Russia shows Soviet WWII hero's banned interview
Russia on Wednesday broadcast for the first time a television interview with a legendary World War II commander banned by the Soviet Union for its frank admissions over how close the USSR came to defeat.
In an interview unseen since it was recorded in 1966, Marshal Georgy Zhukov acknowledges the Soviet Union risked losing the war in 1941, complains about poor planning and reveals details of his exchanges with wartime leader Stalin.
Its broadcast comes ahead of a huge parade on May 9 watched by world leaders to mark the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and as Russia appears to be cautiously eroding several taboos surrounding its war victory.
Zhukov reveals that Soviet generals did not have complete confidence in October 1941 that the Red Army could hold the Wehrmacht at the Mozhaisk defence line outside Moscow and prevent them smashing through into the Soviet capital.
"Did the commanders have confidence we would hold that line of defence and be able to halt the enemy? I have to say frankly that we did not have complete certainty.
"It would have been possible to contain the initial units of the opponent but if he quickly sent in his main group, he would have been difficult to stop," he told the interviewer, the prolific Soviet writer Konstantin Simonov.
Zhukov related in the interview, broadcast on state-run Channel One, how a flu-struck Stalin summoned him to Moscow in October 1941 to salvage what until then had been a stuttering defence on the Western front outside Moscow.
"I arrived in Moscow in the evening and immediately went to Stalin's apartment. Stalin was sick with the flu but was working.
"He showed the map of the front and said 'look how the situation has turned out on the Western front. I cannot get hold of a single clear report about what is happening at the moment. Where are our troops?'"
After arriving at the front, Zhukov said he found that the defences that had been put in place until then were "absolutely insufficient".
"It was an extremely dangerous situation. In essence, all the approaches to Moscow were open," he said. "Our troops on the Mozhaisk defence line could not have stopped the enemy if he moved on Moscow."
"I telephoned Stalin. I said the most urgent thing is to occupy the Mozhaisk defence line as in parts of the Western front in essence there are no (Soviet) troops.
Shortly afterwards, Stalin phoned Zhukov back to inform him he had been made commander of the Western Front.
The relationship between the two men would end in acrimony when Stalin became suspicious of Zhukov's popularity after the war, giving him obscure posts in Odessa and the Urals, although he was never arrested.
Zhukov had been given the honour of leading the Red Army victory parade in 1945, riding into Red Square on a white stallion and some historians believe Stalin jealously feared he was being upstaged by the charismatic general.
After Stalin's death, Zhukov served as defence minister but remained a controversial figure and the Soviet authorities ordered the tape of his interview with Simonov to be destroyed. However one archive copy survived.
Ultimately, Russia's notorious weather played a major part in the defeat of Nazi Germany but the Wehrmacht "overestimated themselves and underestimated Soviet troops," said Zhukov.
In giving the reasons for the Soviet victory, Zhukov makes no mention of Stalin, who was taken unawares by the Nazi invasion of Russia.
Russia has in recent months made tentative moves towards greater openness over the war's history, notably putting online documents about the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet forces in 1940.
© 2010 AFP