The Vlasov Movement (Vlasovskoye Dvizhenie), or Russian Liberation Movement, designates the attempt by Soviet citizens in German hands during World War II to create an anti-Stalinist army, nominally led by Lieutenant-General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov (1900–1946), to overthrow Stalin. Vlasov gave his name to the movement and died for his role in it. He did not create the situation and had little influence over developments.
Vlasov has been interpreted both as a patriotic opponent of Communism and as a treacherous opportunist. The Vlasov movement illustrates the way in which Nazi policy towards the USSR was developed by the competing requirements of ideology and military expediency and the various agencies involved in policy.
The outbreak of war witnessed popular disaffection within the territories of the USSR. Many opposed to Stalinism hoped that the Germans would come as liberators. Hitler saw the war in racial terms, and his main aim was to acquire living space (Lebensraum).
A successful commander, Vlasov had impressed Stalin. Having fought his way out of the Kiev encirclement, he was appointed to repulse the German attack on Moscow in December 1941. In March 1942 Vlasov was made deputy commander of the Volkhov front and then commander of the Second Shock Army. For reasons that are still unclear, the Second Shock Army was neither strengthened nor allowed to withdraw. On June 24, Vlasov ordered the army to disband and was captured three weeks later. As a prisoner-of-war, Vlasov met German officers who argued that Nazi policy could be altered. Relying on his Soviet experience, Vlasov believed that their views had official sanction and agreed to cooperate.
In December 1942 the Smolensk Declaration was issued by Vlasov in his capacity as head of the so-called Russian Committee, and was aimed at Soviet citizens on the German side of the front. In response, Soviet citizens began to sew badges on their uniforms to indicate their allegiance to the Russian Liberation Army, which in fact did not exist although the declaration referred to it. In the spring of 1943, Vlasov was taken on a tour of the occupied territories and published his Open Letter, which attracted much support among the population. Hitler was opposed to this and ordered Vlasov to be kept under house arrest as there was no intention of authorizing any anti-Stalinist movement. Dabendorf, a camp near Berlin, became the main focus of activity. Mileti Zykov was particularly influential in developing some of the program at Dabendorf. Finally, on September 16, 1944, Vlasov met Heinrich Himmler, who authorized the formation of the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (KONR, Komitet Osvobozhdeniya Narodov Rossii). The Manifesto was published in Prague on November 14, 1944. Two divisions were formed, but Soviet soldiers already serving in the Wehrmacht were not allowed to join.
In May 1945, the KONR First Division deserted their German sponsors and fought on the side of the Czech insurgents against SS troops in the city. Vlasov wished to demonstrate his anti-Stalinist credentials to the Allies, but when it became clear that the Americans would not be entering Prague, the First Division was eventually ordered to disband. Vlasov was captured, taken back to Moscow, tried, and hanged as a traitor in August 1946. For many years, mention of Vlasov and the anti-Stalinist opposition was taboo in the USSR. Since the 1980s more material has been published. An attempt to rehabilitate Vlasov and to argue that he had fought against the regime—not the Russian people—was turned down by the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court on November 1, 2001.