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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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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The Soviet Military-Political Leadership’s Evaluation of the Level of Combat Skills of the Red Army’s Personnel during the Late 1920s—Early 1940s (in Russian)

A report made at the Third Conference in Honor of Tamara V. Bataeva at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (Moscow) on November 27, 2010. Published in Multikul’turnaia i mnogonatsional’naia Rossia: Materialy III Mezhdunarodnoi mezhdistsiplinarnoi konferentsii, posviashchennoi pamiati zasluzhennogo deiatelia nauki, pochetnogo professora RUDN, akademika MAN VSh Tamary Vasil’evny Bataevoi. Moskva, 27 noiabria 2010 g., part 1, Aktual’nye problemy otechestvennoi istorii i istoricheskoi nauki: II polovina XIX—nachalo XX veka (Moscow, 2010), 227–39.


In the modern history of our country, “the problem of 1941,” that is the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front and the events preceding it, remains one of the most painful issues. What are the causes of catastrophic defeats of the Red Army in the summer/fall of 1941? Who bears personal responsibility? Were these defeats unavoidable or might there be other scenarios? Was the Soviet Union planning to attack Germany? Finally, what factors contributed to the failure of the Operation Barbarossa at the end of 1941? All of these issues continue to attract the unrelenting attention of researchers. It must, however, be noted that even the latest publication on the subject for the most part is devoted to the event history, particularly the events of 1939–1941 (Soviet and German force development and operational and strategic planning, preparation of Germany’s invasion of the USSR, the Soviet Union preparing for the impending war with the Third Reich, foreign policy, intelligence activities, and so on). Much less studied is the history of Soviet military policy during the inter-war decades and almost unexplored remains the intellectual and mental background of the processes listed above, first of all—such an important problem as the ideas of the Soviet military-political leadership of the next war that determined the direction and content of the preparations for it. Their component parts are the ideas about the strategic and military-technical nature of the future war, which, in turn, make the basis for the assessments of the army’s preparedness for war, including the assessment of the level of training of its personnel.

The question of whether the Red Army was ready for war with Germany remains the subject of heated debate, the participants of which, unfortunately, often overlooked two facts. First, the definition and criteria of readiness for war, at least if we talk about history and not current force development, have not been methodologically researched. Secondly, our current estimates of the Red Army’s readiness for war are due to our knowledge of the course and results of the fighting in 1941–1945 and do not necessarily coincide with the estimates of the state of the armed forces that existed in the Kremlin and the Soviet military during the prewar years.

This article focuses on how the level of combat skills of soldiers and officers of the Red Army was assessed by the Soviet military-political leadership in the age of the first five-year plans, that is, in the late 1920s—early 1940s.

At least since the early 1930s, the Soviet leadership’s concepts of the strategic nature of future war contained two key provisions: unconditional preference for the “strategy of annihilation” (that is of permanent active operations in order to defeat the enemy as soon as possible) before the “strategy of attrition” (prolonging the war in order to exhaust the enemy) and the underestimation of the role of defense in modern warfare—regardless of whether it was an attack on another country or simply repelling aggression. The consequence of such a position was not only a military planning living no alternative (not coincidentally the first response to the Nazi invasion became suicidal Main Military Council Directive No. 3 dated June 22, 1941 for an immediate transition to the offensive on all fronts), but one-sided, unbalanced combat training troops. One cannot say that the Soviet military leaders overestimated the level of military skill in their units and formations. On the contrary, they always payed attention to a number of serious and, even worse, chronic gaps in combat and operational training. The main “weak points” of the Red Army throughout the 1930s remained control of the troops in combat, staff work, the organization of intelligence and logistics services. Symptomatically, however, the future military leaders of World War II have not seen the main problem: the army was not prepared for defensive forms of combat, which it had to conduct in the summer of 1941 in conditions of Germany’s surprise attack. This stems directly from the Soviet leadership’s military-doctrinal concepts in 1930s and therefore was realized only with the beginning of the war, which was quite different from what it had been expected to look like during the previous years.

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Soviet Strategic Planning, August 1940 – June 1941: the ‘Strategy of Annihilation’ in Practice (in Russian)

Theses of a report made on 21 April 2010 at the conference “The USSR, its Allies and Adversaries in World War II” at the Russian State University for the Humanities. Published in the proceedings of the conference: M. M. Mints, “Sovetskoe strategicheskoe planirovanie, avgust 1940 – iiun’ 1941 g.: ‘strategiia sokrusheniia’ v deistvii”, SSSR, ego soiuzniki i protivniki vo Vtoroi mirovoi voine: Politicheskii diskurs, istoriograficheskie diskussii, problemy prepodavaniia: Materialy Mezhdunarodnoi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii, priurochennoi k 65-letiiu Pobedy v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine 1941–1945 gg., 21–22 aprelia 2010 g. (Moscow, 2010), 242–46. The presentation for the report (Microsoft PowerPoint, 3.2 Mb). Continue reading

“Strategy of annihilation”: strategic and military technical conceptions of the future war in the structure of the Soviet military doctrine in the 1930s—early 1940s (in Russian)

Published in Rossiiskaia istoriia, no. 3 (Moscow, 2010): 3–18. The full text of the article (PDF, in Russian).


The circumstances of the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front of 1941–45 are still the subject of close attention mostly by Russian researchers, but also by other researchers as well. Modern historiography, unfortunately, is still dominated by papers concerned with only a relatively short period immediately preceding the war (1939–41). Apparently, the effects of the heated debate of the 1990s remain, namely those of the “unplanned discussion” around the books of Victor A. Suvorov. From the beginning, the main subject of this discussion was his key idea that in 1941, the Soviet Union was preparing for an attack on Germany.

Meanwhile, a better understanding of the history and the prehistory of the war on the Eastern Front is only possible if we consider these issues in a broader context that includes not only the events themselves, but also their intellectual, cultural and psychological background. The USSR began to prepare for future confrontation with “world imperialism” well before the Second World War. The scale of the war with Germany, a war which broke out in June 1941, was in keeping with the expectations of those years; thus the war happened to be a kind of test for the Soviet state and its armed forces after the work done during the interwar period. Therefore, the study of measures to improve the armed forces and to prepare for the next war, measures in effect in our country in the 1920s—1930s, is no less important than the study of the events of 1939–41. Of equal importance is the study of ideas and concepts that underlie the most important political and strategic decisions made during this period.

Active research of such a problem as the Soviet leadership’s and their military elite’s ideas of the next war in 1929–41, that is, during the first Five-Year plans, is relatively recent and is, to a certain extent, still in the initial stage. Meanwhile, the value of the issue cannot be underestimated, because it is the perceptions of future war, combined with the current situation, that determine the direction and content of the preparations for the upcoming battle. Man’s actions depend not so much on the objective conditions as such, but on his understanding of these conditions, and, as the experience (including the experience of the Second World War) demonstrates, the perception of the circumstances may diverge from reality.

It is therefore important to find out how the Soviet leaders saw the future war in the 1920s and especially in the 1930s during a large-scale reconstruction of the armed forces. This would allow us to create a really coherent picture of many discrete events, to clarify the logic of decisions being made, and ultimately to understand in greater depth the origins of the Red Army’s defeats during summer and autumn 1941.

In fact, what is at issue is the military doctrine of the Soviet leadership, a doctrine which formed during the interwar period, but was never issued in an official document. Of additional interest are other, more practical, ideas based on the military doctrine such as assessing the level of training of the armed forces’ personnel as well as estimates of the army’s technical equipment as compared with that of the armies of potential enemies, and with the anticipated requirements of the future large-scale war. Especially interesting subjects for study are the materials of strategic planning in peacetime; in a sense, they are an attempt to draw a more concrete and detailed image of the coming war.

Within the structure of military doctrine, it has traditionally been assumed that this would specify the political component and the actual military component (in the former Soviet terminology—military-technical). This article deals just with the last one that contains ideas about how to wage future war and about the use of various types of weapons and military equipment, as well as with practical conclusions made on the basis of these ideas.


Throughout the interwar period the dominant view remained, that the impending war would be a protracted war, which would require general mobilization and complete reconstruction of the whole of the country on a war rhythm. The experience of the First World War played its role, together with the continued rapid development of military technology. The same fixed idea concerned the extremely important role of technical arms in a future war. The concept of small, super-mechanized armies was not widespread, and the predominant belief was that during the forthcoming technological era, a massive army would remain.

All of these ideas were worked out by military theoreticians, and were accepted by military and political leaders as part of the military doctrine. A consensus on the question of whether the future warfare would be positional or moving was not developed. Observations on the further improvement of weapons and analysis of the experiences of new wars and conflicts happened not to be enough to determine with reasonable certainty which of these trends was predominant. As a result, a compromise solution was chosen that the Army must be prepared both for a war of maneuver, and to act in conditions of trench warfare.

Major changes during the interwar period occurred in fact only within those representations, the content of which was mostly determined by empirical experience. Thus, with the development of military technology, greater importance was attached to armored troops and air forces in a future war. If at the end of the 1920s, tanks were considered only as a powerful new tool to support the infantry, in 1930s, there appeared self-contained armored units, which in turn helped to modernize radically the tactics and operational art, developing a theory of “deep battle” and “deep operations.”

However, in understanding the role of technology in modern warfare the Soviet leadership was still rather conservative. Despite the constant talk about the fact that the Cavalry, given modern conditions, was steadily losing its value, the Soviet Union continued to maintain numerous Cavalry units, even in the European part of the country.

Another example of ideas arising from concrete experiences were the concepts of the opening stage of war, ideas which underwent a radical change for the first time in the early 1930s, and then, belatedly, in 1939–41.

It is important, however, to note that the basis for the Soviet military doctrine in the interwar period was the theory of “annihilation:” that is, of permanent active operations in order to defeat the enemy as soon as possible. The strategy of “attrition,” which aimed to prolong the war and exhaust the enemy without inflicting crushing blows at the front, was rejected. Moreover, chronic underestimation of the role of defense in modern warfare was typical of the official strategic vision of future war. It is significant that, in the Soviet sense of the war in those years, aggression and repulsion should have been developed almost equally (the concept of a “response strike”—mobilization and deployment of the main body under the protection of active and, if possible, offensive operations by covering forces, then transition to a crushing offensive).

In spring 1941 the idea of a sudden invasion of the main forces as the most likely way to start the war finally prevailed over the old theory of “creeping into the war,” which led to the rejection of the doctrine of “response strike,” but not of the concept of “annihilation” as such. Apparently, this explains the fact that the last known at the moment draft strategic plan for war with Germany (developed in May 1941), suggests, again, not a strategic defense, but a surprise attack on the Wehrmacht by the Red Army’s main forces. Adopted military doctrine simply did not allow for other options.

Apparently, the theory of “annihilation” was adopted in the USSR, a priori, and no specific realities of the existing situation could persuade the Soviets to abandon the theory. This approach made military training and strategic planning one-sided and unbalanced with no alternative. However, this fact was never realized. As a consequence, in a surprise German attack, Soviet leaders, forced to improvise, still operated under the doctrine of the prewar period, giving the troops the order to counterattack (Main Military Council Directive No. 3, 22 June 1941). In this new situation, the decision led to a disaster.

“If the war is tomorrow”: Soviet military-political leadership’s ideas about the political character of the future war (late 1920s—1941) (in Russian)

Published in Klio, no. 1 (St. Petersburg, 2008): 99–105.


The study of themes such as the views of the military-political leadership of the USSR about the future war in the 1920s to the 1930s, is only now beginning. Until recently researchers have given almost no special attention to an intellectual and mental background of the events of the specified period. Meanwhile, for the understanding of our past, including the history and prehistory of the war on the Eastern Front in 1941–1945, studying the prewar views is essential.

Wars do not break out suddenly. Throughout human history, wars have often been the conclusion of long and complex processes including force development, the content and direction of which is determined by the views of how and to what end these forces would be used. It is important to note that a complex of such ideas, which can be regarded as a prognostic image of the future war, exists in any country that has its own army, even if it has no plans in the foreseeable future to conduct any particular war with any of its neighbors (otherwise an army is simply not needed). These ideas make a foundation for concrete decisions on different questions of force development and of preparation for future wars. Accordingly, the outcome of a war largely depends on how its realities relate to the prewar predictions.

The war between the USSR and Germany is no exception. The Soviet Union began to prepare for the coming battle with “world imperialism” well before the outbreak of World War II. Therefore, the study of views of the future war that existed in the prewar years in the Soviet military and political leadership, would help scholars to link the individual assessments, projects and solutions into a coherent picture, to understand more deeply the logic of the Soviet leadership’s actions on the eve of the Second World War and after it began, which, in its turn, is a prerequisite for a more objective assessment of the causes of the Red Army’s defeats in 1941–1942.

The present article is devoted to one of the key components of the image of a future war: the nature of its political character, including the Soviet Union’s aims therein, as well as the list of potential enemies. Virtually, it is these ideas that determine the political aims of the future war, and this is of great importance in development of the military doctrine and strategy.

At the beginning of the period being studied, the views of the military and political leadership of the USSR on the political nature of future war and the list of potential opponents were rather general and abstract, and were due to purely ideological reasons, perhaps even to a greater extent than the real situation. However, by early 1941 there was a gradual shift from general to more specific concepts. Thus, the older idea of a future war as a repulsion of aggression from a coalition of capitalist states (alternatively—as an involvement or even a voluntary intervention of the Soviet Union into the war between the capitalist countries) was replaced by the idea that a drastic battle with Nazi Germany was inevitable, despite the non-aggression pact.

In addition, there was a change in perceptions about world revolution: if earlier it seemed to be an inevitable reaction of the international proletariat to the outbreak of a large-scale war, especially against the Soviet Union, its implementation was now thought likely to be a result of a smashing offensive of the Red Army. It should also be noted that the possibility of the USSR’s entry into the war on its own initiative was not excluded throughout the period. This idea continued to exist in the first half of 1941 as well. At the same time the question of whether a political decision to attack Germany was actually made, should appear as incorrect a priori because such a decision could be, by definition, only if the troops were ordered to assume the offensive. Until the completion of the strategic deployment, such an order could not be given.

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