As more evidence concerning the buildup to Operation Barbarossa surfaces, historians are increasingly being forced to confront the case for a very politically incorrect conclusion about World War II.
Suvorov’s thesis can be summed up as follows: on June 22, 1941, Stalin was about to launch a massive offensive on Germany and her allies, within days or weeks. Preparations had started in 1939, just after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and had accelerated at the end of 1940, with the first divisions deployed to the new expanded Soviet borders, opposite the German Reich and Romania, in February 1941. On May 5, Stalin announced to an audience of two thousand military academy graduates flanked by generals and party luminaries that the time had come to “switch from the defensive to the offensive.” Days later, he had a special directive sent to all command posts to “be prepared on a signal from General Headquarters to launch lightning strikes to rout the enemy, move military operations to his territory and seize key objectives.” New armies were being raised in all the districts, with mobilization now reaching 5.7 million, a gigantic army impossible to sustain for long in peacetime. Close to one million parachutists—troops useful only for invasion—had been trained. Hundreds of aerodromes were built near the Western border. From June 13, an incessant movement of night trains transported thousands of tanks, millions of soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition and fuel to the border.
According to Suvorov, if Hitler had not attacked first, the gigantic military power that Stalin had accumulated on the border would have enabled him to reach Berlin without major difficulty and then, in the context of the war, to take control of the continent. Only Hitler’s decision to preempt Stalin’s offensive deprived him of these resources by piercing and disrupting his lines and destroying or seizing about 65% of all his weaponry, some of it still in trains.
Suvorov displays an impeccable knowledge of the Red Army, and an acute expertise in military strategy. Regarding Stalin’s intentions, generally very secret, he produces numerous quotes from the 13 volumes of his writings. He sifted through mountains of archives and the memoirs of hundreds of Russian servicemen. It is not exaggerated to say that the “Suvorov thesis” has revolutionized World War II history, opening a totally new perspective to which many historians, both Russian and German, have now added details: among Germans can be mentioned Joachim Hoffmann, Adolf von Thadden, Heinz Magenheimer, Werner Maser, Ernst Topitsch, Walter Post, and Wolfgang Strauss, who has reviewed Russian historians on the topic.
Suvorov’s thesis has also generated much hostility. His opponents fall into two categories. Some authors reject completely his analysis and simply deny that Stalin was planning an offensive. When considering the symmetrical concentrations of the German and Russian armies on their common border in June 1941, they interpret them differently: German concentration proves German bellicose intentions, but the same movement among the Russians is interpreted as proof of the incompetence of Soviet generals for defense....
Just like Suvorov, and with the same sources, McMeekin shows that, despite his tactical pretense at “socialism in one country,” Stalin was unconditionally devoted to Lenin’s goal of the sovietization of Europe. His analysis of the way Stalin baited Hitler into a war on the Western front with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is totally in line with Suvorov. McMeekin attributes the same significance as Suvorov to Stalin’s announcement, on May 5, 1941, that “we must shift from defense to offence” (to which he devotes his “prologue”). His interpretation of Stalin’s simultaneous self-appointment as president of the Council of People’s Commissars exactly echoes Suvorov’s: “From this moment forward, all responsibility for Soviet foreign policy, for peace or war, for victory or defeat, lay in Stalin’s hands alone. The time for subterfuge was over. War was imminent.” McMeekin repeats most of Suvorov’s evidence that Stalin’s war preparations were offensive and potentially overwhelming. He insists, like Suvorov, on the undefended air bases built near the border:
The most dramatic material evidence of more offensive Soviet intent was the construction of forward air bases abutting the new frontier separating Stalin’s empire from Hitler’s. The “Main Soviet Administration of Aerodrome Construction,” run by the NKVD, ordered the construction of 251 new Red Air Force bases in 1941, of which fully 80 percent (199) were located in western districts abutting the German Reich.
In view of the evidence, McMeekin believes that “the ideal launch date for the Soviet offensive … fell in late July or August.”
McMeekin even reinforces Suvorov’s argument that Hitler’s mobilization on the Eastern Front was a reaction to Stalin’s war preparations, rather than the opposite, by showing that, as early as June 1940, the Germans were receiving Intelligence reports that
the Red Army, capitalizing on the Wehrmacht’s concentration in the West, was preparing to march from Lithuania into virtually undefended East Prussia and German-occupied Poland. … On June 19, a German spy reported from Estonia that the Soviets had informed the departing British ambassador in Tallinn that Stalin planned to deploy three million troops in the Baltic region “to threaten Germany’s eastern borders.”
McMeekin uses the same archives as Suvorov, but never gives him credit for first bringing them into the light. The only exception is in a single endnote, where he mentions that one of Stalin’s reasons for believing that Hitler would not attack in June was that he had “learned, via spies inside Germany, that OKW had not ordered the sheepskin coats experts believed to be necessary for winter campaigning in Russia, and that the fuel and lubricating oil used by the Wehrmacht’s armored divisions would freeze in subzero temperatures.” The note says: “Not all of Suvorov’s claims stand up, but this one gels well with Stalin’s sanguine attitude toward reports of the German arms buildup.” In another footnote, McMeekin disputes Suvorov’s claim that Stalin ordered in spring 1941 the dismantlement of the “Stalin Line” of defense that would hamper the advances of his troops: it was not dismantled but simply “neglected”, says McMeekin, before adding: “Here, as elsewhere, Suvorov hurts his case by over-egging the pudding.” Such criticism would be fair, if McMeekin had also acknowledged the overwhelming mass of facts that Suvorov got right.
Apparently McMeekin thought it tactically wise, not only to snub Suvorov even when he proves him right, but also to endorse his most virulent opponent David Glantz (who, he says, was “right to emphasize how poorly prepared for war the Red Army was in reality”) even when he proves him wrong, with abundant evidence that in June 1941, the issue of the war “would be determined by who would strike first, gaining control of enemy airspace and knocking out airfields and tank parks.”
It is not difficult to guess the motive for McMeekin’s ostentatious contempt of Suvorov. Suvorov has crossed the line by suggesting that Barbarossa saved Europe from complete sovietization. Although he expresses no sympathy for Hitler, Suvorov agrees with him that, if he had not attacked first, “Europe was lost.” Suvorov has committed an unforgivable sin. It is an untouchable cornerstone of both Western and Russian historiography that Hitler is the embodiment of absolute Evil, and that no good whatsoever could ever have come from him. And so academic historians of the Eastern Front are expected to display their good manners by shunning Suvorov, and by not asking: What if Hitler had not attacked first? They must not suggest that Hitler ever told the truth, or that his military commanders were wrongfully hanged.
Well, if the price for bringing Suvorov’s revisionism into mainstream scholarship is to deny one’s debt to Suvorov, so be it. World War II historians must be smart: one careless phrase or reference can cost you a career and a reputation, as happened to David Irving (not in McMeekin’s bibliography, incidentally). Some obvious conclusions are better left for others to draw. There is no question that McMeekin’s book is a great achievement and it must be hoped that it will become a new landmark in the historiography of World War II.
I asked one historian and expert on Operation Barbarossa about Suvorev's thesis back in 2018, and while he, too, agreed that Stalin had plans to attack Western Europe, he doesn't believe that the attack was planned for 1941 and is highly skeptical of Suvorev's case for it.
But it doesn't really matter whether the attack was planned for 1941 or 1942, the conclusion is the same, as uncomfortable as it may make those who have assumed that Nazi Germany was the worstest evilist most invadery instigator that there ever was. I haven't read McMeekin's book yet, but you can be certain that I will do so in the near future, and I will share my thoughts on it.
Perhaps the most significant fact may be this: the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact gave two-thirds of Poland to the Soviet Union and one-third of it to Germany, despite the fact that Germany was reclaiming a sizable amount of Germany territory that contained German people, while the Soviet action was pure foreign conquest.
Of course, just to stack irony on top of irony, given the horrific state of Western Europe, it's possible that Hitler didn't save Europe by preventing Stalin from overrunning the entire continent, he left it to a worse fate by leaving it under the control of the neo-liberal world order. As awful as communism is for a nation, it's not anywhere nearly as destructive as free imports and free invasion.