Streetwise Professor

February 2, 2014

Who Stopped the Rain? A Cynical Exploitation of the Dead of Leningrad, 1941-1944.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:41 pm

The last remaining Russian independent, liberal television station is Dozhd (“Rain”) TV.  The channel has been removed from several major cable distributors, which is likely a death sentence because it is only available on cable and on the Internet.  An investigation for “extremism” that was launched a few days ago has been closed, but the damage has been done.  The station is now a leper.

The ostensible reason for Dozhd’s likely demise is its temerity in running a poll asking whether the Soviets should have surrendered Leningrad, rather than endure a siege that cost a million Russian lives, including 630,000 or so civilians.  The poll ran on the anniversary of the lifting of the siege.

But this was no doubt a pretext.  The Kremlin has waged an unrelenting campaign against all independent media voices.  Moreover, this particular media voice had publicized Navalny investigations about the corruption of Russian officials, notably Putin’s First Deputy Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin.

The question was a legitimate one.  Although the Leningrad front did tie down some German forces, it is doubtful that this gain was worth the horrific cost in Russian lives, or the suffering that the survivors endured for three years.

More secure nations can debate these questions.  Russia, apparently not.  And contrary to the vituperations of those who attacked Dozhd, the question is not a slur on the bravery and sacrifice of the besieged: it is a question about Stalin’s judgment and humanity.  Apparently the greatest mass murder in human history is sacrosanct in Russia, or official Russia anyways.  Duly noted.

But it is more likely that this is a cynical exploitation of the Cult of the Great Patriotic War. The martyred of Leningrad are being used to advance the political interests of the current Kremlin elite, and to stifle voices that call attention its utter venality.  World War II is a near religious subject in Russia, and anyone who questions in any way the accepted dogma is vulnerable to a charge of blasphemy.

But not every questioner is so charged.  Instead, such charges are used opportunistically by the regime to destroy those who it dislikes.  And since the more liberal voices are likely to challenge the faultlessness of the judgment of Stalin and the Stavka, it is a perfect knout to rain blows down upon those who oppose the regime’s metastasizing authoritarianism.

So who stopped the rain?  Putin did, obviously.  If not by direct order, in a “will no one rid me of this meddlesome TV channel” sort of way. Regardless, the Putin python has squeezed the life out of another independent voice.

PS. Not a big CCR fan, and Who Stopped the Rain is probably my least favorite of their major hits.  But the title seemed just to apt not to use.

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  1. Has Dozhd committed the ultimate sin of speaking favourably of the Ukrainian protests by any chance? The office of the recently organized “committee of solidairty with Maidan” in Moscow has suffered a pogrom by so-called “kazaks” (Putin’s costumed thugs), which was filmed by accompanying TV crews and broadcast in prime-time. Dozhd is having it easy in comparison.

    Comment by Ivan — February 2, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

  2. @Ivan. Good call. This Reuters story says that Dozhd was noted for its “evenhanded” coverage of #Euromaidan. We can’t have that!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 2, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  3. The German intention was to raze Leningrad to the ground and kill all its inhabitants.

    Which of course would have been just great with SWP, especially as it would have also eliminated Putin’s future parents.

    Comment by S/O — February 2, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

  4. @S/O. Which, of course, the Germans didn’t do to any Soviet city that they captured. And the Soviets could have fought a rear-guard action, withdrawn civilians from the city, and then abandoned the already razed place to the Germans. Clearly, the odds of the survival of Putin’s future parents would have been higher under the withdraw-and-abandon option than the bombardment, starvation, typhus, and cannibalism option that Stalin chose.

    The one city they did raze in the way you mention of course was Warsaw, after the Uprising. And of course, Stalin stood idly by while the Germans crushed the Uprising and then demolished the city, because he wanted the Germans to destroy the anti-Soviet Polish resistance.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 2, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

  5. In Ukraine, TVi, an independent channel, had its broadcast license canceled, under the guise and pretext of a new digital broadcasting scheme.

    So TVi kept broadcasting on the Internet.

    Subsequently, folks from TVi formed Hromadske.TV – the People’s TV – which broadcasts over the Internet.

    It has taken off like wildfire.

    I know Putler has tried to control the Internet – but there are a lot of hackers in the Rasha who know how to get around that.

    Comment by elmer — February 2, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

  6. In one of the Hornblower novels, the one where he’s in the Baltic in 1812, the character hears of the fall of Moscow, muses on the possible fall of St. Petersburg, and wonders how well Tsar Alexander’s brittle resolve will hold up if he should manage to lose both his capitals.

    Same thing here, surely? Throughout 1941 to 1943, Moscow and the Caucasus were under threat. This didn’t permanently change till Kursk, but this wasn’t clear at the time. Given the fragility of Russian morale and resource, why would one gift Germany the victory of taking Leningrad either before or after 1943? – thereby also allowing them to shorten the front, probably to cut off Murmansk as well, and stop that irritating flow of Lend-Lease deuce-and-a-halves (via that route at least).

    By way of parallel, there are good arguments that the second battle of El Alamein likewise was fought unnecessarily and toward political rather than military goals. Operation Torch meant that even if the Alamein offensive bogged down into stalemate, Rommel would still have to retreat anyway because of the threat Torch posed to his rear. Militarily it was thus an unnecessary battle – the Allies could have just let him retreat and mopped him up as he ran out of fuel doing so. But politically it was a very smart move. It offered a riskless opportunity to defeat the best-known and highest-regarded German general in pitched battle, while sending the message both to Moscow and Washington that the Commonwealth was a valuable ally.

    Wasn’t this the same sort of thinking? Different scale, obviously, and autocrats aren’t rational. Germany suffered a Leningrad of civilian casualties from bombing, but nobody suggests Hitler should have conceded something to stop it.

    Comment by Green as Grass — February 3, 2014 @ 3:37 am

  7. Most lend lease went through Persia and into the Caucasus

    Comment by Andrew — February 3, 2014 @ 5:01 am

  8. Most lend-lease traffic went via Pacific and Siberia (about a half of the total volume); both the Iranian and the northern routes accounted for about 25% each.

    BTW, the statement about the German plans to destroy the city and to kill all its inhabitants is a story in itself. One would have hard time to beleive how a multitude of different statements of many different German officials expressing many different views and projections (from sane and reasonable to totally crazy) has been combined into a fake ‘order’ of German Naval Command mentioning the plans to raze and kill. Which is activly being sold by Russian propaganda arms as a valid historical document, even with references to Russian state archives.

    But, of course, without a single photocopy. Or even the names of the signers.

    Comment by LL — February 3, 2014 @ 9:03 am

  9. This talk of lend lease aand the current situation in the Ukraine reminds me of the strange case of Andrei Vavilov around the turn of the century. Vavilov was an unknown deputy minister in the finance ministry until his car blew up in a bombing incident in the Minsitry’s parking lot-he survived. It turned out Vavilov was an absolute genius at non transparent transactions (cooking the books) and there was a few hundred dollars missing in funds that were to be used in Ukraine for military supplies. Well Andrei pinned it on a General in the Defense Ministry and through his frugality and modest salary had purchased a sizable oil project in Timan Pechora. With all the publicity Rosneft and Lukoil wanted to buy his project. A vice president of Lukoil was kidnapped at around this time and held for a week or so and so Rosneft was left successful in buying the project. There were still investigations and so Vavilov successfully ran and won for a seat in the Duma (upper?) and so couldn’t be prosecuted. A modern success story from rags to riches.

    The moral of this story is that lend lease from Russia to Ukraine goes through Switzerland and both recipients and senders like this route just fine.

    Comment by pahoben — February 3, 2014 @ 11:48 am

  10. So sorry it should read of course-a few hundred million dollars missing.

    Comment by pahoben — February 3, 2014 @ 11:56 am

  11. Re Lend Lease. Don’t forget Murmansk convoys.

    @Green. The key issues are in your last sentence: scale and the rationality of dictators. The scale of Leningrad so dwarfs El Alamein. And with respect to dictators, another comparison to Hitler comes to mind: his willingness to sacrifice the population of Berlin to a futile resistance to the inevitable, out of his belief that Germans did not deserve to survive because they had failed him. Re the Allied bombing campaign vs. Leningrad: Hitler didn’t really have a choice except to surrender totally, whereas Stalin had the option of a strategic withdrawal from Leningrad.

    More generally, given a few minutes I could probably put together a list of dozens of examples of unnecessary battles fought for inane or vain political reasons. But dozens of wrongs don’t make a right.

    @pahoben. You are forgiven. This time. Don’t let it happen again.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 3, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

  12. 50% of lend lease material overall. But it should be remembered that the materials sent by the pacific route did not include military equipment, mostly raw materials and food.
    As the USSR was neutral in the war against Japan until 1945…..

    Comment by Andrew — February 3, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

  13. I agree dozens of wrongs don’t make a right. What I’m suggesting is that military reasons have never been the only ones for fighting battles. The non-military reasons are not necessarily discreditable, hence not automatically ‘wrongs’.

    Eg: Lawrence should not have fought Broke outside Boston Harbor. He could have stayed put, been a fleet-in-being of one ship, and posed a perpetual nuisance. He elected to fight because the USN did not and does not cower in port. This we leave to the French 🙂

    The British army should not have fought the Somme offensive. It cost 400,000 casualties and achieved little (although the Germans thought it had permanently lowered the quality of their army). It was launched because you didn’t leave your ally to bleed at Verdun without doing something to help.

    And so on.

    Stalin made an inhuman decision; but at what point was it clear the Germans would not liquidate the civilians, and what point was it illogical to concede a tactical withdrawal? The US surrender in the Philippines in 1942 was the humane thing to do given the troops had reached the end of their tether. Yet it resulted in deaths of many of them anyway via the Bataan death march. They would have been better off fighting on.

    Not simple, this stuff.

    Comment by Green as Grass — February 4, 2014 @ 5:49 am

  14. “The one city they did raze in the way you mention of course was Warsaw, after the Uprising. And of course, Stalin stood idly by while the Germans crushed the Uprising and then demolished the city, because he wanted the Germans to destroy the anti-Soviet Polish resistance.”

    XXXIX Panzercorps (4th Panzer Division, 19th Panzer Division, Fallschirm-Panzer Division Hermann Göring, and 5th SS Panzer Division), and Field Marshal Walter Model, disagree.

    Comment by PailiP — February 4, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

  15. When will Spetzgruppe A be deployed to Sochi to help those whiny pro American press provocateurs with their hotel problems? A few unfortunate accidents will change the tone of reporting.

    Olympic judges should be prepared with all banking particulars before arriving Sochi.

    Comment by pahoben — February 5, 2014 @ 9:09 am

  16. Not a big CCR fan

    Good grief, I thought everyone was a big CCR fan!

    And it’s Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I agree isn’t much good.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 5, 2014 @ 9:53 am

  17. The German intention was to raze Leningrad to the ground and kill all its inhabitants.

    That was Germany’s intention for both Moscow and Leningrad once it had won the war and Russia had surrendered unconditionally, not immediately after the surrender of either city whilst the war was still raging. Jeez…

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 5, 2014 @ 9:56 am

  18. Detroit should now feel much better about it’s future chances to host the Olympics.

    Come to think of it a Panzer division moving into an evacuated Detroit wouldn’t be at all bad at this time.

    Comment by pahoben — February 5, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

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