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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Stauffenberg And Us: Russian Lessons From The Plot To Assassinate Hitler

The Stauffenberg conspiracy against Adolf Hitler can help us reflect on how regime change can happen when an autocrat is in charge. Historian Thomas Weber writes that resistance to figures like Putin — not assassination plots — must come specifically from those loyal to the regime.

Stauffenberg And Us: Russian Lessons From The Plot To Assassinate Hitler

Russian President Vladimir Putin portrayed as Hitler at a pro-Ukraine rally in Simferopol in 2014

Thomas Weber*


In recent years, it has become fashionable to believe that the actions of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators offer no positive lessons for the 21st century. But 78 years after the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, on July 20, 1944, this view is no longer tenable – if it ever was.

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With Russian bombs falling down on Ukraine, Stauffenberg's spirit – and not his concrete actions – offers a lead into how Ukraine can be free again and how Russia can be welcomed back into the family of nations.

At a time when many Germans and other Western Europeans were under the illusion that they were living in a post-heroic age, the deeds of young patriotic officers like Stauffenberg became incomprehensible.

Admiration was increasingly directed to figures like Sophie and Hans Scholl, the Munich students who courageously wrote and circulated anti-Nazi pamphlets and paid the ultimate price for their deeds.

Stauffenberg and his friends, on the other hand, have been wrongly characterized as rats who abandoned the sinking ship: anti-Semitic and militaristic nationalists and Nazis who turned against Hitler only after the war was lost.

Never too late to do the right thing

In reality, both the Scholls and Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators are role models for the 21st century, albeit in different contexts.

The actions of Sophie and Hans Scholl inspire civil disobedience, the need to create social movements against the regime and to stand up — and not stand by — vis-a-vis tyranny and injustice. These are important lessons, though they are unlikely to bring about regime change.

Nor are similar actions of civil disobedience alone likely to end the war of aggression against Ukraine.

Precisely because Stauffenberg had put himself in the service of Hitler and his regime for years, the July 20 plot offers an inspiration for how both Ukraine and Russia can return to peace, dignity and freedom.

Stauffenberg is an example of how regime loyalists in Russia might listen to their conscience

Some of Stauffenberg's co-conspirators were former supporters of Nazism. They were loyal to the regime, either out of conviction or through compromise, and that is why the legacy of their actions is so timely today.

It takes pro-regime figures to turn against Putin and take action if we are to avoid a long and brutal war of attrition and years of misery, poverty and death.

That is why Stauffenberg is an example of how regime loyalists in Russia — and in all states that turn to tyranny — might listen to their conscience and initiate regime change. The message of the July 20 plot for regime loyalty in Russia is that you should follow your moral convictions and that it is never too late to do the right thing.

Black-and-white photograph of the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in July 1944

The aftermath of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in July 1944

Bundesarchiv Bild

Don't make Putin a martyr

To be clear, the lesson of July 20, 1944 for July 20, 2022 is not to assassinate Vladimir Putin. This would likely give Putin martyr status, making it more difficult to end the war in Ukraine and restore Russia to a respected member of the family of nations.

The lesson is to do everything possible to undermine the respective function of those loyal to the regime. For some, it will mean saying "nyet" to Putin and their own superiors when they receive immoral orders.

For others, it will be taking proactive decisions and actions aimed at undermining the Russian war effort and the Russian government structure wherever possible.

And it's about spreading the message that at certain times, defying orders is a moral and patriotic duty, and that the time has come.

The problem we still face, however, is that we know little about the mechanisms of turning regime loyalists against tyrants and how to inspire regime loyalists to do so. Therefore, beyond the war in Ukraine, we need to rediscover the 20th of July conspirators and their ethical considerations.

In doing so, we must ask ourselves, even more wisely than has often been the case in the past, why they turned against Hitler. We need neither hagiographies about them nor incitement against them. We need to understand their mindset and take seriously the ideas and beliefs that inspired their actions.

*Thomas Weber teaches history at the University of Aberdeen.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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