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Chief Culprit: Stalin's Grand Design to Start World War II

Viktor Suvorov, military historian and former intelligence officer, GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Army)

Date & Time

Feb. 3, 2009
1:30pm – 3:30pm ET


In his latest book, The Chief Culprit: Stain's Grand Design to Start World War II, Viktor Suvorov, military historian and former intelligence officer, GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Army), probes newly released Soviet documents and reevaluates existing historical material to analyze Stalin's strategic design to conquer Europe. In discussing the book at a recent Kennan Institute lecture, Suvorov contradicted traditional theories about Soviet planning before the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 and argued for a revised view of Stalin's real intentions behind his controversial support for Nazi Germany.

According to Suvorov, Stalin's strategy leading up to World War II grew from Lenin's belief that if World War I did not ignite the worldwide Communist revolution, then a second world war would be needed to achieve it. Suvorov claimed that Stalin saw Nazi Germany as the power that would fight and weaken capitalist countries so that Soviet armies could then sweep across Europe. Suvorov believes that to this end, Stalin conspired with German leaders to bypass the Treaty of Versailles, which forbade German rearmament, by secretly training German engineers and officers and providing bases and factories for war.

Suvorov explained how his book seeks to debunk the theory that Stalin was duped by Hitler and that the Soviet Union was a victim of Nazi aggression. Instead, he held that Stalin neither feared Hitler nor mistakenly trusted him. He also challenged the widely held assumption that the Soviet army was ill-trained, ill-equipped, and poorly led. He argued that the Soviet army possessed a great deal of high quality weaponry and that it had been primarily trained for an offensive war. If the Soviet army had planned for a defensive war, Suvorov asserted, then they would have entrenched themselves behind secure lines and left themselves sufficient room to slow invading forces and launch a counteroffensive.

Instead, Suvorov demonstrated that the opposite was done. He pointed out that the 1939 nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union in Germany allowed Hitler to proceed with his plans to invade Poland, which not only provoked war in Europe, but created a common border and eliminated any potential buffer zone between Soviet and German lines. Additionally, Suvorov showed how Soviet forces kept key bridges intact and built supply and ammunition caches and airbases closer to this new shared border. He also drew attention to how Soviet forces were concentrated in narrow strips of land which penetrated deep into enemy territory, noting that such a strategy was not characteristic of a country on the defense.

Suvorov maintained that after Germany occupied Poland, defeated France, and started to prepare for an invasion of Great Britain, Hitler's intelligence services detected the Soviet Union's preparations for a major war against Germany. This detection, he argues, led to Germany's preemptive war plan and the launch of an invasion of the USSR. Suvorov claimed that this was the only move that Stalin was not expecting, since he believed that Hitler would not attack the USSR as long as Great Britain was still fighting. Regardless, Stalin was able to continue the war due to his preparations, Suvorov concluded.

Written by Sarah Dixon Klump


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Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

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