Interestingly, there was an early group of Nazis who were much more sympathetic to the Russians. They were known as the Aufbau Vereinigung (Reconstruction Organization), and Alfred Rosenberg was a member of this group. However after the death of their most prominent member, Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, during the Beer Hall Putsch the organization declined and extreme Slavophobia became a cornerstone of Nazi racial policy. Of course, a TL where the Aufbau Vereinigung continues to exert power is a Notzi TL, and the butterflies mean that Barbarossa in it's OTL form wouldn't happen.Bending Nazi racial ideology only goes so far though. One can claim, as the Nazis did OTL, that the Croats were really Goths, not Slavs, and the Ukrainians were Crimean Goths, and one can add the Prussian or Swedish Balts to that as well, but if Hitler ever tried to claim the Belorussians and Russians were not Slavs, he’d be roundly mocked by his base.
Edit: after re-reading this, I think I should probably make super clear that none of the Nazi racial pseudoscience, either the initial claims or their bizarre exemptions, have any basis in sanity.
That’s an excellent point, a more lenient policy towards the Baltic States would certainly help facilitate a German strike at Leningrad. The only thing I’d say is that it would require a northern focus from the start rather than the centre which has major butterflies in itself but if the Germans were aiming to win over anti-Soviet populations such a strategic direction would arguably be prioritised.The interesting question is whether certain aspects might have been enough to just tip the balance elsewhere.
The Baltic States would presumably have been the most palatable to set up as puppet states (something-something-old Prussians mislead-something-something-Finland-something-something) and with, or without, something in Belarus could that have been enough to change the fate of Leningrad?
There’s definitely a lot of (potentially very large) butterflies here and whilst I don’t dwell on them in the article I’m glad you raised this point. When the Germans are stripping the life from the puppet states it’s likely they’re going to try and ease the burden by saying that at least the Russians will have it worse. I don’t think that this will take but you’re right that it likely would happen regardless even as the populations realise that they’re all being made to suffer.One interesting butterfly that would be created by Operation Barbarossa: WTF We Love Ukrainians Now:
The puppet governments are probably going to launch their own campaigns of genocide against the Russians, similar to how the Ustashe engaged in genocide against the Serbs IOTL. In the near future this probably won't effect the Soviet Union much. Given that most Ukrainians will eventually come around to the Soviet cause and join or sympathize with the partisans the Soviet leadership will be able to say "Yes, horrible things happened, but it's the fault of the Fascists rather than the Ukrainians/Byelorussians/Balts as a whole." However, when the Soviet Union starts to breakup the fact that these groups engaged in genocide against the Russians will make things infinitely more toxic and potentially violent. For example, it's possible that this could motivate Russians in the Baltic States to decide to form their own states/join Russia.
I can't remember where I first encountered the word kleptocracy to describe the Nazi system, but it does hold a certain amount of truth. When you're relying on the materials, goods and even men plundered from the East to keep churning out the material required for the eternal war on that front (and the ever increasing air war in the West); you can't just stop. To do so will see the wheels come off the whole thing. It's an ever gaping maw. The only way to feed it is attempt to push on, and extract as much from the land you roll over, whatever the nationality and sentiments of those living there. The fact that said people were considered subhuman helped, but that provides justification for something that was always going to be an economic necessity.One fascinating thing about reading Tooze's Wages of Destruction was that he showed Barbarossa was not a distraction from the war with Britain (and eventually with the US) but a (somewhat) rational attempt at continuing plundering Europe to be able to sustain the air war against the West. Well, about as rational as it made sense to try and knock out the American Pacific Fleet for the Japanese before embarking on conquering the whole of Southeast Asia. Considering the Nazi war machine was extracting every resource without care for what would befall local populations even in places populated by ethnic groups they did not deem too inferior such as the Netherlands and that they were still constantly forced to dip into their dwindling stocks, it's hard to see them being able to refrain from engaging in such mass-scale destroying and pillaging in the Soviet Union, since it was the entire point of the campaign. The Ostplan could have been held off for a few years but the strategic resources were needed then and stopping for even one moment meant the entire system falling apart.