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19 Jun, 2007 03:24

70 years since start of Red Army purge

It's been 70 years since Stalin's secret trials of leading Red Army commanders took place in Moscow. Marshall Mikhail Tuhachevsky and 7 others were tried by the Soviet Supreme court and executed on June 12th 1937, in one of the most controversial episodes

It is a history untold for decades. The remaining scraps of records challenge those trying to piece together what happened in June 1937 during Stalin's Red Army purges.

Marshal Tuhachevsky's trial is still an enigma. Was he an innocent victim of Stalin's early terror or did he live up to the accusations?

Without doubt, he was an ambitious commander. His aim: A unified tank base, chemical weapons and airborne forces. Tukhachevsky's big plans didn't find support among Red Army commander Klim Voroshilov and Josef Stalin.

“What is it that you want, Tuhachevsky was asked. The entire country is building socialism barefoot and you want to spend massive sums on building red militarism here,” Aleksandr Zdanovich, a Special Services historian, says.

He was often called the Red Bonaparte. The visionary marshal was proclaimed an enemy of the people and executed on June 12th 1937. His trial remained secret for decades.

In Lubyanka, the Secret Service headquarters, the FSB has the key trial documents in their possession. In the case of Tuhachevsky there is an inscription made by himself on May 26th 1937: “I confess the existence of an anti-Soviet military Trotskyst conspiracy and that I was in charge of it”.

The Supreme Court's verdict states conspiracy with Germany and Japan against the soviet people. 20 years later he was cleared of his charges and rehabilitated. So why did a distinguished marshal admit guilt in the first place?

“There is no historical mystery here. The circumstances in which the investigation was conducted speak for itself. Breaching the law, using physical force and psychological pressure, Marshall Tukhachevsky's confessions were extorted,” explained Vladimir Vinogradov, an FSB historical analyst.

But Tuhachevsky was not the only one. Later, over 70 Red Army commanders in a photo of 85 would vanish. Historians agree there was no planned conspiracy. Stalin's fear of political opposition within the military elite is the main historical explanation.

Another version is that Stalin made a decision based on Nazi-forged documents that compromised the military crest.

“The Red Army was one of the links in the repressions scheme facing the country at the time. And it was one of the most important ones: the army is the defence and the repressions damaged the defence ability and as a result USSR was not ready to defeat Nazi Germany in 1941,” commented Nonna Tarkhova, archivist.

According to some sources an estimated 30,000 military commanders suffered during the Red Army purge. Later came Moscow show trials when virtually all Bolsheviks taking part in the October 1917 Revolution were executed or sent to camps. As a result, Stalin enjoyed undisputable authority until his death.