The Shadow of Barbarossa – OpEd – Eurasia Review
June 22, 2022 is the 81st anniversary of the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, when large-scale fighting in World War II began in earnest. It was the greatest military campaign in the history of mankind. This date is especially noted during the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, because Hitler’s attempt to conquer the vast territories that lie in the East has great relevance for the current war. For starters, until 2022, the Eastern Front of World War II was the last time a war was fought on the territory of Ukraine, with much of the fighting taking place here. It was the culmination of immense wars and conflicts that Ukraine experienced throughout the early 20th century. After the end of World War II, the region would remain in relative peace and calm for several decades, which Putin’s invasion only just ended. This is not really a surprise, because as the modern world progresses, new opportunities continue to arise for conflicts to arise and the region containing Ukrainian land has clearly shown that it holds great potential for this. . Remember, it was in this vast, flat environment that the monumental violence and savagery of Hitler’s Eastern Front was possible.
We must also know that the Second World War, although fought for very traditional imperialist and national ambitions, will forever define the nature of Europe. He gave Europe its present shape – it was in 1945 that Ukraine’s current borders were fixed, for example, even though it would not be an independent nation for decades – and established lines of fracture in the fabric of European society which persists to this day. This is how WWII in Eastern Europe continues to resonate through today’s warfare and why people so widely look to its memory.
Russia and Ukraine are accused of being the heirs of Nazism. In the case of Russia, it’s because they invade another country, like Hitler did, and now the same security order created in response to World War II is responding to that war. Polish President Duda, for example, recently said that talking with Putin was like talking with Hitler. But the memory of World War II is also largely the driving force behind Russia’s campaign against Ukraine. Putin has used it to persuade the Russian people that they face dangerous foreign enemies as they did eighty years ago and his justification for invading Ukraine is to “denazify” the country. Indeed, anti-Russian nationalism was a strong force in Ukraine during the Soviet era and many Ukrainian nationalists sided with the Nazis during their occupation of Ukraine. This includes Ukraine’s most famous independence fighter, Stepan Bandera, and his movement and others like him even participated in the Holocaust.
After Ukraine gained independence in 1991, particular right-wing elements continued to be active in the country and there was much glorification of Ukrainian figures who were Nazi accomplices. The Ukrainian right generally considers their country’s worst period to be the Stalin-perpetrated Holodomor rather than the Nazi occupation, which alone is a stark divide between Ukraine and Russia. As such, Putin argued that pro-Nazi attitudes remain a driving force in Ukraine, even though Ukrainian collaboration with the Germans was driven by the force of momentary circumstances. Stepan Bandera was imprisoned by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944 because he refused to withdraw his appeal to the Ukrainian state. So why would Ukrainians carry on the Nazi legacy for decades after the collapse of Nazism? Putin also views Ukraine’s desire to pivot to the West as a Nazi decision.
Now, it is here that World War II has the most profound impact on what is happening today. Putin is waging war on Ukraine to prevent it from joining the European Union and NATO. What this has in common with Hitler’s invasion of Eastern Europe is that the two are a clash between an advancing West and a reactive East. At the beginning of the 20th century, Western Europe, as well as neighboring parts of Eastern Europe, were very advanced and developed. Western countries have been the source of all modernization and progress. Russia, on the other hand, although powerful, was far behind, struggling to modernize. It was a feudal country until 1861 and continued to stagnate under Tsarist rule. The 1917 revolution overthrew the monarchy and aristocracy and the vast empire adopted communism. Although opposed to each other, Tsarist Russia and Communist Russia were alternative models of the same thing, Russia’s incompatibility with the West. Under communism, the Soviet Union was first drawn into conflict with the fascist West during World War II and then with the liberal West during the Cold War. After the failure of the communist experiment, Russia continued to struggle to keep up and is still following a different path than the more advanced countries.
By contrast, Germany is part of the Western world, and Nazism was an odious alternative model of what the West could be, compared to the freedom and democracy spearheaded by France, Britain and America. When he came to power, Hitler inherited one of the most advanced and powerful countries in the world. There is a consistent theme regarding imperialism in the modern era, which is that nations take over places and societies less advanced than them. For example, in the 1930s, Japan was a highly industrialized country and China was not, so Japan invaded China in what it saw as the best way forward for East Asia. East. The European colonization of the world was the same. Hitler’s invasion of Russia was, in essence, the most extreme application of this principle. By seizing Russian territory in Europe, he must have felt, his nation could better use the region’s potential and bring it into the fold of modern progress, with all inhabitants subjugated by the Germans, of course, or annihilated.
The eastward expansion of the European Union and NATO over the past thirty years is essentially a peaceful and benign version of this. If Ukraine were to join these organizations, it would represent the West, which remains at the forefront of modern civilization, extending its sphere of influence into the eastern depths of Europe. Ukraine, like Russia, continues to face great challenges such as corruption and underdevelopment. As a result, westerners may end up taking over everything in Ukraine in order to bring the nation up to date as the nation is drastically reshaped. This could then potentially impact the political and social order in Russia, Belarus and Georgia. It is an order that in one way or another remains fundamentally opposed to the Western path, as shown by the rapid end of Kerensky’s democratic push in 1917, like that of Boris Yeltsin to some extent.
This must be why Putin is so alarmed. He must see the expansion of Western influence as a resumption of the same process that Hitler was pursuing and, therefore, pro-Western Ukrainians are like the Nazi collaborators before them. After experiencing the brutal Nazi invasion, Russians became very suspicious of the Western world during the Cold War, and they probably still are. Putin probably recognizes that just as the Soviet Union, due to its backwardness, was highly vulnerable to Nazi Germany’s military aggression, post-Soviet nations continue to be vulnerable to Western domination, which could have disruptive and perhaps unpredictable consequences for the order. of the civilization that exists in the kingdom belonging to Russia.
Raja Shahzeb Khan is an Islamabad-based political analyst and tweets at https://twitter.com/justinshahzebkh. This is the first part of his series The Ukraine War in Historical Perspective.