Historians: Putin's Strategy Echoes Hitler's Mistakes on Eastern FrontHistorians in the News
tags: military history, Russia, Adolf Hitler, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Operation Barbarossa
Russian President Vladimir Putin often evokes the Soviet Union’s epic defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II to justify his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yet Putin is committing some of the same blunders that doomed Germany’s 1941 invasion of the USSR – while using “Hitler-like tricks and tactics” to justify his brutality, military historians and scholars say.
This is the savage irony behind Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine that’s become clear as the war enters its second month: the Russian leader, who portrays himself as a student of history, is floundering because he hasn’t paid enough attention to the lessons of the “Great Patriotic War” he reveres.
“I have been trying to make sense of this for a month, because as terrible as Putin is, you could never say he was illogical,” says Peter T. DeSimone, an associate professor of Russian and Eastern European history at Utica University in New York.
“All of this is illogical, and that’s the scary thing,” he says. “This is not normal for what he’s done in the past. This is something that makes no sense on many levels, and not just in regard to World War II.”
There are, of course, significant differences between the current war in Ukraine and the clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Nazi war machine was formidable, agile, and well-trained. The Wehrmacht killed and wounded 150,000 Red Army soldiers in the first week of their invasion in June of 1941. They seized vast swaths of territory, and in one “mega-encirclement” trapped four Soviet armies, capturing 700,000 prisoners of war.
And there is no moral equivalence between Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Stalin was a sociopath (he once reached into a cage and killed a family pet parrot because its chirping annoyed him) who starved millions of Ukrainians to death and routinely murdered political rivals. Zelensky is a democratically elected leader who has rallied Ukrainians and inspired the world with his conspicuous displays of courage and eloquent defense of democracy.
But look closer at Putin’s struggles in Ukraine and ironic parallels emerge. Military historians say Putin is following Hitler’s ill-fated playbook in at least three areas.
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