REVIEW ARTICLE: Contemporary historiography of the GULAG: new approaches (in Russian)

Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 4 (Moscow, 2016), 112–129 (in Russian).

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REVIEW ARTICLE: Soviet Jews in the Years of War and Holocaust: Newest Western Historiography (in Russian)

Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 1 (Moscow, 2016), 107–126 (in Russian).

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REVIEW ARTICLE: Soviet Cosmonautics in Contemporary Western Historiography (in Russian)

Published in Nauka v SSSR: Sovremennaia zarubezhnaia istoriografiia: Sbornik obzorov i referatov [Science in the USSR: Contemporary foreign historiography: A collection of reviews and abstracts], ed. Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova (Moscow, 2014), 145–166.

The text of the review article (2.9 MB, in Russian)

Escape from Besieged Leningrad and Perilous Journeys

This letter has been found in the papers of my Washington housing owner Lisa Ritchie. Its author experienced not only the hell of besieged Leningrad, but also imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, an escape from it and then a journey along Germany in the last months before the collapse of the Third Reich. The original text is a typescript in English, in British spelling. It has five pages, but since the third page, the pagination starts from the beginning. The letter is not signed, but Lisa thinks it was sent to her grandmother Elizavietta Hartmann Artamonoff by one of her friends soon after the Second World War had finished (the Artamonoff family moved from Russia to the USA in the early 1920s, but Lisa’s grandmother could leave the USSR only in 1933).

Below is the text of the letter with Lisa’s introduction and my comments (all of them are put in square brackets or placed in the endnotes). The author’s spelling and punctuation are kept without any change except obvious misprints. I kept also the original paragraphs, although in a newspaper publication of the letter, Lisa divided some of them into more short ones (she mentions this in her introduction).

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COLLECTION OF REVIEWS AND ABSTRACTS: Patriotic War of 1812 in Contemporary Historiography (in Russian)

Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda v sovremennoi istoriografii: Sbornik obzorov i referatov, ed. O. V. Bol’shakova (Moscow, 2012).

The text of the collection (PDF, 1 MB, in Russian).



Abstract: Charles Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803–1815 (London; New York: Allen Lane, 2007)

Abstract: D. Lieven, Russia against Napoleon: the True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace (New York: Viking, 2010)

Abstract: A. Castelot, The Russian Campaign [A. Castelot, La campagne russe (Paris: Perrin, 2002)]

Oksana V. Babenko, The Russian Campaign of Napoleon I in Polish Historiography (Joint abstract)

Abstract: N. A. Troitskii, Alexander I Against Napoleon [N. A. Troitskii, Aleksandr I protiv Napoleona (Moscow: Iauza: Eksmo, 2007)]

Abstract: V. M. Bezotosnyi, Intelligence and Parties’ Plans in 1812 [V. M. Bezotosnyi, Razvedka i plany storon v 1812 godu (Moscow: Rossiiskaia politicheskaia entsiklopediia, 2005)]

Abstract: A. I. Popov, The Grande Armée in Russia. Pursuing a Mirage [A. I. Popov, Velikaia armiia v Rossii. Pogonia za mirazhom (Samara: NTTs, 2002)]

Oksana V. Babenko, The Fatherland War of 1812 in Works of L. L. Ivchenko (Joint abstract)

Abstract: I. Iu. Lapina, Russian Territorial Militia in 1812–1814 [I. Iu. Lapina, Zemskoe opolchenie Rossii 1812–1814 godov (Saint Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Sankt-Peterburgskogo gosudarstvennogo arkhitekturno-stroitel’nogo universiteta, 2007)]

Abstract: S. V. Belousov, Provincial Society and the Fatherland War of 1812 (Evidence from Middle Volga Region) [S. V. Belousov, Provintsial’noe obshchestvo i Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda (po materialam Srednego Povolzh’ia (Penza: PGPU, 2007)]

Abstract: Ralph Ashby, Napoleon against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814 (Santa Barbara, Denver; Oxford: Praeger, 2010)

Abstract: Andrew Roberts, Waterloo June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe (New York; London, etc.: Harper Collins, 2005)

Abstract: David King, Vienna, 1814 : How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna (New York : Harmony Books, 2008)

Abstract: Karl J. Mayer, Napoleon’s Soldiers: Everyday Life in the Grande Armée [Karl J. Mayer, Napoleons Soldaten: Alltag in der Grande Armée (Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 2008)]

Julia V. Dunaeva, Female Faces of the Napoleonic Wars (Joint abstract)

Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova, 1812 and Russian National Self-Consciousness: Anglophone Historiography (Review article)

Abstract: Napoleonic Wars on Mental Maps of Europe: Historical Consciousness and Literary Myths [Napoleonovskie voiny na mental’nykh kartakh Evropy: Istoricheskoe soznanie i literaturnye mify, ed. N. M. Velikaia and E. D. Gal’tsova (Moscow: Kliuch-Ts, 2011)]

Abstract: Richard Stites, Decembrists with a Spanish Accent, in Kritika 12, no. 1 (2011): 5–23


We offer our readers a collection, prepared by the forces of the Department of History of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of Russian Academy of Sciences, timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. It seeks to give the slice of modern historiography, Russian and Western, with the twofold aim. On the one hand, the collection is designed to help the reader to get an idea of the topics and trends of modern studies of this important historical event, on the other—it contains a wealth of factual material that should be useful for anyone interested in history.

The War of 1812 has left an impressive mark in the history and culture of Russia. For two centuries it had been the subject of many volumes of historical and literary works, numerous paintings, museum exhibitions, films and even computer games. Although there were a great number of various wars in Russian history, “the twelfth year storm” stands out first of all for its images, familiar to everyone on the Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, appear in the public mind again and again during the turmoil. They embody the examples and samples of Russian patriotism that resonate in all layers of the population.

That is why the anniversaries of the French invasion of Russia were always celebrated throughout the country: celebrating its century in 1912, became an important social event, and to the 150th anniversary, the opening of such important monuments was timed as the Borodino Panorama in Moscow. Anniversaries stimulated the development of historical research as well. In 1912, seven-volume The War of 1812 and the Russian society was published which was attended by many of the leading historians of the time. 50 years later, in 1962, Soviet historiography was enriched by a number of interesting studies and publications of documents prepared for the nationwide anniversary. However, it was then that in the Soviet historical science, a model for studying the War of 1812 was established which was based on the ideology of the Cold War. The Iron Curtain by the time not only separated the Soviet scientific community from the international one, but also divided the Soviet researchers themselves; as a result, the war of 1812 was studied by specialists on the history of the USSR, while such topics as the War of the Third Coalition, foreign campaigns of the Russian army in 1813–14, the Congress of Vienna, became the prerogative of specialists in world history.

This bias is starting to be overcome, especially in Western historiography, which is no longer inclined to regard Russia in isolation, as something unique and dangerous. For Western scholars who study the “revolutionary era” in Europe and America, 1780s—1820s, the Russian Campaign is an important, but relatively poorly studied episode. However, after the end of the Cold War in the interpretations of Western historians, changes could be observed toward a more balanced and objective evaluations, recognition of the importance of the Russian Campaign for the course of the Napoleonic Wars as a whole.

In the new millennium, much more active study of the history of the Napoleonic era in Europe began. Perhaps we can talk about the beginning of a new phase of research on this topic, which is characterized by a high level of international cooperation. In modern research, much attention is given to Russia as well, as, for example, in the monograph of the British historian Charles Esdaile on the history of the Napoleonic Wars (see abstract prepared by Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova). This material opens the collection and places the Patriotic War of 1812 in the European context.

An extensive summary of the book by D. Lieven, a professor at the London School of Economics (the author of the abstract is Michael M. Mints), is entirely devoted to Russia and its struggle with Napoleon. The War of 1812 is presented in the text as a component part of a long historical process, as the culmination of the Napoleonic Wars.

French historiography of the campaign in 1812 was known for its anti-Russian position, but in the 1990s there was a tendency to revise one-sided views. An example of such a re-evaluation is presented in a library-research paper written by Tatiana M. Fadeeva on the book by French journalist, historian and writer A. Castelot. Polish historiography of the Russian Campaign, still not entirely free from secular bias against Russia, is reflected in the joint abstract written by Oksana V. Babenko.

Important episodes of Napoleonic Wars, not enough known for Russian readers, are highlighted in library-research papers written by Sergei V. Bespalov and Victor M. Shevyrin which address the final stage of the battle in Europe in 1814–15. A number of foreign policy issues is reflected in abstracts that deal with the Russian intelligence, comparative biographies of two emperors Napoleon and Alexander, and, finally, the ending event of the Napoleonic Wars’ era—the Congress of Vienna and the creation of the Holy Alliance (papers by Vadim S. Konovalov and Julia V. Dunaeva).

Considerable attention in Russian and Western historiography is payed to the study of everyday life in both the Russian, and Napoleon’s armies (abstracts by Oksana Babenko and Michael Mints). “Female face” of Napoleonic Wars is a topic of a joint abstract written by Julia Dunaeva.

New for the post-Soviet historiography aspect in the study of the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars in general is special attention to memory and mythology. The first sign in this respect was the international conference held in the Russian State University for the Humanities in 2011 (an abstract of its proceedings is submitted by Irina E. Eman). Another event which is important for further development of international cooperation in the investigation of this subject was the conference “After the storm. 1812 in the collective memory of Russia and Europe,” organized by the German Historical Institute in Moscow (May 2012). The role of war in 1812 in the formation of Russian national identity is the topic of a review of English literature, written by Ol’ga Bol’shakova.

The collection is concluded with a library-research paper devoted to the Decembrists’ movement, which is discussed in a posthumously published article by American historian Richard Stites in the European context, as a legacy of the Napoleonic Wars.

Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova

ARTICLE: The USSR and the beginning of the Second World War: a discussion on the events of 1939–1941 in contemporary historiography (in Russian)

Published in Trudy po rossievedeniiu, ed. I. I. Glebova et al. (Moscow, 2011), 3: 286–311.


A radical rethinking of the history of World War II, including the war on the Eastern Front in 1941–45, began in the USSR during the perestroika years after the first steps were taken towards the liquidation of censorship. In the post-Soviet period a new push for this process was created by the “archival revolution” and the “unplanned discussion” about the goals of the Soviet military policy on the eve of Nazi aggression, which began with the publication in Russia of works by Viktor A. Suvorov. The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s saw the restoration of authoritarianism, the “archival revolution” ended (right up to the re-classifying of some documents) and official propaganda sounded nationalist and neo-Stalinist motives. Let us see how these factors influenced historiography, in particular, ideas concerning the events of 1939–41.

A kind of distinctive landmarks in the development of the Soviet, as well as the current Russian historiography of these events, were official multi-volume monographs about the history of the war on the Eastern Front and the Second World War as a whole. The most recent complete publication of this kind is four-volume The Great Patriotic War, 1941–1945: Essays on Military History, released in 1998, the first book of which contains chapters on the eve and the beginning of the war. During its preparation numerous declassified sources were used that allowed the authors, in particular, to rewrite, in fact, “from scratch,” the story of the Soviet–German partnership, based on the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Nevertheless, the stance taken by the authors was quite conservative against the background of the historiography of World War II in the 1990s in general.

The proposed article analyzes some of the most interesting and significant works of Russian and Western historians that cover the period from fall 1939 to June 1941 and have been released after The Great Patriotic War, 1941–1945: Essays on Military History. As we can see from these works, the central issues in the prehistory and beginning of the war on the Eastern Front are still such questions as the Soviet foreign policy and force development in the prewar period, the course of fighting in the summer–autumn of 1941, and the causes for the failure of the Red Army in the early months of the war. Discussion also continues regarding the goals of the Soviet military preparations in the first half of 1941 (“the problem of a preventive strike”). Among relatively new research topics, such problems should be noted, as the history of everyday life of the period (works by Rodric Braithwaite, M. J. Broekmeyer, Christian Hartmann), as well as the evolution of the ideas of the Soviet political and military elite about the future war and their relationship with the practical activity of the Soviet leadership to prepare for war, with combat and operational training of the Red Army (works by Valerii A. Artsybashev). Adjacent to the last question is the history of Soviet propaganda, the study of which allows, among other things, to trace the military-doctrinal views of Soviet leaders and their assessment of the international situation through the ideological concepts that were promoted by the official propaganda in different periods (works by Mikhail I. Mel’tiukhov, Vladimir A. Nevezhin).

From the point of view of methodology a significant part of research, especially Russian, still applies purely to the event history—political history (international relations) and military history in its “operational-strategic” variant (the forces and plans of each side, the course and results of combat, the losses). To the greatest degree, this is characteristic for amateur works on military history. To undoubtedly new features belong the new research topics, as well as more careful integration of the existing knowledge on different aspects of the prehistory and the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front.

Naturally, works written in Russia, inevitably show the events being studied predominately from a Soviet point of view, whereas the publications of German historians, accordingly, contain a German view. Researchers from the third countries, it would seem, are in a better position and have a greater ability to create a complete picture of the war on the Eastern Front from an outside observer’s viewpoint. Nevertheless, a significant part of Western works was written mainly on the basis of documents of only one side, and, accordingly, also reflects either the “German” or “Soviet” point of view of the events being studied. Several attempts have been made to overcome this situation (works by Evan Mawdsley, and especially Chris Bellamy).

As we can see, the last decade was quite fruitful both for the Russian and Western historiography of the war on the Eastern Front. Russian scholars continue studying the complex of sources that have become available in the post-Soviet years. A significant achievement in this work was the publishing of several fundamental monographs on the history of Soviet foreign and military policy in 1939–41. Also noteworthy is the work trying to understand the intellectual, psychological and cultural background of the processes studied, although it is still at an early stage. In the West, the end of the Cold War and the possibility of access to the declassified documents of the former Soviet archives allowed to bring the study of history of the Soviet–German conflict and its initial period to the next level. The strengths of Western historiography are the comprehensive, systematic approach to the material studied, ideological impartiality (what really contributes to this is that the authors are not involved into Russian discussions about the past), and a bold use of a variety of methodological innovations. Of the latter the most remarkable are the story of everyday life, the use of sources of both the warring parties in the study of the history of war, the analysis of the studied events in a broader historical context, etc. The style of writing peculiar to the Western scholars should also be noted—calm, balanced and sympathetic to the opponents. There is a lot to learn for many Russian authors.

In the Russian historiography of the events of 1939–41 several directions coexist. Many researchers of older generations, such as Aleksandr O. Chubar’ian or S. Z. Sluch (now-deceased Lev A. Bezymenskii belonged to this school, too), continue to work within the paradigm that has developed by the end of perestroika. Its strength is that it is consistently critical of the political course of Stalin’s leadership. This is important not only in value terms (as a necessary step to rethinking and overcome of the totalitarian past), but also in purely scientific terms, because it allows a better and deeper understanding of the inner mechanics of the processes under study. Representatives of this trend still must prove the theses, which have been developed, in fact, long ago: not only the French and the British, but also the Soviet diplomacy was not disposed to build a new anti-German Entente in summer of 1939, since the decision of the rapprochement with Nazi Germany was made, apparently, before the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations; the pact with Hitler was dictated by expansionist motives, not by the need to strengthen the defense of the USSR; the expansion of the Soviet borders in 1939–40 was a result of essentially aggressive actions of Moscow and not of the “free will” of the Belorussians, Ukrainians, or the Baltic peoples; up until 1940 the Soviet-German relations were developing quite constructively, despite disagreements on particular issues, and Stalin’s desire to their further deepening was clearly excessive even from the point of view of maintaining neutrality in the Second World War and was extremely harmful to the Soviet Union itself.

It is hard not to agree with these conclusions. It is only possible to add that the defensive capabilities of the USSR in 1939 should not be underestimated, especially in comparison to 1941. In the summer of 1939 the Soviet territory was not contiguous to Germany, the borders of the USSR were covered with finished and functioning fortified areas, and in case of war, the troops deployed there would have to fight on their own land, with established lines of communication and a loyal population in the rear. By the summer of 1941, the Soviet Union had a direct border with the Reich, which dramatically increased the risk of a sudden attack. A new line of fortifications had to be built urgently on this border, including at the price of laying up the fortifications on the old border; this work was still not complete up until the beginning of the Nazi aggression. The capacity of the road network in the annexed territories was significantly lower than to the east of the old border, and the forced Sovietization of these areas lead to widespread dissatisfaction of the local population in the immediate rear of the troops, which were the first to face the attacks of the Wehrmacht. Such was the true cost of the “significant success of Soviet diplomacy” reached in August–September 1939.

At the same time, historians who belong to the said school, unfortunately, did not happen to be ready to accept the hypothesis regarding the preparation of the Soviet side in 1940–41 for an attack against Germany, although it allows us to find answers to some important questions, which otherwise remain unresolved. A number of researchers (Mel’tiukhov, Nevezhin, P. N. Bobylev, V. D. Danilov) accepted this paradigm in 1990s that allowed them to produce a new, consistent and methodologically correct conception of the events studied, free from some exaggeration, inaccuracies and poorly reasoned judgements peculiar to Viktor Suvorov. Apparently, Stalin’s policy in 1939 to the first half of 1941 was determined, among other matters, by the desire to take advantage of the war between the Third Reich and the Western democracies. The unexpected defeat of France in 1940 meant the failure of these calculations. Under these new circumstances, the Soviet leadership launched preparations for a clash with Berlin, especially since the adopted military doctrine allowed of the outbreak of war on the initiative of the Soviet Union. As a result of the correction of strategic plans in the duration of 1940 and the first half of 1941, a plan was formed regarding a sudden attack against German troops with the main forces of the Red Army, concentrated on the border in advance, and preparations were started for its implementation. As for the plans for a defensive war, the Soviet Command seems simply not to have had any, that was one of the causes of the disaster of 1941. Interestingly, experts on military history in the strict sense, including the young, generally do not share this paradigm and prefer more traditional, although controversial, ideas about exclusively defensive intentions of Stalin’s leadership due to unpreparedness of the Red Army for war.

In recent years, a tendency became stronger again, to restore the old Soviet myth that the non-aggression pact with Germany was concluded with the intention of buying time for strengthening the defense capability of the USSR, and even to justify Stalin’s policies in general, as dictated by the objective circumstances. It is characteristic for different generations and schools in the historiography—Mel’tiukhov, for example, in his latest works, even tries to justify the partition of Poland between Moscow and Berlin and the subsequent preparation of the Soviet leadership to further “expand the boundaries of socialism” by force of arms. We have to admit that the change of public mood affected the study of history as well.

The situation with sources creates additional complications. Since the “archival revolution” only lead to half-way results, it is still not possible, in particular, to study the mechanisms of foreign policy decision making in Stalin’s USSR. Materials of the Soviet military planning are still accessible only partly; documents that have been published to date, contain only fragmented information. At the same time, the study of the corpus of sources, which were nonetheless introduced for scientific use after 1991, is also still far from complete.

As it appears from the foregoing, the history of the prewar period and of the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front still contains many unresolved problems. Revolutionary turmoil of the 1990s gave way to stabilized evolutionary development. This has its advantages but it would not be good if this were replaced with stagnation.

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ARTICLE: The Soviet Military-Political Leadership’s Ideas about the Probable Enemies of the USSR in the Future War (Late 1920s—Early 1940s) (in Russian)

Published in Voenno-istoricheskii arkhiv, no. 8 (Moscow, 2012): 178–86.


Perceptions about the list of potential enemies in a future war form one of the most important elements of the military doctrine. Their adequacy determines largely the army’s level of preparedness in the event of an actual war. We will see how the ideas of the Soviet military-political leadership about which countries were potential enemies evolved during the period lasting from the end of the 1920s, when industrialization and rapid build-up of the Red Army started, until June 1941, when a large-scale war from a purely theoretical hypothesis became a reality.

In the period under consideration, the perceptions of the Stalinist leadership of the probable military enemies of the USSR have undergone significant changes. In the late 1920s—early 1930s, they still had a predominantly abstract-theoretical character and were the result of the dominant ideology in almost a greater extent than the real situation of those years; hence, the thesis that the potential enemies of the Soviet Union are almost all the major capitalist countries, and in particular France and the United Kingdom, although in reality, the problem of the destruction of the Soviet system in Russia, even if it really was of any interest for the governments of the great powers in those years, interested them to a much lesser degree than it seemed to the Bolshevik leaders in Moscow. During the 1930s, with growing tensions in international relations, the previously described perceptions evolved. At the end of the decade, the main supposed potential adversaries of the USSR were instead Japan and Nazi Germany as the states whose governments really pursued an aggressive foreign policy and seriously considered war with the Soviet Union.

It is curious, however, that the process of refusal from the original stereotypes proceeded rather slowly, and I would say, very reluctantly: as early as in the middle of 1930s Germany and Japan were considered not so much as an independent factor in the world politics, but as an instrument in the hands of the Western democracies, particularly England and France. Moreover, this process proved to be incomplete since even in 1940 the possibility of a war with the British was conceded in Moscow, though the General Staff had already been developing strategic plans in the event of a conflict with Germany.

Apparently, this was not just ideological trick. It reflected the actual distrust in relation to the Western democracies. It was felt in the first half of 1941 as well, fueling Stalins suspicions that the information he received about Germany’s attack preparations against the Soviet Union was the fruit of British provocations. Thus, contradictory ideas of the Soviet leadership about with whom exactly the Red Army should fight in the near future, can be considered as one of the factors contributing to an underestimation of the German threat on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, and one of the reasons that the immediate preparation of an armed conflict with the Third Reich was started with a delay.

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REVIEW ARTICLE: Everyday Life in the USSR in the Age of Stalin (in Russian)

Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 1 (Moscow, 2012), 106–19 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘REVIEW ARTICLE: Everyday Life in the USSR in the Age of Stalin (in Russian)’ »

REVIEW ARTICLE: New Russian Literature on History of Political Repression in the USSR under Stalin (in Russian)

Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 4 (Moscow, 2011), 114–30 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘REVIEW ARTICLE: New Russian Literature on History of Political Repression in the USSR under Stalin (in Russian)’ »

REVIEW ARTICLE: New Foreign Literature on History of Political Repression in the USSR under Stalin (in Russian)

Published in Istoriia Rossii v sovremennoi zarubezhnoi nauke, ed. O. V. Bol’shakova, vol. 3 (Moscow, 2011), 65–88 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘REVIEW ARTICLE: New Foreign Literature on History of Political Repression in the USSR under Stalin (in Russian)’ »