressor, the message was clear: the USSR is not the aggressor, but the defender of Poland. The Soviets had waited two and a half weeks before moving into Poland, leaving all the fighting to the Germans and giving the world the impression that they were intervening to prevent Germany from seizing the entire country. The USSR thus remained officially neutral, and incurred no blame on the part of France and England.
Although the partition of Poland had been Stalin’s idea, only Hitler was blamed for it. His Faustian pact with his worst enemy had not protected him from a war with France and England, and would not protect him either from a Soviet invasion. Clearly he had been duped. By enticing Hitler to invade Poland, Stalin had triggered the Second World War while staying on the sideline. All he had to do was wait for the countries of Europe to exhaust each other in a new war. On September 1, the very day of the invasion of Poland by Germany, the Supreme Soviet passed a general conscription law, which, under the guise of establishing military service for two years, was equivalent to a general mobilization. For Suvorov, this is proof that Stalin knew that the partition of Poland would trigger world war, rather than avoid it as Hitler hoped.
Meanwhile, Stalin would take every advantage he could of Germany’s predicament in the West, gobbling up three Baltic states bordering Germany and stuffing them with military bases. As McMeekin notes:
With his opportunistic moves against the Baltic states, Bessarabia, and northern Bukovina in the wake of the German humiliation of France, Stalin was wringing every last drop of nectar out of his honeyed partnership with Hitler while still, somehow, escaping the hostility of Hitler’s opponents. Britain, in what Churchill called the country’s “finest hour,” now stood alone against Nazi Germany. For some reason, though, Britain had not declared war on Berlin’s alliance partner, despite Stalin having invaded the same number of sovereign countries since August 1939 as Hitler had (seven). But there were limits to Hitler’s patience, and Stalin had just about reached them.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 176.
Like Suvorov before him, McMeekin underscores the hypocrisy of the British. “The number of victims murdered by Soviet authorities in occupied Poland by June 1941—about five hundred thousand—was likewise three or four times higher than the number of those killed by the Nazis.” Yet Stalin received not even a slap on the wrist from the Western powers.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 112. Foreign Minister Halifax explained to the British war cabinet on September 17, 1939 that “Great Britain was not bound by treaty to become involved in war with the U.S.S.R. as a result of their invasion of Poland,” because the Anglo-Polish Agreement “provided for action to be taken by His Majesty’s Government only if Poland suffered aggression from a European power,” and Russia was not a European power.McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 112.
In a meeting of the war cabinet on November 16, 1939, Churchill even endorsed Stalinist aggression: “No doubt it appeared reasonable to the Soviet Union to take advantage of the present situation to regain some of the territory which Russia had lost as a result of the last war, at the beginning of which she had been the ally of France and Great Britain.” McMeekin comments: “That Hitler had used the same justification for Germany’s territorial claims on Poland either did not occur to Churchill or did not bother him.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 114.
Stalin hoped that Germany would fight against France and England for two or three years before he would intervene. He therefore continued to supply Germany with raw materials, and was careful not to cut her supply of metals from Sweden, and oil from Romania, when he had the means to do so. When the Germans launched their offensive against France on May 10, 1940, Stalin rejoiced. “Finally, Communists could enjoy watching ‘two groups of capitalist countries … having a good hard fight and weakening each other,’ as Stalin had boasted to Comintern’s general secretary Dimitrov in September 1939.” But the war turned out less bloody than he had expected.
The rapidity of the German victories was alarming, however. Stalin and Molotov would have preferred a slow, grinding, bloody battle of attrition—a German victory, yes, but one that weakened Hitler almost as much as his enemies. According to Khrushchev’s later recollection, after learning the extent of the Allied debacle later in May, Stalin “cursed the French and he cursed the British, asking how they could have let Hitler smash them like that.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 161.
Germany’s military success forced Stalin to rush his preparation for putting the Red Army on the starting blocks in summer 1941. In spring, armament, troops and transport were ready, and preparations entered the final phase. On May 5, 1941, Stalin declared to military officers that the “Soviet peace policy” (meaning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) had allowed the USSR to “push forward in the west and north, increasing its population by thirteen millions in the process,” but that the days of such conquest “had come to an end. Not another foot of ground can be gained with such peaceful sentiments.” Anyone “who failed to recognize the necessity of offensive action was a bourgeois and a fool”; “today, now that our army has been thoroughly reconstructed, fully outfitted for fighting a modern war, now that we are strong—now we must shift from defense to offense.” For this, we must “transform our training, our propaganda, our agitation, the imprinting of an offensive mentality on our spirit.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 19. Pravda began to prepare the people:
Raging just beyond the borders of our Motherland is the conflagration of a Second Imperialist War. The full weight of its woes is pressing down on the shoulders of the toiling masses. People everywhere want no part of war. Their gaze is fixed on the land of socialism, reaping the fruits of peaceful labor. They rightly see the armed forces of our Motherland—the Red Army and our Navy—as the tried and true bulwark for peace. … Given the current complex international situation you have to be prepared for all kinds of surprises. (Pravda , May 6, 1941 editorial)Quoted in Suvorov, Icebreaker.
By that time, Hitler had realized he was trapped. It may have remembered what he had written in 1925: “the formation of a new alliance with Russia would lead in the direction of a new war and the result would be the end of Germany” (Mein Kampf, vol. 2, chapter 14). With Operation Barbarossa, he was trying to regain the advantage. But, according to Suvorov, it was impossible for Germany alone to defeat Russia, for reasons related to the vastness of its territory, the harshness of the winter, and Germany’s limited resources compared to Russia’s.
Hitler made one irremediable mistake, but not on July 21, 1940, when he ordered preparations for war against the Soviet Union. The mistake came on August 19, 1939, when he agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Having agreed to the division of Poland, Hitler had to confront an unavoidable war against the West, having behind him the “neutral” Stalin. Precisely from this moment, Hitler had two fronts. The decision to begin Operation Barbarossa in the east without waiting for victory in the west was not a fatal error, but only an attempt to right the fatal error he had already made. But by then it was too late.Suvorov, The Chief Culprit, p. 236.
Arguably, Hitler might have prevailed and conquered the Lebensraum of his dream, had Stalin not been saved by Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Aid: more than ten billions—equivalent to trillions today— worth of airplanes and tanks, locomotives and rails, construction materials, entire military production assembly lines, food and clothing, aviation fuel, and much else. Through four dense chapters, McMeekin makes it abundantly clear (as Albert Weeks before him in Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II, 2010), that without U.S. help, the Soviet Union could not have pushed back the Germans, let alone conquer Eastern Europe in 1945. Another factor, on which McMeekin duly insists, was Stalin’s almost unlimited supply of cannon fodder: a total of 32 million soldiers throughout the war, led to the slaughter with machine-guns in their back and the threat that, if they were captured rather than killed, their families would be punished: “The USSR under Stalin is the only state in recorded history to have declared the captivity of its soldiers a capital crime.”McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 300.
In the end, while Stalin actually entered the war on the side of Germany, he would come out on the side of the Allies. While the pact deciding the partition of Poland by Germany and Russia was signed in Moscow—in the presence of Stalin and not of Hitler—history will only retain the aggression of Germany, and will consider the USSR as one of the attacked countries. While England and France officially went to war to defend the territorial integrity of Poland, at the end of the war all of Poland will be under Stalin.
Yet, as Suvorov said, and as McMeekin leaves unsaid, it was probably thanks to Operation Barbarossa that Soviet troops failed to raise the red flag over Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rome, Stockholm and possibly London.
Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, destroyed its army, and crushed a large part of Soviet industry. In the end, the Soviet Union was unable to conquer Europe. Stalin lost the war for Europe and global domination. The free world survived, and it could not coexist with the Soviet Union. Therefore, the crumbling of the Soviet Union became inevitable. … The Soviet Union won World War II, but for some reason disappeared from the globe after this distinguishing victory. … Germany lost the war, but we see her, one of the mightiest powers of contemporary Europe, at whose feet we now beg.Suvorov, The Chief Culprit, p. 159.
Laurent Guyénot, Ph.D., is the author of From Yahweh to Zion: Jealous God, Chosen People, Promised Land … Clash of Civilizations, 2018, and JFK-9/11: 50 years of Deep State, 2014 (banned from Amazon). He has collected some of his earlier Unz Review articles in “Our God is Your God Too, But He Has Chosen Us”: Essays on Jewish Power.
 Pretrial questioning, June 17, 1945, quoted in Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II, PLUK Publishing, 2012.
 Quoted by Adolf von Thadden, Stalins Falle: Er wollte den Krieg (“Stalin’s Trap: He Wanted War”), Kultur und Zeitgeschichte/Archiv der Zeit, 1996, quoted from Daniel Michaels, “New Evidence On ‘Barbarossa’: Why Hitler Attacked Soviet Russia,” The Journal of Historical Review, Sept.-Dec. 2001.
 Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II, PLUK Publishing, 2012 .
 Jean Lopez et Lasha Otkhmezuri, “Hitler a devancé une attaque de Staline,” in Les Mythes de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Jean Lopez and Olivier Wieviorka (eds), Perrin, 2015, online on books.google.fr
 Adolf von Thadden, Stalins Falle: Er wollte den Krieg (“Stalin’s Trap: He Wanted War”), Kultur und Zeitgeschichte/Archiv der Zeit, 1996, quoted from the book review by Daniel Michaels, “New Evidence On ‘Barbarossa’: Why Hitler Attacked Soviet Russia,” The Journal of Historical Review, Sept.-Dec. 2001.
 Sean McMeekin, Stalin’s War, A New History of World War II, Basic Books, 2021, p. 267
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 20.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 222.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 267.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 182.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 257.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 768.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 283.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 270.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 330.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 231.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 54-55.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 25.
 Lenin as quoted by McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 86.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 13.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 29.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 30. Also quoted in Albert L. Weeks, Stalin’s Other War: Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939-1941, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 108.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 34.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 213.
 Jean Lopez and Lasha Otkhmezuri, Barbarossa 1941. La Guerre absolue, Passé Composé, 2019, p. 55.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 82.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, pp. 81-82
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 86.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 90.
 Toomas Varrak, “The Secret Dossier of Finnish Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim: On the Diplomatic Prelude of World War II”: A Study “Finland at the Epicentre of the Storm” by Finnish historian Erkki Hautamäki, based on a secret dossier originating from Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim, Commender-in-Chief of the Finnish armed forces.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 96.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 101.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 176.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 112.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 112.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 114.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 161.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 19.
 Quoted in Suvorov, Icebreaker.
 Suvorov, The Chief Culprit, p. 236.
 McMeekin, Stalin’s War, p. 300.
 Suvorov, The Chief Culprit, p. 159.