Journal of Cold War Studies 2.2 (2000) 120-122
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Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia
Gabriel Gorodetsky, Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999. 408 pp. US$29.95.
The 22 months between the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact on 23 August 1939 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 were among the most exciting, baffling, and controversial periods in Soviet foreign policy and in recent international relations. Gabriel Gorodetsky's book, Grand Delusion, makes an important contribution to our understanding of this period, albeit a contribution that will be challenged and debated. It is the most comprehensive, most thoroughly researched, and most cogently argued account of Soviet policy yet to appear. Not only is it a good history of its main subject, the German invasion; it also places this subject into a broader context, with detailed coverage of topics such as British and Japanese policy, controversies over the Balkans, and the flight of Rudolf Hess to Britain.
The book is based on an impressive range of sources. Gorodetsky used materials from the British, American, and German archives as well as a larger range of Soviet documents--political, military, and security--than were previously available. The author also consulted files in the Yugoslav and Bulgarian archives along with a number of other neglected sources, including Swedish and French diplomatic dispatches and unpublished diaries and memoirs by key figures like Ivan Maisky and Sir Stafford Cripps. The analysis is carefully documented, and the errors are comparatively few and mostly trivial. To cite some examples: The Montreux Convention was concluded in 1936, not 1923; the secret protocol to the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed on 23 August, not "a month later" (p. 3); and the dissolution of the Comintern did not occur until 1943 and thus had nothing to do with the appeasement of Nazi Germany (p. 320).
Despite the richness of Gorodetsky's account, the evidence he presents does not fundamentally alter the conventional wisdom about the period. He does, however, show that in the first half of 1941 top Soviet leaders, including Josif Stalin, were more fully informed about German preparations for invasion than was formerly assumed. Apparently, Soviet raw intelligence was quite extensive and impressive. (The processing and analysis of this information were, of course, a very different matter.) Gorodetsky downplays the role of Winston Churchill's famous warning to Stalin, but this seems to be motivated in part by Gorodetsky's strong anti-British animus. He is correct, however, in arguing that Stalin was so mistrustful of the British that he dismissed British warnings of German war preparations and suspected that Churchill was attempting to drag the Soviet Union into the war on Britain's side. Moreover, Gorodetsky confirms earlier suspicions that the Soviet intelligence reports submitted [End Page 120] to Stalin were selective. Subordinates frequently tailored their interpretations to reinforce Stalin's biases (see, for example, pp. 180 and 297ff.).
Gorodetsky is convincing in demolishing the so-called Icebreaker hypothesis, which posits that the German invasion was intended to preempt a Soviet attack on Germany. This argument was fabricated by postwar German historians and by a Soviet defector, Victor Suvorov. It has no factual foundation and deserves to be put to rest--something that one hopes this book will do.
More questionable is Gorodetsky's emphasis on the role of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in precipitating the German attack. Clearly there were sharp differences between Berlin and Moscow over the Balkans and the Straits, but this study may overstate them. The basic shift in orientation came, as Gorodetsky understands, after the defeat of France in June 1940 had revealed Stalin's miscalculation. At that time, Balkan issues were not yet salient. Nor were they acute when Hitler issued his "Barbarossa" order in December 1940. Germany's occupation of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria's adherence to the Axis certainly created tensions between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, but the author errs in attributing Soviet interest...