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Soviet Union


  • Originally published 03/04/2014

    Smashing Lenin Won’t Save Ukraine

    The vandalism and destruction of Lenin statues across Ukraine is only the latest attack on symbols of the old Soviet state and its Eastern European satellites.

  • Originally published 09/05/2013

    Putin's No Stalin

    Sure, he's a repressive autocrat, but Putin hasn't killed millions of people.

  • Originally published 08/20/2013

    What would compel a black American to move to Stalinist Russia?

    WASHINGTON — The oil painting of a black Russian man lay quietly for years in a back corner of an antique shop in a dingy walking mall in Moscow.Andy Leddy, a white American working on a U.S. government contract for a refugee program in 1992, a year after the Communist Party lost power, pulled the canvas out and unrolled it.“Why would there be a portrait of a black man in Russia?” Leddy recalls thinking. “They treated people of color horribly here. But look at it. It’s heroic and romantic. It is odd to see a black subject in a heroic pose.”The clerks told him the unsigned painting depicted a man named Patterson who had starred in a classic Russian movie, but that was all they could tell him....

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    The Trouble with Indian Air Force’s MIG-21 Fighter Jets

    On July 15, a Russian-made MIG-21 “Bison” fighter jet, operated by the Indian Air Force, crashed while attempting to land at the Uttarlai air base in the Barmer district of Rajasthan. This was the second MIG-21 crash, at the very same air base, in two months. However, unlike in the previous accident, which had no casualties, this time the pilot was killed. The crash has been attributed to pilot error.Only a day after the second accident in Rajasthan, a serving officer of the Indian Air Force, Wing Commander Sanjeet Singh Kaila, who himself is a MIG-21 crash survivor, petitioned the courts for the scrapping of the entire fleet. Wing Commander Kaila has contended that flying the aircraft has violated his right to work in a safe environment. The wing commander was involved in a crash during a flight exercise in 2005 after his aircraft caught fire. He delayed in ejecting to safety from his burning aircraft because he was flying over a populated region. His accident also took place in Rajasthan.

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    Stephen F. Cohen: Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, Truth-Teller Who Exposed Stalin’s Crimes

    Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and his The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin are now in paperback. One of the last and irrepressible truth-tellers about the Stalin era, who themselves experienced the horror of those years, has died. Having lost both his mother and father in the 1930s, in the tyrant’s prisons of torture and execution, Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko was arrested three times (in 1940, 1941 and 1948) and spent nearly thirteen years in Gulag forced-labor camps, including the infamous complexes at Pechora and Vorkuta.Anton had one mission, as he passionately declared in my presence many times during our thirty-seven-year friendship: “To unmask Stalin, his henchmen and their heirs.” The first major result was Anton’s book Portret tirana (Portrait of A Tyrant), written in the 1960s and 1970s, long before it could be published in Russia, but published in English in New York in 1981 as The Time of Stalin. It remains one of the monumental works of historical truth-telling of the pre-Gorbachev and pre-glasnost era, along with Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.

  • Originally published 07/11/2013

    Anton Antonov Ovseyenko, Who Exposed Stalin Terror, Dies at 93

    “It is the duty of every honest person to write the truth about Stalin,” Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, a Soviet historian and dissident, wrote in the preface of his seminal book “The Time of Stalin: Portrait of a Tyranny,” published illegally in 1981.A survivor of the gulag whose parents died in Stalin’s purges, Mr. Antonov-Ovseyenko spent a lifetime in almost fanatical devotion to that duty, working until his death on Tuesday in Moscow at 93 to expose the darkest truths of the Soviet era.His books cracked through the shell of Soviet censorship that surrounded much of the Stalin-era brutality, offering readers at home and in the West a vivid portrait of tyranny and violence....

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Peter Savodnik: Moscow Is No Place for a Defector

    Peter Savodnik is a journalist in Washington, D.C. His book, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, will be published in November by Basic Books.Edward Snowden may not have realized it as he fled Hong Kong last month, but he was about to become part of a tradition that predates Internet metadata collection, or Wikileaks, or the National Security Agency itself: He was an American dissident heading for Russia.Now, as he nears his third week in consular limbo, the man who leaked word of the NSA’s Prism program must be feeling a tad dismayed by his reception, which has not exactly been warm or cold but somewhere, weirdly, in between. If he’d read up on the history of other Americans who wound up under the dubious protection of the Kremlin, he might not be so surprised. Whether seeking exile in a Soviet socialist paradise or merely hoping that Vladimir Putin’s hostility to Washington means you’ll be able to fly on toward Ecuador in peace, the history of Americans fleeing to Moscow is a long and unhappy one.

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Soviet-era listening stations still operating

    The world has been somewhat surprised by recent reports of the National Security Agency's massive electronic spying operations around the globe. But they're not the only ones with their ears to the proverbial ground. Just about every nation is engaged in some sort of electronic espionage. Russia, for example, still has an array of massive listening stations, ready to snoop on whoever's talking.It's a legacy of the Soviet Union, which  ran one of the largest of those electronic eavesdropping networks as it tried to gain any intel it could on the U.S. and its allies. Those old Soviet eavesdropping stations still exist. Some are rusting away in former Soviet countries. Others are still operational.Intelligence historian Matthew Aid just got ahold of a recently declassified CIA document listing the locations of 11 KGB strategic radio interception stations throughout Russia and the rest of the old Soviet Union....

  • Originally published 06/21/2013

    Germany recalls 1953 anti-Soviet revolt

    BERLIN — The German president recalls it as an electrifying moment. One of Berlin’s most resplendent avenues is named simply the “Street of June 17” in remembrance. But the heady, short-lived uprising by hundreds of thousands of East Germans 60 years ago on Monday has never lived in history as the more famous anti-Communist revolts that followed — in Hungary and Poland in 1956, in Prague in 1968 and in Poland again in 1980-81.Joachim Gauck, the first Easterner to be president of the reunited Germany, was 13 at the time, living in the Baltic port of Rostock, he told Parliament in a quietly emotional speech on Friday. “But I remember very clearly the sense of euphoria that the dockworkers were on strike,” Mr. Gauck said. “I was sure that something new was under way.”It took 36 more years before East Germans rose up en masse again, and the Berlin Wall fell. And now, almost 24 years after that, Mr. Gauck sits in Bellevue Palace, and Angela Merkel, another Easterner, in the Chancellery. So commemorations of the 60th anniversary were infused not just by Germans’ penchant for marking round dates but also by a sense of putting the 1953 uprising on more of a pedestal....

  • Originally published 06/18/2013

    Facing a dark past in Russia

    IN SOVIET times, it was the ideological caprice of the moment, rather than any open-ended research into the past, that determined how people were taught to view the different phases of their country's history. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, official history lessons denounced the Tsars for their cruel treatment of smaller nations. Then the Russian empire was rehabilitated as a "lesser evil" than its weaker neighbours; and as Stalin's repression reached its height, his regime and its ideological masters began to find merit in the savageries of Ivan the Terrible. There was a sardonic saying that summed up these dizzying fluctuations: "The future is known—it's always bright—but the past keeps changing."  

  • Originally published 05/30/2013

    Ward Wilson: The Bomb Didn't Beat Japan... Stalin Did

    Ward Wilson is a senior fellow at the British American Security Information Council and the author of Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, from which this article was adapted.The U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II has long been a subject of emotional debate. Initially, few questioned President Truman's decision to drop two atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, in 1965, historian Gar Alperovitz argued that, although the bombs did force an immediate end to the war, Japan's leaders had wanted to surrender anyway and likely would have done so before the American invasion planned for November 1. Their use was, therefore, unnecessary. Obviously, if the bombings weren't necessary to win the war, then bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong. In the 48 years since, many others have joined the fray: some echoing Alperovitz and denouncing the bombings, others rejoining hotly that the bombings were moral, necessary, and life-saving.

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Anya Schmemann: Life Under the KGB's Watchful Eye in 1980s Russia

    Anya Schmemann, is the director of editorial strategy, and the director of the task force program, at the Council on Foreign Relations.Last week, Russia expelled an American diplomat, accusing him of being a spy for the CIA. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said that U.S. Embassy Third Secretary Ryan Fogle had been caught red-handed with disguises, spy equipment, and wads of cash, trying to recruit a Russian agent.The episode -- complete with cheap looking wigs, fake glasses, a compass, a street map, and a laughable "Dear Friend" letter -- seemed straight out of the Cold War.For me, it caused a wave of nostalgia and catapulted me back to the 1980s when I was an expat child in Soviet Russia.Our family moved to Moscow in 1980, at the height of the Cold War, when President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev faced off across a great iron divide. My father was an American reporter, a fluent Russian speaker, the son of a Russian Orthodox priest, and the grandson of White Russian refugees, and he was instantly considered highly suspicious.

  • Originally published 05/17/2013

    1983: The Most Dangerous Year of the Cold War

    Credit: militarists.ru.Just how close did the world come to full-blown nuclear war in the 1980s?Frighteningly close.That's the conclusion of researchers at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which released on May 16 a collection of documents on the 1983 Able Archer war scare, the closest the Cold War came to turning hot since the Cuban Missile Crisis.Many of the documents come from Soviet archives, and are summarized in English; others came from the U.S. government after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requestsThe release is the first in a series of three postings; the second will consist of U.S. military documents, the third documents from the U.S. intelligence community. (The National Security Agency, the website notes, refused to release its relevant documents after a 2008 FOIA request, but “did review, approve for release, stamp, and send a printout of a Wikipedia article.”)

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    Debate rages in Russia over history textbooks

    As part of his effort to promote patriotism among younger generations of Russians, President Vladimir Putin has proposed creating a single set of history textbooks for schoolchildren, arguing that there should be more consistency in what students are taught and that textbooks should be free of internal contradictions and ambiguities.Speaking at a meeting of the Kremlin council on interethnic relations in February, Putin said textbooks must be "designed for different ages but built around a single concept, with the logical continuity of Russian history, the relationship between the different stages in history, and respect for all the pages of our past." He called for specific proposals to be prepared by November.Advocates of the new textbooks say discord in the historical narrative has brought about a lack of patriotism in the country, while opponents say they fear that failures of state policies will be omitted to promote a more positive image of the country, with the emphasis exclusively on victories and achievements....

  • Originally published 04/08/2013

    Georgia's On Again/Off Again Relationship with Joseph Stalin

    Stalin in 1945.During the 1990s, post-Soviet Georgia initially struggled to foster democracy. Its government was marked by former Soviet bureaucrats and widespread corruption. However, after the largely peaceful, pro-democratic Rose Revolution of 2003, Western educated Mikhail Saakashvili became president and rekindled hopes for democracy in post-Soviet Georgia. Since his inception, the new president has initiated a wave of reforms in order to bring Georgia out of Russia’s shadow and into the Western spotlight. Saakashvili’s reforms included restructuring of Georgia’s police forces, streamlining the bureaucracy, and facilitating economic growth, but also crackdowns on the separatist regions of Svaneti, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Though the latter endeavor eventually failed, Georgia under the tenure of Saakashvili accomplished a substantial rapprochement with the United States and Europe in a bid to include his country into NATO and the European Union.

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Sergey Radchenko: Mao and Stalin, Xi and Putin

    Sergey Radchenko is a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, based at the University's China campus in Ningbo, China. He is the author of Two Suns in the Heavens: the Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-67 and the forthcoming Unwanted Visionaries: Soviet Failure in Asia at the end of the Cold War. Original declassified documents for this article are provided through the Digital Archive of the History and Public Policy Program at the Wilson Center. In December 1949, Mao Zedong traveled to Moscow, for his first trip abroad. Three months earlier, perched high above a crowd of thousands in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Mao had announced the founding of the People's Republic of China. The nascent country was yet unformed, and Mao thought it important to ensure that New China would stand on the right side of history: the Communist side. In this, Mao needed Joseph Stalin's blessing and Soviet help.

  • Originally published 03/27/2013

    Russia’s History Is Too Tragic and Its Society Too Complex to Fit into Putin’s Worldview

    A stunning historical discovery was made at the first meeting of the revived Russian Military History Society when President Vladimir Putin asserted that the Bolsheviks used Finnish “armed formations” for executing the coup in October 1917 (Rossiskaya Gazeta, March 14). Even more remarkable was his reinterpretation of the Winter War with Finland (1939–1940) as not an act of aggression aimed at subjugating a neighbor that rejected the Communist model, but merely an attempt to correct earlier mistakes of drawing the border too close to St. Petersburg (Vedomosti, March 14). Putin conceded that the first months of that war were “bloody and inefficient” but concluded on a positive note that necessary forces were eventually mobilized and “everything fell into their right places” so that “the other side felt the entire might of the Russian—then Soviet—state” (RIA Novosti, March 14). This glorification of Stalin’s militaristic expansionism adds only a tiny fresh dose of poison to Russian-Finnish relations, but it speaks volumes about Putin’s perception of the modern world and Russia’s place in it.... 

  • Originally published 03/27/2013

    Voting Against Freedom

    With its inspiring images of citizens around the Middle East taking to the streets to demand an end to dictatorship, the Arab Spring rekindled our faith in democracy. As the dramatic events unfolded on television, it was impossible not to believe that however tightly autocrats may try to hold on to power, and however messy transitions may be, in the end, despotism must yield to the will of the people....

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Latvia commemorates Waffen-SS

    RIGA, Latvia — Over a thousand Latvians on Saturday commemorated Nazi-allied World War II soldiers while police used force to prevent violence from erupting between participants and ethnic Russians, who are a minority in the country.Many Latvians consider March 16, or Legionnaires Day, an opportunity to commemorate war veterans, while Russians see it as an attempt to glorify fascism and whitewash a black chapter in Latvia’s history.Latvia, which gained its independence after World War I, was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Nazi Germany a year later, and again by the Soviets in 1944. During the Nazi occupation thousands of Latvians were forcibly conscripted into the Waffen SS divisions, and many Latvians consider them to be heroes who fought for independence from communism.Some 250,000 Latvians fought alongside either the Germans or the Soviets, with approximately 150,000 eventually dying in battles....

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    Samuel Rachlin: Stalin’s Long Shadow

    Samuel Rachlin, a Danish journalist based in Washington, was born in Siberia, where his family lived in exile for 16 years, and came to Denmark at age 10. A collection of his essays, “Me and Stalin,” was published in Danish in 2011. SIXTY years after Josef Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, Russia is still struggling whether to view him as mass murderer or a national hero. Although his name and statues have been almost absent from Russia since the de-Stalinization campaign that followed his death, he continues to impose himself onto Russia’s political discourse far more prominently than Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state whose body still lies in the mausoleum on Red Square.Although Russians know more about Stalin’s crimes than they did ever before, many politicians and historians want to pull him out of the shadows and celebrate him for his role in the industrialization of the young Soviet state and the victory over Nazi Germany.

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    60 years after Stalin's death, Russia still divided on legacy

    MOSCOW — Devotees of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose brutal purges killed millions of innocent citizens and made his name a byword for totalitarian terror, flocked to the Kremlin to praise him for making his country a world power Tuesday, while experts and politicians puzzled and despaired over his enduring popularity.Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov led some 1,000 zealots who laid carnations at Stalin’s grave by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, praising him as a symbol of the nation’s “great victories” and saying that Russia needs to rely on this “unique experience” to overcome its problems....

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    Stalin theatre show sparks controversy

    A theatrical show at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum about Joseph Stalin — who died 60 years ago today — has sparked criticism from relatives of those who died in the Communist leader's prison camps.Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, is being remembered in the exhibition, which features testimony by descendants of officials who were part of his regime. The officials' personal, anonymous accounts are read by actors, and identified only by numbers."My grandfather was in charge of the construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal," reads number 13, alluding to Stalin's giant project in the 1930s built by Gulag prisoners, tens of thousands of whom died in inhumane conditions."It is not good to be a head of a (labour) camp. But my grandfather sincerely believed in his mission . . . In the end, I am not ashamed," the testimony concludes....

  • Originally published 02/07/2013

    90-year-old Russian WWII veteran tells of horrors and heroics during the Battle of Stalingrad

    MOSCOW –  The Soviet soldiers used their own bodies as shields, covering women and children escaping on ferry boats from a Nazi bombardment that killed 40,000 civilians in a single day. It was the height of the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest conflicts of World War II."They were all hit in the back," said 90-year-old Alexei Stefanov. "But they did not flee."Stefanov is among the few surviving veterans of the battle, which claimed 2 million lives and raged for nearly 200 days before the Red Army turned back the Nazi forces, decisively changing the course of the war. Russia celebrates the 70th anniversary of that victory on Saturday, with President Vladimir Putin taking part in ceremonies in Volgograd, the current name of the city in southern Russia that stretches along the western bank of the Volga River....

  • Originally published 01/28/2013

    Mark Joseph Stern: Did Chernobyl Cause the Soviet Union To Explode?

    Mark Joseph Stern is a Slate intern.At 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, following a disastrously ill-judged systems test by undertrained technicians. As surplus energy surged through the reactor, its core combusted, immediately killing nearby workers and exposing others to deadly levels of radiation. In the nearby town of Prypiat, Ukraine, people woke up to respiratory distress and nausea. Emergency response workers encased the reactor in a concrete sarcophagus and, unprepared for exposure to radioactivity, became stricken with severe symptoms of radiation poisoning. Tens of thousands of Soviet citizens filed into Chernobyl to help, considering it their patriotic duty; all were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation with no warning from the government. It took two days for the explosion to be announced, in vague terms, on the national news; not until Sweden discovered a radiation cloud that had drifted across Europe was the true extent of the Chernobyl explosion revealed.

  • Originally published 01/23/2013

    Oleg Kashin: A Cold Shoulder for Russian Dissidents

    Oleg Kashin is a correspondent and columnist for the magazine Russian Life. This article was translated by Steven Seymour from the Russian.LAST week, Alexander Dolmatov, an activist in a political party opposed to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, committed suicide at a detention center in the Netherlands. He had fled Russia last June, hoping to be granted political asylum. When his application was denied, he took his life — the only way to guarantee that he would not be deported home and, most likely, face time in prison.A Dutch official said “the asylum denial is not the reason for his suicide,” citing a note Mr. Dolmatov, who was 36, left behind. In that note, which Mr. Dolmatov’s mother shared with me, he expressed regret for “having brought shame on everybody.” However, his lawyer has said that Mr. Dolmatov might have written the note under duress. Mr. Dolmatov’s mother has asked the Dutch government for an investigation.