Tag Archives: Russia

Nazi Germany and the Putin’s Russia: The Grand Parallel

“But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On November 11 1918 the German Empire witnessing economic problems and facing revolution was forced to sign armistice. The German armies were still within the frontiers in France and Russia. Not a single enemy soldier had occupied any quarter of the German lands. Germany was unable to win the World War I, but was only partially defeated. There was no major fighting in the German land except the early battles on 1914 in East Prussia. German army was still intact, the political system witnessed major shift from monarchy to parliamentary democracy, but most imperial elite were not persecuted and still played major role. All the radical communist uprisings were stopped at early start. However, Germany lost many territories were ethnic Germans lived many new countries formed with large German population including Latvia. The severe reparations imposed by the Allied states at the Treaty of Versailles and inter political rivalry made Germany suffer from heavy inflation and unemployment. And with this from a early start a group of people – past imperial elite, war veterans and nationalists who believed that Germany was not defeated, but betrayed by inner rouge forces. And their goal was to avenge the humiliation of  November 11 1918 and restore the former German Empire which collapse was a catastrophe of their lifetime. Also most Germans did not felt any guilt for its part in WWI. The goal of the historians was to prove that Germany was not responsible for causing WWI.

73 years later the Soviet Union could not gain the upper hand in the Cold War, plagued by economic problems and revolutionary changes the major superpower collapsed. Soviet Union was defeated in long exhaustive war that was fought mostly by proxy in the Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and elsewhere with the Western block. In result the Soviet Union broke in to various new countries with large Russian population. The painful economic reforms lead to severe economic breakdown and poverty. Single party state was replaced with unstable multi-party rule. Separatist movements showed up within Russia. Communist uprising on 1993 was defeated with tanks. However, the past soviet elite, the KGB forces and army still intact kept its position and were convinced that Soviet Union was betrayed by the traitors sponsored by foreign enemy. And so they joined ranks to restore the former glory of the Soviet Union and revenge on those who by their minds made the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of their lifetime. And the Russian people still saw the Soviet past as glorious and did not see any wrongs in the Soviet actions in the past.   Despite some attempts to revise the soviet past the mainstream Russian historiography has been based on old Soviet ideological guidelines.

The German economic situation was critical trough out the early twenties. Hyperinflation, bankruptcies and high unemployment made the German people look for radical solutions. There were strong communist movement in Germany and various radical nationalist movements. A great rise of esoteric movements who integrated old pagan beliefs into new racist Aryan doctrines. Generally on second half of the twenties the economy stabilized until 1929 the start of the Great Depression the situation went into downwards spiral again. And all this was accompanied by the rise of antisemitism  and conservative radicalism when regarding art and sexual matters.

Russian Federation suffered a state default in 1998, chaos in economy at the edge of banditry. Russian politics were filled with old time communists, ultra nationalists,various radical religious movements. Old Slavophile theories of Slavic unity and Russian racial superiority were brought back to life. National hate towards Jews, Caucasians and Central Asians raised up to new level. After 2001, following the general economic growth and the rise of oil prices made Russia recover and reach new heights until 2008 the start of the economic crisis.

The German politics even before Hitler, were based on the revision of the Versailles treaty. The treaty of Rapallo on 1922, the diplomatic pressure on Poland and the Baltic States were dictated by the will of restoring the power over the German speaking Easter Europe.  Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was not far from Hitler in his revisionist policies only in less radical anti-democratic manner.

Russian foreign experts already on 1992  devised a Russian foreign conception based on defending the rights of the Russian speakers in the former soviet republics. The main tactics was the use of international treaties, human right charters and support for Russian organizations outside the Russian Federation. Diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Baltic States begun already before Putin. Boris Yeltsin despite less radical than Putin was pursuing the same revisionist policies.

After failed coup attempt and short imprisonment the decorated war veteran Adolf Hitler managed to gather the radical nationalist forces and win elections on 1933. However, his rise of power was not dictated just by the common will of the people, but the inner intrigues and the weakness of the German leadership who allowed Hitler to take power. After the president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg lost his bets on two rivaling politicians Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleiher, he was forced to choose Hitler as chancellor hopping that his power will be limited. But, Hitler managed to use the burning of the Reichstag as excuse for complete takeover of the power. Shortly after that old and sick Hindenburg died unable to change anything.

Just as Hitler was disappointed to see German Empire to collapse, the KGB agent Vladimir Putin who on that time served in Eastern Germany was clearly traumatized by collapse of the Soviet Union. As there was no lustration of the former party and the intelligence elite, the man slowly but pragmatically climbed up the top of the political elite. The sick and tired Boris Yeltsin was forced to accept him as his replacement as Putin was supported by various Kremlin power circles. Same as the German conservatives thought of Hitler, they also thought that Putin will be limited in his powers and support their interests. However, while still as acting president Putin was gifted with terrorist acts in Moscow and the new conflict in Chechnya. In the same matter as Hitler gain upper hand by placing on the communist threat, Putin used the terrorist threat to win elections and gather his power. Boris Yeltsin was retired and unable to change anything.

Despite Hitlers long propagandized radical intentions, most countries in Europe met him with enthusiasm.  In contrary to sick old Hindenburg and his unstable governments, Hitler seemed a promising figure who will lead Germany into peace and prosperity. And Hitler at his first years of rule implemented his radical aggressive policies at small pace. Leaving good impression on British and American leaders, astonishing everyone with the economical success of Germany, Hitler meanwhile made complete single party leadership, made repressions against the political opposition and started to head against the German Jews. Hitler staged a grand Olympic games on 1936 and on the same year sent his forces to Rhine de-militarized zone and from that moment started to rebuilding his army. UK and France trying to preserve peace accepted the anschluss of Austria. And then Suddentenland of Czechoslovakia and then whole Czechoslovakia itself was added to Germany by the Allied support. A common excuse then not to react – its too far away and there is Germans anyway both in Austria and   Czechoslovakia. And then Hitler believing that allies will play the same passivity on Poland started his path to WW2.

Putin was welcomed by many across the world, despite his KGB past. US president George Bush Jr. was convinced at start that Putin has a soul  of a man of who he can trust. Putin was slow in early politics, however economic growth made him to start suppress his political opponents and restrict freedom of speech. In contrary to Hitler, Putin until this time managed to make a pseudo democracy, even formally making his accomplice Dmitri Medvedev  as president for 4 years. Many tried not to notice what was happening in Russsia, the business and investments played the upper hand.

Putins foreign policy of supporting the Russian speakers in former Soviet Union became more aggressive, just  as Hitlers policy on the volksdeutche in Eastern Europe. The Latvian Secret service from 1933 to 1939 constantly fought against the legal and illegal pro-nazi organizations. Now the present day Latvia is constantly fed up with the pro kremlin organizations operating in Latvia. Putin’s foreign policy was soft based until it opened fire on 2008. The Western reaction was rather self pathetic as they recognized that Georgia opened the fire first (although they were provoked to attack first) and accepted the de facto annexation of  Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Putin invaded and annexed Crimea many western media especially CNN  made flawed arguments that Crimea is Russian anyway, while ignoring long Crimean non-Russian history and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on 1944. Still US and EU are slow to increase sanctions and political pressure on Russia. The reasons for this are understandable, however if we follow this grand parallel then Putin might move further in Ukraine and only will be stopped when he attacks the country that has some real guarantees like  Baltic States and Poland.

And this where the Grand Parallel between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia ends. The very point of this parallel is will for revenge and revisionism. A will that lead the Germany into full collapse and destruction. It took many years for Germans to understand the consequences of irrational revenge based policies which made Germany gradually a better place. The Russian nation needs to learn this also to became a better place. Will this lesson be so bloody and destructive as for Germany, its only up to Russian leadership and its people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Articles

Latvia and the New Cold War

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

On 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev started his perestroika policy few could imagine that after few years we will live again in independent state of Latvia. And after some 20 years again few could imagine that we are heading towards new kind of Soviet Union. The president of Russia has fully exposed his covertly long run anti-western agenda by annexing Crimea and unleashing a rhetoric of confrontation. We are entering an era of instability and security chaos possibly resulting in war. To answer who is to blame for this? We all by our own.

When Soviet Union collapsed on 1991 the new government by Boris Yeltsin was unable or unwilling to make cardinal revolutionary changes not just in Russian economy, but within every aspect of Russian society. The old soviet elite kept their position the so-called nomenklatura adapted to  new “wild capitalism” environment. In result an oligarchy controlling Kremlin politics  appeared that made the things the old soviet ways and were above anyone else. Truly a shock reform policy was needed to switch to free market economy, but in society with less experience of free market policy the reforms served only small part of the society. A shock reforms were needed in Russian political ranks- complete de-sovietization – where all forms of communist parties are forbidden, the communist rule is condemned and unmasked at full-scale. Instead for many the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster not a beginning of the liberation for the Russian people.

An important thing that was not achieved was the shake up or even liquidation of the KGB – the Soviet Secret Service. Also old soviet army leaders kept its positions. The KGB a guardian of the Soviet power did everything to save USSR from collapse even 1991 August coup. After it was shamefully divided as Federal Security Service (FSB) and the External Intelligence Service (SVR) its employees were scared of being persecuted or fired. But Boris Yeltsin administration did nothing – on 1993 Yeltsin brutally crushed his political opponents with tanks and year later started war in Chechnya against  national separatists. True the 1993 White House defenders waved Red Banners and Chechnya separatists used terrorist tactics, but this again made the Russian security services on the top. Yeltsin was dependent on so-called siloviks – the security elite and the oligarhs and to gain his reelection a lot of he had to sacrifice. On 2000 to keep his family safe from corruption charges he had to succumb to security elite and choose Vladimir Putin a ex KGB agent his new successor.

We may say that Putin has no personality and he seemed plain and shallow. So they spoke the same about Stalin and Hitler. What he and his close KGB veterans wanted is to regain the lost legacy of the KGB and the Soviet army. They did not believe that the collapse of the Soviet union was a result of the peoples will for freedom and democracy – no it was done by the western secret agencies and shallowly forces of the western capital elite. Putin on 1996 in TV interview had warned about the dangers of over powered security apparatus as a threat to civil liberties. Now he was working to prove this.

Meanwhile the Western world looked at Russia with either amusement or positive interest. Some political annalists like Francis Fukuyama rote major books about the end of the history, where the whole world will turn to liberal democracies and reach greatest progress. The US president George Bush issued a time of the New World Order where US will take the leading part. Instead the 1990ies were marked strong US will for isolationism. US Democrat President Bill Clinton wanted to avoid the direct force of the US military. In result the failed military actions  in Somalia and Afghanistan showed the Islamic radicals that US is vulnerable to  attack. US still had abnormal fears about Russia, based on the lack of insight and understanding. Both US and EU wanted from the former soviet countries to do things they were unable off. The point made by Samuel Huntington that eastern countries can successfully modernize, but not necessarily westernize became the ultimate reality. Macdonalds in Moscow, Russians riding German BMW’s and using Microsoft Windows did not change the fact that Russian politics are still ruled by ex-soviet elite. Who also modernized – mansions in UK and Italy, children in western schools, but the same old anti-western view.

When on 2000 Putin came to power his hands were still too short on establishing a dictatorship. Russia still had economic problems from the economic default. But, after 2001 9/11 the oil and gas price started to rise up. When the Republican administration in contrast to light democrats unleashed two full-scale wars in Middle East the oil prices skyrocketed. An invasion in Iraq proved to be unnecessary and poorly planned in the spirit of the Neo-Conservative Tom Clancy novel thinking where US forces easily crushes the enemy and makes democracy failed. But, it was a gift to crisis driven Russia, dependent on  oil and gas exports. It worked for Leonid Brezhnev once and it worked for Putin also- oil price boosted economic growth gained within Russian people. Also the restarted war with Chechnya allowed the FSB to start attacking free press and civil liberties. In the same manner as Stalin purged the members of the Leningrad elite and replaced them with his friends from Tsaritsina front, the Putin purged the Yeltsin supported oligarchs like Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.   Using the legal nihilism – the abuse of laws, Kremlin elite took over nearly all TV, Printed press and radio. However, the old soviet elite underestimated the power of the Russian internet. By capitalizing on oil and gas companies the Putin regime made an authoritarian regime with formal elections and opposition.

At first such situation was ideal for restoration of the Soviet Union. However, Russia was unable to prevent NATO military intervention former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia, Kirghistan and Ukraine.  We can speculate that the western countries did funded the opposition and made foreign funded NGO’s. But, when Russia indiscreetly funds pro-Kremlin movements in post soviet countries and install many pro-Russia NGO’s its described as “brotherly support”. On 1920-1939 the Communist Internationale  made a network of communist parties and legal cover movements within Europe and US looking to overthrow the capitalist governments. And after 1991 the same was done in the name of the Russian speakers outside Russia. This scheme worked in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus. But, it failed in Ukraine on 2004 where large part of people with education and modern outlook managed to prevent ex gangster from Donetsk Viktor Yanukovych to take power. But, according to Kremlin it was not the general will of the people it was the US dollars that caused this. According to soviet leader the people are not supposed to stand against the ruler and are to week to decide themselves.  But, such thinking is generally wrong. If the large numbers of people are ready to stand against tyranny and injustice, support from abroad only boost their will. But, the will to fight against injustice is made by the one who creates injustice.

On 2008 Putin and Medvedev devised a plan to punish Georgia for wanting to join EU and NATO. By making provocations Georgia was pushed into war and lost large part of their territories. But, the goal to cause the downfall of the Georgian government failed. And even the new Georgian leadership has not changed its goal to join EU one bit.

2008 war should had opened the western eyes. Instead last year president of US George Bush who knew the Putin’ s soul only managed to stop Russians from advancing Tbilisi by sending US fleet and the French president Nicola Sarkozy sacrificed Abhazia and South Ossetia to Putin.  The new democrat US president Barack Obama who again tried to make a soft appeasing effort only showed to Russia his weakness and ignorance. First by failing to understand that Medvedev is only de facto ruler of Russia and avoiding Putin, then issuing a “reset” policy. Barack Obama policy was more inclined towards Middle East and the Arab Spring failing to understand the heavy Russian involvement there. Russia was interested in both keeping the Arab dictators and both in disorder as it continually boosted the oil prices. The extensive support for Iran and Syria is needed to keep US in the Middle East as long as possible and have a free hand on the Eastern Europe.

And now we came to Latvia. What Latvian elite and society has done to understand the Kremlin threat. As a country with largest Russian speaker population and Soviet armed forces until 1994, Latvia juggled between harsh nationalistic policies and liberal multiculturalism. In such way the great divide was done within Latvians and Russian speakers and within Latvians themselves who were divided in national conservatives and liberals. Such political divide has kept until this day. While Latvian political elite has successfully managed to prevent from pro-Kremlin forces to take power, the inner struggle has weakened the Latvian political elite. In result a constantly unstable right-wing coalition in contrast to unified pro-Kremlin opposition. Many Latvian parties no longer serve their names they hold. Reform party made no real reforms, Unity failed to unify Latvian politics and the National Alliance serves against the national interests. Green Farmers serves the interests of oligarchs and various radical sectarian movements on both sides only adds to struggle. Latvia is a “small Ukraine” with divided society, corrupt ineffective administrative bureaucratic apparatus  and weakened army.

 In such situation when Kremlin uses force against its neighbors what will happen to Latvia? It’s a rather interesting that despite such divide we have managed to avoid violent outbursts like in 2006 Estonia. But, then again Estonia is a step forward in national policy than Latvia. Latvian army devoid of basic APC’s, airfield still in construction and most of the focus on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan can protect its own citizens. It  always strikes me when on national parade Latvian infantry marches on desert camouflage uniforms – if according to some officials Latvian Army only is needed for missions in the Middle East and Africa then they are at least incompetent. In case of invasion can we only relay on Estonia, Lithuania and Poland and far away NATO forces? But, can our neighbors relay on us? And can our soldiers and people relay on politicians some of them who have very doubtful political views that will make appropriate decisions in case of emergency? These questions are very serious.

US, EU and Latvia must place end to wishful thinking  and deception. Russian investments have overfilled the capital of the UK Londongrad (London) and reached the Westminster palace. Brussels and Strasbourg is full of Russian agents. The sacrifices must be made to prevent further KGB regime advance to Western Europe. Today it is Russian bribes in Paris, tomorrow it will be tanks marching trough the Arc of Triumphe.  The Crimea, Kharkiv and Riga are not that far. A mobilization of society like in Cold War against the common threat against the western values are vital to our survival.

Now about the “common Russian threat”. No the whole Russian nation are not our enemies. Large masses marched in Moscow to protest against the invasion in Crimea. Russia has growing large educated society who wants to enjoy the same way of life as in EU and the US. No doubt that even without the EU and US sanctions Russia will face great economic difficulties. And these people will not want to give away their personal freedoms and money to regime willing to reset to Cold War. The civil resistance against the shallow and old-fashioned neo soviet regime is needed to be supported by Latvia, US and EU. And countries like Ukraine and Belarus that are on the frontline of the new iron curtain requires or support to gain freedom from pro-Kremlin thug regimes. The Putin’s policy of mixing Third Rome idea with Soviet imperialism leads Russia and its neighbors in to collapse. So for next years to come Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states should and will became the field of struggle between new forces of democracy and personal choice and old forces of totalitarian regimes and collectivism.

We are living in times of great changes. It is our personal responsibility in  every way big or small to take part in these changes, and work for the benefit of the free world. The first Cold War was a fundamental fight between two political systems. This New Cold War is a fundamental fight  to defend what had conquered many years ago and prevent from the return from the empire of evil.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events

Napoleonic wars in Latvia 1812

Alexander triumphal arch

Alexander triumphal arch dedicated to the victory over the French in 1812

 

While the French “Grande Armee” led by Napoleon I itself headed on route to Moscow in 1812 to meet its ultimate defeat and destruction, other French and allied Prussian armies entered the territory of Latvia. The Napoleonic warfare in Latvia has been poorly researched and mostly forgotten. However, there are many interesting and tragic events like the burn down of the Riga suburbs and many battles that took part on the frontlines. Therefore the story of Napoleonic wars in Latvia is worthily to be told.

The French Revolution (1789-1794) and the rise of the Corsican officer Napoleon set the whole Europe on fire. There were few countries that Napoleon had not yet invaded; even Egypt was on his hit list. Those few countries that enjoyed relative peace and freedom from France were Russia, Great Britain and Sweden. Russia started to prepare for war with France already in 1797 when by Czar Paul I ordered to get conscripts in the Baltic provinces. The period of duty in Russian army was for 25 years and many tried to escape it by deserting or bribing. Only nobles, clergyman, scholars and landowners were free from the draft. When in 1805 Russia joined the war against France the size of the drafted man increased. The territory of Latvia was entered by French secret agents who tried to make Latvian peasants to start uprisings. Most notable French inspired uprising took place in Kauguri on 1802 where only guns and cannons could stop the peasants. On 1806 at many places in Courland revolts erupted because of the close presence of French troops. Napoleon had captured Warsaw and many waited for a liberator to set them free from hated German landlords and Russians.

However, in 1807 Napoleon and Czar Alexander I signed a peace treaty that made both allies. Russia joined the French imposed naval blockade of Great Britain and got free hand on Finland and Balkans. We can compare the Tilsit peace treaty with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In both cases, Russia guaranteed its counterpart relative security and assistance and also gained free hand to annex nearby countries. And in both cases Russia was unwilling to fulfill its obligations and provoked its ally to attack her. Russians arrested British ships and confiscated their products. In return British sent naval expeditions near the Russian coastline. Russians made their own patrol ships accompanied by Cossack patrols on beaches. The main naval defense base was the fortress of Daugavgrīva at the mouth of Daugava near Riga. On 1808 Russia started war against Sweden. Now for the first time the coast of Courland was used by Russian border guards.  There were small skirmishes with the British fleet. After the defeat of Sweden and annexation of Finland the border guard of Courland was disbanded.

The Russian-French relations worsened. Russia was unwilling to fulfill the blockade of the Great Britain that hurt the Russian economy. Also Napoleon and Alexander I had disagreements over Constantinople, Poland and Scandinavia. The last straw for Napoleon was the new customs tariffs that broke the treaty of Tilsit. Napoleon realized that war is inevitable and started to prepare for attack against Russia, before it attacks on him.

Russia was aware of the danger. The Russian War minister Barclay de Tolly convinced the Czar to prepare for war. Army was reorganized; the size of the field army was increased. Russians relayed on the fortresses of Riga, Daugavpils (Dinaburg) and Kaunas. Riga still had stone walls, while much of 31 000 population lived outside them. That sparked danger and descent of the Baltic Germans Barclay de Tolly in 1811 visited Riga and ordered to improve the fortifications. Many new military objects were built. On May 1812 the new commander of the Baltic provinces was Magnuss Juhan Gustav von Esen a Baltic German from Estonia. He was also the General Governor of Riga. Russian forces were small: 30 infantry battalions, 4 cavalry squads, 7 artillery batteries and some Cossack units. About 12-13 thousand poorly trained men. Riga was also guarded by the fortress of Daugavgrīva with some 3000 soldiers, 40-50 ships and 2-8 cannons and 50-70 sailors on each ship. The fortress of Daugavpils was defended by 3300 men by the command of the general Hamen. In June rumors spread about the arrival of Napoleon in Konigsberg. Many landlords from Courland fled fearing the peasant revolt. From 21 to 24 June all stock of crops from country was moved to Riga. The church of St. Peter and Dome Cathedral was turned into barn. The streets were covered with straws to prevent the explosions of the French cannon balls. Even cattle and horses were ordered to be sent to Riga, but that order was not fulfilled.

On the night of June 24 without the declaration of the war Napoleon’s army invaded Russia. At the first day the fortress of Kauna was taken. The Grand Army consisted 650 000 men, 182 000 horses and 1100 cannons. Only 350 000 of the whole army were French about 20 nations were forced to take part. After four days Vilnius was taken and the interim government of Lithuania was established. After that French head to Vitebsk. Napoleon’s original intention was to meet and defeat the Russian army in open battle near the border. After that he would dictate the peace terms.  However, the Russian army retreated inland and as more Napoleon pursued them the more his army went further away from the French supply points. That was the Russian trap.

To assist the main invading force, the allied Prussian army had to secure the Napoleon’s army background. The commander in charge was Alexander Macdonald with his 10th corpus (302 00 men). Prussians entered Courland with 20 infantry battalions, 24 squadrons, 3 horseman and infantry batteries with 8 cannons in each, 3 field engineers, 5 artillery and 2 pontoon units. Together – 22 officers and 17 180 soldiers. Prussia was promised that in case of victory it would gain the Baltic provinces. The main Prussian tasks was to defend the Neuma river and the main supply line, restrict the Riga garrison from offensive actions, be ready to cross river Daugava to endanger the Russian right flank, capture Daugavpils, siege and capture Riga and take over Courland to gain the resources.

On 26 June drunk Russian cavalry officer Apushkin warned the general governor of Courland Fridrich von Ziver that he had spotted fast approaching enemy along the road to Dobele heading for Jelgava. Ziver reported this to Riga sparking great panic. In the end it turned out that Apushkin had mistook the dust clouds made by cattle herd that was lead by Russians themselves, for enemy army. Apushkin was arrested and demoted to the simple soldier.

On 16 July the corpus split near the city of Panavezys. The army divided in three wings one heading to Jelgava (Mittau), other to Jaunjelgava (Friedrichstadt) and Jēkabpils (Jacobstadt), other went to Leipāja (Libau) and Ventspils (Windau) to take over the ports.  The Russian 1st Army led by Barclay de Tolli crossed river Daugava and retreated to town of Drisa and later to Smolensk. Only Russian forces remaining were the 1 Corpus lead by Peter Ludvig Adolf Vitgenstein.

Liepaja was taken without a fight in 19 July and Prussians moved further into Courland. On 18 July Prussians captured the town of Bauska and Skaistkalne. Russians organized a counter attack to recapture Bauska. Russians moved forward with 8 infantry battalions, 4 cavalry squadrons and 2 batteries. Near Bauska at Kārļa Muiža Prussians met Cossacks and pushed them back only to be ambushed by more hiding Cossacks. Exited Cossacks started to chase and became attacked by two Prussian dragoon squads.  Cossacks were forced to draw back. Prussians learned from captured Cossacks, that Russians had established near Iecava and decided to wait for the arrival of the main troops. At midday Prussians head towards Iecava. Prussians defeated the Russian majority and Russians retreated to Riga. On 20 July Russians evacuated Jelgava. Latvian peasants were hoping that they will receive the same rights as the peasants in France. However, the Prussian administration issued a statement that serfdom will not be abolished for now. Instead more taxes were collected to support the invading army.

After Jelgava was taken next target was Riga. The worrying part for Russian administration was the vast suburbs of Riga outside the walls of Riga. Since the living space within thr walls was too small, people built houses outside them. But, that lead to their destruction incase of war. From 1559 to 1812 these suburbs were burned down for seven times. On 29 June the state of siege was declared in Riga. Craftsmen were forbidden to leave. All explosive and flammable mixtures were taken away. A food reserves for four months were placed even in churches. The House of Blackheads was turned into war hospital but the Great Guild into war supply storage. British gunboat squadron entered river Daugava. After the battle near Iecava on 19 July, general Essen ordered to burn down the Jelgava suburb of Riga- today’s district of Torņkalns and Āgenskalns. After the capture of Jelgava on 21 July more suburbs named after Moscow and Petersburg were ordered to be burned down. However, the protests by the civilians made Esen halt his intentions. But, soon he learned about the coming of the Prussian troops and in 23 to 24 July ordered to burn down remaining suburbs. Prussians approached Ķengarags and Katlakalns. Hesen was worried about Prussians being so close and ordered to burn down everything outside the walls. Russians wanted a free field for fire. In result 5 churches, 702 living houses, 35 state estates and 36 storages perished. According to data gathered in 1813 the damage done to civilians was 16 821 rubles. 6882 people were left homeless. In following years Russian royal family made donations and Alexander I gave credits to Riga to cover the losses.

The burning of the Riga suburbs 1812

The burning of the Riga suburbs 1812

Many thought that Esen made a hasty decision by burning down the suburbs and in the result he was fired. He was replaced by Italian marquise Paulucci. A year after he went to rehab at Baldone and ended his life in suicide.  Prussian forces actually did not want to attack Riga at that moment.

From 24 to 29 July a frontline was established from Sloka to Daugavpils that without serious changes held intact until 20 December when Prussians abandoned Courland. Prussian staff was located at Olaine and Pētermuiža. Fortifications were made to prevent Russian counter attacks.

However, few battles took place. At 4 August Russians made attack on Sloka. Together with gun boats and artillery fire they hoped to seize the Prussian forts. On 7 August it was achieved, however small firefights took place around Sloka until October. On 22 August Russians attacked the Prussian controlled town of Ķekava. The Prussians were taken by the surprise and town was captured. Later at 24 August Prussians managed to gain back many lost positions.

In September Prussians were planning to start attack on Riga. However, Napoleon halted this. After the battle at Borodino he wanted to propose peace negotiations. Also in August Russians made a daring raid on Danzig (Gdansk) forcing French to move forces to that location. That made the Prussian attack force much weaker. On 22 September new commander in chief Fabian Gothard Schteinheil with his 25 000 soldiers entered Riga. He led a successful campaign against Sweden and conquered Finland. On 26 August Russians advanced to Rundāle and Jelgava. At Rundāle where past dukes of Courland had built a magnificent baroque castle Prussians had placed large cannons for desired siege of Riga. Russians wanted to capture them. After many days of fighting slowed down by autumn rain, Russians retreated on 30 September. The attack was a failure and both commanding officers Hesen and Schteinheil were fired.

On Latvian eastern region Selonia also small battles were fought. Jēkabpils the main center in the region was taken without any resistance on 22 July. The main commander Macdonald was leading the capture and stayed there until 13 August. Russians indented to recapture the city. Jēkabpils is located on the shores of river Daugava and on the other side the town called Krustpils (Kreuzburg) was located. Prussians built a bridge connecting both cities, but after close up of the Russian forces the bridge was removed. Krustpils had large Medieval fortress that became the main point of action. It was captured by Russians at night of 12 -13 November. Also the Jaunjelgava was more important strong point. The fights for this town were so harsh that it was retaken by both sides many times. Only on November it was finally taken by Russians.   On 15 November Russians crossed the ice and captured Jēkabpils.

Bitter battle was fought for the fortress of Daugavpils on 13-16 July. The fortress was important defense position on route to Petersburg. Commanded by Peter Vitgenstein the fortress was meant to be taken by the Italian duke Nikola Charles Udino. In daring raids across the river Daugava, French failed to capture the fortress. Some Portuguese soldiers also took part in this battle. At 16 July Udino was ordered to move to Orsha to join the main force. Russians learned about this and surprised the French near the village of Ezerosi. Russians gained victory inflicting heavy causalities on French. After the victory over Napoleon, Russian military took great attention on rebuilding and upgrading the Daugavpils fortress.

Despite the numerous requests by Napoleon for Macdonald to cross the river Daugava, he never did that. With his force he could do that and join other French armies. Riga and Daugavpils would be left behind enemy lines. On 11 December Macdonald received sad news about Napoleon retreating from Moscow. The full evacuation of Courland begun. About 30% of the corpus force was lost since June. The remaining men were ill and hungry. Polish and Bavarian soldiers were atrocious and burned and looted many homes. On 18 December the retreat begun. On 21 December Jelgava was taken by Russian troops. At 27 December Russians took Klaipeda (Memel). At the night of 30-31 December Prussian general York signed a capitulation to Russia.

Despite the initial orders not to destroy Courland, at the end it was ravaged by the invaders. Places were Prussians established their bases were damaged, like the Rundāle palace that was turn into war hospital. Many churches were damaged and looted.

In the end Russian army marched all the way to Paris. Stalin was always envious on Alexander I because Stalin’s army “only” reached Berlin. Many monuments commemorating the victory of 1812 were built-in Riga. On 15 September 1817 a Victory Column was built at the Riga Castle square. 7,15 meter tall column with the sculpture of the goddess of Victory Nike stood for many years until First World war when it was evacuated. However the barge carrying the sculpture capsized and it was lost forever. The column stood until 1938, when it was removed by Kārlis Ulmanis government. On 1987 it was indented to restore the monument and place at Jēkabs square. But, the protests from society halted this. Now the parts of the monument lay at Riga city depot at Varoņu Street 3.

Another monument was the Alexander Triumphal Arch built-in 1817 at the end of the Alexander Street (now Brīvības Street). On 28 August 1818 Alexander I himself came trough the arch on his way from Paris.  On 1904 the Arch was moved to Šmerlis because it stood in the way of the first Riga viaduct. On 1936 the arch was moved to Viesturdārzs park where it now serves as an entrance.

Last monument dedicated to war of 1812 was monument to Barclay de Tolly since he originally came from Riga. The monument was placed on 1913 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the war. On 1915 it was evacuated and was lost. During the Stalin’s rule, the site of the monument was actually indented for the Stalin statue. However, his death prevented this. On 2002 businessman Evgeny Gromberg managed to restore the monument on its old pedestal.

Such was the Napoleonic invasion in the territory of Latvia at 1812. The greatest battles were not fought here, however they played important role in Latvian history. The wave of French liberal reforms eventually came to Russia and forced to abolish the serfdom. The leadership of Riga learned from the mistakes of the 1812 and demolished all the stone walls. Riga became modernized city with industrial capabilities and grew larger. The Russian victory in 1812 made Russia closer to the Western world. The modernization that begun after the defeat of Napoleon benefited the whole Europe.

uzvaras_kolonna

The Victory Column of 1812

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Articles

The Sinking Of Estonia 1994

18 years have passed since the one of the worst maritime disasters in peacetime naval history of the 20th century.  The ferry Estonia was on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm when got caught up in the storm, capsized and sunk with 852 people on board. 17 of them were from Latvia. Along with victims there 501 Swedes, 282 Estonians 10 Finns and 44 people from other countries including Canada and Nigeria. So it was an international disaster. The official explanation was that  the locks on the bow door had failed from the strain of the waves and the door had separated from the rest of the vessel, pulling ajar the ramp behind it. The bow visor and ramp had been torn off at points that would not trigger an “open” or “unlatched” warning on the bridge, as is the case in normal operation or failure of the latches. The bridge was also situated too far back on the ferry for the visor to be seen from there. While there was video monitoring of the inner ramp, the monitor on the bridge was not visible from the conning station. The bow visor was under-designed for the conditions Estonia was operating in (the ferry was designed for coastal waters, not open regions like the Baltic Sea), and the visor’s overhang focused the impact on a small area. The subsequent failure of the bow ramp allowed water into the vehicle deck, which was listed as the main cause of the capsizing and sinking. The report was critical of the crew’s actions, particularly for failing to reduce speed before investigating the noises emanating from the bow, and for being unaware that the list was being caused by water entering the vehicle deck. There were also general criticisms of the delays in sounding the alarm, the passivity of the crew and the lack of guidance from the bridge. So it was a human error that might cause the tragedy.

However, pretty soon the actions by the Swedish government and many unanswered questions led to speculations that grew stronger in the following years that denied the official explanation. The question was it not a human error that led to sinking but the human treachery and crime done by foreign service that caused this disaster. This article does not fully endorse the alternative explanations of the sinking, as they are not fully proven and might sound as conspiracy theories, but facts that lead to alternative explanation  are plausible and it’s up to anyone to themselves to believe them.

The questions aroused because of the Swedish government frantic efforts to block recovery of the victims from the shipwreck. All offers to retrieve the bodies were blocked and  promises from two consequent Swedish prime ministers to do so was fulfilled and after three months of the tragedy the government announced that the there will be no recovery and salvage operation.

Instead they hired a Dutch marine salvage firm Smit Tak BV that specializes in nuclear waste removal. A 350 million dollars were wasted to cover the ship in concrete. The wreck lies in the soft mud at 60-80 meters depth. The official reason for such action was to make the wreck a cemetery that is not accessible to anyone. But, why give the task to firm that specializes in nuclear waste management? And by covering the shipwreck in concrete may mean that the government has something to hide from the public. As shown in a future that was the case.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Soviet military and intelligence secrets became open to the western public. For the west the most interesting was the Soviet technology that was a mystery for many and still are for many. No wonder that many in the West are obsessed with collecting the Soviet artifacts of all kinds. But, it was not just the individuals that were interested in Soviet equipment it were Western military and intelligence agencies And the Baltic states were full of such equipment. In 2005 the Estonian parliamentary inquiry concluded that Estonia might procured to western agencies special equipment and high technology of the Soviet army. The transfers included space electronics, high technology directing and surveillance devices as well as anti-aircraft complexes and electronic control systems. In one case the Estonian intelligence agency was officially offered to sell a Russian space electronic device that enabled military reconnaissance with infrared cameras. Also even so-called nuclear briefcases could have been taken out of Russia. The Russian intelligence and military certainly disliked this.

The Swedish media have discovered and confirmed that ferry Estonia was used for Soviet weapon transfers from Estonia to Sweden. One of the disaster survivors remembers that immediately before Estonia  left Tallinn on its final voyage the harbor was sealed off and that the military convoy escorted two large trucks into waiting ferry. After that the car ramp and bow visor were closed and ship set sail to Stockholm. Former customs chief Lennart Henrrikson reported on Swedish TV that on two occasions shortly before the disaster Estonia had allowed vehicles carrying Soviet military equipment in to the vessel without inspections. He had been ordered to allow certain vehicles carrying Soviet military contraband to pass Swedish customs without inspection on September 14 and 20, 1994, but was not working the day Estonia sank because he was on vacation. The ferry was owned by Nordström & Thulin, and Estline that was owned by the Estonian government.

The Swedish and Estonian governments subsequently launched separate investigations, headed by Court of Appeal President Johan Hirschfeldt and Republic Prosecutor Margus Kurm, respectively. Both investigations confirmed that military equipment was aboard the ship on 14 and 20 September 1994, though it remained unclear if any such equipment was aboard the ship on the day of the disaster.

According to Henriksson a secret agreement between Swedish military supreme commander Owe Wictorin and Swedish customs chief Ulf Larsson was made to allow military contraband to enter Sweden without being inspected by the customs. Normally Swedish customs inspected every Estonian vehicle.

When the ferry arrived in Sept. 14, 1994, Henriksson spoke to the driver of the expected vehicle, a Volvo 745 station wagon driven by a Frank Larsson, a false identity.

When Henriksson told “Larsson” that customs was carrying out inspections, he “gavee a look, but I said the search would be faked,” Henriksson said. “We opened a few boxes and as far as I could see it was military electronics in them.”The customs slip showed the car belonging to a non-existent company called “Ericsson Access AB,” a fictitious subsidiary of AB LM Ericsson Finance. No address was given. The ending destination of the Soviet military equipment is not known. It could pretty much believable that such equipment may also be present on the last trip on the ferry.

A week later, on September 20 1994 a much larger shipment of contraband technology arrived and was allowed to pass without inspection. This time it was a van and, once again, Henriksson merely glanced into the boxes. On December 2, 2004, two days after the SVT 1 exposé, the Swedish military confirmed on Ekot radio that this secret agreement existed and is still in effect.

There are questions regarding the official explanation of the disaster. Some people called the official inquiry results the worst fraud in the naval history. The independent safety expert  Anders Björkman who wrote many books about the disaster said that there is no proof that the waves caused the opening of the ships bow visor and car ramp. A 4 meter waves could not do that by his mind. The ship never capsized it just sunk. It’s known that the visor was found separated from the wreck and taken out of water as a proof for official theory. There is speculation that the authorities removed the visor from the shipwreck to prove their fabricated theory. In reality the visor might had nothing to do with the sinking.

There are theories about the soviet equipment that was on board Estonia according to German journalist Jutta Rabe the United States Pentagon had ordered a  an advanced Soviet nuclear reactor for generating power in space. Leonard Caveny, deputy director of innovative science and technology of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) program at the Pentagon, traveled to Soviet space labs near Moscow, where a team of experts tested a tiny space engine that uses magnetic fields instead of fuel to move a spacecraft.

The Soviets had plutonium-238 and heat-resistant alloys completely unknown in the West, including one made of palladium and osmium able to withstand temperatures to 3,600 degrees Celsius. The Air Force was interested in the RD-170, reportedly the best liquid-fuel rocket engine in the world.

There have been many unofficial dives on the shipwreck. Three separate sets of tests had been carried out on metal fragments recovered from the wreck by divers.  Distortion in the metal showed there had been an explosion. Its denied by official Swedish research institutions.

To question who has caused the explosion and the sinking the point obviously links to whom were less interested of transfer of such important technology. Its either the Russian intelligence service or inside group of Russian nationalists within the intelligence ranks and military. A Felix Group that included Vladimir Putin and Igor Ivanov who were against the sale of soviet goods to US.

If so then the Swedish agencies knew this and tried to hide any sign of their own guilt. The official divers according to reports of Rabe were looking for black leather case among the cabins. Finally, the case was found in Cabin No. 6130, a cabin usually used by Captain Avo Piht. The diver reads from the case: “It says Aleksandr Voronin. Does that ring any bells up there?”. Voronin was a Russian space technology dealer.

Another mystery that points to the intelligence agency involvement is unexplained disappearances of Estonia crew members that officials have been rescued, but then disappeared. 12 such Estonian crew members that were on board have never seen again. They may have been subjects of government organized enforced disappearance. It is known that Sweden has organized such action with an Egyptian born terror suspect who was boarded on the private US jet. It may be the same jets were used to enforce disappearance of the crew members. These people were the main witnesses about the ship’s cargo, ship condition and ships sinking reason.

Final mystery is the disappearance of the Estonia captain Avo Piht. After the disaster many reported that he had survived.  It was reported in the media that the captain was in hospital in Finland. Bengt-Erik Stenmark, security chief of the Swedish Maritime Administration told Reuters that the international investigation committee had even interviewed Captain Avo Piht. Neither Stenmark nor Reuters has ever retracted this statement. The German television network ZDF broadcast a video clip on September 28 of Avo Piht and other survivors arriving at Turku University Hospital in Finland. This video was later confiscated by German intelligence agents, according to Rabe.  The captain and the main chief engineer Lembit Leiger were never seen again afterwards. His wife was told that he will arrive in Tallinn but he never returned.

These are the facts that lead to an alternative explanation of the sinking of ferry Estonia. Why the Swedish and Estonian agencies decided to transport secret military equipment on the civilian ferry ship and was the Russian secret service involved in the sinking remains unanswered question. It would be sinister madness to sink the civilian vessel with a thousand people on board to prevent the transfer of military equipment. There are no substantial clues of how exactly the sinking was carried out. But the history of the Russian secret service proves that it is capable of such operation the innocent human life’s Russian or foreigner has been a little worry for Russian government in all of its history. And as the Swedish and Estonian government and agencies are still pretty silent about the tragedy and blocks access to new clues about the disaster. So as this continues the question why the ferry sunk is still unanswered and will lead to further speculations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Articles

The Lockhart Plot 1918

The main people involved in so-called Lockhart plot
From the left: British envoy R, B, Lockhart, British spy Sidney Reilly, Latvian rifleman colonel Eduards Bērziņš, head of the Cheka Felix Dzerzhinsky

Russia has always been a mystery for many westerners. The Americans, British and French have always misunderstood or underestimate the Russians and their allies. And because of that they have fallen for Russian deception and treachery for many times. One of the must particular victims for this deception were and are Western secret services. Despite the professionalism and valiance of the CIA and MI6 these agencies have been many times roughly beaten by their most strongest nemesis – the KGB. The secret fight between Western secret services and the KGB has a long history of failed missions, captured and executed agents and betrayal. In many events the Soviet secret service was more clever and sinister than Americans and British. This is a story of first of such events the so-called Lockhart Plot that involved the Red Latvian riflemen and the British most famous agent Sidney Rielly The Ace of Spies the inspiration model for James Bond.

In 1918. the Bolsheviks had seized the power in Russia. The new government brought great inconvenience and fear for the Entente powers. The separate truce with Germany and calls for international communist revolution left two options for the west – either to try to cooperate with Bolsheviks or to get rid of them. But getting inside the war-torn Russia and the Bolshevik inner circles was the toughest part.

After all attempts of bribing the Bolsheviks to get them back in war Germany failed, the new objective was to topple the new regime. British intelligence officers raised the alarm and called Russia the new main enemy. British Naval Intelligence director Sir William Hall said: “Hard and bitter as the battle has been, we now have to face a far more ruthless foe, a foe that is hydra headed and whose evil power will spread all over the whole world, and that foe is Russia”. The chief of MI6 (British intelligence service) Mansfeild Cumming also was convinced that the new enemy are the Bolsheviks.

At August 1918, Bolsheviks controlled only small part of Russia, no bigger than 16, century Muscovy. Bolsheviks moved their capitol from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) to Moscow. From all sides they were surrounded by various anti-bolshevik forces the so-called white  guards. Brits had landed a large expeditionary force  in Arkhangelsk to supply and lead the white forces. It seemed from the start that the victory over Bolsheviks are certain.

However, the ruthless and brutal Bolshevik tactics and lack of unity among the white forces prevented Bolsheviks from fast collapse. Also the support from western society for anti-Bolshevik struggle was lacking. There were sense of leftist radicalization among British working classes, and many intellectuals had sympathetic views towards the Bolsheviks. The knowledge about the Red Terror in early 1918, was minimal and not everyone was convinced that the Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky were all too serious about the international revolution and struggle with west.

In summer of 1918, Lenin decided that the western powers are trying to overthrow him so it would be great effort to catch the plotters red-handed and expose them. This task was given to Felix Dzerzhinsky the head of  Extraordinary Commission ( ЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия – in short Cheka) Cheka was the new Bolshevik secret police designed to combat contra-revolutionary efforts and impose the Bolshevik power. Cheka was the mother of KGB and Dzerzhinsky its ideological father and heroine.

The Cheka started the plot by approaching British Naval attaché Commander Leslie Cromie (also a MI6 agent).. On 7  August the Cheka agent introduced Cromie with  his friend – colonel Eduards Bērziņš the senior officer of the Latvian rifleman. He wanted to cooperate with the British and promised the support from Latvian rifleman. This is what the British wanted and they were too wiling to believe it.

A week later the two man appeared in Moscow apartment of the the British envoy Robert Bruce Lockhart. Lockhart was extravagant, brainy and moody gentleman. Bērziņš explained to Lockhart that the Latvians are not intending to fight for Bolsheviks forever and wished go home to Latvia. They told if they would be sent to fight the British forces in the north they would surrender. They also asked four million rubles to work on his fellow Latvian sympathies. Lockhart responded that it will be better than two Latvian regiments would switch sides on the provincial town of Vologda, opening a second front against the Bolsheviks, while those who are remaining in Moscow would assassinate the Lenin and his government. But he wrote lassiez-passer to help Latvians reach the British forces and provided 900 000 rubles as the down payment.

Lockhart incriminated himself and his fellow Cromei and confirmed the Bolshevik suspicions.  He went further by putting two visitors in touch with Sidney Reilly the spy from British consulate. Born Sigismund Rosenblum near Odessa later nicknamed the “Ace of Spies” was a complex, unpredictable and widely overconfident.

As a womanizer Reilly arranged the meeting with Bērziņš at apartment of one of his mistress, but turned up late. While waiting the Latvian noticed an envelope that gave an address  of the actress Elizabeth Otten who had allowed her apartment for spy meetings. The Cheka begun arresting all who visited it. One of them was Maria Friede, sister of a colonel in the Red Army General Staff who was carrying secret documents from him, destined for Reilly. Her brother was arrested and confessed his cooperation with American intelligence officer who was also arrested but later released in exchange.

The Brits exposed them further by believing that the French reporter of the Le Figaro Rene Marchand is spy of their government. Marchand posed as hostile to the Bolsheviks, but in reality he informed Dzerzhinsky about the British plans. He learned that the supposed coup would happen in 28 August at the time of the party meeting at the Great Theater. The Latvian rifleman should arrest and execute the Bolshevik leadership on spot. Reilly promised Latvian conspirators senior positions in the future Latvian state under Allied protection.

Why Latvian rifleman were so important in the British plans and why they believed them? Latvian rifleman regiments were one of the best Russian formations during the war with Germans. Their intentions were to defend and liberate their homeland from Germans, however because of many pointless military defeats and pointless casualties under Czarist leadership exposed them to the Bolshevik ideology. After the Bolshevik coup the majority of Latvian rifleman went to Russia to protect the revolution and became the Red Army elite guard. They played the most important role in the Red Army victories and Lenin trusted them. However, the British regarded that the Latvians would switch sides on promise of independent Latvian state and bigger money offer since they regarded Latvians as Bolshevik mercenaries. That was a grave mistake – ironically the Latvian rifleman were the most devout defenders of the Bolsheviks at that time.

Dzerzhinsky went straight to Lenin to inform about this plot. The problem was how to use the Marchand’s  material. Lenin came with ingenious solution. The French journalist Marchand wrote a letter to French president Raymond Poincare where he warned the president about his countries spies involvement in the plot. It’s a duty of journalist to inform his head of state about ludicrous actions of the secret service. Then the letter would be “found” by the Cheka during the search at the Marchand’s home.

Cheka waited few days to see the plot developing. But the assassination on 30 August of the head Petrograd Cheka Mosei Uritsky and later in the evening the assassination attempt of Lenin himself prompted the communist leaders to spring the trap. On 31 August eight officers of the Cheka raided the British embassy. Officer Cromie was shot dead while trying to delay the intruders and allowing his two officers to escape. The Lockhart, his assistant and the French consul general was arrested, interrogated and later deported.Reilly escaped but was sentenced to death in absentee. In 1925 he again fell for Dzerzhinsky trap and was arrested in Soviet Union. He and others fell for guise of so-called anti-Bolshevik resistance organization the Trust that in reality was made out by the Cheka to lure western agents and Russian monarchist agents in to hands of the Cheka.

The so-called Lockhart plot was the first Soviet counterintelligence operation, many others would come. The next crushing failure by British and American intelligence that involved Latvians was Operation Jungle. The ill-fated attempt of supporting the Latvian anti-soviet partisans after the World War II will be discussed in the future.

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Articles