Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
WHOLE generations of Germans have been brought up to think of conquest of the Ukraine as offering the surest road to a more abundant German life. Bismarck toyed with the idea of an "independent principality of Kiev." Kaiser William II and Adolf Hitler both have tried to exploit opportunities to bring to reality their dreams of a Ukrainian colony which would serve as "breadbasket" for a greater German Reich.
It is a matter of record that Imperial Germany failed in its endeavor to exploit the wealth of the Ukraine. Neither before nor after the peace of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918), which turned that German-conquered territory into a nominally independent state under German overlordship, did it make any appreciable contribution to the German war economy. The German people found out that the Imperial High Command was sadly mistaken when it proclaimed that the worst was over now that their armies firmly held the Ukrainian granary.
What, now, has Hitler to show, after more than a year of occupation?
Complete data are not available, of course, but one good estimate is that Hitler may have got something like 500,000 tons of food grains from the Ukraine in 1941 -- a mere fraction of the total German consumption. A more detailed report compiled during the past summer by British economic experts is even grimmer. According to this source, the total food production of the Ukraine last year consisted of 200,000 tons of bread, 450,000 tons of potatoes, 40,000 tons of sugar beets, 120,000 tons of meat and 15,000 tons of fats. Even if the Nazis did reduce the local population to a starvation level, they could not have secured for themselves more than one-third, or at best one-half, of this. When the needs of the army of occupation had been met, there can have been no surplus whatever for shipment to the Reich. The same report forecasts a 40 percent reduction from those figures in the Ukrainian output of food in 1942.
Contrast with this the figures for 1937, the last year for which Soviet statistics are available. In that year the rich black earth of the Ukraine yielded 10 million tons of wheat, of which about 7 million tons were required to feed the 31 million Ukrainians. Thus, 3 million tons were left for consumption in other parts of the U.S.S.R. or for export. During the two years of Nazi-Soviet friendship, a sizable part of this surplus was shipped to the Reich -- far more, undoubtedly, than the Germans are now seizing by force from the stolen breadbasket.
Early this year, the Nazi economic leadership gave vent to its disappointment that the Ukraine had failed to repay in dividends of golden corn the huge investment made there in the blood of German soldiers. In a remarkably frank statement from the Reichsnährstand (the official farmers' union headed until recently by Richard Walther Darré), published in the Frankfurter Zeitung of February 26, 1942, the German people were warned not to expect any additional food supplies from the Ukraine before the 1943 harvest was gathered. Transportation difficulties and the "stupid devastation" wrought by the retreating Russians were cited as the chief reasons why so little food was forthcoming.
With the approach of the fall of 1942, however, a new policy was adopted. In place of the former cautious appraisals the Nazi press began to feed its readers with glowing accounts of the Ukrainian richness. Thus Gauleiter Erich Koch, chief civil administrator of the Ukraine, declared in an interview with the Deutsche Ukraine Zeitung on the first anniversary of the German occupation, that no less than 90 percent of the arable land in the territory under his rule had been sown last spring. Such a claim is incredible, as the Swedish paper Socialdemokraten pointed out, in view of the admitted shortage of agricultural machinery and fuel and the deportation of some 500,000 Ukrainian laborers to Germany. Still more recently, Nazi reporters and broadcasters have started to describe the arrival in Berlin of whole trainloads of food from the Ukraine. One newscaster spoke of a food train of 50 cars, another of "more than 20 trains." Still another, addressing Latin America, said "many trains arrive daily with products from the Ukraine."[i] This new theme, introduced at the opening of the fourth wartime Winter Relief Campaign, was in tune with the speeches made by Hitler and Göring on September 30 and October 4, respectively. Both dwelt at length on the supplies allegedly streaming into the Reich from the conquered territories, and promised that a new era of plenty was at hand.
Reports from neutral and underground sources paint a very different picture. And there are several reasons inherent in the situation which support those reports. For one thing, exploitation of the conquered Ukraine is bound to be more difficult now than it was in 1917-18 because of the intricacies of the Soviet economic system. If the farming methods in use last year had been the same as they were a generation ago the Soviet "scorched earth" policy would have had comparatively little effect. But an economy which had been organized, centralized and mechanized to the utmost degree in two decades of collectivization was completely paralyzed by the removal of indispensable machinery and its operators and the destruction of all control centers.
When the German armies moved into the Ukraine they found little more than the earth, ruined buildings and a hostile population composed chiefly of old men, women and children. The 67,000 tractors, 18,500 heavy trucks and 22,000 combines which the Ukrainian collectives possessed in 1937 had been wrecked. The army of 158,500 tractor drivers, 18,500 truck drivers and 15,000 mechanics who had been specially trained to handle and repair this machinery was gone also. All were serving with the retreating Soviet armies. And even if the machines and the men had remained, there would have been no fuel to operate the tractors and the trucks; for even now, over a year later, most of the oil of the Caucasus which had made possible the mechanization of Ukrainian agriculture is still in Russian hands. Thus the small amount of machinery which the conquerors have brought into the Ukraine -- between 4,000 and 5,000 tractors and several thousand plows, according to the British report quoted above -- must be run with whatever fuel the German armies can spare.
There is another and perhaps decisive reason why the Ukraine has been a disappointment for the Nazis. With his characteristic disregard of history, Hitler made exactly the same mistake that the Kaiser did. He thought he could rule his eastern colony von oben -- from above, without the people. He did not even think it necessary to install a puppet régime and he made no attempt whatever to conceal the fact that he was planning to run the Ukraine as a real slave state: all the work for the natives, all the benefits for the conquerors.
Before the invasion, the Nazis had professed very different intentions. They were going to "liberate" the Ukraine from the double yoke of Russia and Bolshevism. They were going to set up an independent Ukrainian state and restore the former landlords to their possessions. This program had naturally appealed to the thousands of Ukrainian émigrés living in Germany and the occupied countries. Among these were two principal rival factions: the henchmen of Paul Skoropadsky and those of Andrey Melnik.
Old General Skoropadsky, once a wealthy landowner in Tsarist Russia, had one advantage over his rival: he had "experience." He was the man whom German bayonets had kept enthroned as Hetman (prince) of the Ukraine for six months in 1918. After Germany's collapse, however, he was promptly ousted by elements friendly to the Entente, under the leadership of Simon Petliura and Eugene Konovaletz. These, in their turn, were ousted by the Bolsheviks and both died violent deaths in exile: Petliura was assassinated in Paris on May 25, 1926, Konovaletz in Rotterdam on May 23, 1938.
Skoropadsky fled to Germany and for many years lived in a villa at Wannsee, near Berlin, where he became a close friend of Göring. It seems certain that the Nazis promised him, as a reward for his collaboration in preparing their Ukrainian campaign, that he would be restored to his former dignity, unless he wished to delegate the title of Hetman to his 40-year-old son. At the same time, however, the Nazis, true to their policy of having at least two puppets on hand for each job, negotiated with Skoropadsky's rival, Melnik. The bitter enmity between the two men was based on the record of the past as much as on their present conflicting aspirations, for Melnik had been a close associate of Petliura and Konovaletz and always considered himself as their successor.
In the period immediately preceding the assault on Russia, Melnik's star seemed to be rising over Skoropadsky's. He had more partisans and a more firmly welded organization, the so-called O.U.N. (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), which sprang in 1929 from Konovaletz' U.W.O. (Ukrainian Military Organization). In contrast with Skoropadsky's frankly feudal tendencies, Melnik's program was in tune with National Socialism. But by the time the Nazi plans for the Ukraine came to fruition, Skoropadsky was, figuratively (and perhaps literally) speaking, a dead man. Nobody knows exactly what happened to him -- he simply disappeared from the scene.
Beside Skoropadsky's Hetman organization and Melnik's O.U.N., there was in Berlin still another Ukrainian group, the so-called Provid. A great deal of mystery surrounds this organization and the men behind it. It seems pretty certain, however, that the Provid is, or was, a secret intelligence service working in close touch with the German General Staff, the Gestapo and the Aussenpolitisches Amt of the Nazi Party. On June 22, 1941, the Provid staged a big demonstration of the Ukrainian colony in Berlin and in an appeal to the Ukrainian nation promised that the hour had come for it to reënter the family of European nations under the leadership of the "revolutionary, warrior and statesman, Colonel Andrey Melnik." Shortly afterward, however, Melnik, too, vanished. It is reported that he fled from Berlin to Rome, where Mussolini is keeping him in reserve.
At any rate, when the Nazi armies captured Kiev on September 19, 1941, not one of the Ukrainian separatist leaders to whom the privilege of a triumphant entry into the capital had been promised was present. The final disillusionment of the Ukrainian nationalists came three weeks later when Berlin first made public the pattern of its civilian administration for the occupied territories of Russia. It was a hard blow for the émigrés who had been so helpful in preparing the invasion; and a new object lesson for any nation that might still think of entrusting its "emancipation" to Adolf Hitler.
Instead of the "Greater Ukraine" which the Nazis had promised to set up by uniting Ruthenia and Eastern Galicia with the Soviet Ukraine, the Ukrainians saw the former division of their national territory carried still further and apparently perpetuated. Eastern Galicia was incorporated into the Polish Gouvernement General; Ruthenia (Sub-Carpathia) remained in the hands of Hungary; part of the Black Sea coast, including Odessa, was promised, if not actually turned over, to the Rumanians; while the rest of the Soviet Ukraine, now called Reichskommissariat Ukraine, was placed under the jurisdiction of Erich Koch, Gauleiter and Governor of East Prussia. The dream of a united and independent Ukraine was gone.
The Ukrainian Reichskommissariat is one of the two large administrative regions carved out of conquered Soviet territory, the other being the Reichskommissariat Ostland, which comprises the Baltic states and White Russia, or White Ruthenia as the Nazis call it. Both are governed by the new Reich Ministry for the Occupied Territories in the East, headed by Alfred Rosenberg, with headquarters in the former Soviet Embassy in Berlin.
Not only is the direct administrative head of the Ukraine a German; all the five major subdivisions, i.e., the districts of Zhitomir, Kiev, Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk and Poltava, have been placed in charge of German officials with the title of "Commissars General." No Ukrainian has been given a higher office than that of burgomaster.
Even though the Nazis had no further use for Ukrainian Führers, however, they continued to avail themselves of the services of Ukrainian underlings. The task of selecting and supervising these was given to Alexander Sevryuk, who now became Koch's principal native adviser and assistant. Sevryuk represents perfectly the type that the Nazis like best to employ in their dealings with conquered nations. In the course of his 48 years, he has had no fewer than five citizenships (Russian, Ukrainian, Soviet, French, German) and has embraced a variety of political creeds ranging from Communism to Nazism.
Sevryuk professed to be a Socialist when, on February 9, 1918, at the age of 24, he signed "on behalf of the Ukrainian Rada" the separate peace with Germany that hastened the débâcle of the Russian armies and thus led directly to Brest-Litovsk. (Since that time, Sevryuk has described himself as "Father of Ukrainian Independence.") Later on in Paris, where he turned up around 1922, Sevryuk led a Jekyll and Hyde life. During the daytime, he was Comrade Sevryuk, editor of a Ukrainian-language paper subsidized by the Soviet Embassy. In the evenings, as "Monsieur de Sevriuk," he played the exiled nobleman in Paris salons. After a while, he was found out by the OGPU and deprived of his Soviet citizenship. He then became a naturalized Frenchman. Denaturalized 11 months later, in December 1928, he left France in disgust and went to Berlin. There he made his way into the German secret service and into the Nazi Party. For many years he acted as adviser to the General Staff, to the Wilhelmstrasse and eventually to Alfred Rosenberg. In due course, "Herr von Sevryuk" became a German citizen.
Before the invasion of Russia, Sevryuk's principal job was to coördinate the efforts of the various Ukrainian organizations -- he himself did not belong to any of them -- and to transmit instructions to them from the German masters. In spite of an old grudge which he had against Skoropadsky -- who in 1918 had run him out of Kiev -- Sevryuk did his job well and in 1940 he contrived to unite nearly all Ukrainian organizations in the world (including, according to rumor, the powerful O.D.W.U., or Organization for the Rebirth of the Ukraine, in the United States) under the aegis of the Berlin Provid.
More subtle and self-effacing than Skoropadsky and Melnik, Sevryuk lasted a little longer than they did and was assigned, after the conquest, to organize a Ukrainian civil service under Erich Koch's administration. For this purpose, he summoned home Ukrainian émigrés from the far ends of the earth. It was he who made the two notorious O.D.W.U. leaders, Omelyan Senyk-Grebivsky and Nicolai Stziborsky, come to the provisional seat of administration at Zhitomir (where they were promptly assassinated by Soviet guerrillas). A little later, however, on December 27, 1941, Sevryuk himself died in a mysterious train crash between Berlin and Warsaw in which a great number of other Nazi officials also perished.[ii]
All the leading Ukrainian separatists having thus been disposed of, or silenced, there were only nonentities left to help Gauleiter Koch and his German administrators. Some of these nobodies held a "Ukrainian Separatist Convention" at Zhitomir last March, with Nazi Commissar-General Klin presiding. The meeting produced no tangible results whatever.
The present German administrative set-up in the Ukraine is along distinctly colonial lines. There is very limited cultural and municipal autonomy, under strict German supervision. The judiciary has been organized into nine so-called "citizens' courts" and one court of appeal. Their jurisdiction, however, is limited to Ukrainian nationals (excluding Volksdeutsche as well as members of the occupation forces) and to offences carrying a maximum penalty of two years at hard labor and 5,000 rubles fine. More serious crimes are dealt with by the German military courts.
Thus far the Germans have introduced only minor changes, for the sake of efficiency, in the agricultural system. Contrary to expectations, the collective farms have not been abolished, but their managers have been replaced with German commissars or former Ukrainian émigrés. In practice, however, many collectives have ceased to function because of the lack of essential machinery and of able-bodied men. Requisitioning of a large part of the current harvest was announced by the Deutsche Ukraine Zeitung late last August. All collectives and individual farms were obliged to deliver to the authorities fixed quantities of grain, the amount being determined by locality, size of farm and other factors. It was announced that stern punishment would be meted out, individually and collectively, to persons, farms and even whole villages that failed to fill their quotas.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the new economic order which the Nazis are trying to establish in the Ukraine as well as in the Ostland is the projected colonization of these territories with "model farmers," not from Germany but from kindred Germanic countries like Holland, Denmark and Norway.
Early this year, a truly monstrous scheme was hatched in the Rosenberg ministry with the help of a notorious Dutch Quisling, Meinoud Rost van Tonningen, the Nazi-appointed President of the Netherlands Bank. It aimed at transplanting 3 million Dutchmen -- fully one-third of the nation -- to White Russia and the Ukraine. To carry out this mass migration of unwilling settlers, the so-called "Netherlands East Company" (an obvious travesty on the old East India Company) was founded, with Rost van Tonningen as its president. A lying propaganda was begun in Holland on the theme that the country is too small to feed its present population. According to the Dutch Nazi paper Nationale Dagblad, Burgomaster Bouma of Emmen, in the province of Drenthe, recently declared that "10,000 people too many" lived in that province, though actually it is rather thinly populated. This Nazi-appointed burgomaster added: "Half of the population will be able to find work in industry. But the other half will have to find Lebensraum in the east. I myself have only one desire, that the first Netherlands settlement in the Ukraine be named "New Emmen." Although this scheme has met with universal disapproval and staunch resistance in Holland, many thousands of Dutch farmers have already been moved east and all the signs are that the Nazis intend to go ahead with their plan.
In Denmark, which has also been asked to provide "model farmers" for the Ukraine and Ostland, the Nazis found a willing tool in the Minister of Communications, Gunnar Larsen. He and Foreign Minister Erik Scavenius form the backbone of the collaborationist group in the present Danish Cabinet. Invited by the Rosenberg ministry, Larsen made a two-weeks' trip to the Baltic States last April. In Riga, seat of the Ostland administration, he met Reichskommissar Heinrich Lohse and discussed with him at length the planned transfer of Danish farmers to the east. Nothing is yet known about the number of settlers Germany hopes to obtain from Denmark or about their exact destination. There is strong popular resistance in Denmark, too, but the Nazi organ in Lithuania, Kownoer Zeitung, recently announced that two agreements had been signed between the German and Danish Governments regarding the transplantation of Danish farmers to Naziheld parts of Russia.
It might be asked why the Nazis are so anxious to settle foreigners in the Ostland and Ukraine instead of sending German farmers there. The answer is that in spite of all the ballyhoo about "folk without room" there simply are not enough German farmers to cultivate the land taken from the Poles, Czechs, French and Jugoslavs and all the newly-conquered territories in the east as well. Settlement by Germans, therefore, has been reserved in the main for the land now included within the boundaries of the Greater Reich. Here Hitler proposes to create his solid bloc of 100 million Germans.
On the outer fringe of the Reich, a number of German-controlled buffer states are to be set up. In the west and north, the "Germanic" states of Holland, Norway and Denmark have been earmarked for this purpose. A Germanized Ostland and Ukraine are to play the same role in the east. This does not mean that the Nazis intend to relinquish any of their conquerors' rights for the benefit of their Germanic cousins. The latter will merely be called upon to do the "model farming," under German supervision and for German profit.
The pattern of the new Ukraine -- as of the Ostland -- can therefore be described like this: at the bottom, the millions of native serfs, toiling 17 hours a day to produce the goods; over them, as nominal farm-owners or managers of collectives, a picked layer of Dutch, Flemish, Danish and other "racially kindred" overseers; on top of it all, the German Gauleiters and Commissars with their bureaucracy of Unter-Führers of all grades, collecting taxes, dividends and graft. Small wonder that the Ukrainian nation, even that part of it which has the bitter taste of the Bolshevist régime still in its mouth, shows little eagerness to coöperate with Herr Koch. One need not be a prophet to forecast that the kind of slave state which Hitler has set up in the Ukraine will never work.
[i] New York Times, October 4, 1942.
[ii] Since then, still another well-known Ukrainian collaborationist, the composer Revutzky, has met a violent death. He was assassinated in Kiev early last August.