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Was Hitler’s Invasion of Russia Defensive, to Foil an Attack by Stalin?

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The author is the founder and editor of the Unz Review, a conservative American political website, and a one-time candidate for the governor of California.


For many years I maintained far too many magazine subscriptions, more periodicals than I could possibly read or even skim, so most weeks they went straight into storage, with scarcely more than a glance at the cover. But every now and then, I might casually browse one of them, curious about what I had usually been missing.

Thus, in the summer of 2010, I happened to leaf through an issue of Chronicles, the small-circulation flagship organ of the marginalized paleoconservative movement, and soon began reading a blandly-titled book review. But the piece so astonished me that it immediately justified all the many years of subscription payments I had sent to that magazine.

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The reviewer was Andrei Navrozov, a Soviet emigre long resident in Britain, and he opened by quoting a passage from a previous 1990 book review, published almost exactly twenty years before:

[Suvorov] is arguing with every book, every article, every film, every NATO directive, every Downing Street assumption, every Pentagon clerk, every academic, every Communist and anti-Communist, every neoconservative intellectual, every Soviet song, poem, novel and piece of music ever heard, written, made, sung, issued, produced, or born during the last 50 years. For this reason, Icebreaker is the most original work of history it has been my privilege to read.

He himself had written that earlier book review, which ran in the prestigious Times Literary Supplement following the original English publication of Icebreaker, and his description was not overblown. The work sought to overturn the settled history of World War II.

Icebreaker‘s author, writing under the pen-name Viktor Suvorov, was a veteran Soviet military intelligence officer who had defected to the West in 1978 and subsequently published a number of well-regarded books on the Soviet military and intelligence services. But here he advanced a far more radical thesis.

The “Suvorov Hypothesis” claimed that during the summer of 1941 Stalin was on the very verge of mounting a massive invasion and conquest of Europe, while Hitler’s sudden attack on June 22nd of that year was intended to forestall that looming blow. Moreover, the author also argued that Stalin’s planned attack constituted merely the final act in a much longer geopolitical strategy that he had been developing since at least the early 1930s.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the new Soviet regime had been viewed with extreme suspicion and hostility by other European countries, most of which also regarded their own domestic Communist Parties as likely fifth columns. So to fulfill Lenin’s dream and carry the revolution to Germany and the rest of Europe, Stalin somehow needed to split the Europeans, and break their common line of resistance. He allegedly viewed Hitler’s rise as exactly such a potential “icebreaker,” an opportunity to unleash another bloody European war and exhaust all sides, while the Soviet Union remained aloof and bided its strength, waiting for the right moment to sweep in and conquer the entire continent.

To this end, Stalin had directed his powerful German Communist Party to take political actions ensuring that Hitler came to power and then later lured the German dictator into signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to divide Poland. This led Britain and France to declare war on Germany, while also eliminating the Polish buffer state, thereby placing Soviet armies directly on the German border. And from the very moment he signed that long-term peace agreement with Hitler, he abandoned all his defensive preparations, and instead embarked upon an enormous military build-up of the purely offensive forces he intended to use for European conquest. Thus according to Suvorov, Stalin ranks as “the chief culprit” behind the outbreak of World War II in Europe, and the updated English edition of his book bears that exact title.

To my great surprise I discovered that Suvorov’s remarkable theories had gained enormous worldwide prominence since 1990, and had been widely discussed almost everywhere except in America and the other English-speaking countries. As Navrozov explained:

[The English edition of the] book sold 800 copies.

Some months later, a German edition of the book, under the title Der Eisbrecher: Hitler in Stalins Kaulkul, was published in Germany by a smallish house, Klett-Cotta, to timid and gingerly reviews. It sold 8,000 copies. In 1992, Suvorov’s manuscript was delivered to a maverick publisher in Moscow, and at last the book saw the light of day in the original Russian, quickly selling out its first print run of 100,000 copies. In the years that followed, over five million copies have been sold, making Suvorov the most-read military historian in history.

And yet, in the nearly 20 years that have elapsed between Icebreaker‘s launch in England and the present publication of The Chief Culprit, no British, American, Canadian, or Australian publisher saw fit to exploit potentially global interest in the drifting Icebreaker—or to so much as touch Suvorov with a barge pole—despite the fact that the almost unobtainable $20 copies of the long-out-of print Hamish Hamilton edition have been changing hands on the internet for upward of $500.

Since 1990, Suvorov’s works have been translated into at least 18 languages and an international storm of scholarly controversy has swirled around the Suvorov Hypothesis in Russia, Germany, Israel, and elsewhere. Numerous other authors have published books in support or more often strong opposition, and even international academic conferences have been held to debate the theory. But our own English-language media has almost entirely blacklisted and ignored this ongoing international debate, to such an extent that the name of the most widely-read military historian who ever lived had remained totally unknown to me.

Finally in 2008, the prestigious Naval Academy Press of Annapolis decided to break this 18 year intellectual embargo and published an updated English edition of Suvorov’s work. But once again, our media outlets almost entirely averted their eyes, and only a single review appeared in an obscure ideological publication, where I chanced to encounter it. This conclusively demonstrates that throughout most of the twentieth century a united front of English-language publishers and media organs could easily maintain a boycott of any important topic, ensuring that almost no one in America or the rest of the Anglosphere would ever hear of it. Only with the recent rise of the Internet has this disheartening situation begun to change.

Determining Stalin’s true motives and the basis of his foreign policy during the 1930s is hardly easy, and his statements and actions are subject to multiple interpretations. Therefore, the theory that the dictator spent all those years deftly preparing the outbreak of World War II appears quite speculative to me. But the other central claim of the Suvorov Hypothesis—that the Soviets were themselves on the verge of attacking when the Germans struck—is an extremely factual question, which can be evaluated based on hard evidence. I find the case quite compelling, at least if the facts and details that Suvorov cites in support are not totally spurious, which seems unlikely with the Naval Academy Press as his publisher.

The Eastern Front was the decisive theater of World War II, involving military forces vastly larger than those deployed in the West or the Pacific, and the standard narrative always emphasizes the ineptitude and weakness of the Soviets. On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, a sudden, massive surprise attack on the USSR, which caught the Red Army completely unaware. Stalin has been regularly ridiculed for his total lack of preparedness, with Hitler often described as the only man the paranoid dictator had ever fully trusted. Although the defending Soviet forces were enormous in size, they were poorly led, with their officer corps still not recovered from the crippling purges of the late 1930s, and their obsolete equipment and poor tactics were absolutely no match for the modern panzer divisions of Germany’s hitherto undefeated Wehrmacht. The Russians initially suffered gigantic losses, and only the onset of winter and the vast spaces of their territory saved them from a quick defeat. After this, the war seesawed back-and-forth for four more years, until superior numbers and improved tactics finally carried the Soviets to the streets of a destroyed Berlin in 1945.

Such is the traditional understanding of the titanic Russo-German struggle that we see endlessly echoed in every newspaper, book, television documentary, and film around us. But even a cursory examination of the initial situation has always revealed strange anomalies.

Many years ago, while in Junior High, I became an avid war-gamer with a strong interest in military history, and the Eastern Front of World War II was certainly a very popular topic. But every reconstruction of Operation Barbarossa always noted that the Germans owed much of their great initial success to the very odd deployment of the huge Soviet forces, which were all massed along the border in vulnerable formations almost as if preparing for an attack, and some writers casually suggested that this might have indeed been the case. But the sheer volume of supporting evidence amassed by Suvorov goes far beyond this sort of idle speculation, and he produces a historical picture radically different than what our standard accounts have always implied.

First, although there was been a widespread belief in the superiority of Germany’s military technology, its tanks and its planes, this is almost entirely mythological. In actual fact, Soviet tanks were far superior in main armament, armor, and maneuverability to their German counterparts, so much so that the overwhelming majority of panzers were almost obsolescent by comparison. And the Soviet superiority in numbers was even more extreme, with Stalin deploying several times more tanks than the combined total of those held by Germany and every other nation in the world: 27,000 against just 4,000 in Hitler’s forces. Even during peacetime, a single Soviet factory in Kharkov produced more tanks in every six month period than the entire Third Reich had built prior to 1940. The Soviets held a similar superiority, though somewhat less extreme, in their ground-attack bombers. The totally closed nature of the USSR meant that vast military forces remained entirely hidden from outside observers.

There is also little evidence that the quality of Soviet officers or military doctrine fell short. Indeed, we often forget that history’s first successful example of a “blitzkrieg” in modern warfare was the crushing August 1939 defeat that Stalin inflicted upon the Japanese 6th Army in Outer Mongolia, relying upon a massive surprise attack of tanks, bombers, and mobile infantry. And Stalin apparently thought so highly of many of his top military strategists in 1941, that despite his huge initial losses, many of them remained in command and were eventually promoted to the highest ranks of the Soviet military establishment by the end of the war.

Certainly, many aspects of the Soviet military machine were primitive, but exactly the same was true of their Nazi opponents. Perhaps the most surprising detail about the technology of the invading Wehrmacht in 1941 was that its transportation system was still almost entirely pre-modern, relying upon wagons and carts drawn by 750,000 horses to maintain the vital flow of ammunition and replacements to its advancing armies.

Meanwhile, major categories of Soviet weapons systems seem almost impossible to explain except as important elements of Stalin’s offensive plans. Although the bulk of the Soviet armored forces were medium tanks like the T-28 and T-34, generally far superior to their German counterparts, the USSR had also pioneered the development of several lines of highly specialized tanks, most of which had no counterpart elsewhere in the world.

(*) The Soviets had produced a remarkable line of light BT tanks, easily able to shed their tracks and continue on wheels, achieving a top speed of 60 miles per hour, two or three times faster than any other comparable armored vehicle, and ideally suited to exploitation drives deep into enemy territory. However, such wheeled operation was only effective on paved highways, of which Soviet territory had none, hence were ideally suited for travel on Germany’s large network of autobahns. In 1941 Stalin deployed almost 6,500 of these autobahn-oriented tanks, more than the rest of the world’s tanks combined.

(*) For centuries, Continental conquerors from Napoleon to Hitler had been stymied by the barrier of the English Channel, but Stalin was far better prepared. Although Stalin’s vast USSR was entirely a land-power, he pioneered the world’s only series of fully amphibious light tanks, able to successfully cross large rivers, lakes, and even that notoriously wide moat last successfully traversed by William the Conqueror in 1066. By 1941, the Soviets deployed 4,000 of these amphibious tanks, far more than 3,350 German tanks of all types used in the attack. But being useless in defense, they were all ordered abandoned or destroyed.

(*) The Soviets also fielded many thousands of heavy tanks, intended to engage and defeat enemy armor, while the Germans had none at all. In direct combat, a Soviet KV-1 or KV-2 could easily destroy four or five of the best German tanks, while remaining almost invulnerable to enemy shells. Suvorov recounts the example of a KV which took 43 direct hits before finally becoming incapacitated, surrounded by the hulks of the ten German tanks it had first managed to destroy.

Other evidence of the scale and intent of Stalin’s armies in the summer of 1941 are equally telling:

(*) During the early years of World War II, the Germans effectively utilized paratroops and air-mobile forces to seize key enemy targets far behind the front lines during a major offensive, and this was an important component of their victories against France in 1940 and Greece in 1941. Such units are necessarily lightly armed and no match for regular infantry in a defensive battle; hence their only role is an offensive one. Germany entered the war with 4,000 paratroops, a far larger force than anything found in Britain, France, America, Italy, or Japan. However, the Soviets had at least 1,000,000 trained paratroopers, and Suvorov believes that the true total was actually closer to 2,000,000.

(*) Sometimes the production decisions of major weapon systems provide strong hints of the broader strategy behind their development. The most widely produced military aircraft in history was the heavily armored IL-2, a powerful Soviet ground-attack bomber that was originally designed as a two-man system, with the rear gunner able to effectively defend the plane against enemy fighters during its missions. However, Stalin personally ordered the design changed to eliminate the second man and defensive armament, which left the bomber extremely vulnerable to enemy aircraft once the war broke out. Stalin and his war-planners had seemingly banked on possessing near-total air supremacy during the entire course of any conflict, an assumption plausible only if the German luftwaffe were destroyed on the ground by a surprise attack on the very first day.

(*) There is considerable evidence that in the weeks prior to the German surprise attack, Stalin had ordered the release of many hundreds of thousands of Gulag prisoners, who were issued basic weapons and organized into NKVD-led divisions and corps, constituting a substantial part of the Second Strategic Echelon located hundreds of miles from the German border. These units may have been intended to serve as occupation troops, allowing the much more powerful front-line forces to press onward and complete the conquests of France, Italy, the Balkans, and Spain. Otherwise, I can find no other plausible explanation for Stalin’s action.

(*) The planned invasion and occupation of a large country whose population speaks a different language requires considerable logistical preparation. As an example, prior to their attack the notoriously methodical Germans printed and distributed to their troops large numbers of German-Russian basic phrasebooks, allowing effective communication with the local Slavic villagers and townsmen. Ironically enough, at around the same time, the USSR seems to have produced very similar Russian-German phrasebooks, allowing conquering Soviet troops to easily make themselves understood to German civilians. Many millions of these phrasebooks had been distributed to Soviet forces on the German border during the early months of 1941.

Suvorov’s reconstruction of the weeks directly preceding the outbreak of combat is a fascinating one, emphasizing the mirror-image actions taken by both the Soviet and German armies. Each side moved its best striking units, airfields, and ammunition dumps close to the border, ideal for an attack but very vulnerable in defense. Each side carefully deactivated any residual minefields and ripped out any barbed wire obstacles, lest these hinder the forthcoming attack. Each side did its best to camouflage their preparations, talking loudly about peace while preparing for imminent war. The Soviet deployment had begun much earlier, but since their forces were so much larger and had far greater distances to cross, they were not yet quite ready for their attack when the Germans struck, and thereby shattered Stalin’s planned conquest of Europe.

All of the above examples of Soviet weapons systems or strategic decisions seem very difficult to explain under the conventional defensive narrative, but make perfect sense if Stalin’s orientation from 1939 onward had always been an offensive one, and he had decided that summer 1941 was the time to strike and enlarge his Soviet Union to include all the European states, just as Lenin had originally intended. And Suvorov provides many dozens of additional examples, building brick by brick a very compelling case for this theory.

The book is not overly long, running perhaps 150,000 words, and $20 plus a few mouse clicks on Amazon will provide you a copy to read and judge for yourself. But for those who desire a simple summary, Suvorov’s 2009 lecture at the Eurasia Forum of the Annapolis Naval Academy is conveniently available on YouTube, though slightly hindered by his weak English:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbBnRZoTHFs

And also his C-SPAN Book TV lectures at the Woodrow Wilson Center:

Controversial theories, even if backed by seemingly strong evidence, can hardly be properly evaluated until they have been weighed against the counter-arguments of their strongest critics, and this should certainly be the case with the Suvorov Hypothesis. But although the last three decades have seen the development of a large secondary literature, much of it sharply critical, nearly all this international debate has taken place in Russian, German, or Hebrew, languages that I do not read.

There are some exceptions. Several years ago, I came across a website debate on the topic, and one strong critic claimed that Suvorov’s theories had been totally debunked by American military historian David M. Glantz in Stumbling Colossus, published in 1998. But when I ordered and read the book I was sorely disappointed. Although purporting to refute Suvorov, the author seemed to ignore almost all of his central arguments, and merely provided a rather dull and pedantic recapitulation of the standard narrative I had previously seen hundreds of times, laced with a few rhetorical excesses denouncing the unique vileness of the Nazi regime. Most ironically, Glantz emphasizes that although Suvorov’s analysis of the titanic Russo-German military struggle had gained great attention and considerable support among both Russian and German scholars, it had been generally ignored in the Anglo-American world, and he almost seems to imply that it can probably be disregarded for that reason. Perhaps this attitude reflected the cultural arrogance of many American intellectual elites during Russia’s disastrous Yeltsin Era of the late 1990s.

A far superior book, generally supportive of Suvorov’s framework, was Stalin’s War of Annihilation, by prize-winning German military historian Joachim Hoffmann, originally commissioned by the German Armed Forces and published in 1995 with an English revised edition appearing in 2001. The cover carries a notice that the text was cleared by German government censors, and the author’s introduction recounts the repeated threats of prosecution he endured from elected officials and the other legal obstacles he faced, while elsewhere he directly addresses himself to the unseen government authorities who he knows are reading over his shoulder. When stepping too far outside the bounds of accepted history carries the serious risk that a book’s entire print-run will be burned and the author imprisoned, a reader must necessarily be cautious at evaluating the text since important sections have been skewed or preemptively excised in the interests of self-preservation. Evaluating scholarly debates on historical issues becomes difficult when one sides faces incarceration if their arguments are too bold.

Can we say whether Suvorov is right? Since our information gatekeepers of the English-language world have spent the last three decades closing their eyes and pretending that the Suvorov Hypothesis does not exist, the near-complete absence of any substantial reviews or critiques makes it very difficult for me to come to any definite conclusion. But based on the available evidence, I believe it is far more likely than not that Suvorov’s theories are at least substantially correct. And if so, our current understanding of World War II—the central formative event of our modern world—is entirely transformed.

Suvorov notes that treaties or pacts are traditionally named for the city in which they are signed—the Warsaw Pact, the Baghdad Pact, the Munich Agreement—and thus the so-called “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” signed in August 23, 1939 by which Hitler and Stalin agreed to the division of Poland should more properly be called “the Moscow Pact.” As a direct result of that agreement, Stalin gained half of Poland, the Baltic States, and various other advantages, including a direct border with Germany. Meanwhile, Hitler was punished by declarations of war from France and Britain, amid worldwide condemnation as a military aggressor. Although Germany and Russia both invaded Poland, the latter managed to avoid being dragged into any war with Poland’s erstwhile allies. Thus, the primary beneficiary of the Moscow Pact was clearly Moscow.

Given the long years of trench warfare on the Western front during the First World War, almost all outside observers expected the new round of the conflict to follow a very similar static pattern, gradually exhausting all sides, and the world has shocked when Germany’s innovative tactics allowed it to achieve a lightening defeat the allied armies in France during 1940. But at that point, Hitler regarded the war as essentially over, and was confident that the extremely generous peace terms he immediately offered the British would soon lead to a final settlement. As a consequence, he returned Germany to a regular peacetime economy, choosing butter over guns in order to maintain his high domestic popularity

Stalin, however, was under no such political constraints, and from the moment he had signed his long-term peace agreement with Hitler in 1939 and divided Poland, he ramped up his total-war economy to an even higher notch. Embarking upon an unprecedented military buildup, he focused his production almost entirely upon purely offensive weapons systems, while even discontinuing those armaments better suited for defense and dismantling his defensive lines of fortifications. By 1941, his production cycle was complete, and he made his plans accordingly.

And so, just as in our traditional narrative, we see that in the weeks and months leading up to Barbarossa, the most powerful offensive military force in the history of the world was quietly assembled in secret along the German-Russian border, preparing for the order that would unleash their surprise attack. The enemy’s unprepared air force was to be destroyed on the ground in the first days of the battle, and enormous tank columns would begin deep penetration thrusts, surrounding and trapping the opposing forces, achieving a classic blitzkrieg victory, and ensuring the rapid occupation of vast territories. But the forces preparing this unprecedented war of conquest were Stalin’s, and his military juggernaut would surely have seized all of Europe, probably soon followed by the remainder of the Eurasian landmass.

Then at almost the last moment, Hitler suddenly realized the strategic trap into which he had fallen, and ordered his heavily outnumbered and outgunned troops into a desperate surprise attack of their own on the assembling Soviets, fortuitously catching them at the very point at which their own final preparations for sudden attack had left them most vulnerable, and thereby snatching a major initial victory from the jaws of certain defeat. Huge stockpiles of Soviet ammunition and weaponry had been positioned close to the border to supply the army of invasion into Germany, and these quickly fell into German hands, providing an important addition to their own woefully inadequate resources.

The enormous and fully-militarized resources of the Soviet state, supplemented by the contributions of Britain and America, did eventually turn the tide of battle and lead to a Soviet victory, but Stalin ended up with only half of Europe rather than its entirety.

Suvorov argues that the fatal weakness of the Soviet system was its total inability to compete with non-Sovietized states in the peacetime production of civilian goods, and because such states had still survived after the war, the Soviet Union was doomed to eventual collapse.

Navrozov, the Chronicles reviewer, is a Russian Slav and therefore hardly favorable to the German dictator. But he closes his review with a remarkable statement:

Therefore, if any of us is free to write, publish, and read this today, it follows that in some not inconsequential part our gratitude for this must go to Hitler. And if someone wants to arrest me for saying what I have just said, I make no secret of where I live.

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6 Amusing Historic Stereotypes of Major Russian Cities

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About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.

He is currently running a remarkably successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter to be able to publish his upcoming novels. Please support him if you can!


Stereotypes are a funny thing. On the one hand, they’re often no more than caricatures. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of bitter truth to some of them. Like the Russians say with their morbid humor, “In every joke, there’s a bit of a joke.”

This is especially interesting when we consider old Rus. We don’t have much to go on, historically speaking, other than chronicles, treaties, and a few bits of birch bark.

However, Russians have preserved some interesting stereotypes about the inhabitants of old Russian cities. Whether there’s any truth to them or not is almost beside the point. They’re fascinating, revealing a window to a world long gone, yet still persisting in the habits and personalities of today’s Russians. (Here’s the original Russian article that I translated)

EVERYONE IN GREAT NOVGOROD IS A REBEL

Novgorod’s rebelliousness is legendary. The image of a brawling Novgorodian is almost a calling card of the city. The reason this stereotype came about has to do with the old chronicles. They were filled with illustrations of the constant arguments at the Novgorodian Veche, a kind of popular assembly that met in the central square. (See my translation of “Martha the Mayoress” for a vivid fictionalized example).

Of course, there were arguments and even fights during the Veche. However, they did not constantly devolve into fist-fights, as the legends suggest. Naturally, the chroniclers would choose the most vivid and bloody examples from history to illustrate their point. After all, Novgorod was often an opponent of Kiev and, later, Moscow. But in actual fact, the inhabitants of Great Novgorod were fiercely loyal to their government and loved their city. Compromise was the order of the day, not broken heads. Plus, they were more than usually literate.

EVERYONE IN PSKOV IS A THIEF OR A MORON

Even in modern times, Pskovians have had to endure countless jokes about their crudeness, stupidity, and their lack of good manners. This may or may not be true. As for their lack of manners, that is entirely a matter of hats. The inhabitants of Pskov, no matter what their social standing, hardly ever doffed their cap before anyone (which is extremely bad form in old Rus). However, this wasn’t crudity or bad breeding.

It used to be that a hat symbolized one’s personal dignity. In Pskov in particular, to actually take off your hat meant to be shamed. It may be a bastardization of the more generally accepted rule that if someone else took your hat off your headthat was a terrible insult.

EVERYONE IN NIZHNI NOVGOROD IS A DRUNKARD

The painful topic of Russian alcoholism became especially relevant in Nizhni Novgorod at the end of the 17th century. A kind of epidemic of alcoholism rose up, and it was normal to see women as well as men lying in the streets in a drunken stupor. Foreign travelers recounted after their visits to Nizhni Novgorod that “Russians don’t do anything but feast.”

Of course, they did more than feast. But on holidays, Russians have always allowed themselves some excesses. It’s not entirely fair to single out Nizhni Novgorod, when alcoholism still is the gravest problem facing Russia today, as in olden times.

EVERYONE IN VLADIMIR IS A CRIMINAL

This stereotype appeared very early. It’s easy to understand. Vladimir itself had five prisons, including the famous “Vladimir Central Prison.” From the beginning, Vladimirians have been considered con artists who like a dangerous life. It didn’t help that the path to Siberia for exiled convicts went through Vladimir. It was even called the “Vladimirka.”

Exiled convicts stopped in Vladimir to have half their heads shaved (a scene vividly recounted in the excellent Russian film The Siberian Barber). Then they’d be branded as exiles or thieves, clapped in irons, and set upon the road to Siberia. In old times, the path could take as long as two years, and those two years were not counted as part of their allotted time.

Vladimir itself, for all that, was a typical enough provincial town.

EVERYONE IN ROSTOV IS AN ARTISAN

When a Russian hears the word “finift’” (enameling), he immediately thinks of Rostov. Nothing could change the old stereotype that every inhabitant of ancient Rostov worked in the enameling guild. That’s complete nonsense, of course. First of all, the best enamellists in old Rus were as a rule in Kiev, the capital city. There were also some famous artisans in Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Great Novgorod.

The only difference is that Rostov alone has preserved the traditional techniques of enameling since ancient times. Even today, there is a factory producing enameled work. Perhaps for this reason alone, tourists still visit Rostov exclusively to see enameled boxes.

THE INDUSTRIOUS YARSOLAVIAN

The industrious muzhik from Yaroslavl is an image that we even find in Gogol. From the times of Rus, Yaroslavians were known as people who were never apathetic, lazy, or prone to tiredness. Instead, they’re known to be active to a manic degree. This may have something to do with the odd tradition that Yaroslav is a city of buried treasure.

Apparently, wherever you turn, you see someone uncovering a jewelry box or trying to break into an ancient chest of drawers. Perhaps a little more seriously, Yaroslavians have long been known as “chicks of the cuckoo.” In other words, they’re more than usually capable of leaving their homeland without much regret. This quality has a clear historical origin.

Yaroslav was built on the crossroads of ancient roads—a path used by merchants from Scandinavia all the way to the Arab lands. From the middle of the 16th century, Yarsolavl became the most important center for trade in all of Rus. This constant movement often inspired young Yaroslavians to try out their luck in foreign lands.

True or not, such stereotypes make for fascinating stories. For myself, the “myth” of the boisterous Novgorodian comes to life in my third novel, The Heart of the World, in a semi-fictionalized setting of the Veche that goes fabulously wrong for all concerned.


Source: Nicholas Kotar

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Health officials warn of strain on hospitals but Covid-19 admissions remain low

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Health officials have warned of mounting strain on hospitals as coronavirus infections increase, although the absolute number of admissions remains below previous surges of the disease.

Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) epidemiological modelling group, reported rising intensive care admissions but said the rise in hospital and ICU admissions was “far less” than “if we didn’t have so much of the population protected through vaccination”.

Dr Nolan said the expected pattern of infection in coming weeks was “really quite uncertain”. The background of exponential virus growth earlier in July “may or may not be stabilising” but the increase in hospital and intensive care admissions tracked the rising rate of infection.

While there was one intensive care admission every two days toward the end of June, Dr Nolan said the ICU admission rate in the past week was approaching three per day.

There were 152 people in hospital yesterday. The figure contrasts 1,949 during the January peak. There were 333 inpatients at the start of November 2020 and 862 in April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

But admissions are again rising fast.

“We’re seeing on average 26 per day admitted to hospital in the last seven days and 30 today. You can see that that’s very significantly up, pretty much double what it was two weeks ago,” Dr Nolan told reporters at the Department of Health.


In a sign of pressure on the system, nurses in Limerick’s main hospital complained yesterday that overcrowding there is worsening despite the provision of more than 100 additional beds.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to intervene directly to “look under the bonnet” and see why additional beds at University Hospital Limerick had not made a substantial impact.

More trolleys had been placed on wards and corridors in University Hospital Limerick in recent days as overcrowding continued, the union said.

Uneven pressure

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the uneven spread of coronavirus infections throughout the State meant some hospitals might be under more pressure than suggested by overall admissions data.

“It can happen that individual hospitals can be under quite a degree of pressure when the overall situation in the country might not suggest that’s the case. So we do know that maybe some hospitals in the west have already had a challenge with much more infections based on the most recent wave than other hospitals.”

He acknowledged reported pressure on hospitals in Limerick and in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and cited pressure also on hospitals in Co Mayo.

“We have seen quite a wide variation in case numbers in individual hospitals,” Dr Holohan said. “We have 150 give or take hospitalisations. That’s not spread evenly spread across the 30 or 40 hospitals that might be admitting patients with this infection.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said hospitals would be under pressure if there were no coronavirus admissions.

“The point that obviously the absolute numbers are much less than previous waves is very welcome,” he said.

“The reality is that if we had no cases of Covid in hospital tomorrow morning our hospitals would be under extreme pressure. Unfortunately that’s what we’re dealing with, both pre-Covid and now but particularly as a result of Covid in the last number of months

“Our healthcare workers are exhausted frankly. They’re facing into enormous backlogs in elective care, non-Covid care, non-Covid health plans, social care: both in acute settings and in community,” he confirmed.

“So while the absolute numbers are less than previously we’re very conscious that any increase in those number … has potential to be very significant to the health service that we’re trying to get back up to full function.”

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How is Germany using Covid health passes compared to other European countries?

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France

In France the health passport is already in use for venues including cinemas, tourist sites and nightclubs and from the beginning of August will be extended to bars, restaurants, cafés, some shopping malls and long distance train or bus services. Find the full list of venues where it is necessary HERE.

The health passport can show proof of either; fully vaccinated status, recent recovery from Covid or a negative Covid test taken within the previous 48 hours.

It is required for everyone at the listed venues – visitors and staff – but staff have until August 30th to get vaccinated. The passport is required for all over 12s, but children aged between 12 and 17 do not have to start showing their passports until August 30th.

There is no fine for members of the public who do not have a health passport, but you can expect to be barred from any of the listed venues if you cannot show your passport to staff. Venues found not enforcing the health passport face being closed down.

The passport can be shown either on the French TousAntiCovid app – find out how that works here – or on paper. The app is compatible with vaccine certificates issued in EU or Schengen zone countries, and the NHS app is also compatible. The situation for those vaccinated in the USA is a little more complicated, but they should be able to swap their US certificate for a French one that is compatible with the app.

Italy

Italy’s green pass, ‘certificazione verde’, will soon be required to access more leisure and cultural venues, including indoor restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, museums, cinemas, theatres, sports stadiums and other public venues.

Although it’s been in use since June, the Italian government announced on July 22nd that it would be extending its health pass scheme from August 6th.

From next month, people in Italy wanting to access most venues in Italy will need to show proof of being vaccinated – including those who have only had the first of two doses – having tested negative for coronavirus within the previous 48 hours or having recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months.

At the moment Italy’s digital health certificate is available to people over 12 years old who were vaccinated, tested or recovered in Italy.

The Italian version of the green pass is only for people who were vaccinated, recovered or tested in Italy. If that’s you, find out exactly how to claim it here. If you don’t fall into that category, here’s what you need to know about accessing Italy’s extended green pass.

If you’re from outside the EU, the rules are complicated or still being negotiated. At the border, Italy accepts vaccination certificates, tests results and medical certificates of recovery from the United States, Canada or Japan. However, there is currently no news on how travellers can access the green pass once they’re in Italy.

As for the United Kingdom, Italy does not currently have an agreement to recognise vaccinations performed in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Spain 

Covid ‘health passes’ haven’t been imposed at a national level by the Spanish government, but two regions – Galicia and the Canary Islands – have opted to require proof of vaccination, testing or recovery for people to go inside bars, cafés and restaurants.

In both regions the scheme is only being applied in municipalities with particularly high infection rates, and although it seemed that it would initially only apply to the interior of hospitality establishments, the Canary government has extended the requirement to gyms and cultural events held indoors. 

Other regional governments in Spain such as Valencia’s have shown interest in implementing a ‘health pass’ requirement, but this has been met with opposition from the hospitality industry for the economic losses and holdups all the checking could potentially cause. 

The German version of the EU health pass. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Zacharie Scheurer

The EU-approved Digital Covid Certificate issued mainly for the purpose of travel by Spain’s regions is the preferred means of proving Covid health status, although in practice bar and restaurant owners can accept other proof, paper or digital.

Neither the Galician nor the Canary government have announced what foreign tourists should show to access the interior of bars and restaurants in their territories. 

Spain’s Digital Covid Certificate is only available to residents in the country but as the system is standardised across the EU, European tourists will likely be able to use their country’s Covid Certificates with a scannable QR Code to go inside hospitality establishments (not needed for terraces).

READ MORE:

Sweden

Sweden is part of the EU-wide vaccine pass scheme which means the Covid-19 pass can be used as an alternative to showing a negative test result in order to enter the country.

But aside from travel into the country, the pass is not used at all for access to things like events, museums, restaurants or bars. The government hasn’t ruled it out entirely, but has said the Swedish preference is to open up for everyone at the same time instead.

To access the Swedish version of the EU vaccine pass, you need to have either had both doses of your Covid-19 vaccine in Sweden, or at least the second dose, so it is not currently possible for people vaccinated elsewhere to receive it. Another group excluded from the pass is those without a Swedish personnummer or social security number; although the eHealth Agency has told The Local they are working on making it available to the thousands of people in Sweden who were vaccinated without this number, this is not expected to happen until September at the earliest.

Denmark

Denmark controls access to certain activities and facilities – from indoor dining to cultural attractions like museums and sports games – using the scannable coronapas application, which tracks vaccination status, recent recoveries and test results.

The system is currently only available to Danish residents enrolled in the public health system, but it’s compatible with the vaccine certificates from other EU and Schengen area countries. People from outside the EU/Schengen area who received full courses of Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca can also use proof of vaccination in place of a coronapas. That documentation needs to meet a handful of requirements to be legally valid: the documentation must be in English or German and contain your name, date of birth, the vaccine you received and the dates for your first and second doses. 

The coronapas scheme is set to twilight on October 1st, when Denmark is scheduled to fully reopen. 

Norway

Norway’s domestic Covid pass is used to access large events such as concerts, festivals and football matches in addition to domestic cruises and tours. 

To enter venues and events using the pass, you will need a valid certificate. 

Certificates will be valid if three weeks have passed since your last jab, you are fully vaccinated, have had covid in the past six months and can prove so via the health pass, or have received a negative test result in the previous 24 hours. 

The certificate is presented as a QR code and will scan green if valid and red if not. 

It’s worth noting that a valid domestic covid certificate is not valid for travel as part of the EU’s health pass travel scheme. You can read more about how the Norwegian Covid certificate is used for travel here

A paper version of the certificate can be ordered here

Covid certificates in Norway require a national identification number and level four security electronic ID. Unfortunately, this means that it’s practically impossible for tourists and non-residents to access the Norwegian certificate and attend events that require a health pass. 

Furthermore, as the Norwegian certificate’s domestic version is different from the version used for travel, it also means that EU health passes can’t be used as a substitute for domestic vaccine passports. 

Austria

Austria was one of the first European countries to introduce a Covid-19 health pass system, having done so on May 19th as the 3G Rule. 

The 3G Rule refers to ‘Getestet, Geimpft, Genesen’ (Tested, Vaccinated, Recovered) and describes the three ways someone can provide evidence they are immune to the virus.

As a result, the framework is relatively well established in Austria. 

Austria’s Covid-19 health pass, known as the “green pass”, is needed to access bars, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, gyms, events and a range of other venues. 

Travellers at Berlin Brandenburg airport at the end of June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

For entering nightclubs, you need to be either vaccinated or have received a negative PCR test in the past 72 hours. This information will also be included in your green pass. 

As of July 1st, masks are not required anywhere that the green pass is required.

In effect, this means masks are required in public transport, supermarkets and museums. 

EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s Covid-19 immunity card and how do I get it?

Austria is a part of the European Covid-19 pass network since July 1st.

This means that if you are visiting Austria and you have the pass from your EU country, you can use it in Austria. 

Unfortunately, people with Covid-19 passes from outside the EU cannot yet use it in Austria, however they can use paper documentation. 

Also, as an Austrian phone number is needed to get the green pass (other than in Vienna), foreigners with documentation of a vaccination, recovery or a test cannot download it and use it when they are in Austria. 

Please read the following link for more information. 

EXPLAINED: Can tourists use Austria’s Covid-19 green pass to visit bars and events?

Switzerland

Switzerland also has a Covid-19 health pass, known domestically as a Covid-19 immunity certificate. 

However, this is only needed at large events (more than 1,000 people), nightclubs or discos. 

Some bars and restaurants can choose to ask for the Covid certificate, upon which they are allowed to dispense with other rules such as mask rules and social distancing requirements. 

READ MORE: How to get Switzerland’s Covid-19 health pass

In mid-July, Switzerland became a part of the EU’s Covid-19 pass framework, meaning that you can show your EU country pass in order to enter Switzerland. 

Switzerland as yet does not accept other Covid passes, but this has been flagged as a possibility in future. 

If you arrive in Switzerland, you can show the evidence of your vaccination to the authorities in your Swiss canton and you will be issued a Covid certificate. 

Unfortunately, this only includes Swiss-approved Covid vaccines. According to the Swiss government, this is only Pfizer/Biontech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, i.e. AstraZeneca is not accepted. 

More information about getting the pass if you are visiting Switzerland is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How do tourists get Switzerland’s Covid certificate to access events, clubs and restaurants?

Elsewhere around Europe 

In Hungary immunity certificates delivered from the time of the first vaccine shot are required in health establishments and to attend sports and music events, as well as gatherings of more than 500 people.

 In Luxembourg a pass is asked for in shops.

In Azerbaijan a health pass has been mandatory since the beginning of June to enter sports centres or attend weddings.

In Portugal such a certificate is required to stay in a hotel or play sport. It is also required to eat inside restaurants, but only at weekends in the most hard-hit regions.

In Ireland the health pass is for the time being only needed for indoor eating and drinking in restaurants and pubs.

In Russia the Moscow region in June imposed a health pass for restaurants but this was so unpopular it was scrapped three weeks later.

The British government is planning to introduce in September a health pass in England to enter nightclubs and other places admitting large groups of people. Professional football matches could be included, reports say.

The UK’s other nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health policies.

Georgia is also planning a health pass.



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