During the Second World War, an anti-Soviet formation of Russian collaborators with Nazi Germany emerged known as the Vlasov movement, named after a Red Army general who defected to the Germans. This movement, made up of Soviet prisoners of the German military as well as veterans of the White Army during the Russian Revolution, sought to defeat the Soviet Union for a variety of ideological and political reasons.
The existence of the Vlasov movement and the Russian Liberation Army (RLA), as it was later known, belies the image of the Soviet Union during World War II as unified by Marxist ideology and mutual hatred of fascism. In actuality, members of the RLA were a significant presence in some of the war’s most important battles, including the Battle of Stalingrad, and helped Nazi Germany break down the Soviet war effort through propaganda.
Recently translated documents from the Soviet secret police archives shed new light on the personal and political motivations of the defectors, which eventually numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Careful study of these documents is essential to understanding the covert political and military strategies employed by the Soviets and Germans during the war, as well as the trajectory of the Cold War, in which former Vlasov movement members participated as informants for Western intelligence.
These documents shed light on the political context in which citizens of one country defected to an enemy with a different ideology in a war largely framed as a battle between these ideologies. They also reveal the significance of political propaganda and framing during wartime, a concept which was also integral to the Cold War and continues to be relevant today. The RLA represents a historical paradox of extremism; in order to defeat one hated totalitarian regime, defectors were willing to collaborate with another. Close study of this fascinating source material will shed light on this complex chapter in European history.