FDR was a model for Vladimir Putin



After reading his insightful, well-written and gripping book about President Vladimir Putin, I asked Professor Mark Galeotti if he would accept to answer a few questions for this blog. He swiftly agreed and I’m very grateful for the generosity of his time. Here is the content of our exchange.

Many sincere thanks Pr. Galeotti for accepting to respond to a few questions for my blog.

His very privacy means we all get to imagine our own personal Putin…

PutinMarkGaleottiOn page 22 of your excellent book about President Putin, you write “If people think you are powerful, you are powerful.” On page 53, you refer to “purposeful theatricality”. In your book, Putin doesn’t come across as a bad person. Is there an important difference between the public and private persona of the Russian President? How is Mr. Putin different in private than what he shows in public?

The thing is that we really have very little sense of the true private self of Vladimir Putin: he absolutely protects that side of his life, and instead what we see is a guarded and carefully managed public persona. I think that for all the opulence of his lifestyle – the palaces, the personal staff, the thousand-dollar tracksuits – he is actually something of a lonely and distant figure, now almost trapped within the public persona, but this is very much my own imagining. In a way, that’s the point: his very privacy means we all get to imagine our own personal Putin…

On page 75, you debunk the notion that Vladimir Putin is some kind of social conservative (he notably upholds abortion rights), arguing that he is a pragmatist first. This notion is unfortunately not widely known in the West. Why do you think observers and commentators still hold to the notion that he is some kind of conservative ideologue?

First of all, since we tend to associate extreme nationalism and extreme conservatism, but secondly because the Russians themselves have fostered this image abroad. It is one of the ways they try to build constituencies of support, ‘selling’ Russia – and Putin as an icon of Russia – to different groups by playing to their own interests. To the left, which is often critical of the US role in the world, Putin is presented as the one leader willing to stand up to Washington. To the socially conservative right, he is portrayed as a traditionalist leader – religious, manly – of the sort they esteem.

Although the prevailing image in the West is of Putin as the austere, brooding and dispassionate geopolitical chess player, he is actually driven much more by emotion.

Would you say that Vladimir Putin’s most important quality is loyalty and how does it define him?

Yes, but it is what I could describe as the very personal and visceral loyalty of the tribal chief rather than loyalty to ideals or nations. He does not make strong personal connections easily, but those who are in his close circle he will defend, indulge and heed. On the other hand, those he considers “traitors” he will see persecuted and hunted down, even killed. Coupled with that, though, is an equally primordial notion of “respect” – when he feels Russia is disrespected, he seems to feel that he too has been disrespected, and regards it as right and necessary to retaliate. It is interesting that although the prevailing image in the West is of Putin as the austere, brooding and dispassionate geopolitical chess player, he is actually driven much more by emotion.

On the other side of the coin, what would be his worst shortcoming and how does it affect him negatively?

Those notions of “loyalty” and “respect” are also shortcomings. They lead to his making Russia something of a pariah state with its interventions into Ukraine (which “betrayed” Moscow by seeking a closer relationship with the West) and even murders abroad (of “traitors”). They also mean he turns a blind eye to the way his cronies embezzle Russia on an industrial scale, a level of corruption which eats at both the national treasury and also the legitimacy of his regime.

You cannot force people to respect you; you can only earn it.

For many, the Russian President is a major threat to the West. Would you agree with this assessment or are his actions oriented around the simple fact that he seeks for Russia to be respected in the world?

I see Russia as a major challenge to the West but not a threat – this is a declining, post-imperial state, most of whose people would actually live lives more like those we live in the West. He believes that Russia deserves to be treated as a “great power” and granted special rights, not least over most of its neighbours. Because we are not willing to agree, he regards us as the aggressors, and he also considers domestic political opposition as stirred up by the West (I think he’s 95% wrong). So, yes, his actions are defensive in his eyes: he feels he has to push back against the West, to force us to grant Russia the special status he feels is its birthright. But you cannot force people to respect you; you can only earn it.

I read on many occasions that the Russian President is a history buff and that he likes to read biographies notably. Do you know more about his reading habits?

He has mentioned Hemingway and Dumas – manly adventures! – in interviews, but otherwise, beyond history, it has generally been Russian heavyweights such as Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Tolstoy. To be honest, though, I think it is pretty much de rigueur for any Russian leader to affect to love these classics of their country’s literary canon – I don’t know if he genuinely is a fan!

I don’t see Putin considering Stalin a role model.

Who are his historical models (in Russia and abroad if there are any in the latter)?

He only speaks of Russian ones, the great nation-builders such as Peter the Great and the early 20th century prime minister Peter Stolypin. He has also presided over a partial rehabilitation of Stalin that stresses victory in the Second World War and modernization of the country rather than the murderous tyranny, but I don’t see Putin considering him a role model.

Interestingly enough, in his early years as president, Putin also compared himself with America’s longest-serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, specifically in that just as FDR “rescued” his country from the Great Depression, Putin led Russia out of the chaos and poverty of the 1990s. These days, as he has taken a more nationalist turn, we don’t get such parallels!

For his succession, he will probably jump a generation and go for someone currently relatively unknown.

Who are the rising stars, figures we should start following with meticulous interest, in the entourage of the President?

First of all, I think we should accept that if he ends up picking a successor in a time of his choosing, it is unlikely to be anyone currently on our radar: he will probably jump a generation and go for someone currently relatively unknown, not least to ensure his successor continued to need his support. That said, fate may take a hand, and at present the most interesting figures within the senior ranks of the elite who might yet rise further include the minister of defence, Sergei Shoigu and the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin. But at present I’d be surprised if either ever became president.

What he has to fear are these strokes of fate, either relating to his own health or Russia itself.

Alternatively, who represents the greatest threat to this rule?

His real threats are not whos but whats. His control over the security apparatus is still strong; his public approval, while declining, is still solid; his capacity to sideline or eliminate rivals unchallenged. However, he is not especially good in dealing with the unexpected, something we are seeing in his unwillingness to show real leadership in the Covid-19 crisis. What he has to fear are these strokes of fate, either relating to his own health or Russia itself.

I certainly would have been happy to read several more pages about the Russian President in your book, since you are visible a well-informed and talented writer. I’m therefore looking forward to reading your upcoming book about the history of Russia.


Mark Galeotti, We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong, London, Ebury Press, 2019, 143 pages.


FDR a été un modèle pour Vladimir Poutine

Après la lecture de son récent livre à propos du président Vladimir Poutine, un ouvrage révélateur, bien écrit et passionnant, j’ai demandé au professeur Mark Galeotti s’il accepterait de répondre à quelques questions pour ce blogue. Il a rapidement accepté et je suis très reconnaissant pour la générosité de son temps. Voici le contenu de notre échange.

Je vous remercie sincèrement, professeur Galeotti, d’avoir accepté de répondre à quelques questions pour mon blogue.

L’importance qu’il accorde à son intimité signifie que nous pouvons tous imaginer notre propre Poutine…

À la page 22 de votre excellent livre au sujet du président Poutine, vous écrivez: « Si les gens pensent que vous êtes puissants, vous êtes puissants. » À la page 53, vous faites référence à la « théâtralité délibérée ». Dans votre livre, Poutine n’est pas dépeint comme étant une mauvaise personne. Y a-t-il une différence importante entre les personnalités publique et privée du président russe? Comment est-il différent en privé de ce qu’il montre en public?

Le fait est que nous avons vraiment très peu d’informations à propos de la vie intime de Vladimir Poutine: il protège jalousement cet aspect de sa vie et, au lieu de cela, nous observons une personnalité publique très prudente et bien gérée. Je pense que, malgré toute l’opulence de son style de vie – les palais, le personnel, les survêtements à mille dollars – il est en quelque sorte une figure solitaire et distante, maintenant pratiquement piégée par sa personnalité publique, mais c’est vraiment seulement mon impression. D’une certaine manière, c’est un peu l’objectif de l’exercice: l’importance qu’il accorde à son intimité signifie que nous pouvons tous imaginer notre propre Poutine…

À la page 75, vous réfutez l’idée selon laquelle Vladimir Poutine est une sorte de conservateur social (il défend notamment le droit à l’avortement), en faisant valoir qu’il est d’abord et avant tout un pragmatique. Cette notion n’est malheureusement pas largement connue en Occident. Pourquoi pensez-vous que les observateurs et les commentateurs s’emploient toujours à le dépeindre comme une sorte d’idéologue conservateur?

D’abord parce que nous avons tendance à associer le nationalisme extrême et le conservatisme extrême, mais ensuite parce que les Russes eux-mêmes ont favorisé cette image à l’étranger. C’est l’une des manières par lesquelles ils essaient de constituer des groupes de soutien, en « vendant » la Russie – et Poutine en tant qu’icône de la Russie – à différents groupes en mettant l’emphase sur des caractéristiques qui rejoignent leurs propres intérêts. Pour la gauche, qui est souvent critique à propos du rôle des États-Unis dans le monde, Poutine est présenté comme étant le seul dirigeant prêt à tenir tête à Washington. Pour la droite socialement conservatrice, il est représenté comme étant un chef traditionaliste – religieux, viril – le genre d’homme qu’ils admirent.

Bien que l’image dominante en Occident soit celle d’un joueur d’échecs géopolitique austère, sombre et circonspect, Vladimir Poutine est en réalité beaucoup plus émotif.

Diriez-vous que la qualité la plus importante de Vladimir Poutine est la loyauté et comment la définit-il?

Oui, mais c’est ce que je pourrais décrire comme la loyauté très personnelle et viscérale du chef de tribu plutôt que la loyauté envers les idéaux ou les nations. Il n’est pas facile d’établir de solides relations personnelles avec lui, mais il défendra, sera complaisant et aura de la considération envers les membres de son cercle intime. En revanche, il s’assurera que ceux qu’il considère comme étant des « traîtres » soient persécutés et traqués, voire même tués. À cela s’ajoute cependant une notion tout aussi primordiale de « respect » – quand il a l’impression que la Russie n’est pas respectée, il estime qu’on lui manque de respect personnellement et considère qu’il est juste et nécessaire de riposter. Il est intéressant de noter que, bien que l’image dominante en Occident soit celle d’un joueur d’échecs géopolitique austère, sombre et circonspect, il est en réalité beaucoup plus émotif.

De l’autre côté de la médaille, quelle serait son pire défaut et comment cela l’affecte-il négativement?

Ces notions de « loyauté » et de « respect » sont également des lacunes. Elles ont conduit à faire de la Russie un État paria en raison de ses interventions en Ukraine (laquelle « a trahi » Moscou en voulant nouer des relations plus étroites avec l’Occident) et même des assassinats (de « traîtres ») à l’étranger. Elles signifient également qu’il ferme les yeux sur la façon dont ses copains commettent un détournement d’ampleur industrielle du pays, un niveau de corruption qui ronge à la fois le Trésor national et la légitimité de son régime.

Vous ne pouvez pas forcer les gens à vous respecter; vous ne pouvez que le mériter.

Pour beaucoup, le président russe est une menace majeure pour l’Occident. Seriez-vous d’accord avec cette évaluation ou ses actions sont-elles orientées selon le simple fait qu’il veut que la Russie soit respectée dans le monde?

Je perçois la Russie comme un défi majeur pour l’Occident, mais pas comme une menace – il s’agit d’un État post-impérial en déclin, dont la majorité de la population vivrait en réalité davantage comme la population occidentale. Il estime que la Russie mérite d’être traitée comme une « grande puissance » et de bénéficier de droits spéciaux, notamment par rapport à la plupart de ses voisins. Parce que nous sommes en désaccord, il nous considère comme étant les agresseurs et il considère également l’opposition politique intérieure comme étant fomentée par l’Occident (je pense qu’il a tort à 95%). Donc, oui, ses actions sont défensives à ses yeux: il estime qu’il doit réagir aux actions occidentales, pour nous forcer à accorder à la Russie le statut spécial qu’il considère comme étant un droit inné. Mais vous ne pouvez pas forcer les gens à vous respecter; vous ne pouvez que le mériter.

J’ai lu à plusieurs reprises que le président russe est un passionné d’histoire et qu’il aime notamment lire des biographies. En savez-vous plus sur ses habitudes de lecture?

Il a mentionné Hemingway et Dumas – des aventures viriles! – dans les entrevues, mais sinon, au-delà de l’histoire, il s’agit généralement de grands noms de la littérature russe comme Dostoïevski, Tourgueniev et Tolstoï. En toute honnêteté, cependant, je pense qu’il est à peu près de rigueur pour tout dirigeant russe d’afficher une affinité avec ces classiques du canon littéraire de leur pays – je ne sais pas s’il est vraiment un fan!

Je ne pense pas que Poutine considère Staline comme un modèle.

Quels sont ses modèles historiques (en Russie et à l’étranger (s’il y en a)?

Il ne parle que des Russes, des grands bâtisseurs de la nation comme Pierre le Grand et Piotr Stolypine, premier ministre en fonction au début du XXe siècle. Il a également été aux commandes d’une réhabilitation partielle de Staline qui met l’accent sur la victoire durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale et la modernisation du pays, plutôt que sur la tyrannie meurtrière, mais je ne pense pas que Poutine le considère comme un modèle.

Chose intéressante, Poutine, au cours de ses premières années à la présidence, s’est également comparé à celui qui a occupé le plus longtemps la présidence des États-Unis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, notamment parce que, à l’image de FDR qui a « sauvé » son pays de la Grande Dépression, Poutine a conduit la Russie hors du chaos et de la pauvreté des années 1990. Aujourd’hui, comme il a effectué un virage plus nationaliste, on ne cite pas de tels parallèles!

Pour sa succession, il va probablement sauter une génération et opter pour un individu relativement inconnu actuellement.

Qui sont les étoiles montantes, les figures que nous devrions commencer à observer avec un intérêt méticuleux, dans l’entourage du président?

Tout d’abord, je pense que nous devrions accepter que s’il finit par choisir un successeur au moment de son choix, il est peu probable que cet individu se trouve actuellement sur notre radar: il va probablement sauter une génération et opter pour un individu relativement inconnu actuellement, si ce n’est que pour s’assurer que son successeur ait toujours besoin de son soutien. Cela dit, l’avenir peut nous réserver un coup de main et, à l’heure actuelle, le ministre de la Défense, Sergei Shoigu, et le maire de Moscou, Sergei Sobyanin, font partie des figures les plus intéressantes de l’establishment qui pourraient encore prendre du galon. Mais pour le moment, je serais surpris si l’un ou l’autre accédait à la présidence.

Ce qu’il a à craindre, ce sont les coups du destin, ceux liés à sa propre santé ou à la Russie elle-même.

Alternativement, qui représente la plus grande menace pour ce régime?

Les vraies menaces qui le guettent ne sont pas qui mais quoi. Son contrôle sur l’appareil de sécurité est toujours solide; bien que déclinant, son taux d’approbation publique est toujours solide; sa capacité de tenir à l’écart ou d’éliminer des rivaux est incontestée. Cependant, il n’est pas particulièrement doué pour faire face aux imprévus, ce que nous constatons dans sa réticence à faire preuve d’un véritable leadership dans la crise de la Covid-19. Ce qu’il a à craindre, ce sont les coups du destin, ceux liés à sa propre santé ou à la Russie elle-même.

J’aurais été très heureux de lire plusieurs pages additionnelles au sujet du président russe dans votre livre, car vous êtes un auteur bien informé et talentueux. J’ai donc bien hâte de lire votre prochain livre sur l’histoire de la Russie.


Mark Galeotti, We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong, London, Ebury Press, 2019, 143 pages.

Q & A with CDR Guy M. Snodgrass (USN, Retired)

Commander Guy M. Snodgrass (USN, Retired), author of Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis.

In the process of writing my review of his excellent book, Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis, I got in touch with Commander Guy M. Snodgrass (USN, Retired), asking if he would agree to respond to a few questions for my readers. Despite a busy schedule and numerous media requests in relation with his book, he kindly accepted. I’m both grateful and impatient to put my hands on his upcoming book.

Commander Snodgrass, what’s your favorite political memoir, apart from Peggy Noonan’s (I assume it’s on the top of your list)?

All Too Human: A Political Education by George Stephanopoulos.

His favorite bios are the ones written about Henry Kissinger and George H. W. Bush

What’s your favorite biography? (My little finger tells me it might be “Kissinger” by Walter Isaacson).

Either Kissinger by Walter Isaacson (for it’s no-holds portrayal of Kissinger) or Power and Destiny by Jon Meacham (the biography of former President George H. W. Bush).

Given your past career, you certainly nourish an interest in military history? What’s your favorite book in that category?

I’ll give you the standard TOPGUN answer to your question: it depends. I have a lot of ‘favorites’ depending on the application or topic at hand. Top three are: Eisenhower At War by David Eisenhower, The Nightingale’s Song by Robert Timberg, and The Encyclopedia of Military History by Ernest and Trevor Dupuy. For fun I’ll throw in Robin Olds’s Fighter Pilot.

NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg is largely unflappable, calm under pressure, and a gifted politician who never seemed to be a loss for words during a press conference.

During your tenure with Secretary Mattis, which international personality (military or political) left the best impression on you and why?

Jen Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO. He is largely unflappable, calm under pressure, and a gifted politician who never seemed to be a loss for words during a press conference.

The U.S. must find ways to coexist with both nations (Russia and China) on the world stage while holding the line with regards to U.S. interests.

I’d be very curious to know if you share Henry Kissinger’s vision about Russia and China? (I would have loved to read more about it in your book, but I understand it was not its scope)

No, at least not the way Kissinger views them now. Russia and China actively work to subvert U.S. influence around the world. Kissinger is far too eager to rush into their arms from what I’ve seen from him in recent years. Regardless, the U.S. must find ways to coexist with both nations on the world stage while holding the line with regards to U.S. interests.

Are you working on another book or is it something you are planning?

Yes: TOPGUN’s TOP 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit (just posted on Amazon). An opportunity to share the most powerful lessons I learned during my time as a TOPGUN Instructor.

I was raised to put service before self, which is why a military career was so satisfying. I’m certainly open to pursuing a pathway that leads to a return to public service.

Would you consider a run for political office in the future?

Would I? Possibly. Both U.S. political parties are incredibly unsettled at the moment, so I have a hard time determining if recent shifts in platforms are permanent or merely a reaction to President Trump. I was raised to put service before self, which is why a military career was so satisfying. I’m certainly open to pursuing a pathway that leads to a return to public service. In the meantime, it’s an honor to be able to publish and make a positive impact in the lives of others.

All roads lead to Beijing

9780525656401According to some news reports, Turkey seems inclined to go beyond the threats of potential American sanctions, choosing to equip itself with a Russian air-defense system over the US Patriot air-defense system. As mentioned by one source: “One can’t fall out with Putin but can fall out with Trump.”

America’s current foreign policy, “We’re America, bitch”, undoubtedly has something to do with it.

In his fascinating new book, The New Silk Roads, bestselling Oxford historian Peter Frankopan explores and details how China is taking advantage of the fact that the United States have become a vector of permanent destabilization – notably under the leadership of a president who has no qualms to toss away old friends – in order to make “friends in strategically important locations”, in the context of a very well-articulated good neighbor policy.

topThe new Silk Roads along which Beijing seeks to play an always greater role not only spans a determinant geographical area between China and the Eastern Mediterranean, but also encompasses 63% of the world’s population. Peter Frankopan nevertheless goes on to observe that “[…] it is striking then to see how few friends the US and the West have along the Silk Roads.”

Of course, one should not be naïve to the point of thinking that the descendants of the Middle Kingdom have no interest in articulating their friendly and constructive geopolitical posture. Domestic, economic and security needs are at the core of the rising power’s motivations.But that’s to be expected, for international relations are mainly about interests, not idealism. One cannot expect Xi Jinping to throw billions in Djibouti or Sri Lanka without expecting something in return.

The author opines that “All roads used to lead to Rome. Today, they lead to Beijing”. We should therefore be prepared or, at least, prepare ourselves to deal with the power shift that is slowly but surely developing under our eyes. Alas, in the words of Henry Kissinger, “[…] we don’t understand their history and culture.” I have said it often and I will keep on repeating it, more interest, much more interest, should be devoted to understanding what comes out the halls of power in Beijing and to those who are making the decisions.

Xi Jinping might not be a frequent user of Twitter or a master of the vitriolic formula, but he’s becoming a master at winning the hearts and mind of those he wants to be his allies. In that regard and since he’s at the helm of the decisions perpetrating the shift of gravity from the West to the East, he might be the most consequential current world leader.


Peter Frankopan, The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World, New York, Knopf, 2019, 320 pages.

The Resilience of the Red Army Soldier

King & Country Red Army “Attack” set (RA073)

I’m always happy when The Journal of Slavic Military Studies releases a new issue. Since 80% of the Wehrmacht losses occurred on the Eastern Front, I’ve always thought it is primordial to be interested in that vital aspect of World War 2.

The current issue of the JSMS features a very interesting article by Valerii Nikolaevich Zamulin about the difficulties related to the supply services before the battle of Kursk.

Since the soldier of the Red Army was the one who carried the burden of fighting the Germans, it is astonishing to read about those: “[…] tens of thousands of men each day who were under the stress of moral danger were unable to receive the most basic needs – a clean uniform and a decent meal.”

We can also refer to those commanders who “[…] bullied and mistreated subordinates, who were daily shoveling dozens of cubic meters of earth, erecting defensive lines, while being half-starved, unwashed for several weeks, and drenched in sweat in winter tunics and trousers.”

Wasn’t it Napoleon who declared that: “An army marches on its stomach”? Under those circumstances, the soldiers of the Red Army had a tall order.

General Nikolai Vatutin – commander-in-chief of the Voronezh front – had to find a solution to this situation and to other challenges, like lack of transport and replacement issues, encountered by the Red Army in that sector before the battle.

Against all odds, Vatutin succeeded.

Along with his subordinates, “[…] they managed to organize the system of rear services on an acceptable level”, they “[…] expanded the infrastructure of the territory where the Voronezh Front’s armies deployed and practically from scratch managed to create a logistics system that supplied the troops with everything necessary” and they ensured that “[…] all of the rifle divisions and the artillery and tank unites were not simply replenished but essentially brought back to table strength […].”

Under heavy duress, the Red Army soldier was therefore given the tools to fight with gallantry against his enemies.

Zamulin’s article is truly fascinating and deserves to be read by any student of the Eastern Front and the Red Army.



Why Vladimir Putin came to occupy the driver’s seat

TheEdge2It is too easy, in the Western context, to perceive the armed forces as a ceremonial tool used during commemorations and the military sector as a greedy budgetary expenditure for governments. As Mark Urban writes in his recent and sublime book, The Edge: Is the Military Dominance of the West Coming to an End?, “[…] most of the European public has been conditioned by education and popular culture to be repulsed by war, yet has little experience of it.” (p. 49).

Alas, this far too common perception and phenomenon associated with blind pacifism ignores the deep currents of history. Since time immemorial, armies have been used to conquer, defend, impress or intimidate. I know he’s been quoted already too many times for any reference to him to be original, but Clausewitz said it best when he said that: “war is the continuation of politics by other means”.

Failure to take these factors into consideration will come to a price to those who are guilty of ignorance. The future of the world will not solely be influenced by the tectonic plates of the economy, but also by the capacity of the emerging power to promote and defend it with the bayonet and the fighter jet. China, for instance, has understood that lesson very well.

We can’t say the same about Western countries, the United States chief among them. Outside the high-flown discourse they articulate and promote, Washington’s capacities to implement it in a concrete military way are decreasing. “What seems clearer is that many in Europe, the Middle East and Asia have not yet registered how old much of the United States military equipment has become, how far its numbers have already fallen, and how projected cuts will make it impossible for America to have the kind of military reach it used to.” (p. 79-80). In other words, the Emperor is loosing his clothes.

Enter Russia. One of the main gaps in how the West perceives Vladimir Putin is the fact that the Russian president is a keen student of history. Incidentally, one of the only observers not to fall in the trap of assuming that Putin is a shallow brain is journalist Ben Judah – but that’s another story.

Mark Urban notes that Russia has “[…] the will to use its armed forces to re-draw the map and [is] also reaping the dividends of a long reinvestment in these capabilities.” (p. 86) Vladimir Putin knows that, on the ground, good and modern tanks are better than eloquent United Nations resolutions or huge vocal protests without consequences. As Field Marshal Erwin Rommel reportedly once said: “in a man-to-man fight, the winner is he who has one more round in his magazine.”

For Vladimir Putin, military power is not just a beautiful toy to be displayed on the parade square or during commemorations, but a powerful and meaningful political tool. They’ve been an essential part of history making for ages and the Russian president knows that more than many other statesmen. That’s why he will, most probably, remain in the driver’s seat for many years to come.

All in all, Mark Urban’s book is one of the very best I have had the pleasure of reading since a long time. To be honest, I was sad to finish it. Short, very well researched and thought provoking, it should have a place on the bookshelves of any policymaker or serious student of history.

The best soldiers of the Red Army?

Permit me to come back on the subject of Victory Day celebrations and Russian (Soviet) veterans. I’m coming back on it because this is a neglected aspect of World War II history.

When I watched those Jewish-Israeli Soviet veterans marching in Israel last week-end, I started looking for some books or articles on this subject. After all, this blog is not called “Books and Bayonets” for nothing.

And I found an excellent article by historian Kiril Feferman about the “’The Jews’ War’: Attitudes of Soviet Jewish Soldiers and Officers Toward USSR in 1940-41” in The Journal of Slavic Military Studies (vol.27, no 4, 2014), which is edited by none other than military historian David M. Glantz.

This article covers the attitudes and motivations of Jewish soldiers who fought under the hammer and the sickle banner during WW2. Before the Nazi invasion of June 22, 1941, “[…] a minority of the Jewish military men held indifferent or even hostile attitudes toward the Bolshevik regime.” But that was to change.

The German attack against the USSR “[…] promptly transformed all Jewish soldiers and officers into the staunchest anti-Nazi force and hence, probably one of the most reliable groups in the Red Army. This occurred even before the knowledge of the Holocaust became widespread.”

What motivated them to act in such a way? A combination of the desire to be fully recognized as citizens of the Soviet Union, of avenging the persecution of the Jewish people by Nazis or even the fact that they simply had no alternative because they knew what would happen if they fell into the hands of the Nazis.

All in all and based on the works of other academics, Feferman observes that “[…] the Jewish contribution to the Soviet victory over Germany was not lower but probably even exceeded in relative terms that of other Soviet peoples.”

It is unfortunate, in the context of the Western discourse, that the essential contribution of the Red Army to the victory of 1945 is overlooked or undermined. It is also a fact that the Jewish soldiers contribution on the battlefield is a neglected area of collective memory.

It would be an act of legitimate and deserved gratefulness not to restrict this remembrance to a couple of days in May or in the few pages of an excellent academic journal.

Victory Parade in Moscow

Today, I wish I was in Moscow, most probably on Tverskaya street, to watch the impressive parade that is now unfolding to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory over the Nazi hordes – a victory made possible by the huge sacrifices consented by the Soviet people and the Red Army.

But since I’m not there, I’m watching victory parades of the past. Understandably, I’m more interested in the one that was organized in 1945. So it’s a pleasure for me to share these images with you!

For those of you who might have a bit more time on a Saturday, the second video (below) is much longer but no less interesting. As for the first one, the most powerful moment comes at 10 minutes when the Nazi flags and banners are laid down on the ground. Nobody could have marched on that day anywhere in Europe, if millions of Soviet and Allied soldiers had not fallen or poured their hearts into battle.

Lest we forget!