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General Vlasov in front of the soldiers of Nazi collaborationist Russian Liberation Army, 1943 General Vlasov in front of the soldiers of Nazi collaborationist Russian Liberation Army, 1943

16 September

On September 16, 1944, the German Nazi leaders commissioned former Russian Red Army General Andrey Vlasov to command the “Russian Liberation Army” (also known as ROA) with its main goal of overthrowing the Communist regime.

Vlasov's army was comprised of Soviet prisoners of war and anti-communists. It was completely organized and sponsored by the Nazis and totaled almost 50,000 troops near the end of World War II.

In the years before the war, Vlasov was a typical Soviet general – devoted to Lenin, Stalin and the Communist Party. He received distinction for his efforts in the Battle of Moscow (October 1941 – January 1942), was promoted to lieutenant general and awarded the Order of Lenin. However he abandoned his army and defected to the Germans when his unit was surrounded late in 1942.

Despite having been officially formed to free Russia from the Bolsheviks, the ROA was never deployed to the front and did not see action against the Red Army until 1945. Instead, they carried out various non-combat duties as part of the Nazi’s propaganda. Eventually the ROA turned against the Germans in May 1945 and fought alongside Czech insurgents to support the Prague uprising against the German occupation.

At the end of the war, Soviet authorities demanded Vlasov’s return in accordance with repatriation agreements reached at the Yalta Conference. In August 1946, the Soviet Supreme Court condemned Vlasov as a “German collaborator” and an “enemy of the Russian people” and imposed the death penalty on him the same day.

There has been some controversy surrounding the personality of Vlasov recently. Earlier in the year, a synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad recognized him as a fighter against Bolshevism and not a traitor. Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Great Britain declared that Vlasov was fighting against the Soviet regime and freedom for all Russia.

Many do not agree, however. For example, Professor Andrey Kuraev is convinced that the symbol of the anti-communist movement has to be someone more worthy than a person who had betrayed his oath of loyalty three times. Kuraev believes that “The struggle against communism is a good thing, and this anti-communist movement has to have a hero, but if we think that it was people like Vlasov, then that just compromises the whole idea of the fight against communism…he swore allegiance to the Tsar family, then the Red Army, and had broken both these oaths. He later swore to Hitler and again broke it, so he is a traitor three times.”