Biden draws flimsy parallels between Ukraine war and WWII

Despite Biden using the occasion marking 80 years since D-Day to praise Kyiv's "bravery" in fighting Moscow, the two wars have little in common—except maybe how Russian forces were underestimated.

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech as US WWII veterans look on during the US ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II "D-Day" Allied landings in Normandy, France, on 6 June 2024.
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech as US WWII veterans look on during the US ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II "D-Day" Allied landings in Normandy, France, on 6 June 2024.

Biden draws flimsy parallels between Ukraine war and WWII

The month of June carries plenty of World War II memories in Europe and beyond. Paris famously fell to the Nazis on 14 June 1940, and on 22 June 1941, Adolf Hitler began his catastrophic invasion of the Soviet Union. The first event undoubtedly inspired the second, as the Fuhrer expected the USSR to fall swiftly, just like Poland had done in 1939, followed by France in 1940.

Nothing to date had stood in the way of Hitler’s army, except perhaps the waters surrounding the island of Great Britain, forcing him to strike at it from the skies, destroying plenty without ever invading or occupying. The French put up very little resistance in Paris, ostensibly to spare the city from certain destruction at the hands of the Nazis. The French Command had famously claimed that no valuable strategic result “justified the sacrifice of Paris.”

Very few policemen were on the streets when the German army marched down the Champs Elysees on 14 June. The only authorities left in the capital were the cardinal, the archbishop, the prefecture, firemen, and officials of the essential services.

On 28 June 1940, Hitler set foot in the occupied French capital for the first and last time. His tour would last for just less than three hours, during which he spent 50 minutes at the Opera Garnier and then stopped at the Le Madeleine, the famed Catholic Church that seemingly did not impress him. He then headed to the Place de la Concorde, making a brief stop at the Champs Elysees and underneath the Arc de Triomphe. At the Trocadero Square, he took a photo with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background, an image that became synonymous with the Nazi occupation of France.

This file photo taken on 23 June 1940 shows Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (C) having his photo taken, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with Nazi architect Albert Speer (L) and sculptor Arno Breker during World War II.

This occupation came to an end on D-Day, with the Allied landing on Normandy on 6 June 1944, otherwise known as Operation Neptune. More than 150,000 Allied forces were involved in the operation, which triggered the liberation of France and, soon after, the rest of Western Europe.

Last week, world leaders assembled in France to commemorate D-Day, headed by US President Joe Biden, the only person to have actually been alive when the landing took place 80 years ago. Even the elderly King Charles was born four years later. They all gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation as Biden drew parallels between World War II and the Ukraine War that was launched in 2022.

“Autocrats of the world are watching closely to see what happens in Ukraine,” he said, vowing that the United States will not allow the subjugation of Ukraine. “It will not end there; Ukraine’s neighbours will be threatened. All of Europe will be threatened.”

One visible absentee from the D-Day event was Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country played a key role in securing the Allied victory against Hitler. Apart from moving tanks on European oil and causing major death and displacement, the similarities between Ukraine and World War II are not as strong as Biden would like them to appear.

Operation Barbarossa: Lessons missed

For starters, during World War II, Russia was allied with the United States and Great Britain, fighting on the same front against Nazi Germany. Joseph Stalin had rubbed shoulders with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Tehran (1943) and Yalta (1945), sipping vodka while laying out the new world order.

Throughout the war, Russia was regarded as a victim rather than an aggressor, making American and British mainstream newspapers rather sympathetic to its plight and blind, or at least temporarily muzzled, to Stalin’s many shortcomings. Operation Barbarossa was launched with the dual objective of eradicating communism and occupying western Russia, thereby securing oil in the Caucasus and agricultural reserves in Ukraine.

Hitler mobilised no less than 3.8 million military personnel for the operation, making it the largest invasion in the history of modern warfare to date. More than 3 million Russians were taken prisoner and starved to death or killed.

However, it also turned out to be one of the most ill-advised. Much like what happened with Ukraine in 2022, Hitler underestimated the Russian people’s fighting resolve while overestimating the capabilities of his own forces. He failed to anticipate how many Russian lives Stalin was willing to sacrifice in return for nothing less than a complete victory.

Hitler underestimated the Russian people's fighting resolve while overestimating the capabilities of his own forcea lesson NATO seems to have forgotten.

Germany was not prepared for a war of attrition, just like Western Europe was not prepared for one in Ukraine. A total of 148 divisions, or roughly 80% of the German army, were committed to the operation, armed with 3,400 tanks and 2,700 military aircraft. For his part, Stalin had 5 million people in uniform and a total of 23,000 tanks.

On the first day of the invasion, 1,800 of his aircraft were destroyed, mostly on their tarmacs. By September 1941, Kyiv had fallen, and 650,000 Russian troops had been killed or taken as prisoners. The Germans pushed along the Black Sea coast and, in October, took Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine. They managed to surround Leningrad and cut it off from the rest of the country, but they did not have enough troops to take over the city. Hitler ordered that it be starved into submission—a siege that would last for 890 days.

The Russian winter

On 2 October 1941, Hitler ordered his forces to advance on Moscow, believing that the Russian army would fail at defending the capital. A multi-layered ring of enforcement had been set up around the city, and its population had been fully mobilised and militarised. Then came the one enemy that Hitler was completely unprepared for: the Russian winter.

Figuratively speaking, the Russian winter to Hitler was what the Gaza war was to Zelensky; one shifted battlefield dynamics while the second turned the world's attention away from Ukraine. The forests, marshes, and rivers had slowed the Nazi offensive during the summer months before the freezing Russian winter crept in.

On 30 November, German officer Fedor Von Bock reported that the temperature was -45 °C. German soldiers had entered the war in June with light summer clothes, never expecting it to last until the terrible winter. The Russians, on the other hand, were used to the weather and more prepared.

German tank lubricants froze, vehicles needed hours to be warmed up, and rain turned the dirt roads into rivers of mud, incapacitating tanks and all horse-drawn transport. When the snow came in, it completely paralysed the Nazi army, forcing Hitler to temporarily halt the campaign, giving the Russians enough time to reinforce.

When the attack on Moscow resumed on 15 November 1941, only 135,000 out of 600,000 German trucks were available for battle, and still no winter clothing. The Soviets launched a massive counterattack on 5 December (they knew the terrain far better than the Germans), and on 7 January 1942, the entire operation was halted. Hitler lost the battle at a cost of 830,000 men. Stalin's death toll stood at an estimated 8 million.

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