02 April 2014

Wartime Losses in Light of Expected and Actual Mortality Due to Soviet Repression

The all-present figure of 26.6 million demographic losses of the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War is based on a calculation that on the basis of mortality figures for 1940 posits that without the war there would have been 25.3 million fewer losses among those born before July 22nd 1941, and 1.3 million fewer losses among those born after 22.6.1941.[23]

Such a calculation would, in the case that in 1940 the number of Soviet repression deaths was negligible, produce an estimate of total Soviet losses in the war, ie the total of losses due to the war and due to Soviet wartime repression. However, the number of Soviet repression deaths in 1940 is not necessarily so small as to be insignificant for this calculation.

In the case that Soviet repression during the war caused no more deaths per year than in 1940, such a calculation would produce an estimate of Soviet losses directly due to the war, ie without losses due to Soviet wartime repression. However, the war actually brought about a great increase in the scale and the lethality of Soviet state repression.

This means the 26.6 million figure is neither an estimate of total Soviet losses in the war, nor an estimate of losses due to the war. It captures some, but not all wartime deaths due to Soviet repression. It captures wartime Soviet repression deaths in excess of the expected level of Soviet repression deaths based on the 1940 levels, but does not capture the part of Soviet losses due to Soviet state repression not in excess of the 1940 levels.

How many people perished in 1940 due to Soviet state repression? We know that 47 thousand people died in the labor camps of the gulag, 7 thousand in the labor colonies of the gulag and 6 thousand in prisons. 2,044 people were executed for criminal offenses and 1,649 for political offenses. Additionally there would have been excess deaths among internal exiles.[24]

31 March 2014

Obama's Delusions

In denouncing the Russian seizure of Crimea in Brussels last week Obama contrasted the Russian invasion of the peninsula with the United States' own invasion of Iraq:
"Russia has pointed to America's decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there."

"But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future."
Other commentators have pointed out the absurdity of claiming the American invasion was supposedly more defensible of the two given the differences in bloodshed they entailed. The Iraq War resulted in approximately 500,000 deaths whereas the Russian seizure of Crimea resulted in the deaths of one Ukrainian serviceman and one Crimean militiaman.

There is another aspect in which Obama's statement is perversely ridicilous. He highlights as the redeming property of the Iraq invasion precisely the notion that makes US imperialism today so aggressive and unpredictable. That is its rejection of realpolitik and an addiction to pointless and unprofitable war. When Obama says: "We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain," what he is communicating is that unlike the Russians the Americans did not wage a self-interested war. By invading Iraq the US was not seeking to advance own national interest.

But this is exactly what makes US militarism such a scourge. Whereas a traditional power may only wage war that will serve its real political ends the contemporary United States, which is detached from this thinking, may wage war under any number of completely arbitrary and bizarre rationales. US military action ends up being called for for reasons as sacandalous as to "be seen to be doing something", to "send a message", or simply because "[the Serbs] needed some bombing".

30 March 2014

Libertarians, Crimea

I have a guest post on the correct libertarian position on the Russian seizure of Crimea over at The Libertarian Liquidationist. I make the point it is simultaneusly laudable and objectionable. This way to read it.

21 March 2014

Wartime Deaths Due to Soviet Repression

The Soviet Union under Stalin was a highly repressive state that engaged in repression of its citizens on a vast scale. Its repression was deadly and resulted in numerous deaths, even when the state had not explicitly set out to make repression lethal and to cause the death of those repressed. What is more, the four years of the Great Patriotic War were characterized by a sharp increase in the scale repression and the occurrence of deaths due to repression relative to most peacetime years under Stalin, including the immediate pre-war time.

The Gulag

Archival data shows the gulag administration in the years 1941 through 1945 presided over the deaths of 1.02 million inmates of whom 622 thousand prisoners in labor camps of the gulag, 312 thousand in labor colonies of the gulag and 85 thousand in prisons. The total number of deaths the gulag was responsible for in this time frame may be even higher on the account of deaths among former inmates who died after their release but as a consequence of the conditions they had been subjected to during their imprisonment.[19]

During the war mortality among the inmates of the gulag increased sharply so that one half of those who perished in the gulag did so in the war years, particularly between 1941 and 1943 and mainly of malnutrition related causes. German invasion of the USSR caused food shortages everywhere in the Soviet Union, however, malnutrition and the consequent mortality in the gulag was much more severe than among free Soviet citizens in the unoccupied USSR.

The most proximate cause of the crisis for the inmates of the gulag was that they were being kept imprisoned, mostly unjustly, with little aces to food, not that the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union and caused a general shortage of food. Had the regime released the inmates it was unable to feed they would have stood a far better chance of surviving than they did in the camps. This would have only benefited the war effort as a gulag inmate was only half as productive as a free laborer.

Internal Exile and the Labor Army

Another major category of Soviet citizens who suffered lethal repression at the hands of the Soviet regime during the war were deportees in internal exile. Deportees were usually stripped of their civic freedoms, lost most of their property and were often dumped in some of the most inhospitable parts of the Soviet Union, condemned to live in "special settlements" they would often first yet have to build. Besides working in the exile colonies themselves they were lent out to industries as unfree labor, or, during the war, could find themselves conscripted into the Labor Army. The exile groups experienced a far higher rate of mortality compared to the rest of the Soviet population, particularly in the first several years of their exile, after which their circumstances usually gradually improved.

18 March 2014

The Toppling of Viktor Yanukovich: Guest Post at the Kremlin Stooge

I have a lengthy guest post on the last month's overthrow of Yanukovich over at the excellent The Kremlin Stooge blog. Hop on over to read the piece and the lively introduction by the host.

01 March 2014

Deaths of Soviet POWs and Forced Laborers

Soviet Prisoners of War in German Custody

G.F. Krivosheyev reports that official records list 3.4 million Red Army personnel as missing. He himself calculates an additional 1.16 million missing personnel from units that were encircled and could not send out reports to the center. This nets a total of 4.56 million missing, but Krivosheyev estimates 500,000 of these never entered into captivity, but were killed beforehand. He therefore allows for 4.06 million Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans. Another Russian scholar, M.V. Filimoshin, builds on Krivosheyev's work and estimates that an additional 500,000 conscripts were called up, but were lost as missing before they were integrated into their units.[13] This allows for a higher number of up to 4.56 million Soviet prisoners of war.

German estimates of Soviet prisoners taken, however, run up to 5.7 million. The huge discrepancy may be partially explained by German double counting and partially the fact the Germans took captive thousands of militiamen and police not counted on Red Army rolls, and even more crucially — rounded up numerous civilians on the presumption some could be encircled Soviet troops attempting to avoid capture by shedding their uniforms, or else mobilized conscripts on their way to their units. For example, in the Kiev encirclement the Germans reported capturing 665 thousand prisoners of war. However, the entire Southwestern Front defending Kiev had only 627 thousand men on its rolls, of whom tens of thousands had successfully slipped out of the cauldron and therefore avoided capture, as well as another 150 thousand who had never been encircled by the German pincers in the first place. The 5.7 million figure of Soviet POWs is without a doubt an overestimate of actual captured Soviet soldiers and almost certainly still an overestimate of Soviet citizens captured by the German armed forces and treated as POWs.

In any case, the number of Soviet citizens who the Germans considered to be captured combatants (by no means had all actually been combatants, nor were they actually afforded the protections of a POW status) and who perished in German custody is most often given as 3.3 million. The figure stems from a German historian Christian Streit who arrived at the figure by taking the estimated 5.7 million captured as his starting point and then subtracted from it the number of those who were known to be still alive in German custody in January 1945 (930,000) and those who may have been released (1 million) or liberated (0.5 million).[14]

Streit's figure is problematic because he uses the inflated 5.7 million figure as his starting point. Starting instead with a different contemporary German estimate of 5.2 million total captives his method could result in a much smaller estimate of 2.8 million deaths of Soviet POWs in German custody. However, in the same way that Streit inputs an overestimate of total captives he could be using too high figures for those released and those liberated. Indeed he states that "at most" 1 million were released implying the number is easily smaller. Additionally the estimate of those liberated or escaped is from the Army High Command, which is the same body that produced the inflated 5.7 million estimate of the total. Using 5.2 million as a starting point and lowering the release and liberated figures by 20% Streit's method would result in a point estimate of some 3.1 million deaths among Soviet POWs in German hands, which is easier to defend.  

19 February 2014

Ukraine: Pro-Government Civilians Killed, West Blames All Violence on Yanukovich

It has been reported that 26 people have been killed in the recent outbreak of violence in Ukraine. 10 of those killed so far have been policemen. Majority of these have been riot police killed in violent clashes with the protesters, but at least two of these deaths occurred when a traffic police unit, which was not involved in suppressing the protests, was attacked by assailants.
"The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported that seven police officers died of gunshot wounds during the clashes. Two additional officers were later killed and another was critically injured as a traffic police unit was attacked in Kiev. The police officers died while in pursuit of the offenders."
The majority of non-police deaths are presumably of protesters killed in the violent clashes with the police. However, at least two of civilian deaths were of non-protesters. A journalist of a Russian-language daily was beaten with iron rods, then shot by masked assailants:
"A Ukrainian reporter has died of a gunshot wound after masked men attacked him on the way home in central Kiev. His colleagues suspect the attack was not accidental.

The journalist, Vyacheslav Veremyi, of the local “Vremya” (“Time”) pro-government newspaper died early on Wednesday morning of a gunshot to the chest while doctors were trying to save him."
Additionally, an office worker perished in a fire when the protesters stormed and set fire to the building of the Party of the Regions in Kyiv:
"Protesters also attacked the headquarters of President Yanukovych's Party of the Regions, temporarily smashing their way in and setting it on fire before being forced out by police. One person - believed to be an employee - was found dead inside."
Meanwhile the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has reacted to the violence by stating:
"We must be clear: Ultimate responsibility for deaths and violence is with president Yanukovich. He has blood on his hands."
American Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt sung from the same song sheet:
"From this moment on, the USA holds Yanukovich responsible for everything that happens in Ukraine."
It is enormously curious the West would choose to blame all the violence on the government of Ukraine. Even though the most radical elements of the protest movement in Ukraine have taken to torching office workers, attacking traffic police, and possibly murdering journalists this is all ultimately the fault of Yanukovich.

What is being communicated by the Western officials is that the Ukrainians squaring off against the current government may do no wrong even when they are engaged in the killing of defenseless civilians. That means that if more journalists or office workers are murdered by extremists, it is the Western officialdom — not the Ukrainian government — that will be in large measure responsible for their deaths.

Non-Repression Deaths of Combatants

Soviet Regulars

G.V. Krivosheyev established Soviet records indicate the "deadweight" losses of the Soviet military in the Soviet-German war amount to 8.69 million dead. It would be erroneous, however, to take the figures indicated by these incomplete records at face value, as synonymous with actual deaths among Soviet military personnel.

To highlight just one problem. Krivosheyev suggests the Germans took 4.06 million Soviet military personnel prisoner of whom 2.96 million survived their ordeal, while the other 1.1 million perished in German custody. In fact, we know that more than 3 million Soviet citizens the Germans had designated prisoners of war died. Even allowing for the fact many of them were not military personnel, but instead civilians and partisans, the number of Soviet Red Army men who perished after they fell into German hands must have been far greater than 1.1 million.

Ellman suggests there are other factors Krivosheyev's figures do not take into account. One is the fact that given peacetime mortality rates among the age groups making up the Red Army personnel there would have been 400,000 deaths among their number even in peacetime. Another that there would have been Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans who were subsequently released or escaped, but who were not reinstated into the Soviet military due to their disability, avoidance of conscription, or age. He estimates their number may have been 300,000.

The first of these points by Ellman is less valuable than the second, particularly as it pertains to the projected 100,000 "natural deaths" among Soviet POWs. If we know the life expectancy of a Soviet prisoner of war taken by the Germans was usually extremely low (in 1941-42 when most were taken it was only a few months) it is the case they simply would not have had the time to die a natural death in captivity, before they died of other causes. It is irrelevant if thousands of Soviet soldiers taken POW would have died anyway in 1941-1945 of other causes, if their life was cut short when they were left to starve in Wehrmacht's POW camps in 1941/42. Ellman's other point is pertinent. The number of POWs who survived captivity must be greater than the sum of POWs who were reinstated into the Red Army before the end of the war, of those who were returned to the Soviet Union at the end of the war, and of those who emigrated.

Krivosheyev figures, however, are nonetheless the best starting point in determining the extent of non-repression deaths among Soviet regulars — that is excluding deaths of Red Army men in German POW camps and at the hands of Soviet military tribunals. According to their records the Red Army and the NKVD sustained 5.23 million killed in action, 1.1 million died of wounds, 270 thousand died of disease, 290 thousand died of remaining causes such as accidents, suicides or were executed after a court martial. Additionally there were 500 thousand Soviet soldiers who went missing, but who Krivosheyev suggests were killed in fighting. Altogether this gives a figure of 7.39 million Red Army and NKDV non-POW dead.

17 February 2014

Croatian Skier on Sochi: Great Nation, Friendly People, Successful Games

Croatian alpine skier Ivica Kostelić, who has captured a medal on each of the last three Winter Olympics, in talk with USA today on his impression of Russia and the games in Sochi:
"Since I am Slavic, I understand parts of Russian language and maybe this whole culture is a little closer to me. Maybe this sounds crazy, but Russia is a great nation. I know there is a lot of criticism over some stuff. But sometimes we shouldn't compare the western way of thinking and the Russian way of thinking. Besides that, these Olympic Games are very good. We heard a lot about security is going to be very tough. But actually I hardly notice that it is tougher than Vancouver or Torino. The people are very friendly, and I think these Games so far have been good, a success."
Another in a line of participants of the Olympics who feels they games and the host nation are alright and the "Sochi haters" (or is it Russia haters?) don't have a leg to stand on.

11 February 2014

Mark Adomanis Doesn't Understand Property Rights

The Cathedral Church of Episcopalians in Washington ("The National Cathedral")

Mark Adomanis, the popular Russia blogger over at Forbes writes:
"I personally think that Pussy Riot should have gotten off  without any punishment whatsoever because their actions didn’t harm anyone and because there is no “right” for religious observers not to be offended. The idea that churches should somehow be excluded from free speech protections seems to be a very dangerous one, and so Pussy Riot should have faced the same “consequences” they would have had they given their performance on a street corner (i.e. nothing)."
Adomanis gives this in a post commentating on the "hilarity" that ensued when Samantha Power, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, misunderstood the challenge of her Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin and tweeted she would be proud to go on tour with Pussy Riot, presumably taking her from the National Cathedral in Washington, to St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem as suggested by Churkin. Indeed it is hilarious what an airhead Power revealed herself to be in totally missing Churkin's point.

At the same time, however, Adomanis reveals himself to lack a comprehension of something very basic himself, namely of property rights. Independent of any right for religious observers not to be offended, there exists a basic right of property. A church is not un-owned public space. A church (the building) is property that belongs to its church (the organisation) and its congregationn and is made open to the public for certain purposes. Eg, anyone who wants to offer a prayer or admire the architecture is usually welcome by the owners to come in and do so. However, if one enters instead with the intent to steal, or to hurl insult at the religious sentiment of its congregation then such a visitor is an unwelcome intruder a trespasser knowingly trampling upon the property rights of its victim.

There is in fact a world of difference between shouting obscenities on a street corner and in a church. To guarantee the "right" to insult religious observers from within a church there would have to exist an intuitively indefensible situation where the law enforcement would actually have to attack the right of religious organizations to manage access to their property including being able to revoke welcome. Taken to its logical conclusions it leads to justification of utterly bizarre scenarios, such as of armor-clad riot police clearing a path through lines of religious observers at a church, so as to enable fringe professional provocateurs access to the altar, so that they may exercise their "right" to better make themselves offensive to believers by purposefully insulting religious sentiment from within the house of god.