By Somar Wijayadasa*
On May 9, 1945, after four years of violent battles inside Russia, recorded as the bloodiest and most destructive military conflict in the whole history of humanity, the Russians defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. It is the single most important day in Russian history that elicits a strong feeling of pride and patriotic fervour that binds the nation together.
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had to postpone the massive military parade through Red Square. Postponing the event, Putin said, “On Victory Day, we honour the heroes who defended the country and the rest of the world and sacrificed their lives to protect others”.
According to Wikipedia, an estimated total of 70–85 million people around the world perished during the War, and many of them died due to deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.
Among poignant atrocities are the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the firebombing raid on Tokyo; and Hitler’s deliberate program of extermination that systematically killed over 11 million people.
Inside the Soviet Union, more than 27 million Soviets (mostly Russians) lost their lives, and the whole country was literally destroyed. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide, and on May 9, 1945, the Germans signed the Declaration ending the War with Russia.
Stalin’s strong leadership and the bravery of the Red Army defeated Nazi Germany and saved Russia and the whole world from the Nazis.
Saying that, “The Red Army was the main engine of Nazism’s destruction” the British historian, Max Hastings wrote, “It was the Western Allies’ extreme good fortune that the Russians, and not themselves, paid almost the entire ‘butcher’s bill’ for [defeating Nazi Germany], accepting 95 per cent of the military casualties of the three major powers of the Grand Alliance”.
The above summary and this article are based on the article titled “75 years of Russia’s victory: Revisiting barbarities during WWII” published in The Sunday Times on May 3, 2020. (Read on http://www.sundaytimes.lk/200503/sunday-times-2/75-years-of-russias-victory-revisiting-barbarities-during-wwii-401573.html)
Devastated Russia rebuilt its military power
Within a few years after the War, the Russians rebuilt their country and its military might to prevent any future attack on their country. In 1949, Russia added nuclear weapons to its arsenal and in 1961 it detonated its largest nuclear weapon “Tsar Bomba” with a yield of 50 megatons (equivalent to the power of 3,800 Hiroshima bombs).
When I first visited Moscow in 1962 as a graduate student in International Law, the former Soviet Union was a proud nation with a thriving economy, marvels of industrialization, advances in science, technology and medicine, escapades into outer space, and basking in the glory of a superpower.
But in the 1990’s due to internal economic stagnation and external interference, Russia’s economy and military lost its splendour.
After Vladimir Putin became Russia’s President in 2000, he rebuilt economy with liberal economic reforms and revamped Russia’s unrivalled military complex to its former glory.
In a 2014 speech, referring to NATO’s expansion into Russia’s borders, President Putin said, “Our Western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right”.
Recently, Putin revealed that the Russian Armed Forces adopted more than 300 new pieces of military equipment over the last six years. Among those are a number of “invincible” defence systems including a new prototype missile that can reach any point in the world, a supersonic weapon that cannot be tracked by anti-missile systems, and a new hypersonic aviation and missile system.
Putin recently said that “The lessons of the past war are still relevant. We have done and will do everything necessary to ensure the high combat capability of our Armed Forces and the defence potential of the most modern level”.
Last year, addressing the Victory Day military parade in Red Square, Putin said, “The Soviet Union faced the most powerful assaults by the Nazis, but there is no force, and there will be no force, that could conquer our people”.
Peace or Nuclear Armageddon
The World War II gave birth to the United Nations with fancy ideals “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which twice in our life time has brought untold sorrow to mankind”.
It had lofty goals “to practice tolerance and live together in peace”; “to maintain international peace and security” and “to establish the conditions for peaceful coexistence between nations”. The UN has, thus far, failed to accomplish any of these.
The UN Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The Charter calls for the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means and without endangering international peace and security and justice, and to refrain from “the threat of or use of force against any other State”.
Regardless, since 1945, our world leaders who compete for economic and military supremacy have waged hundreds of regional wars around the world – killing many more millions.
Their senseless conflicts threaten international peace and security around the world, and as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger”.
Today, we fearfully live in a dangerous world governed by megalomaniacs who see atomic weapons not solely as deterrents but as weapons of aggression that can be used to conquer other nations, and often blatantly threaten other countries with nuclear annihilation.
Last year, the British journalist Finian Cunningham wrote, “The Western countries – who by contrast did comparatively little to defeat Nazi Germany – are the same ones today who feel entitled to wage covert and overt wars for regime change around the world”.
He said, “One may argue, therefore, that the battle against fascism has never ended. Nazi uniforms, soldiers, guns and tanks may have been buried, but the mentality of aggression, superiority, lawlessness and impunity is very much alive”.
Though we may not succeed in eliminating regional wars that may arise from time to time, we can at least eliminate the nuclear threat.
Ratify the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty
The United Nations, in 1946, adopted by consensus its very first resolution seeking to eliminate nuclear weapons but – for 75 years now – it has been nothing but a dream.
Since then, eight more countries have acquired nuclear weapons, and some countries spend trillions of dollars to upgrade their nuclear arsenal. Now, more countries aspire to develop nuclear weapons to discourage attacks by aggressors.
After years of resistance by nuclear powers, in July 2017, the UN finally adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also known as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. It is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.
Therefore, the only way to make this a more just and peaceful world is for all peace-loving nations to ratify the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and guide the world towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.
* Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer, was a Faculty Member of the University of Sri Lanka, worked for IAEA and FAO, was delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly, and was the Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations.