What is a Soviet and Russian invasion?
War is an essential part of every civilization. For various reasons over the centuries, the nations have gone to wars with each other. As always there are two sides – defender and attacker or invader. Reasons for invasions are many, justified and unjustified and the moral side of invasion is always questionable. During World War 2 Nazi Germany invaded and occupied 15 countries in Europe. These invasions were atrocious accompanied by genocide. Nazi invasions were conducted on common European states in a way uncommon to Napoleon and other various cross European wars in past centuries. In fact, the truth was banal – what Nazi Germany did to European states was what European nations had done to various nations in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. During the colonial rivalry, there were no morals conducted how to conquer and subdue seemingly inferior nations. The Nazi Germany invasions were colonial invasions conducted on European soil. The outcome of World War 2 placed end to imperialist and colonialist ideology in the Western world. Yet the threat of new Word War did not cease. Two main blocks the US lead NATO block and USSR lead Warsaw Treaty fought proxy wars in various places in the world. And both accused each other of conducting illegal colonial style invasion. Both US and USSR were invaders in denial – the both countries in their different centuries emerged as anti-imperial forces.
One separated from the British Empire, other deposed the Russian Empire and created a new state based on Marxist ideas. Imperial colonial style invasions were against their ideology. Yet political, economic and military demands and rivalry between the two required invading other countries. The US tried to justify their invasions as a struggle of the spread of communism and war on terrorism. US politicians always tried to deny that US policy often has imperial character. For the Soviet Union and Russia, the invader denial is a unique experience. The invasions were almost always officially denied, conducted in a secretive way using various cunning methods, with less or no explanation to own people or outright lies. The term maskirovka the term for military deception has been known and used in all Soviet military conflicts since 1917. This the main difference between US and Soviet invasions. The Soviet and Russian invasions are followed by military deception and propaganda on a broad scale. The ultimate effect of this is that common Russian citizen or foreigner will question was there any invasion of all and instead will point to the full list of US invasions. Invasions that always were announced by their state leaders (with exception of CIA lead coups and guerrilla support) and reported by rivaling independent media.
To understand the phenomena of the Soviet Invasion we need to look deep into Russian history. Russia as it exists now emerged from Grand Duchy of Muscovy. Muscovy had to cope with unjust and cunning Mongol-Tatar yoke that subjected Russian city-states for many centuries. Muscovy rulers learned the Mongol ways and employed against them and finally broke free in 15th -16th century. By then a totalitarian ruler Ivan IV created the first organized Russian secret police the oprichnina. To defeat his enemies the Tatars of Kazan and Livonian Order he used guile in diplomacy and deception in military affairs. What is important the deception used by oprichnina was used in state politics and military affairs. Oprichnina became an example for later Tsarist Ohrana and Soviet Cheka. When Muscovy became Russian Empire the Russian imperial invasions were undoubtedly colonial. The conquest of Siberia, Caucasus, and Central Asia was not much different from Spanish invasions in America. Then Russia turned on European neighbors, defeated Sweden and absorbed Poland-Lithuania and in various wars weakened Ottoman Empire and tried to create client states in Balkans. Yet, even with the large army and evolving tactics, Russian Empire proved vulnerable to be invaded by other countries. Two “Patriotic wars” the Napoleon invasion of 1812 and First World War was a dramatic and traumatic experience for the army and the nation. The Nazi German invasion fully realized this. Russian psychology preferred defensive war that with great sacrifice can be won as of burning the Moscow and Stalingrad. The offensive war was not preferred in open means. If Russia must attack it must on ”self-defensive” reasons or that enemy attacked first, or they were asked by locals.
The next aspect is the unique understanding of the Soviet imperialism. The people who took over Russian Empire in 1917 were revolutionaries. Often they robbed banks and killed their own comrades. Secretiveness, diversion, hidden attack and outright lies were their daily routine. What was employed underground became employed openly. The Soviet secret police the “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption” or simply Cheka was ruthless and deceptive organization. The Bolsheviks had strong disciplined enemies and the new Red Peasants and Workers army had to use the Cheka ways to overcome them. As in 1919-1920, the victory of the Bolsheviks seemed imminent the Bolsheviks turned to the realization of the Soviet Imperialism. It was called the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. The countries in Europe, Asia and even in America would be taken over by pro-Soviet rebellion either assisted by Soviet Secret Service or military. This would result in a gigantic union of Soviet States centered and ruled by Moscow. At first communist rebellion in Germany, Poland, Finland, and Hungary failed. The Cheka foreign capabilities were not so strong. Then in 1920 Red Army went on advance to Warsaw and was stopped. Next twenty years of peace were spent on creating a net of Soviet intelligence in the Western world and China in goal to destabilize the governments and their economy, while army went on modernization and reforms and purge of officers disliked by Stalin. Stalin as Lenin’s student believed Lenin’s prophecy of the “next imperial world war” that would cause a worldwide socialist revolution. At 1939 the world was on the brink of such war and to ignite it Stalin was ready to realize a risky deal with Nazi Germany on August 23 1939.
What followed was a cunning deceptive invasion in Poland, Baltic States, Romania, and Finland. However, Hitler was afraid of further Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe he wanted for himself as well he wanted the Soviet lands for his colonial desires. In 1941 the Soviet-Nazi alliance ended in German both preventive and offensive war. Stalin himself planed war with Nazi Germany as both preventive and offensive but was not ready to realize as of June 22 1941. The invasion placed USSR in a temporary block with Western countries from which it benefited greatly as of generous Land Lease program, while it was not as effective in weapon shipments, the allied help in food, ammunition, clothing was very significant that Soviet patriots wish to deny. The war cannot be won with T-34 tankman with an empty stomach and no clothing for his own.
The Cold War was the continuation of Soviet Worldwide Socialist Revolution policy. The Eastern Europe, as well as East Germany, was subjected to local communist regimes and Soviet Army occupation. The communist regimes spread to Korea, China, and Indochina. As colonial order broke up in Africa the pro-soviet regimes spread there and then in Latin America. In these events both Secret Service and Soviet Army was used. However, the Soviet government never talked them as invasions. Either they were support for communist revolutionaries, or they were suppression of Western-supported “counterrevolutions” for the interest of the countryman itself. In the practice, US did the same. The US invaded and toppled regimes considered pro-soviet. US-funded anti-communist guerrillas. Only that the invasion had taken place was not hidden and that seemed a weak point for the US as independent media and the political opposition made them problematic. USSR had no independent media and no opposition. Invasions took place, they were not announced and fully discussed. For this secretive conduct made almost universally the full list of what is an invasion and what is not is still a question of academic debate and this article presents its own list of Soviet invasions. The invasions here understood as 1) direct military invasion 2)secret proxy war as in case of Israel, Laos, Vietnam, Angola etc, 3) aggression on independence movements in Baltic States, Caucasus, and Central Asia. More than 15 countries have been invaded and violated by the Soviet Union and its heir Russian Federation since 1917. So this the list we present here.
But, what about US invasions?
After this list is read a thousand questions will pop up? A well placed in ideological training Russian patriot or supporter will find a plethora of made up reasons why these were not invasions based on cunning soviet propaganda explanations. We will discuss each of these invasions in detail and explain why these are considered invasions. In 100 years since Bolshevik coup, there are thousands of people who live in complete in denial of Soviet invasion or absence of knowledge. For then the 1939 joint invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany either did not happen or were justified. There are extremes that deny that the Soviet Union has ever invaded someone. Then there are people who justify that Russia only invaded its neighboring countries while the US invaded in every continent possible. Then again what Soviet Army was doing in Angola, Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, what its modern army is doing in Syria remains to be explained. And how can one justify and see that invading a neighboring country is alright and he tells that to people whose country was invited. A hypocrisy nonetheless.
US imperialism and its invasions is a subject that a number of books have been written. The US as anti-imperial power is prone to controversy when invading other nations. The US can be accused or conducting colonial policy on Native Americans, it waged wars on Mexico using Texas separatist movement and annexed large territories. One might compare that to Crimea, US created Monroe doctrine that was purportedly anti-colonial to resist European influence in Latin America but can also be seen as imperial conduct. The most imperialist US war was US war against Spain in 1898. Even if the anti-colonial uprising in Cuba was the pretext, the occupation of Cuba and Philippines was seen as an imperialist act by other imperial countries in Europe and saw the US as the new player. Before that US used military power to influence Japan and annexed Hawaii islands. However, with a war against Philippine insurgents and Mexico US became scared of its own imperialism. It was reluctant to join First World War, it went into isolationism afterward and only after 1945 US fully understood that has the power and responsibility to defend Capitalist world order. As it was mentioned the main reason for US invasions and interventions during Cold War was a proxy war with the Soviet Union. It is what Soviets did, but not in an open manner. The US could never hide its involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion, the US could not hide its coups in Iran in 1953 and in Chile 1973. Mass media was always present, KGB sometimes managed to leak US actions and use for their purposes.
After USSR broke down the US invasions became more complicated. Since 1990 Gulf War the wars were conducted no longer on pro-soviet regimes. The enemies became terrorist regimes and dictatorships supporting them. While the US involvement in former Yugoslavia was a spoil of Cold War as Yugoslavia after 1945 was bound together by a pro-Soviet regime that however later distanced itself from Moscow. Also, 1993 Somalia was a Cold War spoil as Soviets also tried to gain pro-soviet regime there and failed. Then came Afghanistan. 2001 invasion while a justified response to September 11 attacks was a Cold War spoil. Soviet-Afghan war had devastated the country and Soviet defeat resulted in rising of Taliban regime that supported terrorist attacks on the USA. Iraq invasion of 2003 proved to be most controversial US invasion in its history of invasion. US government failed to prove the needs and means for this invasion to the international community and while there were justified means, and even some traces of Iraq feared WMD were found not insignificant quantity tough and posed no danger. The invasion resulted in large loss of lives, ongoing internal civil war and now Iraq is on the brink of breakup and invasion from Iran and Turkey. The Iraq invasion significantly hindered the trust for US foreign policy and military. And for Russia, it meant two things: a spike in oil prices could aid to improve their military and that a hidden invasion is better than open invasion.
What invasion is worse, US or Soviet? No invasion is good. Soviet invasions are more cunning, ruthless as they are to their own soldiers and citizens. The Soviet death toll in Afghanistan was secret, the returning veterans were silent and didn’t show on TV as Iraq veterans, same is now for Russians in Eastern Ukraine. There are no official funerals, no state support, mass media produce a distorted image of the Russian invasion in Ukraine and Syria. Invasion in denial is crucial and worse action. US invasions were almost always open and that is their “weakness” as it did not try to hide their actions and were ready to openly accept that they also made errors. Accepting an error in Russian politics is the weakness.
Countries invaded by Soviet Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation
This is list containing concise detailed explanation of the invasion event, how it unfolded and why its considered invasion,
Estonia never was independent country prior to 1917. As other two Baltic countries, Entente powers considered it as an integral part of Russian Empire. But, the empire was no more and national elites in 1917 formed Estonian Provisional Assembly, however first clashes erupted in the Estonian capital Tallinn between national forces and Bolsheviks. Bolsheviks dissolved the assembly. However, German Imperial army a few months later marched in Tallinn and chased Bolsheviks away. This prompted the Estonian politicians on February 24 1918 to declare independence that was not recognized by Germany. Germany signed the peace agreement with Bolsheviks gaining control over Estonia. On November 11 1918 Germany capitulated to the Entente. Bolsheviks now disregarded the peace agreement and in November invaded Estonia where the new Estonian Provisional government was in charge. Red Army made advances and captured Narva, Tartu, Valga and Pärnu and encircled outnumbered Estonia national forces along Tallinn. Estonian army received support from Finland and British Royal Army with arms shipments and naval fire support. In early 1919 Estonia started a counter offensive and pushed Bolsheviks back on all fronts. In the Spring of 1919 Estonians had routed Bolsheviks within Northern Latvian territory, in late 1919 they finally regained Narva and went beyond the river. In February 2 1920 in Tartu Estonia signed Peace Agreement with Soviet Russia and gained a strategic strip to the east of the Narva river (Narvataguse) and Setumaa in the southeast, areas which were lost in early 1945 – shortly after Soviet troops had taken control of Estonia also Petseri in the south of Lake Peipus where lost.
Latvia declared independence on November 18 1918. As Estonia, Latvians had no state experience, but its national democratic elites had no plans of being in Soviet Russia. Soviets invaded in December 1918. Latvian Provisional Government had a small national force and its allies were German Landeswehr and Allied Navy, After the defeat at the Battle of Inčukalns the Latvian-German forces retreated to the west of river Venta in Western Latvia. In spring allied forces started an offensive and marched to Rīga on May 22. Latvian-Estonian forces entered war with each other afterward, but the Bolsheviks were hopelessly chased in to Eastern Latgale, where their power vegetated until early late 1919 when Latvian national forces finally defeated German-White Russian allied forces. Then Latvian-Polish forces liberated Eastern Latvia and peace agreement was signed in August 11 1920. Latvia gained strategically important Abrene (Pitalovo) border area, that was taken away in 1945 similar to Estonian border areas.
Lithuania had its shares of wars with Muscovy and Russian empire in past when it was Great Duchy of Lithuania and Polish Commonwealth. Lithuania declared independence on February 16 1918 while it was occupied by German Empire. Bolsheviks seized power in Vilnius on December 8 1918 and their army advanced towards Šiaulai. Bolsheviks faced joint Lithuanian-German forces and failed to advance on second largest city Kaunas. In series of battles Lithuania pushed back Bolsheviks to eastern Latvia and Belarus and signed the peace agreement on July 12 1920. However, Lithuania entered conflict with Poland over control Vilnius that was seized by Poland and eventually granted to them after Polish-Soviet Peace Treaty on March 18 1921.
Finland had special autonomy rights in Russian Empire. It was also used as a refuge by Bolsheviks in various cases from Tsarist repressions and Bolshevik supporters. The war in Finland in 1918 is called Civil War but it also involved Red Army, the German army, and volunteers from other nearby countries. A Large part of the Finish Bolsheviks were Russian army servicemen stationed there that became Bolsheviks. Stalin and Lenin urged the Finnish Bolsheviks to seize power in Finland. While Finnish nationalists received support from Germany. In December 6 1917 Finland declared independence and on early January the Whites and Reds have begun clashes. Red Army supported offensive took place in February and Reds seized control over Helsinki and much of Southern Finland. With help from German troops, Finnish national troops or Whites step by step pushed the Reds away to Karelia and reached the outskirts of Petrograd (St.Petersburg). The peace agreement between Reds and Whites and Soviet Russia was never signed, however Tartu treaty that set border between Finland and Soviet union on 1924 was is considered by some sources as peace agreement. Bolsheviks embattled in various front could not contribute force to Finland so until 1940 they had to cope with Finish border so close to Leningrad.
Poland the main Russian rival for centuries was finally subdued to Russia in 1796. Various attempts of uprising took place. Polish duchy supported Napoleon but until 1918 November 11 Poland could not break free. What followed was a major Polish Independence war and Polish push to the east. Poland sought to restore Polish power over Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, while these countries wanted their own independence and Bolsheviks were pushing west. Polish armies clashed with Bolsheviks in Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania. In their tide of success Polish army in alliance with Ukrainian national forces, Poland captured Kyiv and moved east. As Bolsheviks defeated White Russian soldiers they had now massive forces free for an advance on Ukraine and Poland. In Spring of 1920 Bolsheviks started an offensive and chased Poles and Ukrainians from Kyiv and Belarus and on August 10 stood at the gates of Warsaw. Some historians consider the Battle of Warsaw as modern-day Battle of Vienna 1683 when Polish forces halted Ottoman advance to inner Europe. Here again, Polish army managed to stop Bolshevik advance in a major battle. Bolsheviks made no secret that after Warsaw they would advance to Berlin and beyond. Polish defeat would also endanger the Baltic peace agreements. In the end, Poland gained a large portion of Western Belarus and Ukraine and Eastern Lithuania. The peace treaty of Riga in 1921 also sealed the hopes for Belarus and Ukraine.
No other new national state was in such disadvantageous position as Belarusian Peoples Republic. Declared on March 18 1918 it faced Bolsheviks from the East and Poland from the West and wary neighbors in Lithuania and Latvia. For most time of its existence, the Belarusian government was not located into Belarus itself. Its armed forces were small, unable to withstand Bolshevik advances. Also, Poland did not provide support as Belarus became a battleground between Poland and Soviet Russia. In the outcome, Belarus was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia. Afraid of Belarusian nationalism, Bolsheviks created Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic that eventually in 1991 emerged as of the sovereign Republic of Belarus. Its full independence from Russia yet remains an issue of how much is independent on paper and reality.
Ukraine was a battleground between Ukrainian Peoples Republic, Poland, White Guards, Bolsheviks and the Anarchist movement. Ukrainian main issue was Poland and their own disunity as the state experienced a coup. First clashes begun in late 1917 and Kyiv fell and was retaken many times. Finally, Ukraine entered an alliance with Poland and after Bolshevik advance in 1920 its army was routed. Poland and Soviet Russia divided Ukraine in two. The artificial famine 1932-1933 can also be considered as aggression towards Ukrainian people.
Georgia became independent in 1917 from Russia and entered the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic only to leave it a month later. The Georgian Democratic Republic was established and as Bolsheviks were engaged in chasing White Guards away and sought control over North Caucasus the Georgian state existed. But, it was not meant to last. In Bolshevik elite, there were many Georgians including Stalin who wanted to gain control. Soviet Russia was supported by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk who accepted Soviet invasion and first Soviets marched into Azerbaijan in April 1920. In May Bolsheviks tried to seize power in Tbilisi but failed. The Soviet advance was foiled and Lenin started peace negotiations that on May 7, 1920, concluded in Soviet recognition of Georgia as an independent republic and nonaggression pact was signed. Stalin and Grigol Ordzhonikidze the two leading Georgian Bolsheviks were displeased. The Georgian government was Mensheviks or Social Democrats the oldest of Bolshevik enemies and Bolsheviks feared that Georgia will be used by Western armies as the bridgehead for invasion n Caucasus. When last White Guards forces were defeated, Poland had made peace and British forces had left Georgia in 1921 the invasion was begun. At first, Bolsheviks attacked border posts in ethnic Armenian and Ossetian areas obviously trying to stir up national tensions. Ethnic clashes started. A rival socialist government was set up and Lenin was forced by Stalin and Ordzhonikidze to allow the full-scale invasion to “support local uprising”. On 16 February Red Army marched to Tbilisi or Tiflis that was captured on August 25. Remaining Georgian units escaped to Kutaisi and where eventually destroyed and also attacked by the Turkish army. Turkey seized Batumi but eventually was forced to give it up to Soviets. No support from West ever came. Georgia was annexed by Soviet Russia and the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Azerbaijan declared independence on May 28 1918. It was independent until 1920 when Vladimir Lenin acknowledged that the Soviet Union desperately need oil from Caucasus. The invasion was carried out on April 28 1920. Bolshevik agents instigated workers riots and invasion was done swiftly overthrowing Azeri government. Contrary to Georgia, Azeri forces were unable to show much resistance.
The Armenian nation was in a perilous situation. It had faced atrocious Turkish occupation that turned into genocide. Independence was declared on May 30 1918 and faced resistance from Turkey. Also, it was involved in conflict both with Georgia and Azerbaijan. Turkey invaded on September 20 1920. Turkey secured the alliance with Soviet Russia. On November 20 1920 after staged Bolshevik uprising, Red Army captured Yerevan and Armenian ethnic lands were divided between Soviet Russia and Turkey, also giving Armenian lands to Azeri Soviet Socialist Republic causing root for major conflict many decades later.
Known also as Bessarabia Moldova was a borderland between Russian Empire and Romania. Its major language was Romanian, however being part of Russia for a long time its people gained Moldovan national identity. In First World War Romania was allied with Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Central powers invaded Romania and Russia was forced to sent troops to assist Romanians. When Russia broke up in December 1917 Moldavian Democratic Republic was proclaimed. The country was ravaged by deserting Russian soldiers and eventually became prone to Bolshevik revolt. Battles between Moldovans, Bolsheviks, and deserters ended when in January Romanian army entered and chased the Bolsheviks away. Moldova united with Romania was part of till 1940.
Central Asia 1918
Within Central Asia or Middle Asia as known in Russia was a subject of conflict between various new states, Bolsheviks, and warlords. Bolsheviks faced Alash Autonomy, Emirate of Bukhara, Khanate of Khiva. Last two formally existed within Russian empire before the revolution and were liquidated by Bolsheviks, The main enemy were Basmachi rebels, various Muslim traditionalist emirs, and warlords who opposed Bolsheviks. Battles took place in various places in Central Asia and continued well into 1926. Last Basmachi rebels retreated to Afghanistan and conducted raids. Sometimes Soviet forces even entered Afghanistan when chased the Basmachi raiders. Eventually, the Central Asia was pacified and split into Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Turkmen Socialist Soviet Republics.
Since the breakup of Chinese Empire, it was a question who would control Mongolia – a large borderland between Russia and China. During the civil war, it was taken over by eccentric Russian White Guard warlord Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg. In 1921 Soviets started invasion to remove Baron from power and establish control over Mongolia. In the end, Baron was captured and placed on show trial and executed. Soviet troops stayed in Mongolia until 1924 and established a loyal government. Later Soviets established an air base in the country.
Georgians had not forgotten the Soviet invasion in 1920. Communist power was not popular, Mensheviks the leaders of independent Georgia were still in favor. Moscow was aware of this and tried to suppress the national movement. In 1922 all three Caucasian republics were united into one Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic in attempt to centralize the power within republics. Unification was followed by repressions against opposition and Georgian Orthodox Church. Georgian nationalists, ex Georgian army soldiers started underground activities and prepared to uprise. Soviet secret police were apparently aware of this as they had arrested some members and learned of their plans but decided to wait. The Cheka wanted to provoke Georgians into uprising so they can be crushed with ease. Uprising begun on August 18 1924 and Soviets were aware. However, an Interim government was created and lead by Prince Giorgi Tsereteli. Soviets firmly defeated the uprising in central Georgia and the rest of insurgents in the east. In the end, all the remaining leaders were arrested. Approximately 3,000 died in the fighting. The number of those who were executed during the uprising or in its immediate aftermath amounted to 7,000–10,000. 20,000 were deported to Central Asia and Siberia.
On early morning of December 1 1924 the cold Tallinn streets went on fire. Group or armed men attacked Estonian military colleague dorms, but was defeated. Other armed men attacked Toompea Castle where Estonian government offices were located. Third attackers failed to capture Estonian State Elder Friedrich Akel. Attackers managed to capture military airfield and barracks, however, Estonian army sent reinforcements and pushed away from the attackers. Insurgents captured railway station and tried to seize post office. However, the coup attempt by Estonian communist party aided by Soviet intelligence failed. Among the attackers, large numbers were Soviet citizens who had illegally crossed the border. Should the coup proved to be successful in its initial stages, Red Army could come in aid and invade the country. However, despite direct Soviet support the uprising by local communists utterly failed. On 23 October 1923 Soviets also tried to instigate a communist uprising in Hamburg, Germany that also was quickly defeated. Soviet intelligence and political leadership understood that such instigated uprisings no longer work and more grand designs are needed to achieve a communist revolution in Europe. Thus Soviets started to improve its army and start constructive diplomatic relations with Germany.
Soviet involvement in Afghan civil war is less known. In 1921 Soviet Union and Afghanistan signed Treaty of Friendship. Afghans needed to fend off British after long wars with them. Amānullāh Khān the king of Afghanistan was one of the unlucky rulers who did the most dangerous thing in Afghanistan – make grand reforms. In 1929 conservative Tajik tribes deposed him. Stalin ordered an invasion of 1000 men dressed in tribal clothes to save the king. Tribal soviets captured Mazar I Sharif, however, the king left the country and Stalin ordered to withdraw troops.
Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911 Bolsheviks saw China as the next ideal place for communist revolutions. It was in many ways similar to Tsarist Russia. Grand issues in modernization, a large portion of poor workers and peasants and plus foreign colonial oppression. The Communist movement emerged before October coup, but after all, Siberia became fully over Soviet power, Moscow now started gamble for a communist revolution in China. However, at first, the Nationalists had established rather firm power over China. In the 1929 Republic of China took over the Chinese Eastern Railway that was jointly operated by China and the Soviet Union. Over the time both sides had disagreements over the use of railway that stretched across Manchuria. In 1929 Chinese government took over the railway and seized Soviet consulate in Harbin. Soviets responded with power demonstration, by aiming their gunship cannons at the Manchuria port cities and making low flybys. The Special Red Banner Far Eastern Army was formed and a large number of troops were mobilized. First major battle on August 17 1929 ended in Soviet defeat. Then in October and November assisted by navy Soviets overcome the Chinese resistance with great loss of civilian lives. During the invasion, soviets used deceptive radio messages and leaflets to confuse and demoralize the Chinese army. This was the first major Soviet armed conflict where tanks, aviation, and special forces were used. The reformed Red Army went its first test. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria. Red Army stood aside as Japanese army seemed too strong. In 1935 Soviets could no longer control the railway and had to sell it.
The 1937-1938 repressions did a major harm on Red Army. The core of the command now was scared officers thankful that Stalin had spared them yet still they jumped their beds seeing black van passing their home windows. As world war was approaching the desperate Red Army commanders were eager to prove their reliability to relentless Stalin. It was Japan that gave them such opportunity in 1938. In 1931 Japan invaded China. The Soviet Union stood aside and watched as the old enemies who defeated Russian Empire in 1904-1905 were once again on the imperial drive. Border violations and incidents started in 1931. Violations turned into direct battles involving Soviet and Mongolian troops in 1935 and small skirmishes resulting casualties took place also involving Soviet navy. Then in 1938 first major Battle of Lake Khasan on July 29-August 11 took place. It was caused by NKVD border guard attempt to enter the area around Lake Khasan and disputed Changkufeng Heights. Japanese were aware of this as they decoded the message of the given order. Encouraged by Soviet defector general from NKVD who informed Japanese of the poor state of Soviet army and NKVD in the area, Japanese decided to strike Soviets and prove a lesson. Battle ended in stalemate. 792 killed or missing and 3,279 wounded for the Soviets, 526 killed or missing, 913 wounded for Japanese. The next major battle erupted on May 11 1939 on Mongolian-Japan frontier. What became known as Battle of Khalkhin Gol lasted until September 15 1938 and Soviets achieved major victory defeating Japanese forces. It was the first major battle for Red Army facing equal strength enemy with tanks and air force. Also, this was first combat victory for Georgy Zhukov, however, he is was not solely responsible for victory as Grigory Stern and Yakov Smushkevich were by his side and were instrumental in victory. Both of them were executed on October 28 1941 in a new purge. Since Zhukov was spared the Soviet historiography attributed all victory wreaths to him. Japan had 8,440 killed, 8,766 wounded, 162 aircraft lost in combat, and 42 tanks lost, Soviets had 9,703 killed and missing (6,472 killed and died of wounds during the evacuation, 1,152 died of wounds in hospitals, 8 died of disease, 2,028 missing, Plus 500-900 Mongolians fell in battle. Japanese military leadership understood its in no position to openly challenge Red Army. Nonaggression agreement was signed and stayed in power until 1945.
The long-awaited opportunity for a major conflict in Europe that USSR could use for its own advantage came in August 1939. The Soviet Union stood aside from while Germany occupied and annexed Czechoslovakia. Hitler for years hoped for joint German-Polish alliance against the Soviet Union. Instead, Poland rejected all Hitler’s proposals and then demands, Hitler then made fateful decision to attack Poland in what he saw as limited conflict. Stalin meanwhile perfectly understood what the war in Poland means. While UK and France gave unreasonable guarantees to Poland, Stalin made moves that made the UK and French and Soviet alliance impossible, alienated Poland and the isolated Baltic States. Then the time came and nonaggression pact was signed with Nazi Germany, Poland was again secretly divided in two. What Lenin gifted to Poland in 1921 now had to be taken back. On September 1 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. On September 3 to Hitler’s shock and anger and Stalin’s delight, the UK and France had declared war on Germany. German advance in Poland was swift but not swift enough, it was autumn and German tanks feared to be stuck in rain and mud. German generals demanded Soviets to attack immediately. Yet Soviets waited when Poland would be utterly beaten. Also, there was an ongoing battle with Japan in the Far East. In September 16 the Japanese were beaten. Now was time to attack. While Poles were still defending Warsaw, Soviets sent arrogant and cynical notice to Polish ambassador that Polish government in Warsaw no longer exists and all nonaggression agreements are no longer in place. As Poland has disintegrated its territory holds danger to USSR security and it can no longer be neutral. On September 17 all Eastern Poland was fully under Polish government control, any danger to USSR was an outright lie. The Polish army was still large in force and could resist for months. The Soviet invasion was a stab in the back, a breach of Polish-Soviet nonaggression pact also de facto Soviet Union became an ally of Nazi Germany. In pretext to defend Ukrainians and Belarusians of the east Poland Soviets marched in. While there were small portions of communist support in Eastern Poland, there was also a high degree of Ukrainian and Belarusian nationalism that did not greet Soviets with open arms. Polish army fought Soviets and gained a small victory in Battle of Szack. In Brest Soviets and Nazis held a joint parade. The images of the parade and Nazi and Soviet Generals celebrating victory are widely available and are a scourge for Soviet patriots. The NKVD and Gestapo held common meetings. Months later Soviets began mass deportations of Poles trapped in occupied eastern Poland. The joint Soviet-Nazi invasion of Poland is such a shame, a hot potato for Russian politicians hat Russian politicians and spokespersons goes from outright denial to outright lies about this event. Yet, it was the situation understood by all by that time that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany from September 17 till August 22 1941 were in undeclared, but functioning political and military alliance.
The secret protocols of the Nazi-Soviet aggression pact not only divided Poland it also added Baltic States, Finland and part of Romania into “Soviet sphere of interest”. To what this term means, Germans and Soviets had different understandings. For Stalin, it meant that these states should submit willingly into becoming a Soviet client state and then become annexed. The Germans accepted the first part but as in case of the Baltic States that will be discussed later, they did not understand the annexation part. Neither they, neither international community understood the reasons for Soviet invasion in Finland. As mentioned the Finish civil war with Soviet Russia involved directly no formal peace agreement was signed. In 1920 Finland signed an agreement with Soviet Russia that re-affirmed its borders with the Soviet Union and also Finland gained Petsamo port – ice-free port to Arctic island. Nonaggression pact was signed in 1932 and then again in 1934. In 1938 Soviet Union started to issue first demands to Finland which at first included on giving some islands and free entry in case of Nazi-Soviet Wars. Finland was firmly against and declared any incursion and territorial demand would mean war. The German-Nazi pact assured that Finland is a Soviet sphere and on October 5 1939 Finland was invited for talks. During these talks, Finland received inconceivable demands: the border between the USSR and Finland on the Karelian Isthmus be moved westward to a point only 30 km (19 mi) east of Viipuri and that the Finns destroy all existing fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus. They also demanded the cession of islands in the Gulf of Finland as well as the Kalastajansaarento Peninsula. Furthermore, the Finns would have to lease the Hanko Peninsula for thirty years and permit the Soviets to establish a military base there. In exchange, the Soviet Union would cede two municipalities with twice the territory demanded from Finland. Accepting such “proposal” would mean that Finland would give up its defense in Karelia. Should USSR decide attack in later time the Finland would be exposed. Plus these lands in demand were economically important.
On November 26 1939 Soviet border post at Mainila was shelled by unknown artillery. As multiple Russian and Finnish historians have proven the attack was done by NKVD artillery unit that destroyed own border post and border guards. On November 30 the attack was begun. According to some sources, Soviets had underestimated Finnish resistance. A unit with a placard saying “Finnish people greet Soviet liberators from fascists” was instantly gunned down as its marched towards Mannerheim line. Attack was made in massive offensive scale and also included air raids on Helsinki and other major cities. The international reaction was overall condemnation and first Soviet invasion that received such negative reaction. USSR was excluded from the League of Nations and politicians in UK and France seriously considered declaring war on the Soviet Union. Soviet Blitzkrieg, however, became stuck in the snow as Finnish army despite being outnumbered and badly equipped comparing to Red Army gave stiff resistance. Mannerheim line – a large complex of trenches, bunkers, and dugouts proved to be a hard nut in the winter conditions. Finnish population was in overall support of resistance, the fake puppet government made in Moscow had no credibility. Eventually, the Mannerheim line and other fronts in Karelia and Lapland were breached by Soviet forces. However, it was March 5 1940. Soviets had to choose between long destructive war for every village and city in large and wide areas of Finland. All this time with great causalities were spent in fighting in border areas. Meanwhile, the promised Franco-British military expedition was canceled as Nazi Germany had invaded Norway. Finland would ultimately crumble in a long war so the offer of the peace treaty was the best thing invader could offer now as it was exhausted itself. The Peace terms were harsh: Finland was forced to cede nearly all of Finnish Karelia (with Finland’s industrial center, including Vyborg/Viipuri, Finland’s second largest city, Käkisalmi, Sortavala, and Suojärvi and the whole of Viipuri bay with its islands; in total, nearly 10% of the territory), even though large parts were still held by Finland’s army. Military troops and remaining civilians were hastily evacuated to inside the new border. 422,000 Karelians, 12% of Finland’s population, lost their homes. Finland also had to cede a part of the Salla area, the Finnish part of the Kalastajansaarento (Rybachi) peninsula in the Barents Sea, and in the Gulf of Finland the islands of Suursaari, Tytärsaari, Lavansaari (now Moshchny Island о. Мощный), Peninsaari (now Maly Island, о. Малый) and Seiskari. Finally, the Hanko Peninsulawas leased to the Soviet Union as a naval base for 30 years at an annual rent of 8 million marks.
For both sides, this was a Pyrrhic victory. The Soviet Union at the great expense had taken industrial centers and important naval points. Finland had lost a large part of its territory that had to be sacrificed to keep the rest of the country independent. No allied support meant that Finland moved towards Nazi Germany. Eventually, Finland became part of Nazi invasion in the Soviet Union. However, there are details about the beginning of the Continuation War. Soviets attacked first. Finland did not allow German army and navy attack Soviets from Finnish soil. Attacks came from the sea and occupied Norway. Then in June 25 1941 460 Soviet airplanes attacked 19 airfields in Finland and also bombed civilian objects. While Soviets claimed the attacks were made on German objects, the attacks were made on Finnish military objects and units across the border. Finnish government declared a defensive war. This Soviet action was blunt shot in the knee that contributed to the 900-day blockade of Leningrad as Finnish army advanced back into Karelia and reached Lake Ladoga. As Germans encircled the Leningrad from other side and Finnish army standing on its outskirts the blockade was in place. Finnish army never intended to attack Leningrad or move further than its former territories and Germans could not force them to. Eventually in 1944 Soviets moved back and regained Karelian isthmus and also the Petsamo port. Finland again had to cede these lands to Soviets. But, it was spared the fate of other Nazi Germany allies. It was not occupied, it was not taken over by the communist government. While its foreign policy aligned to the Soviet Union till 1991 Finland preserved itself and later entered the European Union as a prosperous country. However, as strategical balance in Baltic region is changing to Russian favor threatening the Baltic States and Scandinavia the question remains how long Finland will keep its neutrality.
After signing nonaggression pact with Germany Stalin was determined to regain control over the Baltic States. The Baltic States as after August 23 1939 has entered the state of international isolation. As support from UK and France faded away, these two countries had hard choice between becoming client states of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or fight an uneven war with them. Also, the Baltic States were vulnerable as there was no functioning joint military alliance between the three states and all three made foreign policy decisions on their own. Soviet Union had concluded its operations in Poland. Now it was time to place pressure on Estonia. As in each case of three states, Stalin made a provocative event as an argument for signing an agreement that would severely limit their sovereignty. For Estonia, it was an escape of Polish submarine ORP Orzeł that managed escape the Polish waters, while suffering damage from mines, on 14 September submarine docked at Tallinn. Hague convention of 1907 allowed combating warships to use neutral waters. Germany had signed this convention, but now placed pressure on Estonia and initially welcoming Estonians now attempted to intern the Polish crewmen and remove the torpedoes.
Poles prevented that and on September 18 made a daring escape from Tallinn and managed to reach British allies and join the Royal Navy. This event was used by Stalin and Molotov as the precedent that Estonia is unable to provide its own security and is not, therefore, poses danger to the Soviet Union. In so Stalin demanded Estonians to open their borders and allow Soviets to establish Naval bases and hold aviation units. During the rough negotiations, Soviet Foreign commissary Molotov known for his explicit use of words said such phrase: “20 years ago you forced us to sit in the puddle of Finland. Do you think this will last forever? Back then the Soviet Union was weak. Now its a major power that needs to be taken to an account. I ask you not to use force against Estonia!” And this threat was not without backing as 17 Soviet divisions 10% of all Red Army forces were gathered near Estonian-Latvian borders and mobilization was issued in Leningrad Military District. 8th and 7th army were sent to Pskov. These talks took place on September 24 and Estonian foreign minister Karl Selter refused to sign any paper before consultations with own government. Estonian army command sent an envoy to Germany to ask for guarantees that Germany would allow weapon shipments from West to Estonia. The answer was no. It was clear that Germany would not support Estonia nor allow to support it. Also, Finland gave no clear support as it was under Soviet threat itself. President of Estonia Konstantin Pats concluded: “To refuse the Soviet proposal would mean sending entire Estonian nation to death. We have no resources to resist endless enemy forces. We are left alone with no support from rest of the world”. Also, Germany sent word that Estonia must agree to Soviet demands. The talks were made on September 28 and Estonia submitted and Mutual assistance pact was made, Stalin cheerfully reminded Estonians that they made a wise choice for they could face the same fate as Poland. “Where is Poland now?” Meanwhile, Molotov called general Kliment Voroshilov commissar of defense to call off the attack.
Estonia made a precedent to other two Baltic States. If Estonia would choose to resist, most probably Latvia and Lithuania would join the war and they probably would be attacked by Soviets first. After Estonia submitted separate talks was made with Latvia and Lithuania with similar threats. Baltic security was dropped one by one like domino bricks starting from Estonia. From September 28 to the summer of 1940 Estonia entered a state of partial occupation. There was a significant Soviet force within the country, while the official government was in power. Estonian only hope that war in Europe would end soon and Soviets would remove their bases as promised. In summer of 1940, Nazi Germany made a swift advance to France. Soviets were alarmed by unprecedented speed of the Nazi attack. Soviets decided to quickly take over the Baltic States to create a new border with Germany and gather their forces at German footsteps. On July 4-7 Soviets issued combat alert in Leningrad and Kalinin military districts and issued new mobilization. 1st motorized, 17th and 84th, 39h and 55th light tank division and 128th motorized division were called. Directive Nr. 02622 was issued to Red Banner Baltic Navy to conduct naval blockade of the Baltic ports as well as the areal blockade. The blockade started on June 14. In June 15 Soviet aviation shot down Estonian passenger plane Ju52 Kaleva on the way to Helsinki killing 9 people including French diplomatic couriers. On June 16 Estonia received ultimatum accusing Estonia of creating an anti-soviet alliance and demanded unlimited Red army entry into the country. Only 8 hours was given to respond. Estonia again decided not to resist. 6 divisions and 1 tank brigade entered Estonia. Baltic navy made troops landings. Estonian government resigned but continued work until new one is formed. Authoritarian president Konstant Pats remained. Then in June 21 in Tallinn Soviets staged a demonstration in Freedom Square demanding to change the government, 4 to 5 thousand people one part of the Red Army soldiers in civilian clothes started riots, attacked Central Prison and took over Tompeo palace and radio station. Estonian flag was lowered down and replaced with Red banner. A new puppet government was created and lead by writer Johannes Vares Barbarus. Estonian president was under house arrest but continued to sign all the laws made by the puppet government. In 14-15 July “elections” were held with just one Worker and Peasants list. The alternative voting list was rejected. The next day the “result” was announced of 92% support for the sole communist list. And these results were announced hours before to foreign press before announced in Estonia itself. On July 21 new “parliament” announced the proclamation of Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and intention to join the Soviet Union. On August 5 1940 Estonian delegation came to Moscow and Stalin accepted Estonian entry into the Soviet Union. “Voluntary incorporation” followed by Red terror, nationalization, and finalized by mass deportation to Siberia on June 14 1941.
Was it worth to not resist and submit to Soviet occupation? No one could have known that just a few months later on June 22 1941 Nazi Germany would invade and create massive damage and loss of life for all three Baltic States. The damage done by attacking Soviet forces in 1939 or 1940 could not have been any worse than the damage done by Nazis. While the issue of not resisting creates a pretext for Russian politicians and historians to conduct that Baltic occupation did not take place as there was no armed conflict. They also try to prove that annexation was voluntary. This seems true if omitting all the facts from this event as it is a common practice for Soviet-Russians historians and politicians. While France fell to Nazi troops the Baltic occupation was rather unnoticed. The Only US gave strong protest against the occupation and did not recognize the changes made by Soviets. An Even limited act of resistance could have null and void all Soviet claims of voluntary annexation for years to come. Tragic but honorable defeat is better than shameful capitation.
Estonia serves as a placeholder to almost identical events in Latvia during 1939-1940. Soviets already started gathering troops along Latvian border in size exceeding Latvian armed forces in August 1939. 200 000 Red Army soldiers, tanks and aviation were gathered to counter 18 389 sized Latvian forces. In September 28 Estonia signed mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union. Estonian foreign minister returned from Moscow trough Riga and did not bother to inform Latvian colleges. On October 5 Latvian foreign minister Vilhelms Munters was called to sign a similar agreement. Stalin made himself clear that in case of not signing the pact, Soviets will attack and occupy Latvia. Latvian authoritarian president Kārlis Ulmanis made himself clear: “Any military resistance to Russians is impossible. Our defense system from the very first days is based on two days of resistance until we receive support from League of Nations or friendly nations. Now there is no such hope. League of Nations is powerless. Poland is defeated, traffic to UK and France is halted. Estonia has already signed the agreement. There is no doubt we must sign it also”. 25 000 Soviet soldiers entered Latvia, As in Estonia the Ulmanis government remained in power until June 17 1940.
In June 1940 Soviets gathered 50 000, troops with 8000 canons, 3000 tanks un 2600 airplanes. On June 8 combat alert was issued. Soviet radio forces were placed on alert waiting for attack signal. Leaflets were spread on border areas announcing that Soviet soldiers have come to defend Baltic States independence and free them from yoke of capitalists and barons. On the night of June 15 Soviet NKVD forces assaulted two Latvian border posts killing 3 border guards and 2 civilians including a small boy. 9 people were taken, hostage. These were the only shots by Latvian soldiers in defense of independence. Also, Latvian civilian Dmitrijs Maslovs was arrested by NKVD and accused of being Latvian spy and later executed. On June 16 Latvia received ultimatum. Soviets had done the same to Estonia and Lithuania was already occupied. Ulmanis asked German help to make corridor in Memel (Klaipēda) for Latvian government and army to evacuate to Germany. The plea was rejected. Seeing no other option Ulmanis agreed to an ultimatum. 90 000 Soviets troops entered Latvia.
Kārlis Ulmanis despite aware that country is in full control by Red army tried to cheer up its people by saying on the radio: “I shall remain in my place you remain in yours”. On June 20 a new government of Latvian collaborators was formed and lead by biologist Aleksandrs Kirhenšteins. Occupation was accompanied by staged demonstrations and even bloody riots. On June 21 the puppet government had announced the fall of the old order and promised to preserve Latvian independence and fulfill good relations with USSR. As same as in Estonia on 14-15 July “elections” with single Workers and Peasants list was made, alternative election list was suppressed. Results were announced internationally before they were known in Latvia. On July 21 the new “parliament” announced that Latvia must join the Soviet Union. In August 5 Latvia was annexed. Molotov announced that the Soviet Union had regained land that Western powers had taken away from them in 1919-1940.
Lithuanian experience of Soviet invasion and occupation was very similar, however, it had its own distinctions. First the nonaggression pact of August 23 1939 added Lithuania to German sphere of interest. This was changed in a new agreement in September Lithuania was given to Soviet side. This was vital as Soviets planned to an invasion in the Baltic States and to gain support from Lithuanians they wished to add Vilnius city and region to Lithuania. Vilnius was claimed by Lithuania as a capital city, however during the wars of 1918-1920 Poland had taken for themselves and it was internationally accepted as Polish territory. Lithuania for most of the time between the wars in conflict with Poland albeit silent. Red Army had captured Vilnius in its invasion of Poland. On October 10 1939 Soviets forced Lithuania to sign mutual assistance pact that permitted Soviet bases in Lithuania in exchange for Lithuania acquisition of Vilnius. On October 28 Lithuania took over the city and held a parade. This was taken by great joy from Lithuanian patriots, while Soviet propaganda made bombastic statements of valiant Soviet gift to Lithuanian people.
Lithuanians had only a few months to enjoy their “gift”. On May 25 1940 Lithuania was accused of kidnapping and killing Soviet soldiers stationed in the country. No proof was found by Lithuanians themselves. The Soviet soldiers often left their garrison in search for booze and prostitutes and got lost. Lithuanian ministers were called to Moscow three times and given various accusations, but no demands. On June 14 Lithuania received ultimatum that accused Lithuanians of mistreating Soviet garrisons and planning to attack them. Initially, Lithuanian government in months before wanted to resist Red Army and evacuate to Germany. However, no mobilization was made. When the dark hour came Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona expressed a view that Lithuania must show symbolic resistance to display Soviet aggressive nature and aims. The government was against as well the military leadership. While Antanas Smetonas was an authoritarian leader, his authority was rather weaker than in his counterparts in Estonia and Latvia. His government had many members who wanted to get rid of him and hoped that Soviet invasion would mean possibilities for them. That country would be annexed was not anticipated. Smetona was sent to vacation, however, the conspirers suffered an instant blow as Soviets refused to form a new government with their representatives and is in case of two other countries required their own emissaries. 150 000 Soviet troops along with 20 000 already inside faced 15-20 000 Lithuanian troops. Soviets opened fire by attacking Lithuanian border posts and killed Lithuanian policeman Aleksas Baranauskas. Lithuania accepted the ultimatum and Red Army marched in. Betrayed Lithuanian president Smetonas with his family escaped to East Prussia. Germany did not hand him to Soviets and he moved to the US where he died in 1944 in the house fire.
What followed was similar what happened in Estonia and Latvia. A puppet government was formed. Single list elections were made and new “parliament” announced the will to join the Soviet Union. What is worth to note was Nazi German extraordinary reaction to Baltic occupation. The officially German foreign ministry sent messages of concern and misunderstanding of the Soviet actions. The Baltic States was still an independent trade partner for isolated Germany. And then just as Hitler had concentrated the bulk of his forces in France, he suddenly had a massive amount of Soviet divisions at the doorstep of East Prussia, that only had few German divisions guarding the previously unimportant Baltic border. Nazis who had invaded and annexed many countries before now was deeply concerned over invasion in the Baltic States and started to doubt the Soviet peaceful intentions towards them.
It was very well known that German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop during talks with Stalin and Molotov was on the weak spot and to convince Stalin of signing this pact he had to place a greater bargain. As much as weak he was with Russian vodka the weak he was with understanding the price of his bargains. Finland, Baltic States was pricey “product” enough. But, then he did not know yet how important is seemingly poor and insignificant Bessarabia the Romanian borderland also known as Moldova. Former Russian Imperial province was given away to Romania in 1920. As in case of Baltic States, the hapless Germans did not expect that Soviets will actually annex this land. In the spring of 1940 Red Army units in Odessa military district were on combat alert. 32 infantry divisions, 2 motorized infantry divisions, 6 cavalry divisions, 11 tank brigades, 3 paratrooper brigades, 30 artillery regiments, and smaller auxiliary units were gathered in Southern Front. On June 26 1940 Soviets issued an ultimatum to Romania demanding to remove all Romanian army units from Besserabia and Northern Bukovina. Germans were informed about intentions of this invasion on June 24 and only expressed concern over fate of ethnic Germans living there. Meanwhile, Soviets falsely claimed that Bessarabia has Ukrainian majority that needs to be united in a similar manner as Western Ukraine. Romanian King Carol II wanted to resist Soviets, his government was against. Part of the concern was also Hungarian claims on Transylvania that Hungary might take by force while Romanians are fighting Soviets in the east, As well as the Germans had unusual relations with Soviets, they were generally against the invasion but was not position to start a war with Stalin right away. On June 28 Romania submitted and Soviets not only occupied Bessarabia but also Hertza Region part of pre-WWI Romania. Hence Northern Bukovina was also not part of the Soviet sphere of interest. Occupied lands were divided between Ukrainian SSR and new Moldovan SSR was created.
The political and military leadership of Nazi Germany was angry. Romania was sole oil supplier for Nazi Germany. Now at its doorstep, an enormous Soviet divisions were ready to capture Roman oil fields. Probably for this reason before June 22 1941 Red Army had large concentration of divisions on tanks in occupied Bessarabia as a constant threat to German oil supply. The invasion in Romania was last straw for Hitler that made him reassess his alliance with Stalin. The final decision was made soon after infamous Molotov visit to Berlin in November 1940 that convinced Hitler that the Soviet Union cannot be trusted and poses danger to German interests in Eastern Europe.In the following war Romanians attacked with Germans and regained Bessarabia and followed German army all the way to Stalingrad. In the end, Soviet troops returned to Bessarabia and occupied Romania. Moldovan SSR remained in Soviet possession. Its breakaway caused new war decades later. As for Romania. despite when invaded in mainland switched its allegiance to allies its national elite was replaced with pro-soviet dictatorship.
Joint Soviet-British invasion in Iran was the only Soviet invasion carried out together with Western power. Iran under the leadership of Reza Shah tried to conduct neutral policy, however, Britain suspected it of trying to form an alliance with Nazi Germany. No doubt Iran had good relations with Germany, while for instance, Iranian embassy rescued many hundred Jews from Holocaust. Britain wanted to prevent the possibility that Germany would gain access to oil in Iraq and Iran. Iran refused to expel German citizens from the country many of them had the influence on Iranian economy and industry. In May 1941 the UK had taken over Iraq and now the Soviet Union was an ally. It was decided that German-Iranian alliance must be prevented at all costs, However, Iran never announced its intention of joining Axis and always assured its neutrality.
On August 25 Soviets and British invaded by surprise. Despite being equipped with German rifles and light tanks the Iranian army routed and was defeated by August 28. Soviets marched from the north and reached Iranian heartland. Iran was divided between the British and Soviet sphere of influence and both gained well from Iranian oil for their war efforts. Soviets were obliged to withdraw from Iran on March 2 1946 but refused to do so because of threats to Soviet security and moved away in May. Soviet Army refused to assist the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad that emerged in 1946 and was crushed by Iranian forces.
Ukraine and Belarus 1944
A controversial listing as it may sound, as Ukrainian and Belarusian independent states did not exist during WW2 and were not permitted by German occupiers. Various instances of collaborator authorities and units existed within occupied Ukraine and Belarus. However, Nazi became warmer to independence demands in 1944 when the war in Eastern Front was lost and vague promises of autonomy did not boost any more victories. Instead of larger masses joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Українська повстанська армія, УПА UPA) that was both against Nazis and Soviets. The UPA emerged from Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists OUN that existed in Western Ukraine controlled by Poland. As its nationalist agenda was very much radical it was not radical enough for Stepan Bandera who created his splinter faction the OUN-B.
The relations between OUN-B and Nazis were complicated and uneasy. Germans accepted their support for invasion, however, OUN-B demanded to create new Ukrainian army and ultimately Ukrainian state. That was against Hitler’s plans and was accepted. The short collaboration ended with Stepan Bandera being arrested and sent to German camps. His numerous compatriots on October 14 1942 formed UPA to fight both Nazis and Soviets. However, they also faced war with Polish partisans in Western Ukraine or Kresy as Poles called it. Both UPA and Polish partisans committed atrocities against each other ethnic populations. Not always UPA fought against Germans, sometimes they made short agreements to fight together with the Soviet Partisans. Soviets sent whole units of trained partisan units from air into Ukrainian frontier. Finally, when Soviets marched back UPA now had to fight Soviet regular units and sometimes help Germans. After whole Ukraine was taken by Soviets, the resistance continued mainly in Western Ukraine with its hills and dense forests. UPA was also present in Polish territory. UPA received support from US CIA and Stepan Bandera became CIA associate. However, US could not help much. As in Baltics and other countries where anti-soviet resistance took place, KGB uncovered CIA agents, captured them and lured new agents. Resistance was crushed in middle 1950’s. In 1959 Soviet assassin murdered Stepan Bandera. To his personal shame and guilt and disgrace for KGB, the murderer Bohdan Stashynsky defected and stood trial for the murder of Stepan Bandera.
Belarus is mainly known for its Soviet anti-nazi partisans. Yet there were also small groups of nationalist independence partisans. Belarusian Independence Party demanded independence from Nazi Germany and were repressed. Their leader Mikoła Abramčyk later worked with CIA. Those who were enlisted or joined German lead Belarusian formations were forced to hide in the woods and resist Soviets until the end. However, the Belarusian National movement was too weak to create a significant partisan resistance.
Bulgaria was rather reluctant Nazi ally. It did not contribute troops to Eastern Front and did not declare war on Soviets. There was, however, skirmishes between Bulgarian and Soviet navies. The society was against since Bulgaria had historic friendly ties with Russia since Russian-Turkish war that contributed to the creation of the Bulgarian kingdom. However, geopolitical logic and antagonism with Yugoslavia and Greece in both wars demanded to align itself with Germany. On September 9 1944 as Soviets marched into Bulgaria, the pro-axis government was deposed and Bulgaria joined allied powers. The kingdom was dissolved and Bulgaria became a communist state under the leadership of Georgi Dimitrov.
Hungary was a dictatorship lead by Regent Miklós Horthy who had aspirations and beliefs similar to Hitler. Both countries came in alliance and Hungary gained territories from Poland, Yugoslavia, and Romania. Hungary contributed forces to Eastern Ukraine and faced grave casualties in Stalingrad front. In the spring of 1944 facing Soviet advance, Hungary started secret negotiations with Soviets and UK for an armistice. Hitler reacted by invading and occupying Hungary. Horthy was sent to house arrest and the new pro-Nazi government continued resistance resulting bloody Battle of Budapest and total annihilation by the Red Army. As of other countries, the Red Army and NKVD contributed to the creation of pro-Soviet dictatorship that became challenged in 1956 resulting second Soviet invasion.
Yugoslavia is listed as a Soviet invasion for two reasons. While Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi Germany in March 1941 and Red Army could serve the role of liberators as in other countries they established a pro-Soviet dictatorship of Josip Bronz Tito a famous local partisan commander. However, Tito after few years of alliance moved away from Stalin and during his long years of rule, Yugoslavia remained outside the Warsaw Pact. The other reason is that Yugoslavia was artificially made country joined together from various ethnic and religious groups. Hitler created the state of Croatia that opposed the Soviet Union and Serbian dominated Yugoslavian partisan movement. While this is a controversial proposition, it’s clear that there sizable elements within Yugoslavian conglomerate who saw Soviet liberation as an invasion.
As of Yugoslavia, Albania was occupied and annexed by fascist Italy. Albania was liberated by Soviet-supported National Liberation Movement that established communist power in the country. Albanian regime was loyal to Stalin. but then became wary of Nikita Khrushchev’s new policy. As both states faded away from each other, Albania switched from Soviet client state to a Chinese one. In 1964 Albania left the Warsaw pact, however, was not punished by Leonid Brezhnev, Eventually, after Mao Zedong’s death, the persistent Albanian Stalinist dictatorship isolated itself from rest of the world. Times have changed and now Albania has contributed troops to Latvia in joint Baltic defense mission.
In 1944 Red Army crushed trough Belarus and reached the 1939 borders. As Red Army approached Warsaw the tensions between Poles and Soviets became alight. Polish Government in Exile clearly wanted to come back to post-war Germany and may even restore 1939 borders. This was not in Soviet interests. Poland did not become Soviet in 1920, it had to become one now. Soviets created an alternative to Polish Home Army or Armia Krajowa and called Peoples Army or Armia Ludowa that did not support the Polish Underground State. On 1944 Warsaw stood up in a major uprising against Nazis. Red Army could advance to Warsaw but stayed behind. Stalin wanted Nazis to crush the Polish national resistance, so it would be easier for him to establish pro-Soviet government and isolate the government in exile. In so Red Army failed to provide significant support for Warsaw uprising. In 1944 October 3 the uprising was beaten. Red Army entered the ruined city on January 17 1945. Eventually, Poland became occupied by Soviet Army. A provisional Government loyal to Red Army was established in Warsaw, it was and became dominated by the pro-communist faction. Until 1947 there was united government between communists and centrists. In 1947 communists took over and Poland became Polish Peoples Republic. From 1945 till middle 1950’s anti-soviet Polish resistance fought Red Army and Polish communists. Not only in Poland, also in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. Poland has a difficult past with the Soviet Union. The current nationalist conservative government in Poland has begun removing monuments to Soviet soldiers. Its military leadership is arming for a potential conflict with Russia and Belarus. Nothing is forgotten.
The Baltic States 1944
No Western country ever formally and legally accepted the occupation and annexation of the Baltic States. The Soviet advance into the Baltic States in 1944 was the second Soviet invasion. The Baltic States had no government in exile, they only had working diplomatic missions in US, UK, Spain and other countries. Sweden was the only country that formally recognized occupation despite a large amount of Baltic refugees in the country. For a short time, Australian labor government accepted occupation but was forced to withdraw such policy. Therefore the Baltic States continued to exist on paper in the same time of functional Soviet Socialist Republics. As in Ukraine and Poland in post-war years a significant anti-soviet partisan resistance occurred. The strongest was in Lithuania and also very noticeable in Latvia and also Estonia. CIA and SIS provided support, however failed as the affairs were uncovered by KGB. The NKVD and KGB carried out ruthless cleansing against Baltic partisans and eventually, in 1956 almost all resistance was crushed.
The question of the Soviet invasion in Germany is a controversial subject. On June 22 1941 for various reasons, both defensive and offensive Germany invaded the Soviet Union and thursted deep into its territory occupying most of the countries Bolsheviks had invaded in 1917 to 1940. While there are authors in Russia who had made study on possible planned Soviet invasion against Germany in 1941-1942, the real invasion took place in 1944 when Red Army crossed the German border in East Prussia. As in case of Japan and countries in Eastern Europe, the Western allies approved this.
The Nazi aggressor had to be defeated fully and by 1944 the US and UK had to agree to give the whole Eastern Europe to Soviet control. That also meant the German territories of Eastern Europe. Red Army in bloody battle captured Königsberg and moved into Pomerania, then Silesia and finally crossed the river Oder and reached Fuhrer’s bunker in Berlin. During this offensive German civilians suffered heavy casualties from rape, pillaging, and killing. As some authors argue the brutal Soviet handling of the German civilians especially women was caused by Soviet propaganda calling for punishing Germans in every way possible. Also, the crimes are explained by mental and physical exhaustion of the Red Army soldiers who turned on the German civilians as bounty and treated women as rape pillows. While there are documents that show that Red Army command was aware of the atrocity and issued order to contain it, it failed to stop it or did not want to. Nazi government was aware of these crimes and used the Nemmersdorf massacre in East Prussia where 75 German woman and 50 French and Belgian POW’S were killed, for propaganda effort causing mass hysteria and increased resistance. The reason why the Soviet command failed to prevent raping and looting was that the Soviet officers and generals including general Zhukov was interested in looting German goods and could not punish the soldiers. Also in their minds, the mass rape, looting, and murder were justified revenge against the German invaders. The victim count ranges from two thousand to two million and is subject to controversy.
In Russia, the talk about Soviet war crimes is a blasphemy to Great Victory Cult that is sometimes greater than the Church and the God himself, In Germany, its often met in silence as Germans feel guilty for their own crimes and refuse to talk about atrocities to themselves. For instance, the famous German movie the Untergang about Fall of Berlin does not even mention Soviet rapes and shows that Hitler’s secretary Traudl Jung managed to escape Berlin unharmed. In reality, she was also raped. There is, however, movie Eine Frau in Berlin.
After the war, the East Prussia was divided between Poland and the Soviet Union. Pomerania and Silesia were added to Poland. In all former German territories the German population that remained after 1945 faced expulsion and ethnic cleansing and removal of property. The events between Germans and Soviets in 1944-1945 was a simple repetition of Medieval times when German Teutonic knights entered Pomerian and Baltic Prussian lands, forcefully baptized Slavic and Baltic tribes and assimilated them. Now after many centuries the tide went the opposite direction in the most brute way possible. Again this is the nature of war in its most pure essence.
Tuva, sandwiched between Mongolia and Siberian Russia has been completely forgotten as a national entity. Yet in 1918-1920 it was a battleground between Bolsheviks, White Guards, Mongolia, and China. It was controlled by Alexander Kolchak white guards, a part was also controlled by the Chinese and Mongol troops. In 1921 Bolsheviks proclaimed Peoples Republic of Tuva or Tannu-Tuva. Interesting enough it did not became part of USSR in 1922. It stayed as independent communist borderland republic between USSR and Mongolia. It was first official ally to the Soviet Union in the war against Germany on June 22. In August 17 1944 the Little Khural parliament of republic approved a declaration of joining the Soviet Union. It’s not clear was this a forced action as the republic ruling elite stayed in power after annexation. Tuva was annexed and joined into Russian Socialist Soviet Federal Republic as an autonomous region. Its stayed within Russia after 1991. One of the probable reasons for this act of annexation was that the Soviet Union was on the drive to install communist order in China and such borderland republic was no longer needed and was an obstacle for direct support for Chinese communist forces.
In 1939 Japan and the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact. Japan despite German demands never breached this pact. However, Stalin had promised allies to eventually join Pacific campaign. He waited until the very latest moment when US had dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and on the day when the US destroyed Nagasaki, August 9 Soviets entered Manchuria or Japanese puppet state Manchukuo. The operation was planned in advance, however. The operation was swift and Manchuria was captured and Soviets also entered Korea. War was over by August 20. The Soviet Union had gained an important bridgehead to spread communism to China and Korea.
Soviet Army did not take a direct part in the Chinese Civil war that resulted in communist victory. However, from early start Soviets provided weapons, supplies, and training. Chinese communists however made their military actions independently and the Mao Zedong Peoples Republic of China became second communist superpower. After Stalin’s death, China and Soviet became rivals to the point of armed conflict in 1969.
Korea was first true proxy war between the Soviet Union and the US. The Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea was a result of Soviet Military occupation of the North Korea. South Korea was occupied by the US army and its allies. As in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Army established a new Korean communist government, trained and supplied its new People’s Army. In 1948 Soviets left. In 1950 Peoples the Republic of Korea attacked the Republic of Korea. Communist China provided full open-armed support, Soviet Army provided supplies and medical aid. However, North Korean pilots were lacking so secretly Soviet pilots in their Mig-15 located in airfields in China. It was 64th Fighter Group that participated in air battles against allied air force. China, however, was dissatisfied that Soviets only provided secretive Mig-15 squadrons and no ground support. Soviets and Chinese in post-war rivaled for patronizing North Korea. Currently while not openly recognizing it seems Russia does provide economic and military support for aspiring North Korean missile and nuclear arms program.
East Germany 1953
Germany was divided between Soviet and Allied occupation zones. Berlin itself was divided int two. An ultimately followed path of Korea. Red Army established a communist government in Eastern Germany. As tensions grew in 1948 Soviets established Berlin blockade to prevent West Berlin from joining West German currency. Allies responded by implementing Berlin airlift. It was a courageous decision as Soviets could shut down these supply planes and initiate a new war. Soviets, however, allowed the airlift and had to give up the blockade. The communist German government was not popular and only held by the support of the Soviet Army and trained police and Secret Service. The German Democratic Republic was ravaged by steep emigration to Federal Republic of Germany and government could not handle and imposed strict policies as demanded by Stalin and became even more unpopular. When Stalin died the interim Soviet leader Georgy Malenkov was worried about GDR situation and asked to ease the policy. It was done but people became more prone to an uprising and on June 16 major protests started as construction workers went on strike and thousands joined in. Next day the protests turned into clashes and Soviet tanks entered streets at least 100 people were killed in the clashes that included Soviet soldiers. GDR leadership blamed Western agents for steering up the protests. It was the first sign that despite the death of Stalin, Moscow won’t let go its grip over Eastern Europe.
The Soviet-installed communist leader was Mátyás Rákosi who followed Stalin’s directives. As Stalin died and new leadership started new political and economic reforms, the Eastern European communist leaders were confused either to follow or resent. The population was nevertheless confused. Stalinist Rákosi was replaced by Imre Nagy who started reforms and hoped to slowly move away from Moscow. In 1956 workers uprising took place in Poznan, Poland. Clashes caused lost of lives, no Soviet soldiers were involved. New rehabilitated Polish communist leader Władysław Gomułka managed to convince Moscow to reduce its troops in Poland and end military occupation (Northern Group of Forces kept its presence) Year before Soviets had left Austria. Hungarian democrats and nationalists aspired to end Soviet presence in Hungary and move to a neutral block of states.In October 23 masses gathered in protest. that soon became violent. Hungarian government denounced the protest and made protesters angrier and Stalin’s statue had to go down. Streets turned into barricades as Soviet soldiers and tanks rushed to defend the Hungarian government. On October 28 Soviet troops left Budapest. New government by Nagy declared withdrawal from Warsaw pact and transition to democracy. Moscow had received pleas from hardline Hungarian communists for military support. After a month of considerations and discussions on November 4, Soviet Army entered Hungary from Poland and Romania. and reached Budapest. Street battles emerged. Soviets officially came in support of the new Workers and Peasants government lead by János Kádár and to quell disorder created by Nagy government. Fighting lasted until November 11 and Hungarian revolution was suppressed. While West generally supported Hungarian revolution and sent unreasonable messages to Hungarians via Radio Free Europe urging to resist and promising eventual support, no assistance ever came. By November 5 it was already too late.
During Vietnam war, most support for communist North Vietnam came from the Soviet Union as in supplies, weapons, and training. Vietnamese fighter pilots were trained in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union sent military advisers and operatives to assist secretly in combat. Some sources say that 3 thousand Russian soldiers served secretly in Vietnam. Soviets were also involved in planning and aiding Vietnamese invasions in Laos and Cambodia. Soviet extended support to Vietnam later fully mirrored in US support to Afghanistan resistance fighters.
In 1964 the Soviet leadership experienced peaceful changes and Khrushchev was replaced by more conservative Leonid Brezhnev who could be described best as moderate Stalinist. He was less eager for any reforms within the Soviet order and instead intended to keep status quo in his country and in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia that after liberation from Nazis as all other countries occupied by Red Army became communist state made slow reforms lead by Antonín Novotný and in 1960’s experienced economic downturn spurring protests against communist rule. On January 5 1968 Alexander Dubček attained power in the communist party and started a wave of reforms known as Prague Spring. His reforms labeled “a socialism with a human face” made advancements in civil and political rights, freedom of the press and also give more autonomy to Slovakia.
The Soviet Union saw this as a grave danger. First loosing control of industrially and the strategical important country would hinder Soviet military pressure on Western Europe and create issues in case of war with NATO block. Next grave concern was these progressive ideas will spread to other Eastern European countries and eventually to the Soviet Union itself. While US and NATO block was rather busy with the war in Vietnam and searched for agreements with Soviets over weapons control treaty, so trying to divert Czechoslovakia from Warsaw block was not their priority. Brezhnev was pragmatic in his approach and first tried to avoid invasion by direct talks with Dubček trying to convince him to stop his reforms. Dubček was firm that he will pursue his reforms, but will stay in Warsaw Pact. To such promise, Soviets agreed to remove their troops who were stationed in the country since June 1968 joint drills. On August 3 the Soviet Union made a tactical move by inviting leaders of the Warsaw Pact and signed Bratislava declaration that affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against bourgeois ideology and all “anti-socialist” force. The Soviet Union made it clear that it would intervene to defend these “values”. Czechoslovakia also signed this declaration and made it compelled to invasion as Moscow and its allies could easily interpret that Czechoslovakia is in danger from anti-socialist forces and its socialist allies must step in.
Assurance that Czechoslovakia will not leave Warsaw pact was not enough. The dangerous liberal ideas of Dubček were a threat to the Soviet political system and had to stop. Soviet army was at theCzechoslovak border, Polish, Bulgarian and Hungarian armies came to assistance. East Germany was also to take part, however, Leonid Brezhnev made short notice not to, because German armed presence would boost Czechoslovak resistance. On August 20 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. A passenger plane landed in the main Prague airport with 100 civilians on board who turned out to be Russian Airborne troops the VDV and captured the airport. Czechoslovak leadership was naive and trusted that previous talks with Brezhnev assured that no invasion was planned despite obvious military buildup at their borders. 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed (19 of those in Slovakia) during the invasion. Dubček called not to resist. Meanwhile, Soviets justified the invasion by the letter sent by Czechoslovakian political and party elites asking for military assistance. Such letter most likely was made up by KGB and Soviet propaganda. On August 21 Dubček and his comrades were arrested and sent to Moscow. Soviet tanks in Prague met angry crowds of people, protests and nonviolent actions against Soviet troops took place, 96 Soviet troops were killed in invasion however 84 of them were killed in accidents. Few similar causalities were among Soviet allies. Major street battles like in Budapest in 1956 were avoided. The invasion was done cunningly and efficiently. The liberal Czechoslovakian leadership was replaced with the loyal leadership of Gustáv Husák who revised Dubček reforms.
In 1986-1989 Soviet Union with their own reforms provoked Eastern Europe to remove imposed Moscow regimes. Despite having military might, Soviet Union now lacked political and as anti-Soviet revolutions took place in all Warsaw Pact countries at once, there was no conventional way to stop them. Stopping them would mean also complete halt of Soviet perestroika and therefore the Soviet Union lost control over Eastern Europe and had to withdraw all its forces from them in following years.
China was the greatest Soviet project of spreading communist rule to the country of 1 billion people. However, this project turned against Soviets themselves. While Stalin could find common ground with Mao Zedong who mirrored his repressions and political conduct, the following Soviet governments could no longer control China and Sino-Soviet split started. As tensions grew China placed its claims on Soviet territories on the east bank of river Amur. To Soviets, it was the Far East with large cities as Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk to China was old Chinese imperial territory the Outer Manchuria. Outer Manchuria was lost to Russia in the second half of 19th century. In July 1964 Chinese delegation caused outrage in Moscow by complains that Tsarist Russia has taken away wast lands from China, not just Outer Manchuria, but also Baikal region and even as far as Kamchatka. Khrushchev was angry hearing these claims and that China is intending prepare bill for the lost territories. However, both sides reached a preliminary agreement that the eastern section of the border, including Zhenbao Island, which would be handed over to China.
Chinese disputed islands seized by Soviets on Ussuri river that was on the Chinese side of the river bank. Also, another source of conflict was Chinese controlled Turkestan and Chinese claims on Tajikistan. Soviets had 225,000 men and 200 airplanes at China Western border that could support Turkic separatists in case of an uprising. China gathered 1,5 Million troops and tested first nuclear weapon 1964. Chinese strategy was man over weapon meaning that China would use large masses of soldiers and overcome the enemy using human wave attacks and large tank and aviation offensives. It was possible for China knowing the size of its population and mass production. Chinese threat placed greater scare for Soviets than a conflict with NATO. As both countries had nuclear weapons the threat increased, although Soviets had superiority in this matter.
The Soviet and Chinese military buildup resulted in border conflict on March 2 1969 when Chinese forces attacked Soviet border guards on disputed Zhenbao island. The battle resulted in causalities on both sides. Soviets lost 58 soldiers while Chinese 29. On March 15 Soviets made counter-attack using tanks and artillery. A ferocious battle for many days was fought for the T-62 tank that was left stranded on the island and dead crew. Soviets frantically tried to recover and failed. Chinese Peoples Republic Army managed to move it to China and displayed at the military museum. China accused of Soviets provoking border conflict and attacking first and mounting an offensive against China. New border clashes emerged on Soviet-China western border and ended in stalemate. In 1991 Soviet Union handed over Zhebago island to China, In 2004 Vladimir Putin handed over China the Tarabov island and half of Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island in 2008 further border agreement were signed applying Chinese demands. Russia has never given such concessions to any other country while ruminating about changing borders in West. China is a deadly rival to Russia that is capable of ending Russian domination in the Far East and a large part of Siberia. In last 20 years, Chinese migrants have flooded in the Far East. Chinese constitution permits to use force to defend the interest of Chinese nation abroad.
Joseph Stalin supported the creation of State of Israel as he counted on Israeli left-wing movements and initial Jewish sympathy to the Soviet Union. However, left-wing Israeli forces lost its positions during First Arab-Israeli war and country was dominated and still is dominated by right-wing Zionist forces who seek ties with US and the West rather than the Soviet Union and Russia. The Soviet Union immediately became hostile and started arming and training armies hostile to Israel. The two countries in alliance against Israel – Egypt, and Syria were fully armed with Soviet weapons and received Soviet training. Soviets even sometimes sent Soviet Jews to these countries to teach Arabs to use weapons against their nationals. In 1956 Soviet Union stood firmly against joint UK-French-Israeli invasion in Suez, In this event, US also stood firmly against and forced Israeli forces to withdraw from Suez. The three countries surrounding Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria started to arm for new joint invasion into Israel. Israel prepared to war as well and in June 1967 chose a preventive attack on all three states at once and gained the supreme victory that shocked the world. Israel placed itself firmly on map and gained US support who also was caught off-guard.
For Moscow, it was bad news. First using Western-supplied weapons Israel crushed countries heavily armed with Soviets modern weaponry. Second Israeli victory hindered Soviet political domination in the Middle East. Third, the Israeli victory had an effect on domestic Soviet politics. Since 1953 “Doctors case” Soviet power was in uneasy relations with sizable Soviet Jewish minority whose political and religious rights were repressed. The Israeli victory at first hand created a wave of Jewish nationalism within the Soviet Union demanding more rights and after the state was reluctant to grant them, a wave of migration to Israel started that Soviets unsuccessfully tried to limit. Moscow saw Zionism and Jewish democratic intellectual movement as another major anti-soviet threat.
So more had to be done to help Arab countries to destroy Israel. On 1969 16 transport ships from Mykolaiv (Nikolayev) Ukraine were sent to Egypt unloading the anti-air missiles and equipment. The special ant air weapons were 125 “Pechora” (“Neva”), ZSI-23-4 “Shilka” and anti-air missile Strela-2. The action was code named Operation “Caucasus”. To keep secrecy the troops had no insignia and only wore special clothes to determine soldiers from officers. They put up Egyptian uniforms and issued multiple “maskirovka” or hidden actions to prevent detection. The anti-air weapons and other vehicles only moved during nights in day times they were disguised. With them, 30 Mig-21 jet fighters were stationed. Also, Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft’s and An-12 recon planes were unloaded. All planes were sent to Egypt in parts and then reassembled. In February 1 1970 the Soviet air force started air patrols.However, the Soviet forces in Egypt were soon discovered and covered in the western press. Israel started to air radio broadcasts to Soviet soldiers in Russian. In 1970 15-20 thousand Soviet troops served in Egypt.
In July 30 1970 Israeli Air Force came into direct battle against Soviet air force. Israeli Mirage III and F-4E Phantom engaged Mig-21 in three-minute air skirmish which resulted in 5 Soviet aircraft lost and four pilots lost. Israel only had one aircraft damaged. Russian sources describe more direct encounters that also resulted in the loss of Israeli aircraft and damage to Soviet anti-air weapons. Israeli Air force was unable to destroy all Soviet Air force group, but also the Soviets were unable to effectively counter the US and French-made aircraft.
In 1973 Egypt and Syria started Yom Kippur war and again tried to destroy Israel only to be roughly beaten. The Soviet Union openly threatened to use unilateral force to assist Egypt and Syria, in addition, Soviet soldiers and pilots joined Syrians and Egyptians in battles against Israel and suffered causalities the Soviet Union threatened to send regular troops to combat zone as airborne divisions in Ukraine were on combat alert and ready to be transported. 40,000 troops were loaded into amphibious crafts ready to be landed. US was scared that Israeli-Arab conflict would result in direct war with the Soviet Union. The US pushed Israel to end its offensive and ceasefire was signed. Eventually, Egypt abandoned the alliance with the Soviet Union and recognized Israel as state and forced Soviets to remove their military presence. Syria meanwhile continued to oppose Israel and Soviets kept their presence.
After Israel occupied Jordan held West Bank and Egyptian Gaza Sector a new international problem the Palestinian terrorism occurred, The first generation of Palestinian terrorists were nationalist Marxists and as it is known the Palestinian Liberation Organization received support from KGB and Warsaw pact secret agencies. Various Palestinian terrorist organizations received weapons and support by KGB trough proxy using STASI. Polish intelligence and Romania. Leonid Brezhnev was clear in his words: “road of full liberation of all Arab lands occupied by Israel in 1967, of full and unambiguous respect for the lawful rights of the Arab people of Palestine”. PLO had its embassy in Moscow and its leader Yassir Arafat enjoyed Soviet protection. In 1991 Soviet Union ceased to exist and support for PLO was abandoned. PLO had to start peace talks with Israel. The Russian leadership has abandoned goal to destroy Israel, however, relations with them are at unease since Russian invasion in Syria. Israel has attacked Syrian regime targets that Russia supports multiple times. Russian air defense systems and air force were not able to stop the attacks nor they were allowed. Putin does not risk to enter open conflict with Israel, despite obligations to support the Assad’s Syria. But, accidents and incidents could happen that would change that.
Ethiopia once was liberated by British forces from Italian occupation, in 1974 became Soviet client state as military junta known as Derg toppled Emperor Haile Selassie and received extended support from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Coup triggered a civil war and separatist movement in Eritrea. As Soviets always sent extended military support not only in form of weapons and supplies but also military advisers, agents, and commandos. War lasted till 1991 and resulted in the independence of Eritrea. Another episode during the war was Somalian invasion in Ethiopia in 1977. In the sixties, Somalia was friendly towards USSR and allowed its navy to use Berbera harbor. Now Soviets and Cubans amassed troops to rescue Ethiopia from collapse and loss of large territory. Worth to mention that Somalian military government hoped for Soviet support. Soviets contributed 1500 “military advisers” and Cuba had whole 18 thousand of them. Soviets officially lost 33 people, Cubans 400. In the end, Somalia was forced to withdraw from Ogaden region. Soviets and Cubans abandoned Ethiopia leaving the Horn of Africa into further disorder.
Angola was another Soviet-Cuban joint military adventure. Portugal was the last European colonial power that reluctantly gave up its colonies. Angolan independence movement started in 1961 and had three main ideologically countered independence movements. Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Soviets supported MPLA. The US and South Africa invested in other two. After the death of Portugal dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar in 1970 his successors lost power in 1974 and Portugal became independent and gave up Angola. All three movements engaged in civil war. Cuba and the Soviet Union provided forces to support MPLA. 1,000 soviet troops and 35,000 – 37,000 Cuban troops were involved in the war also facing the South African army. Soviets lost 54 people while Cubans 2,016—5,00. Cubans withdrew in 1988 and Soviets in 1991. MPLA secured victory and its government is still thankful for Russia for their support.
Despite his poor health in his later years may say otherwise, Leonid Brezhnev was most talented and successful Soviet leader since Stalin. However, great rulers make major mistakes and in case of Brezhnev, the major mistake was the invasion of Afghanistan. Afghan and Soviet relations were warm and Soviets in 1950’s-1970’s helped to build roads, dams, and infrastructure. On one hand, Soviets were friendly with nationalist prime minister Mohammed Daoud Khan who reformed the army according to Soviet army example. On the other hand, Soviets invested in creating pro-Soviet Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) funded by KGB. Daoud Khan was forced to resign in 1963 by the royal family. On 1973 Daoud Khan came back and deposed the King and started more independent policy angering the Soviets. In 1977 he went to Moscow where he was accused by Brezhnev that he seeks contacts with Soviet enemies the Saudis and Egyptians. Daoud Khan threw a fist on the table and shouted to Brezhnev that Afghans decide themselves who to talk to. Brezhnev was furious and started to look for ways of how to remove this new unfriendly regime. On April 27 1977 the PDPA started an uprising and with help of aviation of Soviet-supplied Mig-21 the Daoud Khan castle was taken and he and his family murdered. PDPA established power over the country. However, since the start, the party was divided into rival factions by ethnic means of many rivaling leaders.
Conservative tribes started uprisings against the pro-Soviet government. Mutual assistance treaty was signed and Soviet military advisers and agents poured in. Soviets sent tanks, airplanes, and helicopters to PDPA forces. Then in September 1979 a coup took place in PDPA ranks. Nur Muhammad Taraki the leader of PDPA after a visit to Moscow was arrested by his rival Hafizullah Amin. Amin murdered Taraki. but seems was convinced that Brezhnev has or will approve this. Soviets decided that Amin was a liability and decided to replace him with Babrak Karmal from a rival faction. In the same year in Iran what used to be US ally, an Islamic revolution took place. Soviets were concerned that the US would move their bases to Afghanistan or even worse Islamism would expand to Afganistan and then to Central Asia.
Amin had for seven times himself requested for Soviet military support. On December 25 1979 Soviet forces entered Afghanistan. Soviet soldiers were told that US green berets are in Afghanistan to attack pro-Soviet forces. Amin was told that Soviet Army here to rescue Soviet revolution. Amin retreated to his palace. On December 27 the GRU special forces stormed the palace and killed Amin, his daughter, and pregnant wife. Soviet forces were overarmed with anti-tank and anti-air weapons. It seems they wanted to return soon with the victorious parade. Meanwhile, the tribes in the vast plains and mountains gathered their weapons. Soviets were in control of major roads and civilian towns. What happened in rural areas was beyond their reach. In past Soviets accused US in war crimes against civilians in Vietnam. Now Soviets slaughtered Afghan civilians who supported or may support the mujaheddin warriors. Large refugee masses emerged in the result. However, Afghan guerrillas were persistent and soon they received foreign help.
Invasion caused a major outrage and US canceled negotiations for SATL II and boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980. At first, Pakistan who suffered from refugee influx started to gather resources for the Afghan resistance. Rival China provided support. US at first was reluctant to support and provided Lee Enfield rifles and weapon leftovers from allied countries like Egypt that wished to get rid of Soviet weapons. Soviet Air force was what kept mujaheddin in line and they demanded anti-air weapons. However, the director of CIA William Casey and US congressman Charley Wilson convinced US president Ronald Reagan to provide Stinger missiles and anti-tank weapons. In 1986 Soviet Air force started to suffer causalities. New Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to look for ways to end the conflict. Three more years of war continued. Finally weakened Soviet Union and its army withdraw the forces in February 15 1989. As much as the Soviet mass media and state authorities tried to hide the atrocity in Afghanistan from their people, it was well known among the people. Young men tried to avoid conscription at all costs, those who returned were scarred, secluded to isolation and mental breakdown. Afghanistan boosted protest to the Soviet state and contributed to its downfall.
Meanwhile US had made its revenge against USSR for its aid for Vietnam guerrillas. But, the revenge had terrible side effect. Afghanistan fighters, large part of them foreign volunteers like Osama bin Laden from Saudi Arabia were radical Islamist’s who established their base in Afghanistan. The PDPA government was soon removed. The rise of Taliban Islamic regime lead to new war in 2001. This time it was NATO war.
The nationalist and cross ethnic tensions in Georgia were hidden under the carpet, but not vanished. Soviet democratic reforms re-ignited new wave of anti-Soviet protests. While Georgian nationalists protested against Moscow, the Abkhazians first raised voice of secession from Georgian SSR. Protests started in Tbilisi on August 4 lead by Georgian opposition. Soviet authorities could not halt the protests lead by Independence Committee and army was called in. Colonel General Igor Rodionov ordered to clear out the streets in August 9 causing 21 deaths. Moscow claimed that protesters had attacked first. In March 31 1991 Georgia voted for full independence from USSR, but new wars with Russia were just around the corner,
Baltic States 1990
As said before Baltic States occupation was overly not recognized. On in 1987 all three states nationalist movements emerged. In 1989 their goal was to restore the order of 1918 republics within territories of present Soviet republics (the Baltic borders of 1939 were changed in 1945) so by the understanding of Baltic politicians and historians the use of armed force by Moscow in 1991 was act of aggression. By Soviet point of view it was national separatist movement that wanted separation of these soviet republics so this was allegedly an internal conflict. Lithuania fully declared restoration of independence on March 11 1990. Latvia and Estonia decided first to make transition period and achieve full independence in talks with Moscow and Western countries. Moscow responded with blockade of Lithuania and moved in special police forces the OMON. In 1990 OMON raided the Press Building in Latvia and conducted various provocations to incite violence. In Lithuania since December 1 1990 OMON attacked Lithuanian border guards. 8 people were killed in various attacks. On January 13 1991 Soviet military and special forces attempted to take over Lithuanian TV and radio causing civilian resistance resulting death of 14 people. In Latvia in response to events in Lithuania in order to protect main governmental buildings, barricades were built and prevented from frontal attack. However, OMON in January 21 assaulted the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs and killed 8 people. Violence erupted again during rgw August coup in Moscow. These actions were conducted in hope that large event of violence would force Gorbachev to install presidential order in Baltic republics. However, Gorbachev was constrained in his promises to West also the events in January 1991 caused massive outrage in Western media.
The core issue of Caucasian conflict in post-soviet world were administrative borders drawn by Stalin and his Moscow followers regardless of ethnic borders and language spoken there. Georgia held with itself three opposite nations Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adjaria. Ethnic tensions was actually a tool of how to control Georgian national movement, keep it pre-occupied with fighting rival nationalists and unable the counter the main oppressor Moscow. Now Georgia was again independent and almost immediately it was thrown into civil war with Abkhazian and Osetian separatists. At first it was a domestic war with Georgians themselves as first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia was deposed on December 20 1991 and he went on exile in Armenia. His supporters initiated clandestine warfare wrecking chaos in the country, but failed to bring him back to power.
Georgian state instability caused the rise of Osetian separatist movement that emerged as early as 1989. Georgians failed to take control over small South Osetian territory. Eventually, Russia stepped in 1992 and established a Joint Control Commission for Georgian–Osetian Conflict Resolution mainly a Russian peacekeeping force. Russian military presence established South Osetia as a de facto state. albeit greatly depended on Russia and its economy.
Abkhazia was a much larger autonomy within Georgia. It had vital ports on the Black Sea as well as pipelines and roads leading into Russia. As Abkhazians started their fights for independence Russia was even more interested in keeping this region away from Russia. At first, Georgians achieved victories and took control over Sukhumi, but lost control over Gagra. Moscow stepped in many times negotiating ceasefires that helped to helped to slow down Georgian offensive and help Abhazians to recover. Russia provided weapons and supplies to Abkhazia and soldiers as well as tourists and mercenaries. Russian Air Force and artillery bombed and shelled Sukhumi. Georgians even managed to bring down one Russian Su-27. In the end of 1993 by Russian support, all Abkhazia was controlled by Abkhazian separatists and Russia established its military presence as the peacekeeping force. Russia needed these two unrecognized entities as a tool to control Georgia and prevent its entry into Western Block. Here Russia first realized a strategy of frozen conflict and proxy war. Similar conduct was realized in Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine.
There are three ways of how to look at Armenian-Azeri conflict. From Armenian point of view, this is a war sovereignty of predominately Armenian region that was separated from rest of Armenia by Soviet authorities and Armenia invaded Azerbaijan to support fellow Armenians and save them from ethnic cleansing. Azeris look at this as an invasion of their sovereign territory and Russia has constrictor that contributed to the loss of this territory on behalf of Armenian invaders. Russian view is simple – divide and conquer. War for Nangorno-Karabakh begun already in 1988 when first clashes erupted there. Both sides made acts of violence and ethnic cleansing towards each other. Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence on September 3 1991 and Armenian forces invaded to support the country. This situation may resemble Kosovo, however between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh there is a small territorial gap that Armenia had to occupy. Eventually, the war ended in 1994 when Russia achieved a ceasefire. Armenia had gained control over Nagorno-Karabakh 9% of the Azeri territory. Minor border clashes occurred, most noted in 2016. Russia played an arbiter role by assisting and hindering both sides. In the end, Armenia became dependent on Russia as it faced hostile Azerbaijan and unfriendly Turkey from both sides. Armenia is forced to keep Russian military base. Azerbaijan despite the losing the war experienced an economic boom from its oil reserves and high oil prices and feels less dependent on Russia. Once Russia will lose its influence over Armenia and Georgia. the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan may ignite again.
The war in Moldova was an unfortunate complication of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. When Soviets annexed Romanian Bessarabia they added Transnistria a small region on the east bank of River Dniester, that before was part of Ukrainian SSR. During the years of Soviet occupation, this region was mostly Russian and Ukrainian speaking as opposed to mainland Moldovian SSR that spoke in Moldovan that is a mere regional form of Romania. In 1989-1990 Moldovan SSR was caught in nationalist sentiment and new declarations established Moldovan language as the state language and also recognized Moldovan-Romanian identity. This was alarming to Tranistrrian Russian speakers who were against Moldovan language domination and also were afraid that Moldova might unite with Romania. On June 23 1990 Moldova declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union. Transnistria responded and on September 3 1990 declared independence. This was a precedent when a mainly Russia speaking region detached from mainland Russia declares independent Russian state. In August 1991 Moldova became fully independent and Transnistrian separatists acted up took control over main regional cities. War erupted and Moldova failed to establish control over Transnistria resulting tragic loss of life in the town of Bendery that Russian propaganda perceived as atrocity towards Russian people. Moldova was the first case where Russian political strategists like Sergey Karaganov developed a strategy of Russian military invasion to defend the rights of Russian speakers in former Soviet republics. Russia established Joint Control Commission a Russian peacekeeping force and continues to occupy the legitimate Moldovan land. Moldova has demanded in 2017 to withdraw Russian army from Transnistria however Russia has refused.
During the civil war between Tajikistan post soviet leadership and various opposition groups among them Islamists, Russia took the active role in supporting the governmental side. Tajikistan with its border and Tajik presence in Afghanistan was in danger from Islamists who had taken power in the country. Russian goals were to prevent the rise of Islamist’s in former Central Asia and keep loyal post-Soviet leadership. War ended in 1997 and plans were achieved. Russia has kept its military presence in Central Asia. While it has kept closed eyes on various violations of the Russian rights in these countries, Russia does not mind minor nationalism pursued by the dictators from former Soviet elite, it has prevented the emergence of Islamism in these countries.
Northern Caucasus 1992
Legally the separatist war in Russian Northern Caucasus is regarded as Russia’s domestic conflict as it takes place in legally acknowledged Russian territory. However, Russia supports various separatist movements in other internationally recognized legal territories, Russian Federation in her territorial and administrative subjects is the heir of the Russian Soviet Socialist Federal Republic. It also included many autonomous republics that also considered they have rights for independence as much as other main republics. Chechen-Ingush autonomous republic was one of them – it declared independence in 1990 and engaged in combat since 1992. Russia could not allow this to happen, not only Ichkeria or Chechnya, as it’s called now, had important pipeline route if this was allowed the Dagestan and Ingushetia and more crucially Tatarstan would secede. First war against Chechen independence ended in disaster and Russia had to allow Chechenia as the de facto independent state. Russia managed to keep Dagestan and Tatarstan from separatism by the brutal conduct in Chechnya. In 1999 Vladimir Putin came to power and had to be elected as president. To win the presidential race he used explosions in Moscow apartment houses in other cities that, however, soon looked like obvious false flag operations since mass media exposed FSB planting explosives inside another apartment building in Ryazan. FSB complained that was just a drill. Meanwhile, using a former FSB agent Shamil Basayev organizing incursion in Dagestan as a reason, Russia again invaded Chechnya and this time crushed the Chechen government. To pacify Chechens Putin installed Akhmad Kadyrov, former Chechen anti-Russian combatant as the leader of the Russian Chechnya. In 2004 during May 9 victory parade he was killed in the blast. He was replaced by his son Ramzan who since has been in power. Kadyrov has efficiently created his own state within another and lives off generous subsidies from Moscow. Kadyrov has established himself as a prominent Russian politician while he regularly oppresses his own people. The insurgency against his traitorous regime and Russian occupation still continues in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. Swift change in Moscow leadership or statewide crisis could bring Kadyrov regime to collapse and render North Caucasus in new major war.
In November 2003 Georgia was affected by the political change. Edward Shevardnadze, the last Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union was replaced by an ambitious eccentric Mikhail Saakashvili who promised a wide scale of reforms and also aimed to enter EU and NATO. And he wanted to do that with Abkhazian and Osetian conflict unresolved. However, some of his reform was successful and he gained sympathies among western leaders and Georgian entry was discussed in 2008 NATO Bucharest summit. Putin who was formally he Prime Minister of Russia then took a strong stance against Ukrainian and Georgian entry into NATO. Georgia received support from Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, however more pragmatic Germany and France were against. Putin was still not assured and so he needed to show NATO members that Georgia is not reliable to join NATO. In the summer of 2008 Russia held large military drills across the Georgian border alarming Georgia. In continuation, South Osetian troops opened fire on Georgian positions provoking Tbilisi to a preemptive strike as it was also aware of the gathering of the Russian tank column near the tunnel that lead into South Osetia. In result Russia claimed that Georgian forces have attacked Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali, the South Osetian capital and mounted invasion to draw back the assaulting Georgian forces. In the following days Russian troops entered Abkhazia and captured Georgian city Gori while closely approaching Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Georgian leadership was mistaken that US and NATO would come to their support. US sent the fleet to the Black Sea, nevertheless, to give Putin a signal to stop the advance on Tbilisi. A number of western politicians arrived to Georgian capital and stood as human shields to possible Russian bombing. Russia managed to beat Georgian army and demonstrate the renown power of the Russian army. However, Russia also suffered vast losses of shot down aircraft. Saakashvili stayed in power and later was forced out of the country by the new regime, that is not pro-Russian at hand, but it has accepted the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia may have seemed impossible. While the rivalry between the capital of Kyivan Rus and the Grand Duchy of Muscovy was centuries behind. Yet 1919 and 1944 were not that long ago. However, Russian – Ukrainian war was slowly brewing since 1991. Ukraine as economic, industrial and agricultural powerhouse was part of what kept Russian Empire and the Soviet Union running. The next issue was Crimea an important point for Russian Black Sea Fleet. Crimea has been colonized by many countries from Ancient Greece to Venice. However, the only native ethnic minority in Crimea were Crimean Tatars. Ukrainians and Russians in Crimea were colonists and immigrants. Yet in 1992 May 5 when Crimea for one day declared independence the ones who wanted to separate were Russians. To pacify them Kyiv held a referendum of the restoration of Crimean Autonomous Republic. That was supported by 92% of voters. Yet the issue of Sevastopol naval base remained
The situation changed in 1992 when Sevastopol was now part of Ukraine and Russia was looking for ways to how to keep their naval base. At first, the solution was joint Ukrainian-Russian fleet that existed until 1997. In 1997 Ukraine and Russia signed partition agreement and navies were separated. The Sevastopol naval base was partly leased to Russia till 2017. Moscow resented that Nikita Khrushchev had joined Crimea under Ukrainian SSR when it was Russian SSFR under Stain. Khrushchev had no Tsarist sentiment he simply understood the geographical map that showed that Crimea is connected to Ukrainian mainland and all the water, electricity and transportation routes are connected to Ukraine, He was a man of grand ideas, but he did not saw any need for Kerch strait bridge. Yet he had no idea that the Soviet Union will break up creating “problem” for future Moscow rulers.
It was a problem for Moscow ruler Putin who was caught off guard by 2004 Ukrainian protests that prevented his desired candidate Viktor Yanukovich from being elected. Putin could not understand the events in 2004 as he viewed Ukrainian society as his own Russian. However, Ukrainian society and politics are a constant struggle between various power factions while Russian politics are merited by the success of its autocratic ruler. So Putin saw Ukraine as the Western-orchestrated conspiracy against himself. He was afraid that the new pro-western coalition would join NATO and EU and Russia would lose its bases in Crimea and all influence. Putin also was afraid of example that Ukraine gave to Russians of how to obstruct vote rigging and corrupt power.
Regardless, the Ukrainian politics being in chaos did not pose any significant danger to Crimean bases and neither they seriously obstructed Russian economic interests in the country. Putin used leverage on Ukraine with gas and oil prices Eventually in 2010 Viktor Yanukovich returned to power and used the weakness of his rivals. Yanukovich as all past Ukrainian leaders tried to play double ditch policy and pleased both Moscow and EU and promised to sign EU association agreement. In his domestic rule, he enjoyed vices of the Muscovy rulers and embodied enormous personal wealth that he could not get in by legal means.
In 2013 he was to sign EU association agreement and Moscow started to worry. In Ukrainian and Russian news media articles started to appear that Ukraine might terminate the Russian naval bases in Crimea when it signs the agreement with EU and then with NATO. Russian media started to warn of growing Ukrainian nationalism. In November 2013 after various meetings with Putin, Yanukovich in Vilnius summit canceled the signing of the EU agreement. As always all revolutions start when a small student protest is violently attacked by police. To Yanukovich and Putin’s nightmares, every police action to stop the new Maidan revolt only made it stronger. Putin was enraged by Yanukovich inability to stop the protests. He himself was stripped of any political and military actions as Sochi Winter Olympics happened at the same time and world was watching both Maidan and Olympics the games of peace in his own country. As Olympics draw to an end on February 18-19 the pro-regime police and unknown people opened sniper fire on protesters, some of whom have armed themselves. 100 people had died so far, streets were filled with barricades and Yanukovich government was in disarray. On February 21, Yanukovich decided to flee to Russia. He could not afford to stand trial for enormous corruption he and his government had created.
As it was claimed by Putin himself the Crimean invasion was planned years in advance. In case of new Ukrainian revolution, Russia had to be ready and act. While the triumphant Kyivan revolutionaries only started to grasp their victory, Russia initiated the takeover of Crimea. On 22–23 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin convened an all-night meeting with security services chiefs to discuss extrication of the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and at the end of that meeting, Putin had remarked that “we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia.”
Russian demonstrations took place on February 23, while Crimean prime minister Anatolii Mohyliov said that his government recognized the new provisional government in Kyiv and that the Crimean autonomous government would carry out all laws passed by the Ukrainian parliament. 5,000–15,000 people in Simferopol stood up for Euromaidan and demanded the resignation of the Crimean parliament. Meanwhile in Sevastopol Moscow agents staged Russian demonstrations and created parallel administration and waved Russian flags and praised Putin. Protests went on. On February 25 and on February 26 clashes erupted between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia supporters. In the background of these protest, Russian army moved in from Sevastopol naval base without insignia and no markings on vehicles. In following days Russian special forces seized all Ukrainian governmental and municipal buildings and military objects. In Match 11 Crimea declared independence Following scenario in the Baltic States 1940 a fake vote a “referendum” was held for whether Crimea should accede to Russia or restore the 1992 constitution within Ukraine, which the Ukrainian government had previously invalidated on March 16.
The referendum was held under conditions of military occupation, declared unconstitutional by Ukraine, anyone holding a Russian passport regardless of residency in Crimea was allowed to vote. After the OSCE refused to send observers Russia invited a group of observers from various European far-right political parties aligned with Putin, who started the referendum was conducted in a free and fair manner. Crimean Tatar leadership called to boycott the referendum. Russian President’s Human Rights Council data showed that 30%. And of these, only half voted for annexation – meaning only 15 percent of Crimean citizens voted for annexation. The fate of Crimea, therefore, was decided by the 15 percent of Crimeans, who voted in favor of unification with Russia.
The Crimean Republic lasted only one day. On March 17 it ‘signed the Accession treaty with Russia. Putin signed the treaty on March 18 and gave a triumphant speech full of lies, accusations, and whataboutisms.
The Crimea is occupied for nearly four years. During this time Russia has nationalized and looted the Ukrainian state and private property. It has made various arrests of pro-Ukrainian supporters and most crucially has made a crackdown on Crimean Tatar self-government the Mejlis. Large numbers of Crimean Tatars are arrested latest arrested is Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov. Crimean Tatars live in constant fears from a repeat of 1944 mass deportation to Central Asia. In first two years, Russia employed local Crimean collaborators who were hired during annexation. Since 2016 mainly the Interior sector, the law and order, and persecution has been replaced with people from Russia. A few of the most loyal and popular collaborators were rewarded with new posts in Moscow.
The Russian army has made Crimea the second Kaliningrad. Large military concentration is deployed to discourage Ukraine for trying to retake the peninsula and also keep the prospect of possible invasion into Ukrainian mainland to unite occupied Donbas with Crimea. The occupation has caused grave issues in infrastructure as power lines and water channels from Ukraine are closed resulting blackouts. Russia is forced to build a new bridge over Kerch strait in unfavorable geophysical and weather conditions. The social and economic situation has deteriorated, with only chosen loyalists and new Russian immigrants enjoying the fruits of occupation. In late 2017 protests have emerged as local people are removed their property and given to Russian citizens. Tourism has shelved and those who dare to enter are assigned to various EU and Ukrainian blacklists and prosecution. Ultimately Crimea in long-term will become a similar black hole to Kaliningrad. A region full of military objects and no local economy, stripped of social order and infrastructure.
During the Civil war in Ukraine, 1917-1920 was the first time when Bolsheviks came up with the idea of separate republics in Eastern Don basin. The purpose for this was to hinder Ukrainian Peoples Republic and Whiteguards. In 1918 a Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Republic was declared and later joined in Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. During 1920s-1930s Donbas was subjected to various repressions and most crucially the artificial famine that greatly downsized the Ukrainian speaking population. The deceased were replaced by newcomers from Russia and Belarus. The industrialization of the region contributed to immigration for years ahead.
In 1991 referendum for Ukrainian independence the regions of Eastern Ukraine voted in support by a large majority. Because of the economic downturn that was experienced in all post-Soviet space the Donbas population started to protest central Kyivan administration and went on general strike. On 1994 a referendum was held that was mostly a poll that asked following questions: should be enshrined as an official language of Ukraine, whether Russian should be the language of administration in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, whether Ukraine should federalize, and whether Ukraine should have closer ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States. Close to 90% of voters voted in favor of these propositions. None of them came into legislation. In following years the voters of Donbas started to place forward and vote for politicians who represented them. Donbas was in favor of Leonid Kuchma elected as president in 1994 and supported Viktor Yanukovich who failed to become president in 2004 because of vote fraud. Yanukovich a Ukrainian Russian speaker received most support in Donbas, Southern Central Ukraine, Crimea, and Black Sea coastal regions. Back then in Luhansk on November 26 the idea that these regions should separate from Kyiv if Yanukovich is not approved president was announced for the first. The new semi-state would be called the South-East Ukrainian Autonomous Republic. However, the republic was not declared as it was more a protest against the Orange revolution. In its root, it was a warning that based on elective divisions Ukraine could be divided as a state. In 2010 Yanukovich was elected still with vote fraud accusations, but this time he officially took the oath. Born in Donetsk region his election was seen as a victory for Donbas and pro-Moscow Ukrainians. In 2014 Yanukovich deposed himself from this throne. Moscow now saw the need to revive the idea of the Ukrainian division.
Yanukovich conduct was traitorous to his country and the people. He wrote an official plea to Moscow of asking to use force to “save Ukraine” that was shown in UN Security Council Session. He gathered a bombastic pen breaking press conference claiming that he was still the legal Ukrainian president and there has been a coup. Russian leadership also at first called events in Kyiv a coup and called the new provisional government a junta. After Moscow realized that new Ukrainian government will not fall and has established itself, it recognized it and started to negotiate with it and placed Yanukovich in the closet.
However, at first Russian leadership after the Crimean occupation was confident that Ukraine is now broken and the regions who supported Yanukovich will start counterrevolution and with help of FSB and GRU agents will take actions to join Russia. According to some sources, the author of the Novorussia strategy was the former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov. Novorussia once named for provinces of Eastern Ukraine that Russian Empire had been conquered away from Crimean Khanate. Since then, however, these lands were associated with Ukraine and Ukrainian Peoples Republic claimed them all including Crimea.
It was obvious also for Bolsheviks and Ukrainian SSR included Donbas and Southern Ukraine, Meanwhile Putin a creator of new Russian fantasy world claimed that Lenin had gifted these lands to Ukraine and they are 100% non-Ukrainian. That also includes cities like Kryvyi Rih and Zaporizhia, historic Ukrainian Cossack centers. Before we begun to talk where this idea was realized, let’s mention where it failed. Most crucial failure was Kharkiv where despite large Russian speaking population and pro-Russian city leadership the pro-Russian uprising failed. Kharkiv’s Peoples Republic supporters captured the regional administration building. But, separatists and Moscow agents did not receive support from Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy Kernes who switched sides in early April and allowed the crackdown on the separatist uprising. On April 28 he was nearly killed but survived and still leads the city. That was ф crucial Russian defeat as Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine, close to Russian border would be instrumental to the break up of Ukraine. Another major failure was Odessa. Attempted Russian uprising ended in tragic fire in the Odessa Trade Union building on May 2 where protesters had trapped themselves and perished in fire that started under unclear circumstances, Russia claimed this as Ukrainian atrocity while Ukraine called this a Russian false flag action as it seems that protesters trapped in the building either died in self-caused fire or some third force had made the setup.
The next major failure was Mykolaiv where the republic was declared but died in the womb as pro-Ukrainian activists stormed the separatist camp before they could perform a strike. It turned out that despite voting for the pro-Moscow candidate, citizens in these regions were against of joining Russia. They simply supported the Russian speaking Ukrainian faction, not Russia itself. A thing Putin and his team could not understand. Then the next major problem that Russia could not pour in armed agents and combatants that far from the border. The takeover only worked in Crimea where the bases are and in Luhansk and Donetsk region where Russia could bring in combatants from Rostov region at a fast pace.
Here we enter the issue of what is a pro-Russian separatist? There are various classes of them. First class is a real local, who is either recruited by ideological reasons or he is simply a paid hire. Some who lacked career possibilities in pre-War Ukraine now gained new posts and source of income from Russia. Next class, a Russian citizen, mercenary, FSB and GRU combatant or Russian army officer or serviceman who has been sent or were recruited. First, it’s clear that while taking over Ukrainian army posts and ammunition stocks the Donbas separatists still could not gain that much firepower to fight for four years in a row. Second, for advanced artillery and anti-air weapons, there must be professional instructors. Lastly, numerous Russian serviceman has been captured by Ukrainians, social media and even sometimes Russian media has confirmed the presence of Russian serviceman in Ukraine. Russia now has proposed the law of banning Russian soldiers to share their service details on the social media. The third class is pro-Russian mercenaries from the West and other countries. Some of them are real fighters, others are “journalists” as they call themselves. The fourth class is cyber warriors, either real people or bots who fights the war in social media to promote Russian side in the conflict.
On April 7 Russian forces captured key points in Luhansk and Donetsk. Donetsk Peoples Republic was declared. On April 11 Arseniy Yatsenyuk Prime Minister still managed to visit Donetsk and tried to stop the takeover personally. Next day Russia sent in “heavy artillery” a special unit by retired GU officer Igor Girkin or Strelkov as he likes to call himself seized the power in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Clashes erupted in Mariupol and Russians took over Horlivka. Ukraine issued Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). On April 27 Luhansk Peoples Republic was declared. Ukrainian army that was underfunded during Yanukovich rule and was assured that Russian army is a friend and partner now had to step in active combat against irregular Russian forces. First advances were successful. In early July Ukrainian army liberated Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Russia failed to capture Mariupol as attempts to take over the city was thwarted. On May 11 Luhansk and Donetsk held “referendums”. As much in case of Crimea, there is no data of how much percent of people actually took part and vote for the territorial change of Ukraine can only take place in Ukraine as a whole. In early June Russians had taken over Ukrainian border posts and that allowed Russian army forces entering unnoticed. On June 6 Russians shot down AN-30 observation plane, on June 14 the Il-76 transporter was shot down killing 42 people on board.
In July Ukrainian forces advanced and liberated Artemivsk. Battles erupted in Luhansk and Donetsk airports. On July 13 Russia accused Ukraine of shelling Donetsk village in Russia. Ukraine denied and accused of Russians shelling the village themselves. Ukrainian army was on the move and major event was needed to “stabilize” the situation. On July 17 2014 near Torez village, a Malaysian Airlines MH17 passenger liner was shot down. A social media account connected to Igor Girkin reported that Ukrainian An-26 has been shot down. When Russian forces arrived at the crash site they discovered that instead a passenger plane has been shot down, It soon became clear that plane was shot down from the ground using Russian Buk 332 anti-air missile system. By the investigation of Bellingat and official investigations, the Buk 332 belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade that entered Ukraine on July 16. On July 17 it was seen in Donetsk. It moved to the village of Snizhne and brought down the airliner. Next day it moved to Luhansk and made its way back to Russia. The sightings of this Buk 332 and its movement pattern shows that attack on the airliner was no accident. Ukraine had made an error and despite losses of multiple military aircraft had not closed down the airspace over Donbas combat zone. To Ukrainian defense, no one could have thought with a sane mind that passenger plane full of foreign civilians would be shot down. However, that was in the mind of Russian military leaders who made this order to cause massive outrage and accusations against Ukraine. Thus it would create an international pressure on Ukraine to stop the offensive and allow Russia to place conflict to a stalemate. The Russian side has made numerous attempts of trying to blame Ukraine for taking down the airliner. None of them has been convincing and has been rejected by the majority of experts and the official investigation.
Ukrainian offensive still persisted and on July 27 it had taken Debaltseve and thrusted deep into Russian held lines. The Air mobile and Mechanized forces of Ukraine conducted a successful 170 km raid behind militants’ lines in order to de- blocade fellow troops near the Ukrainian-Russian border. As in June, the border meets them with artillery barrages across it, with no means to return fire. On July 28, a height hosting a war memorial – Savur-Mohyla was taken. Located at the intersection of the Donetsk, Luhansk provincial borders, and also Ukrainian-Russian border, it was the most far-reaching stronghold of the Ukrainian army, that was not once put in harm’s way. On August 25, completely destroyed, it deemed impossible to defend anymore and per general Gordiychuk’s order Ukrainian Armed Forces along with volunteers began retreat in small groups. Some of them perished in ambushes or taken prisoners. In the M sector, Russian forces breach border in Novoazovsk and capture it. Defense of Mariupol begins with the city being shelled, while ambushes happened on its outskirts. The enemy forces attempted to encircle Mariupol from the North-Eastern direction and reach Volnovakha again – and block a major road the connect the city with the northern part of the Donetsk province. Events lead to the Battle of Ilovaisk where Russia sent additional forces and encircled the Ukrainian forces in Ilovaisk. Vladimir Putin proposed to create the humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian forces to evacuate. On August 29 the evacuation started. Russian forces shelled and ambushed Ukrainian soldiers during the evacuation. Ukraine had 366 killed, 158 missing, 429 wounded, 128 captured. Only 97 Ukrainian soldiers managed to escape the encirclement.
Meanwhile, in Luhansk region, the offensive severed Lutuhine from the rest of Ukrainian held territory. The Luhansk airport held by Ukrainian troops was a subject to a number of assaults (evidence of Russian T-90 tanks present there exists) carried out in between siege artillery barrages. After it complete devastation, the troops were evacuated from the encirclement. The disaster halted Ukrainian advance and forced Ukraine to look negotiations. On September 5 in Russian client state capital Minsk, Putin met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President François Hollande. The agreement was reached to a ceasefire, create a buffer zone. remove heavy artillery from the area and gradually limit the size on troops on both sides. This was a weak point as much of all Donbas separatist troops were from Russia and weapons were Russian, while Russia officially declared there is no Russian army within the combat zone, it does not have to abide. A number of Russian troops and weapons never ceased. It grew to a point when in September 2017 the leader of Luhansk separatists Igor Plotnitsky claimed that LPR has a second largest army in Europe.
The ceasefire became ceasefire in commas. Every day Russia would open artillery fire, make diversions and small attacks. The most crucial post-ceasefire battle was fought for Donetsk airport that was held by Ukrainian soldiers for many months and was finally captured by Russians on January 2015. On January 16 militants commence another offensive aiming at Mariupol but fail to reach the objective. On January 25 Mariupol was shelled by 122 and 220 mm missiles by Russian forces (as established by OSCE). 30 civilians were killed in this attack. In early February Ukrainian National Guard (Ministry of Internal Affairs) conducted a counterattack in the direction of Shyrokyne, east of Mariupol. Later, a combined force of the Ukrainian National Guard, Airborne, Naval Infantry and Artillery was defending this coastal town. In January 2015 Russian soldiers started to attack Debaltseve wedge that was surrounded by Russian forces. On February 20 Russian forces captured the city. New Minsk II agreement was made and a new ceasefire line was much in Russian favor. Since then for next two years, the conflict has gone into a stalemate and both sides have not made major offensives against each other. Ukraine has lost more than 10 0000 people and 1 million have gone on the refuge. Ukrainian government despite a constant struggle with opposition factions functions well and is supported by the western bloc. Russia now has learned to abuse the Ukrainian politics and has infiltrated various agents like Nadya Savchenko to wreck havoc. There is always a threat of third Maidan often made by two-sided politicians like Savchenko, Saakashvili, and Timoshenko. Much feared by Russia the right-wing nationalists and open Nazis have had a marginal effect on Ukrainian politics and frontline. One of the greatest struggles for Ukraine is struggle within themselves.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has gone into a stalemate and can last this way for many years or even decades. Russia has options: opt for new major offensive as Ukrainian army and government are much stronger than Russia had anticipated. Such major war would be costly and could also end in bitter failure and so far it seems that Russian leadership and military is afraid of taking such step. Next option is using various political and intelligence options to affect Ukrainian government, Western governments and the opinion of the people across the world to accept the occupation of Crimea and East Ukraine. So far in Ukraine, this has failed. In US Russia placed bets on supporting Donald J Trump, however, this gamble has turned out to be a failure. Not only Russian heavy attempts on cyber warfare and lobbyism has been uncovered and caused a new wave of outrage towards Russia, the Trump politics has so far been hostile towards Putin.
Attempts on supporting the breakup of European Union has so far lead to Brexit, but Brexit has become a scarecrow for other EU states and pro-Russian forces have failed in France and Germany despite gaining some ground. So far Russia has failed to affect the Baltic States and instead have contributed their militarization making peaceful invasion like on 1939-1940 almost impossible. If Russia is not able to defeat its enemy before entering battlefield it will have to attack a prepared enemy or not attack at all. If Russia cannot win a political war it cannot win the war on the battlefield. The War with Ukraine thus has placed Russia into long economic and political crisis. As for now it still pursues the goal of winning the political war. However, as long as it goes without a major victory, country enters a state of stagnation in economy and politics. The Russian politics is determined by the success of state leadership. If the leadership brings the nation into cancerous level like it happened in 1917 and 1991 the regime will be changed resulting unforeseen events and opportunities for Moscow enemies,
In 2019 as in result of five year war exhaustion and plain political nihilism within the majority of voters elected Russian speaker former comedian Vladimir Zelensky who has started revisions of Poroshenko policies and has also initiated new peace talks with Russia. How these peace talks will turn out is a question as you cant negotiate peace terms with Russia on equal terms when you are in the weak position.
During Arab Spring in Libya, the President of Russia Dmitri Medvedev actually supported the US lead intervention. Putin who saw Libyan dictator as an ally was deranged in anger and even as Prime Minister openly criticized Medvedev. After Muammar Quaddafi was brutally murdered Putin made the decision to end Medvedev’s ambitions for the second term and in 2012 made himself elected again. He saw Libya as a part of a Western conspiracy against him and his allies. When Civil War started in Syria, Putin clearly made the decision to keep Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and save him from the fate of Qaddafi. Also, Russia had to save its naval base in Tartus. In 2012 using diplomacy Putin managed to keep the US from attacking Syria. This caused a side effect as it only escalated war in Syria and contributed to the rise of the Islamic State or Daesh.
On 2015 when Daesh was expanding and Bashar Al Assad had asked for Russian help. This was an open war contrary to Ukraine, using navy, air force, and ground forces. Russia while officially claiming that it entered a war to fight Daesh, the most part of its effort was to fight various other rebel factions. Russians Air Force in so has bombed civilian targets, hospitals, and schools. Russia is mainly responsible for massive loss of lives during the siege of Aleppo, Homs and other cities. Russia had fought the battle to capture the ancient city of Palmyra where it established a military base. Palmyra, however, in December 2016 was lost to Daesh and regained again in 2017. Russian losses are a matter of controversy. Officially Russia has lost 41 soldiers, among them high-rank officers. Russia has lost aircraft to the enemy, in 2015 Turkey shut down Russian Su-24 bomber. However, a number of Russians are serving in Syria as mercenaries, some within the Wagner Group a Russian mercenary unit. Not all casualties are officially acknowledged. In this matter, the Russian war in Syria resembles the war in Afghanistan.
So far Russia has managed to keep Al Assad in power and remove main threats to him, However, the situation is unclear. Daesh has lost most of its gains and will have to go back to guerrilla warfare. Russia has not made a choice for Kurdish forces that opposes Daesh and Turkey, Eventually, Al Assad may try to remove Kurdish Rojava autonomy and Russia will have to make a choice as Rojava independence would end Syrian unity. The Kurds in Iraq has begun the path to break up from Baghdad and this may come sooner than expected. It seems that Russia will have to keep its presence in Syria for years to come. So far the war is successful. In Afghanistan, the war was also stable for Soviets for many years. However, then events changed against their side. It can happen or not happen in Syria. The war in Syria is a costly venture and testing field for Russia for future military endeavors.
Another factor is Israel, that opposes the Iranian involvement in the invasion and who is supporting and arming the anti-Israeli terrorist groups like Hizbollah in Lebanon and other such in Syria and in Israel itself. Israel has made many strikes against Iran and Assad army forces in past resulting also losses for Russian army, while indirectly as in case when Syrian air defense shot down Russian radar plane during the Israel air raid. The situation could escalate if Israel would start a new major operation against pro-Iran groups in Lebanon or if a conflict between US, Israel or Arab states would erupt with Iran, leaving Russian forces in Syria in questionable situation.
Since 2014 Russia has entered a new state of war. For 20 years the war was somewhere in Caucasus against insurgents that did pose a threat to Russian government and society. However, that was an inside war. The new war in 2014 is war directly against two countries and an indirect war against NATO block. NATO has not accepted the Crimean invasion. The economic sanctions are slowly eroding Russian politics and society. One of the reasons for high euphoria about Trump elections was that Russian society was actually against confrontation with the West and it had heeded the Russian propaganda of Trump being a friend to Russia. The problem is that even with Trump as US President the Russia and US cannot be friends. Russia and US are forever rivals that can agree on something and disagree on all else. The US has too many allies, Russia has almost none. Unless Russia creates a psychic beacon to hypnotize entire Western society its bound to live at an increasing level of sanctions, economic and political stagnation for decades to come. This means Russia can be prone to more invasions and wars. We haven’t heard the last of the Russian invasion and what the future will bring is a rough road with many routes and many bloody and glowing dead ends.
Author mag.hist. Māris Goldmanis
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