Voices from Russia

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Putin’s Message at Annual Leningrad Siege Memorial: Never Again

Soviet war dead being given an honourable hero’s burial in contemporary Leningrad Oblast


He who doesn’t learn from history is doomed to repeat it; Russians understand this fact better than any when they recall the storms of World War II and the bloody Siege of Leningrad. Russia can’t afford to forget… more than 20 million Russians perished in the Great Patriotic War, which is more than the population of several modern countries, including Romania, the Netherlands, Greece, and many more. Take a moment and imagine an entire country obliterated, that’s how great the death toll was for Russia. However, those millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles, other Slavs, and Soviet citizens weren’t obliterated from existence. Their eternal memory and resolve gave the living strength, and with it, they endured as they always have, and they captured Berlin, ending the largest holocaust in human history.

By far one of the bloodiest battles in human history was the Siege of Leningrad (also called Petrograd and St Petersburg today). Casualties were around one million people… one million, for one city. The real number is possibly higher, as many people went missing. Bear one thing in mind when you read what President Putin said, remember it, and never forget it… his brother was amongst the dead. President Putin’s own brother, a child, died of disease during the terrible siege. TASS reported what President Putin said to veterans and celebrants at the anniversary:

We must use every occasion to remind ourselves about [the tragic events of the Great Patriotic War] so that we never forget about this so that the entire world remembers this and so that nothing like this ever happens again in the destiny of our country or in the world at large.

There’s an old Russian saying, “The only time you’ll ever see the back of a Russian soldier is when he’s dead”. In principle, Russians don’t take one step backwards. As a result, to this day they still find the remains of Russian soldiers in the thick northern swamps around St Petersburg. Their weapons always point forwards towards the enemy. President Putin commented on this:

They didn’t retreat anywhere and they died with weapons in their hands in battle as they marched forward. This attitude to the Motherland is typical of our people and this is what we must seal for long years to come for all the future generations. This is what Russia has always relied on… self-sacrifice and love for the Motherland, especially during difficult years of ordeals.

Next time you hear a Western leader scurrilously compare Putin to Hitler, remember that unlike almost all Americans, Putin’s family was under fire during one of the bloodiest battles of the bloodiest front of the bloodiest war in history. Remember that Putin’s own brother died in this conflict, buried in one of the unmarked graves of Leningrad. Just imagine what restraint it must require for him to throw those who make such comparisons across the room. Quite understandably, it’s in bad taste to make a Holocaust joke or to make light of the Jews killed. If anyone compared the Israeli Prime Minister to Hitler, the highest echelon of the Western world order would condemn such a remark. There’d be mass outrage, and rightly so! Hitler, the Nazis, and their supporters are despicable villains best left in the dustbin of human history.

The only question is, why is there no outrage when they compare Putin to Hitler? Where’s the outcry for the 20 million Russians killed? Applying a double standard to the deaths of millions is not “just” politics; there’s only one word for it… “degeneracy”. Disgracing the honoured dead makes a man just as guilty as their killers because that kind of pathetic disregard for the writing on the wall allowed such wars to happen in the first place. Should the world ever forget the horrors of the Great Patriotic War, they wouldn’t take steps to prevent another such conflict, and it’d surely repeat itself. That’s Putin’s message… we must do everything to prevent this from happening, not just for Russia, but for all humanity.

TASS also summarised the events of the Leningrad siege brilliantly. In the interest of understanding history, you may feel inclined to check it out:

Siege of Leningrad

The Siege of Leningrad started on 8 September 1941 and lasted 872 days. On 10 September, the Luftwaffe bombed and burnt the city’s warehouses, leaving Leningrad without significant food supplies. Gradually, fuel and water reserves ran out in the city, stopping electricity and heating. Hunger swept the city in the autumn of 1941. Leningrad introduced rationing in Leningrad to provide residents with food. The bread rations dwindled to 250 grammes a day for workers and to 125 grammes for the rest of the population by 20 November 1941. During the blockade, the Germans dropped over 107,000 incendiary and high-explosive bombs, they fired more than 150,000 artillery shells, destroying about 10,000 buildings and structures. Despite the blockade, over 200 enterprises continued to work in the city, including seven shipyards that built 13 submarines. The industry of besieged Leningrad produced 150 types of military products. Overall, during the years of the blockade, Leningrad enterprises produced about 10 million shells and mines, 12,000 mortars, 1,500 warplanes, and rolled out or repaired 2,000 tanks.

On 12 January 1943, Soviet troops of the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts launched Operation Iskra, aimed at routing the German forces south of Lake Ladoga and restoring Leningrad’s land connection with the rest of the country. On 18 January 1943, the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts broke the city’s encirclement with the support of the Baltic Fleet and restored its land connection with the rest of the country. On the same day, the Soviet troops liberated the Shlisselburg fortress and drove the enemy away from Lake Ladoga’s entire southern coastline. Within 17 days, the Soviets built new rail lines and highways across the resulting corridor; on 7 February, the first goods train arrived in Leningrad. On 14 January 1944, the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts, together with the 2 Baltic Front, launched the Leningrad-Novgorod strategic offensive. The lifting of the siege happened on 27 January 1944. A salute of 24 salvos from 324 artillery guns in the city honoured this victory.

No more than 800,000 residents remained in the city by the end of the blockade out of the 3 million people that were in Leningrad and its suburbs before the blockade. According to various estimates, from 641,000 to 1 million Leningraders died in the siege from hunger, bombing, and artillery shelling. Almost 340,000 people were wounded, 716,000 residents were left without shelter, and 1.7 million were evacuated across the Road of Life and by air during 1941-42.

26 January 2018

Nick Ivanov

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