Give or take 188,190 dead The Russian- and English-language versions of Vladimir Putin’s big WWII essay cite different casualty counts for one of the Red Army’s costliest campaigns
Last week, ahead of Moscow’s parade honoring the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany, Vladimir Putin released an article about the start of the Second World War. The English-language text appeared on June 18 in the relatively obscure American journal The National Interest (Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insists that it is “a very serious publication”), and a day later a Russian version of the article was printed in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian state’s official newspaper of record.
Alexander Sergeyev, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, praised the president’s essay, saying it’s “not only political and popular analysis, but also largely scholarly.” Alexey Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy and the founder and publisher of the historical journal Dilettante, has rejected this assessment, saying the only new and significant information to be found in Putin’s article are the exact figures he offered for losses during the Battles of Rzhev.
The Battles of Rzhev comprised a series of operations mounted by the Red Army’s Kalinin and Western Fronts against Germany’s Army Group Center to the west of Moscow, near the city of Rzhev. The Wehrmacht occupied the area in October 1941 and the most active fighting occurred from January 8, 1942, until March 31, 1943. Soviet troops tried to build on the counterattack that repelled the Germans from Moscow, but they found themselves completely surrounded by superior enemy forces by the spring of 1942, which led to the deaths of more than 1 million Red Army soldiers. Another two attempted offensives that year brought only relative success, and the Germans didn’t retreat until March 1943.
Meduza has discovered that not even Putin’s figures for the Battles of Rzhev are without problems. The two versions of the president’s essay — the English-language text published in The National Interest and the Russian-language text that appeared in Rossiyskaya Gazeta — cite different Soviet losses in this fighting: 1,154,698 people (The National Interest, archived copy) versus 1,342,888 people (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, archived copy).
In other words, somewhere between The National Interest and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, an additional 188,190 dead Soviet soldiers materialized. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s own website (both its English-language and Russian-language versions) cites the same higher number that was published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
In both versions of the text, President Putin says his numbers come from “archival sources” and notes that the figures are “far from complete.”
Update (June 23, 2020): Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified to Meduza: “I’ll explain this mistake to you. The issue, you see, is that the article was sent to The National Interest a few days earlier, but the archival work to get the exact casualty count continued basically until the authentic Russian text was sent for publication. So the figure sent to Washington was simply changed to reflect the data clarified in our archive by [Federal Archival Agency head Andrey] Artizov. So, yes there are indeed different figures there, but the numbers published in Russian are more complete and currently more comprehensive.”
Translation by Kevin Rothrock