Archive | Soviet Union RSS feed for this section

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.

Comments { 0 }

Kirov Assassinated

Sergei Mironovich Kirov

Head of the Leningrad Party, Kirov was the chief rival to Joseph Stalin

Sergei Mironovich Kirov was assassinated on December 1st 1934, likely by orders from his rival Joseph Stalin. Charismatic, good looking, and well liked, Kirov was a definite threat to Stalin who was trying to consolidate his power at the time. At the 1934 party congress, Kirov received only 3 negative votes whereas Stalin received far more. Unfortunately for Kirov, Stalin controlled the vote tally and he was elected instead of Sergei.

Born on March 27, 1886 as Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov, Kirov was orphaned at a young age and was sent to an orphanage at the age of 7. His education was paid for by wealthy benefactors which allowed him to graduate from an industrial school in Kazan where he received an engineering degree. He quickly became a Marxist as Russian society faced the crises of the early 1900’s.

After being arrested during the 1905 revolution, Kirov joined the Bolshevik party. He fought with the Bolsheviks in the Civil War as a commander in Astrakhan. According to Montefiore, “During the Civil War, Kirov was one of the swashbuckling commissars in the North Caucasus beside Sergo and Mikoyan. In Astrakhan he enforced Bolshevik power in March 1919 with liberal blood-letting: over four thousand were killed. When a bourgeois was caught hiding his own furniture, Kirov ordered him shot.”

In 1921 Kirov took a managerial post in the Communist Party in Azerbaijan as a loyal ally of Joseph Stalin. For this he was awarded the position as head of the Communist Party in Leningrad. Together with Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Kirov sought to soften Stalin’s harsh treatment of those who dared disagree with him. Because of this stance, he became increasingly popular much to the chagrin of Stalin.

It was clear that Kirov had to go, so it is likely that Stalin ordered his murder. The head of the secret police, the NKVD was Genrikh Yagoda. He arranged for Kirov to be assassinated. The man who was hired to carry out the deed was one Leonid Nikolaev, a erratic man who held a grudge against the Party leadership.

On December 1st, the guards protecting Kirov was shuffled and not as tight as was normal. This planned change allowed  Nikolaev to get to Kirov who shot in the back of the neck. Nikolaev was captured and executed in secret. Stalin for his part used the Kirov assassination to begin his Great Purge.

Not only was Nikolaev executed but so was most of his family and a number of his friends. Stalin blamed the murder on his rivals like Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, both of whom were eventually tried and executed. While there is no direct evidence that Stalin was complicit in the murder, there is little doubt that he ordered it. Everyone involved in the assassination of Kirov, like the guards around Kirov and Yagoda were dead by 1937. As author Boris Nikolaevsky wrote “One thing is certain: the only man who profited by the Kirov assassination was Stalin.”[

Comments { 0 }

Alexander Godunov

On this day in 1949, world renowned ballet star Alexander Godunov was born in Sakhalin, Russia, then part of the USSR. Godunov started dancing in Riga, Latvia at the age of 9 where he met and became friends with future ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov. Over the years Godunov continued to move upwards in the ballet world eventually ending up in 1971 with the Bolshoi Ballet, the oldest ballet troupe in the world. He was named “premier danseur” shortly after joining.

Because of his dashing good looks, he became a Soviet film star acting in movies by acting in The Thirty-first of June by J. B. Priestley and as Vronsky in Anna Karenina. But he was disillusioned with Soviet life despite living a coddled life. At the height of Cold War tensions in 1979 while on tour with the Bolshoi in New York City he defected which caused a major international diplomatic row.

As soon as the KGB learned of his defection they took Godunov’s wife, Lyudmila Vlasova into custody and put her on a plane heading to Moscow. The flight was blocked form leaving as U.S. diplomats demanded that they be allowed to ask Vlasova if she was leaving under her own free will. Leonid Brezhnev and U.S. President Jimmy Carter then got involved in the incident. The State Department had prepared a U.S. passport for Vlasova but she declined the offer and she left for home three days after getting on the plane. She divorced Godunov in 1982.

Godunov joined the American Ballet Theater under old friend Mikhail Baryshnikov as the principle dancer. He and Baryshnikov has a falling-out in 1982 and he was fired. From here Godunov traveled the world as a guest dancer until he decided to try his hand again at acting in Hollywood.

His roles were varied, from the Amish farmer in Witness to the evil German Karl in Die Hard to a narcissist piano maestro in The Money Pit. He met Jacqueline Bisset whom he stayed with until 1988. Godunov became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987.

Tragically, Alexander Godunov died in 1995 at the age of 45 supposedly of complications of alcohol abuse and hepatitis.

Comments { 2 }

Stalingrad Counterattack – Operation Uranus

The Battle of Stalingrad

Movements of both the Soviet Red Army and German Army Group South are followed here.

On November 19, 1942, Operation Uranus began under the generalship of Georgy Zhukov during the Battle of Stalingrad (Episode 83). It marked the turning point in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) where the Nazi’s began their torturous retreat back to Germany at the cost of millions of lives.

The Battle of Stalingrad was a fierce battle that began on August 23, 1942 and ended on February 2, 1943 with the destruction and surrender of the Wehrmacht Army Group Southled by Fredrick Paulus. The battle was one of the costliest in terms of life in human history with an estimated 750,000 German and allied troops being killed, wounded or captured and 1.1 million Soviet soldiers and citizens being killed or wounded.

The Soviet strategy once the Germans entered the city of Stalingrad was to “hug” their enemies by staying in as close of a proximity to them as was possible. This negated the superior German firepower, especially their air support and artillery. Despite these tactics, the Luftwaffe conducted thousands and thousands of sorties which caused massive destruction to the city and a great loss of life on both sides.

Three months into the fighting the Germans had occupied 90% of Stalingrad but could go no further. The rallying cry of the Soviet Red Army was “Not a Step Back!” and “There is No Land Behind the Volga!” Stalin had already sent out orders that anyone who retreated would be shot along with their entire family back home. The incentive to fight to the death was great on both sides.

Slowly but surely, the Red Army began to encircle the embattled German forces in the city which slowed then stopped supplies from reaching the now desperate men. With fall, then winter approaching, the Soviet military command knew that it was only a matter of time before they would emerge victorious. It was then on November 19th, that Operation Uranus began with flanking maneuvers and a over 18 battalions and numerous tank and motorized brigades began the attack.

Comments { 2 }