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Stalin – #1 Worst Russian Ruler

Stalin

Joseph Stalin

My selection for worst ruler in Russian history is Joseph Stalin for a number of reasons. His barbaric rule, filled with paranoia and genocide, cost the lives of tens of millions of Russian and Soviet lives. The way Stalin handled his colleagues led to a group of men who, after his death in 1953, were unable to lead their country out of its morass. While he may have saved the Soviet Union from the forces of Nazi Germany, his brutality was unmatched except by a few.

Born, Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvilli in 1879, the former Orthodox seminarian, became known in the revolutionary community as Koba before adopting the name Stalin. Arrested numerous times before the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II, there are rumors of his being a double agent for the Okhrana (the secret police of the Tsarist regime). Any proof of this and anyone who knew about it was wiped out when he became head of the Soviet state.

When Lenin died in 1924, Stalin quickly consolidated his power base to take control of the USSR. Because he was a paranoid man, he found enemies in every corner and use the NKVD, led by Nikolai Yezhov to begin to systematically destroy anyone opposed to his rule. Time and again, numerous purges were carried out where tens of thousands of people were tortured, exiled or executed for real and more often, made up charges of treason. The show trials during the Great Terror of 1936-1939 purged all the Old Bolsheviks that Stalin believed could be threats to his reign. Only those who were totally subservient to him were allowed to live.

To his west, Nazi Germany was arming themselves and despite being warned that they intended to attack the Soviet Union, Stalin signed a non-aggression agreement with them in 1939. When Germany decided to break the agreement in 1941, Stalin’s policies of purging many of the upper echelon of the Soviet army caused a disaster at the front. The USSR was totally unprepared for the invasion and because of this, millions of people died. While he did rally the people and eventually crush the Germans, it was at an incredible cost.

Post World War II, when the Soviet people felt that their sacrifices would lead to a better life, Stalin kept them down trodden. Before his death, he planned another purge of his inner circle and potentially, another world war. Thankfully he died in 1953 before he could unleash another Great Terror. Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, he left a group of neutered men to try to run the country. This eventually led to the failure of the communist system and the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

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Lenin – #4 Worst Russian Ruler

 

Lenin

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (episodes 70-72), born on April 22, 1870 is, in my opinion the number four worst ruler in Russian history. The founder of the Soviet Union, Lenin started Russia on a path that would lead to the deaths of tens of millions of people. While his toppling of the corrupt Tsarist regime, his ruthlessness and his putting Joseph Stalin in a position of power that would lead to terrible consequences, places him on this list.

Born in Simbirsk, as Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov to a wealthy middle class family, he became disenchanted with the Tsarist regime early on. His radicalism became more fervent after his brother Sasha was executed during the reign of Tsar Alexander III. Lenin began to read more and more works of leftist writers like Karl Marx. The works that had the most influence on him were Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s novel What is to be Done? and of course Marx’s Das Kapital.

In 1894, he met the love of his life, fellow radical, Nadezhda “Nadya” Krupskaya. Lenin was introduced to other leftists who he debated with as to the methods of overthrowing the Tsarist regime. Some wanted to assassinate the Tsar, others, like Vladimir, called for patience, insisting on waiting for the right moment.

That moment happened in 1917 when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne. Still the time was not right as the Provisional Government stepped into the void. Biding his time, Lenin returned from self-imposed exile in Finland to lead the Bolshevik’s to overthrow the government in November. Consolidating his position, he ordered the murder of anyone with ties to the old Tsarist regime. He approved the execution of the entire family of former Tsar Nicholas II.

The ensuing Civil War cost hundreds of thousands of lives due to the fighting and the ensuing period of famine. Lenin continued along the path of ruthlessly suppressing any dissent though the newly formed secret police, the Cheka. At the time, he was debating who to hand the power to after he died. The choice was either Leon Trotsky or Joseph Stalin. He unfortunately had place Stalin into positions that ultimately led to Joseph’s taking control after Lenin’s death in January of 1924.

Lenin’s brutality and his misguided vision wrapped in his ideal of Marxism-Leninism led to great suffering in Russia. It is for these reasons I place him as one of the worst leaders in Russian history.

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Brezhnev – #7 On The Worst Rulers List

Brezhnev

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982 (Episodes 102 and 103). His 18 year reign was second to only Joseph Stalin during the years of the USSR. Brezhnev’s time was marked by an economic stagnant time that has been blamed in part for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Born in 1906 in the city of Dniprodzerzhynsk (aka  Kamenskoe) in the Ukraine to a Russian working family, Brezhnev joined the Komsomol in 1923. He became a member of the Communist Party six years later. His education, like many of his colleagues was not an intellectual one but a technical one. Over the years he moved up the ladder, especially after the Great Purges of 1937-39 on the orders of Joseph Stalin.

During World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, Brezhnev helped evacuate industry from the Ukraine east, ahead of the German advance. During those years he met his mentor, Nikita Khrushchev the man he eventually was to oust in 1964. At the end of his military service, he left as a Major General but had never really served in a fighting unit.

Quickly, Brezhnev began to move up the ladder once again serving as a First Secretary of his home region and later as a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. When Stalin had died in 1953 his career looked quite bright as Khrushchev had begun to assume power. He was then made First Party Secretary of the Communist Party of theKazakh SSR. In 1957 he helped his mentor defeat the “Anti-Party Group” which helped him gain a place on the Politburo. Within a few years in became apparent that he was being groomed to take over from Khrushchev as he was made Second Secretary.

Starting in 1962, Khrushchev was becoming more and more erratic in his behavior and he plunged his country into the Cuban Missile Crisis (Episode 99). By 1964, Brezhnev and his fellow Politburo members had had enough so they orchestrated a coup that took out his mentor peacefully (Episode 101),  a first in Soviet history.

Whereas Khrushchev was a reformer, Brezhnev was the opposite. He quickly reversed many of the more recent reforms put in place by the former leader and began to retrench and place his own cronies into positions of power. At the beginning of his reign, he shared power with Alexei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgorny. Over the years he played each against the other with him eventually taking sole control of the Soviet Union.

Brezhnev turned to the United States to discuss détente. The two nations were in the midst of the Cold War and an unsustainable arms race. The toll on the Soviet economy was staggering. The USSR was focused on military buildup at the expense of their people. Food and consumer product shortages began to show up with greater frequency. This led to more dissatisfaction but it was becoming increasingly difficult to speak out as Brezhnev began a policy of repression led by his eventual successor Yuri Andropov.

During his time as head of the USSR, he sent in troops to crush the Czechoslovakian uprising (the Prague Spring) and started the war in Afghanistan. This war was to produce a cooling between the two super powers, the US and the USSR. The Americans boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics and further damaged the Soviet economy by stopping all grain exports to them.

More and more, Brezhnev’s cronies dug their hands deeper into the pockets of the people with a level of corruption not seen since the late-Tsarist times. Not only did Leonid Illyich not do anything about the corruption, he seemingly encouraged it. It is this position that makes me place the man on the list of worst Russian/Soviet leaders.

When he died in 1982, the countries economy was in shambles and the corruption so deep that within nine short years, the USSR would be forced to dissolve under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

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Gorbachev – #9 On the Worst List

Yuryi Abramochkin / Юрий Абрамочкин Photo of Gorbachev

Yuryi Abramochkin / Юрий Абрамочкин Photo of Gorbachev

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is considered by many in the West as being one of the most enlightened Soviet or Russian rulers of all time. In Russia on the other hand, he ranks at or near the bottom and for good reason. Despite the Nobel Peace Prize and the West’s glee at the end of communist rule in the USSR, his domestic policies were an unmitigated disaster for the people he was supposed to protect.

Born in Gorbachev was born in Stavropol Krai in Russia into a peasant UkrainianRussian family on March 2, 1931. His beginnings were humble and the work hard but young Gorbachev made do. He was considered quite a bright young man but schooling would have to take a back seat in 1941 when the Soviet Union was invaded by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi forces. While he claims in his memoirs that the Nazi’s planned to kill everyone in his village, he never was at risk for death in his lifetime until possibly the attempted coup in 1991.

When he took over as head of the Soviet state in 1985 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he was handed a totally corrupt and rotting system. Despite that, he was very naive in how he handled the domestic issues with no clear cut plan on how to overcome the issues. At first he believed that simply by replacing and moving old time Brezhnev cronies and replacing them with younger and supposedly more idealist communists that things would rebound. Instead, things kept getting worse by the day.

Seeing this happening, Gorbachev decided on radical reform without truly thinking things out. Perestroika and Glasnost were his two guiding ideologies but they were only vague ideas that meant little economically to the people of the Soviet Union. When the country began to dissolve, his policies did little to reverse the suffering of the people as food and consumer good shortages were rampant. When the country finally was disbanded, hunger and misery were widespread throughout Russia.

When I initially began my research into Gorbachev, I was wearing rose-colored glasses as the media and the U.S. government painted a pretty picture of the man. As I delved further into his life and times, it became more and more apparent that his reign as head of the Soviet state puts him on the list of worst rulers of Russian or Soviet history.

 

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Khrushchev #10 – Best Russian Ruler List

Khrushchev

Khrushchev Nikita

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev is in my opinion, #10 on the list of best Russian rulers. Many might disagree but he did some impressive things in his time following the terror that was the rule of Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev was in a tough position when he came to power and he tried as much as possible to reform a corrupt and broken system. While he ultimately failed, the fact that he tried as hard as he did was good enough in my humble opinion to make the good ruler list.

Born on April 15, 1894 to a peasant family, this unlikely man rose to the pinnacle of power in the Soviet Union in 1953. Khrushchev survived the Great Purges of the late 1930′s, the Great Patriotic War (World War II) and the intrigues following Stalin’s death to make the grab for power. While many condemn him for participating in Stalin’s purges, it was either that or face his own demise. He did what he had to to survive. But when he had the opportunity to expose the murderous era he did so with great bravery and put himself into a great deal of peril as well.

His administration and rule were marked by a lot of highs and lows. One of Khrushchev’s high points is the so-called Secret Speech where he exposes the abuses of Stalin. Of his lows, there is little doubt that the Cuban Missile crises is top of the list.  In between, he tried as hard as any Russian or Soviet leader to better the plight of his people. Reading his memoirs and studying his time in office, it is apparent that he truly tried to make the necessary reforms to raise up the standard of living in his country.

While erratic in his behavior, sometimes coming off as a buffoon, he was a man of conviction in a system that was corrupt at its core. Khrushchev stood far above any Soviet leader in my opinion and deserves a spot in the list of best rulers of Russia.

 

 

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Cheka – Soviet Secret Police Created

The Cheka,  ”The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage” was founded by decree on December 20, 1917 by Vladimir Lenin. In order to tighten his grip on power and to set the stage for the brutal Russian Civil War, Lenin formed the Cheka to terrorize his opposition. Led originally by Felix Dzerzhinsky, by 1922, tens of thousands of people were arrested, tortured, and or executed by the various Cheka groups.

The organizational structure of the Cheka was created in regions like the  oblastguberniyaraionuyezd, and volost Chekas. By 1922, there were hundreds of thousands of members of the Cheka, most in the fighting units in the Red Army. Their main targets were anyone associated with the old Tsarist regime, the clergy, anyone with any measurable amount of money or land holdings, and just about anyone who did not back the Bolshevik’s. People were encouraged to spy on their neighbors so anyone with a grudge against you could rat you out to a Cheka official which meant your death warrant was on its way.

Their goal, as Dzerzhinsky wrote in the Red Army journal Krasnaya Gazeta was, ”Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky … let there be floods of blood of the bourgeoisie – more blood, as much as possible…” After the attempted assassination of Lenin by Fanny Kaplan and the successful murder of Moisie Uritsky, both in 1918, the Red Terror was unleashed on the people.

Guided by Lenin’s belief that it was better to arrest 100 innocent people than to let one guilty person free. the Cheka was given a free hand to do whatever they pleased. You can imagine the kind of criminal minds that were allowed to perpetrate gross inhumane crimes against humanity. Into that, you have to understand that the White Army was as guilty of the same depravity as was the Red Army.

By 1922, the Cheka was reorganized and a new secret police agency, the GPU or OGPU was formed which morphed into the NKVD and eventually the KGB. Its legacy remains dark and foreboding, with countless shattered lives strewn in it wake. A sad part of Russia’s history.

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Stalin’s Birthday

Joseph Stalin, iron-fisted ruler of the Soviet Union from 1924 until 1953 was born on December 18, 1878. While some in Russia may celebrate his birthday, I cannot in good conscious do so. He was responsible for the murder of millions of innocent people which is beyond the scope of imagination.

The man originally named Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili born to Ketevan Geladze and Besarion Jughashvili in Gori, Georgia, would destroy all who opposed him and those who threatened his paranoiac mind. Few men in history carry such a horrific biography but he stands with men like Genghis Khan, Mao Tse Tung and Adolf Hitler.

In his defense, some have claimed that he saved Russia from the Nazi’s through his leadership and forced industrialization but at what cost? He used humans like bullets throwing them at the Nazi’s or into slave labor to industrialize his country. Stalin, despite being warned over and over that the Nazi’s were going to attack the Soviet Union, refused to set up defenses that would have saved the lives of millions of people.

During the Great Purges of 1937-39, Stalin had no qualms about ordering the execution of innocent people for no other reason than they were alive. Anyone who he perceived as being a threat as well as their families, friends and associates were  destroyed or sent to inhumane labor camps. The incredible toll it took on his people and those surrounding him were incalculable.

If you’ve been listening to my post-Stalin podcasts you would by now understand how he emasculated the leaders that followed him. The idea of independent thought was squashed, reforms almost impossible to successfully pull off and a system so corrupt that it collapsed in 1991. Khrushchev tried to repudiate things in the 1950′s and early 1960′s but was defeated by Brezhnev and his allies who tried to bring back some of Stalin’s ways to squash open discussions of the problems facing the Soviet Union.

While some may think I’m being harsh in my assessment of Stalin, I can’t justify any other thought process. Spending weeks looking at all the evidence, especially the material that was opened after perestroika, I cannot have an opinion any less than his being, as my mother used to call him, “a beast.”

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Denikin – White Russian General

Anton Denikin

General Anton Denikin

On December 16, 1872, the son of a one time serf, Anton Ivanovich Denikin was born in Szpetal Dolny. This small village in what is now Poland, was once a part of the Russian Empire. This unlikely leader was part of anti-communist movement during the Russian Civil War (Episode 71).  He was to commit numerous atrocities, especially against the Jewish population. His push towards Moscow during the summer of 1919 almost toppled the Bolshevik’s but ultimately his army was defeated.

Anton Denikin was the son of a former serf, Ivan Efimovich Deniken who was forced into a 25 year tour of military service started in 1833. Eventually he would become an officer in 1856, retiring as a major. His father’s patriotic feelings towards the Tsar and the Russian Empire inspired Anton to go into the military himself. Another ideal that Denikin was to take from his father was his deep seated hatred of Jews.

Living in extreme poverty, Denikin began to take courses at Kiev Junker School in 1890.  He graduated in 1892 and applied to the General Staff Academy in 1895. Unfortunately, Denikin could not meet the academic requirements in his first two years there. He continued to try and seemingly had made it only to find out that they changed the rules. He plead his case to the Grand Duke who made him an offer to enter that Denikin felt was an insult to his integrity.

Over the following years, Denikin continued to move up the ranks. In 1905, the Russo-Japanese War began and by now he was a colonel. By the time World War I began, he was now a major general. It was here that Denikin began to show his mettle.

While he had the cushy job of being named Quartermaster General Brusilov‘s 8th Army, he wanted to go to the front. He was given his wish when he joined the 4th Rifle Brigade. He was to serve brilliantly. During the Brusilov Offensive he was to help win the last Russian offensive during the war.

With the onset of the Russian Revolution in 1917, he joined the staff of  Lavr Kornilov. Not liking what they saw with the Provisional Government, Denikin participated in the  Kornilov Affair. He was arrested in September 1917 but escaped in October.  Denikin joined Grand Duke Nicholas, Kornilov and other Russian officers to mount opposition to the Bolshevik’s.

When Kornilov was killed, Denikin took over as Commander-in-Chief. His mission was to capture Moscow and in the summer of 1919 he almost accomplished it. The city and the Bolshevik revolution was saved by a deal made between Leon Trotsky and Nestor Makhno‘s anarchist Black Army. Makhno would later be betrayed by the communists but he served his purpose.

While in retreat, Denikin’s army began its legacy of atrocities against the Jewish population. Over 100,000 were murdered in the pogroms. By now, international pressure and support forced Denikin to resign. He eventually fled to France but ended up in the United States in 1945, dying there in 1947. Initially buried in France, his remains were brought back to Russia in 2005 at the behest of his daughter. He is now buried at the  Donskoy Monastery in Moscow.

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Persian Interactions with Russia

One of the greatest praises one can get is when someone takes your idea and runs with it. Mike Rakshan did just that with his new podcast, The History of Persia. His obvious passion for the subject is likely due to his being of Persian descent like mine being because of my Russian descent. You can tell in his voice that this is a project that comes from the heart which makes it a great listen. Also, thanks for the shout out at the beginning of the podcast. Much appreciated.

Interactions between Russia and the Persian’s (present day Iran) have persisted from the time that people inhabited the land of the Rus until present day. Through Persia the Russians were exposed to the religion of Islam and it is thought that Persian emissaries came to the court of Vladimir the Great to present their religion to him although some believe it was Bulgarian Muslim’s who made the presentation.

Persian merchants were major trading partners with the Kievan Rus back in the late 10th and early 11th century. While Constantinople was the biggest partner, Persians were not far behind. Through the time of the Samanid dynasty 819 – 999, Ghaznavids 963–1186 and the shared invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century trading continued.

Now under the thumb of the different Mongol Hordes, there was still some trade going on but because of how devastated the Persian population was, it went down to a trickle. As both countries struggled to shake off the domination, they began to evolve in different ways. But they did have a common enemy, the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman-Persian Wars were fought from about 1514-1823.

The Russians began to come into conflict with the Ottoman’s as they began their expansion south, beginning with the ascension to the throne by Peter the Great. His Great Embassy through Europe was to gather allies in his fight to take Ottoman territories (Episode 31)  like the base at Azov. When he saw the threat of the Swedes under Charles XII he signed a treaty with the Ottoman’s much to the dismay of the Persian leaders who were themselves were fighting wars with the Ottomans.

Moving to the more recent dealings,things between the USSR and the Shah of Iran were cool. Under Gorbachev, better relations with Iran were tried as a buttress against American influence in the Middle East. With Putin, conflicts arose between the Persian Iranians and Russia die to conflicts in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, former members of the USSR were developing their independent energy resources which was opposed by Iran.

I look forward to hearing more about Persian history from Mike as it seems to be a long and interesting one.

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Chechnya and the First Chechen War

Chechnya, is a country found in the southeastern part of Europe in the Northern Caucasus mountains. It was annexed by the Russian Empire in the 1870′s. It was later joined with Ingushetia to form the autonomous republic of Chechen-Ingushetia in the late 1930s as a member state in the USSR. Its time as a member state of the Soviet Union was not a good one as we shall see.

What is remarkable about Chechnya is that it is home to one of the earliest known human settlements, dating back to 125,000 BCE. Ever since the 1400′s, Chechnya has been in constant strife trying to remain independent of foreign rule. Unfortunately for them, they were stuck between two great empires, the Ottomans and the Russians. They converted as a people to Sunni Islam so they were more closely allied to the Turks as opposed to the Russians. This was not to prove to be a viable alliance as the Ottoman Empire began a steady decline while the Russians were expanding. Chechnya was eventually absorbed into Russia in 1875.

The deal with the Russians was due to constant raiding by the Turks and Persian despite the common Sunni religion. The merger though was not popular with the people. So whenever turmoil hit Russia, the people of Chechnya revolted as they did during  Russo-Turkish War, the Russian Revolution of 1905 (Episode 64), the Russian Revolution of 1917 Episode 67), and the Russian Civil War (Episode 71).

This history of rebellion did not sit well with Joseph Stalin as you might imagine. The NKVD, under orders from Stalin, began mass deportations of millions of Chechens and Ingush peoples. The were sent to the Kazakh SSR and Siberia in 1944. This was supposed punishment for helping the Nazi’s during the Great Patriotic War. While under Nikita Khrushchev, they were gradually allowed to return to their homeland. Although the program of Russification was kept in effect. This was to cause a festering hatred of the Russians.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 an independence movement was founded called Chechen National Congress. This group was led by former Soviet Air Force General and new Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. Then Russian President Boris Yeltsin was opposed to the independence of the country and tried to send a military force to invade the country and subdue it on December 11, 1994.  For two years the two countries fought but like Afghanistan, the mountainous regions within Chechnya proved impossible to control. On August 31, 1996, a peace treaty was signed and hostilities for the moment were over.

A second war in Chechnya was begun in 1999 and lasted over nine years with Russian victory at a grave cost. Rebels continue to harass Russian troops and on occasion terrorist attacks have taken place on Russian soil.

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