Review – Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia by Gabriel Gorodetsky

Gabriel Gorodetsky’s study Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia examines the foreign policy of the Soviet Union from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.  In this study, Gorodetsky asserts that Stalin’s foreign and military policy were non-ideological and based on realpolitik whereby Stalin carefully calculated the rapidly shifting power within Europe and worked to prevent the Soviet Union from being drawn into war.  Moreover, Gorodetsky strongly argues against the interpretation advocated by Victor Suvorov and others that Stalin was planning to attack Nazi Germany which forced Germany into a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union.  Instead, Gorodetsky shows Stalin working vigorously to keep the Soviet Union from being dragged into war and attempting to make territorial gains in the Balkans while his enemies the Germans and British were fighting each other.  To support his argument, the author utilizes documents from numerous archives including the old party archive, the Soviet foreign policy archive, the Russian Military Archive, the Presidential Archive, and archival material from Great Britain, Germany, Bulgaria, Sweden, and the former Yugoslavia.  By incorporating these sources into his study, Gorodetsky’s study of Soviet foreign policy is comprehensive and able to depict the many nuances of the diplomacy between these European states.

According to Gorodetsky, Stalin interpreted the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact not as a commitment to Germany but as neutrality for the Soviet Union; moreover, the agreement secured a buffer zone between the Soviet Union and Europe in the north and center.  For Gorodetsky, the south remained a problem for Stalin and he feared an agreement between Turkey and Great Britain which might create a location for the Allies to attack Russia.  This concern led Stalin to pursue complete security around the Black Sea while Germany’s focus was on defeating Great Britain.  Stalin’s initial overtures were made towards Romania and he ultimately forced Romania to give up control of Bessarabia which gave the Soviet Union access to the Danube.  However, this event drew Germany’s attention to the Balkans as this region was essential to Germany’s oil supply.  This led Germany to continue pressuring the Balkan countries to join the Tripartite Pact, a Nazi defense alliance, which eventually muscled the Soviet Union out of the Balkans.  The author views the diplomatic disputes between Germany and the Soviet Union in Balkans as the key to understanding Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union.  Stalin’s realpolitik practices to create a security zone in the south angered Hitler who ordered his military staff to draw up the invasion plans.

Throughout these diplomatic disputes between Germany and the Soviet Union, Gorodetsky also describes the interactions between Great Britain and the Soviet Union.  In discussing Great Britain, Gorodetsky downplays Churchill’s April 1941 warning to Stalin of a looming German strike and musters evidence showing why Stalin rejected this warning.  Examining the diplomatic interactions between Great Britain and the Soviet Union, Gorodetsky argues that British policy was constantly antagonistic towards the Soviet Union and was consistently trying to drag the Soviet Union into war with the Germans.  Since British attempts to thwart the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin never trusted the British and always viewed them with suspicion.  Gorodetsky specifically emphasizes Great Britain’s refusal to commit to a defense pact, support of Finland during the Winter War, and plans to bomb Baku oil fields as actions that reinforced Stalin’s suspicion of the British.  By presenting Britain actions towards the Soviet Union, Gorodetsky depicts numerous reasons for Stalin to remain wary of British warnings.

Although Stalin’s paranoia of the British remains explainable, Stalin’s refusal to believe Soviet intelligence sources concerning the German build-up is characterized as a failing in Stalin’s foreign policy.  Herein lays Gorodetsky’s grand delusion.  Stalin ignored the overwhelming information provided by his own intelligence sources because he deluded himself into believing that the massing of German forces was not going to result in an attack.  Instead, Stalin dismissed the German build-up as posturing to pressure the Soviet Union into further negotiations over Germany’s need for raw materials.  In fact, Gorodetsky shows that Stalin’s anger towards his subordinates concerning the German build-up resulted in the tailoring of intelligence reports to meet Stalin’s preconceived understanding of the situation.  This resulted in an intelligence failure only because Stalin refused to accept the accurate information provided by his intelligence services. Rather, he deluded himself by believing that Germany did not want war only further economic and military agreements.

Overall, Gorodetsky’s study is well researched and provides significant insights into Stalin’s foreign policy in the twenty-two months between the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the beginning of Operation Barbarossa; however, the author’s argument that Stalin’s foreign policy lacked ideology remains suspect.  Stalin’s domestic policies, particularly the ending of NEP, the collectivization of agriculture, and the drive for industrialization, demonstrates that Stalin was a believer in Marxist-Leninism ideology.  If Stalin’s actions domestically were ideological, why would his foreign policy be any different?  Stalin’s efforts to supply weapons to the communist forces during the Spanish Civil War, to establish communism in Soviet occupied Poland and the Baltic States, and his attempt to invade Finland depict ideological motivations in foreign policy.   Thus to dismiss ideology altogether from Stalin’s foreign policy is an inaccurate approach as ideology always played a role in Stalin’s thinking and worldview.  Instead of dismissing ideology, the author needs to demonstrate how ideology played into Stalin’s foreign policy decisions.  This approach to Soviet foreign policy places Gorodetsky within the orthodox interpretation according to Teddy Uldricks because Gorodetsky supports the idea of mutual security. Gorodetsky asserts that Stalin desired mutual security with Britain but was rebuffed by Britain’s staunch anti-communist ideology which blinded them to a potential alliance with the Soviet Union.  This ultimately led Stalin to reach a security agreement with the Nazis creating the conditions for the beginning of the Second World.

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