September 1, 1983: 10 Atrocious Atrocities Allegedly Arranged by the Soviet Union

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A Brief History

On September 1, 1983, a fighter plane of the Air Force of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union) shot down an unarmed civilian passenger plane that had accidentally entered Soviet air space, killing all 269 people aboard.  Shooting down airliners was just one of the dirty tricks pulled by the Soviet Union over the years, against foreigners and against their own people, especially non-Russian Soviets.  Here we list 10 of those incidents, reason we do not mourn the passing of the Soviet Union.  What incidents would you include in this list? (Hint: There are plenty to choose from!)

Digging Deeper

1.  Korean Air Lines Flight 007, 1983.

As noted above, this KAL Boeing 747 jumbo jet was shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor with air to air missiles, after firing warning shots from its cannon, shots that were not seen by the pilots of the airliner.  Despite the easily recognizable profile of the 747, the Soviets claimed they thought the plane was a US spy plane.  Of course, at first, the Soviets denied any involvement with shooting the jetliner down, but later came up with the spy plane excuse.  The 747 was on its way to Seoul, South Korea from New York (via Alaska) and for some reason strayed over Soviet air space on the way.  The 747 may well have been drawn off course by Soviet electronic warfare methods, as they regularly attempted to draw US military planes into Soviet air space during the Cold War.  Among the dead was a US Congressman, Representative Larry MacDonald from Georgia.  The Soviets found the wreckage and recovered the “black box” recorder, but kept this find secret until 1993, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

2. Poland Stab in the Back, 1939.

The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 23, 1939, enabled Adolf Hitler and his German military to a free hand in invading Poland on September 1, 1939.  Had Joe Stalin not signed this “deal with the Devil” it is unlikely Germany could have risked Soviet interference with an invasion of Poland, and may have averted World War II in Europe, at least for a while.  Topping off this underhanded deal, the Red Army invaded Poland on September 17, 1939 while the Polish Army was thoroughly tied up fighting Germans.  The Soviets, with a prearranged deal with the Germans, occupied and annexed almost half of Poland.

3. Katyn Massacre, 1940.

It is bad enough the Soviets attacked and enslaved their neighbor, Poland in 1939, but in order to better control the Polish people the Soviets, under the guidance of Joseph Stalin, murdered 22.000 leading Poles, including 8000 military officers, police officers and officials, government officials, and assorted intelligentsia deemed to pose a threat to Soviet occupation.  In 1943 the German Army, no longer allied with the Soviets, discovered the mass graves in the Katyn Forest of Poland and announced the atrocity by the Soviet Communists to the world.  Of course, as usual, the Soviets denied responsibility and blamed the Germans.  The Soviet Union denied responsibility for the massacre all the way until 1990 on the verge of the break up of the Soviet Union.  Russia later confirmed Soviet guilt for the murders.

4. Holodomor (Ukraine Famine), 1932-1933.

Quite possibly the worst of all the Soviet atrocities, this man-made famine killed somewhere between 2 million and 12 million Ukrainians (7 to 10 million are generally accepted numbers) in a genocide that far outstrips the Holocaust!  The Ukraine was the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, with vast farms of various grains.  The Soviet Army seized the harvest from the farmers and shipped the foodstuffs out of the Ukraine, leaving little for the farmers, their families, and other Ukrainians to eat.  This systematic starvation and weakening of the Ukrainian population was meant to stifle any movement toward independence by Ukrainians, that are a different nationality and speak a different (though similar) language from the Russians that ruled the Soviet Empire.  The Soviets refused to acknowledge the horrible event in any way until 1987, and even then the famine was largely either denied or claimed to be caused by natural events.  Only in the 21st Century has Russia (sort of) admitted the Soviets caused the terrible famine, but still deny genocide.

5. Mistreatment of German POW’s, 1945-1956.

During World War II, the fighting between the forces of Germany and the Soviet Union was brutal, and prisoners were mistreated and starved on both sides.  Both sides often shot prisoners without bothering to remove them to prisoner of war camps.  Soviets even sometimes imprisoned their own people that had been repatriated after being prisoners of Germany, or even shot, for having the audacity to have been taken prisoner in the first place!  Any regime this cruel to their own people could not be expected to treat enemy combatants with compassion.  The Soviets repatriated about 2 million German POW’s after the war, often not until years after using them as slave labor.  Another million or so German POW’s died in Soviet custody, from malnutrition, exposure, and overwork.  Of the 90,000 German prisoners taken at Stalingrad, only 5000 ever returned alive to Germany.  Soviet claims of only 300,000 or so Germans dying in Soviet custody are ridiculous.  The only mitigation for such illegal treatment of prisoners is that the Germans were likewise criminal in their treatment of Soviet prisoners and had massacred so many Soviet people that the Soviets were acting in revenge and rage.  (One estimate of 5.3 million Soviets taken prisoner by Germany, only 1.6 million returned to the Soviet Union alive!)

6. Great Purge (Great Terror), 1936-1938. 

Somewhere between 681,000 and 1,750,000 Soviet citizens were murdered under orders of paranoid and despotic dictator Joseph Stalin between 1936 and 1938.  Stalin and his tight circle of ruling communists feared plots and plans of coups or assassinations at every turn, and preemptively killed anyone they thought might possibly pose a threat to their own power and wellbeing.  Military officers, many of high rank, party officials, government officials, teacher, clerics, intelligentsia and others were scooped up by secret police and shot or gassed in mobile execution vans, often after being tortured for information.  This paranoid slaughter of educated people resulted in a severe deficit of military and scientific talent at the beginning of World War II, nearly costing the Soviets the war.

7. Rape of German Women, 1945.

When the Soviets were finally able to invade and conquer Germany, especially Berlin, in 1945, Soviet soldiers were encouraged by the highest-ranking Soviets to conduct a campaign of rape against German women and girls.  About 2 million of these State sanctioned rapes occurred in a concerted effort to terrorize and pacify the people of Germany.  Many of the rape victims were gang raped to the point of death, and many committed suicide after their ordeal.  Old age, young age, physical appearance and even being a nun were no exemptions to the Soviets mad with lust for revenge.  Men and boys attempting to defend their female relatives were often killed on the spot.  Many of the rape victims were impregnated and had back alley abortions, and many contracted venereal diseases from the rapists.  Needless to say, Soviet officials long denied the rapes.  Stalin himself is documented as having been a rapist of his own Soviet women, sometimes picking them at random off the street and into his limousine!  Stalin also tolerated the rape of German POW’s by Soviet guards!

8. Enslavement of Eastern Europe, 1939-1991.

Once World War II started, the USSR jumped on the land grab band wagon in a big way, starting with seizing their share of Poland in 1939.  During the war and at its conclusion, the Soviets annexed large chunks of Europe into their own country, such as the Baltic States (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania) and made puppet slave states out of much of the rest of Eastern Europe, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and East Germany.  Attempts at independence and relief from Soviet domination were brutally repressed.

9. Assassinations, 1917-1991.

The Soviet Union was eager to destroy enemies, and if those enemies were not conveniently located within the Soviet Union where they could be imprisoned or committed to a mental asylum, the Soviet secret NKVD and later KGB would just assassinate the person.  Starting with killing Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918, the Soviets assassinated numerous people, including Leon Trotsky (pictured), political rival to Joseph Stalin, killed in Mexico in 1940 by an ice axe to the head.  Another victim was Carlo Tresca, an Italian newspaperman, a Socialist and harsh critic of Stalin, killed in New York City in 1943 by an NKVD gunman.  Lev Rebet was a Ukrainian anti-Soviet politician that advocated independence for Ukraine living in exile in Munich in 1957 when a KGB operative killed him with a movie quality spy gadget, an atomizer spraying poison into the victim’s face.  Another victim of a KGB spy weapon was Bulgarian dissident writer, Georgi Markov, killed in London by a spy using an umbrella gun launching a Ricin (poison) pellet into the victim’s leg while walking past each other.  The pattern of killing perceived enemies of the Soviet Union was a well-known trait of the USSR.

10. Operation Ulussy, 1943.

Also known as the Kalmyk Deportations, the population of what had been the semi-autonomous state of Kalmykia was accused of being collaborators with the Germans during World War II and were sent to Siberia, where half of the nearly 100,000 Kalmyks (see above for a photograph of some Kalmyks) sent there died under brutal conditions.  Incredibly, the reality was that far more Kalmyks were loyal to the Soviet Union than those that collaborated with Germany, 8000 of which had been awarded military medals and 21 of which were made Hero of the Soviet Union. Even Red Army veterans were deported.  In 1956 surviving Kalmyks were allowed to return to their North Caspian homeland, and in 1989 the Soviet Union finally acknowledged that the Stalinist deportation of Soviet minorities, including Kalmyks, was an atrocity.

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The featured image in this article, a photograph by Hansueli Krapf of HL7442, the aircraft that was shot down, at Honolulu in 1981, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.