Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov

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Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov (1900-1946) (Власов Андрей Андреевич) was the leader of the Russian Liberation Movement, a group of soldiers from the Soviet Union supporting Germany during World War II and claiming an ideological battle against the Stalinist system.

Early years

A. A. Vlasov was born into a peasant family in Lomakino in the Nizhny Novgorod Region on September 1st, 1900. He went to a priest school and seminary as a student without means. In 1918, he attended the Moscow Institute of Agriculture, and in 1920, he joined the Red Army. He quickly rose through the ranks and fought on the socialist side at the southern front of the Russian Civil War in the 1920s. From 1922, he carried out staff assignments and received theoretical military training. In 1929, he graduated from the "Vystrel" higher command courses of the Red Army. In 1930, he joined the communist party.[1]

After attending the Frunze Military Academy, he was appointed as the commander of the 11th infantry regiment in 1935 and the commander of the 99th division in 1937. This division was commended for its high standard in 1940, and Vlasov is awarded the Order of Lenin for his efforts. While critical of Vlasov's later decisions, the autobiography of the later general secretary of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev makes mention of Vlasov's abilities as a military commander.

Second World War

After the beginning of the 2nd world war, Vlasov is appointed as the head of the 37th Army.

He is commended for his efforts in the Defense of Kiev, and on the personal initiative of Stalin, he is called in to assist in the Defense of Moscow. As a result, Vlasov is awarded the Order of the Red Banner and the rank of Lieutenant General, and his picture is featured in Pravda as one of the Heroes of the Defense of Moscow.

In March 1942, Vlasov is appointed 2nd in command of the Volkhov front. This front is under pressure from the German Wehrmacht, and a group of armies are called together to repel the invaders. The 2nd Shock Army is under pressure, and Vlasov takes charge of it.

However, the resources are sparse, and the headquarters in Moscow are inflexible and inattentive to the needs of the army. The army is defeated, and Vlasov hides in the occupied countryside for while. He is betrayed in a village, where he hides, and is captured by the Germans.

In captivity

Vlasov is interrogated by various German officers, most notable the Riga German interpreter Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt. During these interrogations, Vlasov indicates a frustration with the Soviet leadership's careless treatment of its citizens and soldiers.

The German propaganda had put great effort into securing the cooperation of the peoples of the Soviet Union by various efforts like dropping leaflets over the occupied areas proclaiming Adolf Hitler a liberator, not an invader. Confronted with a Soviet war hero from the people, plans were soon being drawn up for giving Vlasov a visible role in the Anti-Soviet propaganda.

Vlasov personally spoke for an effort to liberate the Soviet Union of the Stalinist system and the kommisar structure. Vlasov insisted that the Soviet people would not fight on the German side in a mercenary capacity or as traitors, but that a Russian-centred national army, a liberation army, would be acceptable to Soviet citizen opposed to the system.

As a result of this, Vlasov wrote a letter with a fellow convict, Bunyachenko, addressing the Wehrmacht leadership, in which he suggested creating a Russian liberation army. This is signed "The Russian Committee".

In January 1943, after being transferred to Amt Wehrmachtspropaganda (office for Wehrmacht propaganda), Vlasov and his companion V. F. Malyshkin publish the Smolensk Declaration, and in March Vlasov's Open Letter. In both texts, Stalin and his group are accused of being responsible for the suffering of the Soviet people. In these texts, Germany is presented as the hope of the Russian people and an obvious ally, among other things because of historical cultural ties between Russia and Germany. Also, Vlasov starts touring the occupied areas and the prisoner of war camps to speak in favor of supporting the German war effort.

In the spring of 1943, around the Vlasov group a center of propaganda is established in Dabendorf outside of Berlin. This becomes the centre of the Russian liberation movement; this is where the propaganda texts are being made, and this is where the long-term strategy is discussed.

Vlasov becomes too independent and speaks of the Russian people and the Soviet peoples in a way, which becomes hard to accept for the German National Socialist policy makers, and Vlasov is placed under house arrest. However, after a series of defeats, Heinrich Himmler calls a meeting in September 1944 with Vlasov, pledging his support.

Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia

In november 1944, a large-scale meeting takes place in Prague, where the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Комитет Освобождения Народов России/КОНР) is established, along with a military branch, the Armed Forces of The Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (ВС-КОНР). This happens with the expressed support of the SS.

Two military divisions are formed, and the first is fully equipped, while the second never entirely is. The German army is under severe military pressure, and the supplies are limited. The 1st division is called into action against a Soviet-held bridge at the Oder, after which colonel Bunyachenko takes the division into the defence of Prague in May.

The German army capitulates, and the Soviet soldiers rush to be taken captives by the American army instead of the Red Army, but due to a previous agreement, all these soldiers are returned to the Soviet Union. Vlasov and his group attempt to escape to the American sector, but is captured by Soviet soldiers on the road on May 12th 1945.

On August 2nd, Pravda and Izvestiya report the conviction and execution of Vlasov and 11 fellow traitors.

History's verdict

After his capture, Vlasov was charged with of treason. The facts, from the Soviet standpoint, were clear, although his motivations less so. The trial dealt with taking up arms against his own people and agitating to the Soviet people in favor of surrendering and actively working against the system.[2]

However, the discussion of Vlasov continued among the emigrants outside the Soviet Union and has been revived in Post-Soviet Russia after abandoning the Soviet system.[3] Several Russian publications deal with the theme Vlasov: Traitor or hero? [4]

Rebuttals from Soviet historians indicate that A. A. Vlasov was no idealist, but merely a pragmatist who tried to find a new or better alliance, since his surrendering to the German army would brand him as a traitor anyway.

Also, records of the trial stressed that Vlasov's leadership group was formed by people who had a personal grudge against the Soviet system.

References

  1. Catherine Andreyev (1987), Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and Emigré Theories, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521389600
  2. General Vlasov's Last Hours, Radio Free Europe Research, 27 April 1973
  3. Alexander Hill (2004), The War Behind the Eastern Front: Soviet Partisans in North West Russia 1941-1944, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7146-5711-0
  4. A. Bakhvalov, General Vlasov : predatel' ili geroi? (Russian--at Stanford University Library) Vysshaia shkola MVD Rossii, 1994