Putin’s bloody hands

Vladimir Putin has expressed a wish to rebuild the Soviet Union. But that Union carries a toxic legacy flowing from the brutal excesses of the Soviet dictator, Józef Stalin.

Russian state media recently announced that two captured British fighters had been sentenced to death in the separatist Donesk People’s Republic. This news, reinforced by the earlier execution of Ukraine fighters and homeowners in Bucha, brings back horrific memories of Soviet excesses in the Second World War.

Disturbingly, Russian soldiers have already been accused of execution-style murders of Ukrainian civilians in occupied territory. The Russian soldiers had made them kneel down, some with their hands tied, and then shot them. The surrender of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol in southern Ukraine led to them being taken to Russian prison camps. Some Russian politicians have called for them to be executed.

Memories of Soviet war crimes

In a similar situation in 1940, the then Soviet dictator Józef Stalin decreed that thousands of captured Polish soldiers should be eliminated. He wanted revenge; in 1920 the Poles had defeated the Soviet Army’s European invasion. The Bolshevik communist drive to invade and destabilise Germany and Western Europe was stopped by the Polish army. 

In the 1940s, close to 22,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals were executed in the Katyn massacre by Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, killed in prisons and in the Katyn forest. Most had been shot from behind and the bodies then stacked in piles and buried. 

In 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev finally admitted that the NKVD were responsible for the thousands of murders, after a half century of the Soviets attempting to blame Nazi troops for the massacres. In 1992, the Russian government released documents proving that the NKVD and the Soviet Politburo had been responsible for the Polish massacre.

A memorial to the Katyn forest massacre (CC by 3.0)

Putin’s war machine

In 2022 in the London Evening Standard, Andrew Marr commented that Vladimir Putin’s “war machine is not a very warlike machine. They are very good at killing unarmed civilians, they don’t seem quite so good at fighting”. Are they also, like the Soviet war machine, good at killing unarmed prisoners too? The execution of captured Ukrainian fighters in Bucha in the Ukraine is now being documented as part of building a strong case for war crimes against Russia. 

Current attempts by Putin to steal Ukrainian grain, and to blockade Ukraine ports exporting grain, bring back memories of the horrendous Ukraine Holodomor famine (inflicting death by starvation). In 1929 Stalin took Ukrainian grain as a punishment. One estimate is that 3.9 million Ukrainians died as a result in the famine that followed (other estimates go as high as 10 million deaths).

The ailing Putin, desperate to secure his legacy by seeking to revive the collapsed Soviet Union, emulates the brutal and vicious totalitarian policies of Stalin, dragging the reputation and credibility of the Russian nation through the mud, to be vilified by subsequent generations. To be remembered alongside Hitler and Stalin, is not a legacy anyone should crave.

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