A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev

By Vladislav M. Zubok | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
THE SOVIET PEOPLE AND
STALIN BETWEEN WAR
AND PEACE, 1945

Roosevelt believed that Russians would come and bow
down to America and beg, since Russia is a poor country,
without industry, without bread. But we looked at it differently.
For the people were ready for sacrifice and struggle.

—Molotov, June 1976

We are guided not by emotions, but by reason,
analysis, and calculation.

—Stalin, January 9, 1945

On the morning of June 24, 1945, rain was pouring down on Red Square, but tens of thousands of elite Soviet troops hardly noticed it. They stood at attention, ready to march through the square to celebrate their triumph over the Third Reich. At precisely ten o’clock, Marshal Georgy Zhukov emerged from the Kremlin’s gates riding a white stallion and gave the signal for the Parade of Victory to begin. At the peak of the celebration, the medal-bedecked officers hurled two hundred captured German banners onto the pedestal of Lenin’s Mausoleum. The pomp and circumstance of the parade was impressive but misleading. Despite its victory, the Soviet Union was an exhausted giant. “Stalin’s empire was won with reservoirs of Soviet blood,” concludes British historian Richard Overy.1 Just how much blood is still debated by military historians and demographers. Contrary to common Western perceptions, Soviet human reserves were not limitless; by the end of World War II, the Soviet army was no less desperate for human material than was the German army. No wonder Soviet leadership and experts were precise in calculating the damage to Soviet property during the Nazi invasion but were afraid of revealing the real numbers of human casualties. In February 1946, Stalin said that the USSR had lost seven million. In 1961, Nikita Khrushchev “upgraded” the number to twenty million. Since 1990, after the official investigation, the count of human losses has risen to 26.6 million, including 8,668,400 uniformed personnel. Yet even this number is open to debate, with some Russian

-1-

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