The history of the Red Army (2/2) | DW Documentary

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After the Second World War ended, the glory of the Red Army waned. Then, as the Cold War raged, Khrushchev burnished the army’s reputation once more. But from then on, the army had a purely repressive function.

After World War II, the Red Army’s activities were primarily directed against popular uprisings in the USSR's sphere of influence. These were brutally put down. Today, the Red Army is primarily a symbol of nostalgic nationalist aspirations.
Following the victory over fascism in the summer of 1945, nine million Soviet soldiers returned home. But prisoners of war who had survived the German camps were often accused of treason when they finally reached their motherland, and sent to gulags. Others were forced to beg, as their war pensions were cut, or found themselves banished from major cities. Stalin had decided to put an end to the glorious days of the Red Army, after the victory against Hitler's Germany. As the Cold War began, the Red Army‘s only function was to maintain public order and security.
But after Stalin's death in 1953, the cards were reshuffled. The new strongman Nikita Khrushchev had gotten rid of his rival, interior ministry chief Lavrenti Beria, with the help of the Red Army. After taking power, Khrushchev initiated a program of de-Stalinization. He appointed Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who had fallen out of favor with Stalin, as defense minister. Khrushchev then reorganized and modernized the Red Army. He restored its prestige and reintroduced a pension for wartime service.
With the support of Soviet tanks, the Red Army was instrumental in bloodily crushing the uprisings in Poland and Budapest in 1956 and in Prague in 1968. And they played a role in the ongoing Cold War battles being waged with the West.
By the 1970s, the living conditions of Red Army soldiers had deteriorated drastically. Many conscripts tried to avoid military service. But there was often no escape from the nightmarish mission in Afghanistan. The Red Army was increasingly weakened and demoralized as dislike for the Soviet system grew. In 1989, ten years after the conflict in Afghanistan began, President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the Red Army to withdraw from that country and bring its soldiers home. This defeat played a role in the disintegration of the USSR, which took place in the wake of Gorbachev’s resignation on December 25, 1991.


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