Title: Soviet Counterinsurgency Policy, 1943-50
Name: Alexander Statiev
Year: 2002
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

My dissertation investigates the Soviet response to guerrilla warfare in the regions incorporated after the Nazi-Soviet pact - Western Ukraine, Western Belorussia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This struggle cost as many lives as the USA lost in World War II but it remains unexplored because the Soviet primary documents were unavailable until the mid-1990s, while western authors relied on biased information from nationalist sources and oversimplified the conflict. They ignored its socioeconomic context, emphasised only the coercive side of pacification, made no effort to analyse strategy of the Soviet state but offered instead unsubstantiated generalizations about its objectives and methods. Moreover, they studied nationalist resistance rather than counterinsurgency.

This dissertation presents a study of Soviet pacification based on primary sources from Russian, Ukrainian and Canadian archives. It illuminates the peculiarities of the Soviet experience in the global context and explains the causes for the successes and failures of the Soviet approach. It addresses the following issues: the nature of the conflict, the response of a multiethnic totalitarian state to nationalist challenge; the strategy of Soviet security agencies and the problems they faced in implementing their policy at lower levels; the attitude of the civilian population caught in crossfire between the state and guerrillas; and the lessons of the Soviet experience. I show that this conflict had many more dimensions than it is commonly assumed, examine the ratio between its ethnic and class factors and demonstrate how the Soviets exploited local tensions to attain their ends. I discuss how a quasi-Marxist ideology affected the counterinsurgency doctrine, analyse the alternatives the regime had within its ideological framework and explain its choice of means. Soviet pacification was based not on force alone, as most historians think, but attempted to maintain a balance between coercion and social reforms. The government used agrarian reform to split the rural society and turned counterinsurgency from a political confrontation between the state and the local population into a social conflict that brought it many more allies than enemies. Volunteer militia played a more important role in the Soviet counterinsurgency than paramilitaries elsewhere because its mere existence as a state agency rooted in the local population paved the way to the social conflict instigated by the government. The Soviet state showed much pragmatism and flexibility in pressing guerrillas to abandon resistance by offering them amnesties coupled with the threat to deport their families and recruiting the clergy to promote the government's agenda. I argue that Soviet pacification was mostly rational but it was weakened by other policies unrelated to it, such as collectivization, by a simplistic view of the enemy prompted by Stalinist dogma, and unauthorized violence by low-level executives that made pacification much more violent that the government intended.

Soviet counterinsurgency doctrine had little in common with the Nazi one or those of democracies. The dissertation questions the traditional western liberal association of insurgency with revolution and counterinsurgency with counterrevolution. Certainly, the counterinsurgency campaigns conducted by western states aimed to preserve a status quo upset by popular resistance. Soviet doctrine, however, was based on a completely different experience: the state fought conservative farmers and pursued not stabilization but social revolution from above as a means of attaining political aims. It treated counterinsurgency as just another form of class struggle and deliberately fomented a civil war. The Soviet Union exported this approach to insurgency and counterinsurgency to its allies in the Third World over the next thirty years. Thus, my dissertation explores the roots of a major international phenomenon.