Mark Nuckols

Today is May 9, which is the date Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany (in Europe and America, May 8 is considered the date that marks the end of the war, but because of the time difference, German commanders signed the surrender documents on May 9 Moscow time). And every year the Kremlin stages a massive military parade and public celebration to commemorate the defeat of Germany.

In the U.S. WW2 has been consigned to history, and it's not an American tradition to have processions of tanks, APCs and missile launchers rumble through NYC and DC. And we're not inclined to gloat over our victory in WW2 or imagine that Germany or Japan are potential enemy states based on long ago events. In Russia, the opposite is true. Victory Day really is about gloating over victory, as people adorn their cars with stickers saying "thanks grandpa for victory" and "onward to Berlin" (this a copy of slogans painted on Soviet tanks in 1945). The military parade is a public spectacle designed to show Russian citizens how powerful their military is, and to reinforce the official ideology that Russia is surrounded by hostile and potentially hostile states, and that only tanks can guarantee Russia's security.

However, Russians have been taught a very selective version of the history of the Second World War, or The Great Patriotic War as it is known in Russia. First of all, it is left entirely unmentioned that before Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Soviets were allies of Hitler. In the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin agreed with Hitler to jointly invade Poland and annex its territory, with the Soviets also free to annex the then independent Baltic states and a chunk of Romania to boot. In addition to dividing Eastern Europe into respective Nazi and Bolshevik spheres of interest, Stalin agreed to supply Hitler’s war machine with raw materials in return for foreign currency and German technical advisors.

Another distortion of history under the Soviets was to trivialize the contributions and sacrifices made by its Western allies, namely America and Great Britain, in defeating Hitler. It is true that far more Russian soldiers died fighting Germany, but that was to a large extent a function of the low fighting efficiency of the Red Army and the willingness of Soviet commanders to use their soldiers as cannon fodder in military offensives that squandered lives recklessly. But this distortion of history has been revived by the Kremlin, which insists that its predecessor state the Soviet Union practically single-handedly defeated the Nazis.

Mark Nuckols

Mark Nuckols teaches law and business in Moscow. He has a JD from Georgetown and an MBA from Dartmouth. He has lived in Eastern Europe for most of the last 20 years, including Russia, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Georgia.