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Territorial War Aims and Soviet Prisoner Abuse in Comparative Perspective

Despite the infamy attached to the killings of Polish officers in spring 1940, the role played by territorial motives becomes even clearer when considering the Katyn massacre in light of the treatment of prisoners by the Soviet Union in other conflicts around the same time. At first thought, there might appear to be little to compare other than a series of unending depravities and suffering for those prisoners unlucky enough to fall into Soviet hands. Even though the Soviet Union was certainly extremely brutal at home, the previous section showed Communist Russia was not inherently disposed toward treating captured enemy combatants in similar ways. Soviet conduct during its several wars of the interwar period and in the years of the Second World War demonstrated a remarkable range of behavior toward prisoners. While there are certainly instances of horrific violence outside of Poland, Soviet captors exhibited impressive restraint during wars against such disparate adversaries as China and Finland. As with the fate of the officers at Katyn, the motives pursued by the Red Army during the conflict would have an enormous bearing on how prisoners would be treated.

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