August 27, 2020

Putin Continues Victory Campaigns to Defend Historical Truth Using the Constitution

Victory Parade in Red Square, Moscow, 24 June 2020.
Victory Parade in Red Square, Moscow, 24 June 2020.

Moscow’s various propaganda campaigns to commemorate victory.

In May this year, the fourth of Russia’s large-scale propaganda campaigns addressed to domestic and international audiences entered the home straight.1 These three-year-long campaigns have been devoted to the 60th, 65th, 70th and 75th anniversaries of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. Events, celebrations and propaganda work have taken place under the leadership of dedicated committees. The campaigns began with the marking of Victory Day for the Battle of Stalingrad, followed by victories in subsequent battles, culminating in a new display of the Victory Parade on 9 May in Red Square. The end of the final campaign had to be changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the parade taking place on 24 June instead of 9 June, that is on the 75th anniversary of the original victory parade (24 June 1945).

The ideological doctrine applied in the Soviet Union regarded all kinds of campaign as a means for the ongoing mobilisation and control of the people. The disintegration of the Red Empire and the end of the Cold War gave the former Soviets an opportunity for a real assessment of the results of the so-called building of socialism and its contribution to world politics. Standing out among the others was the Red Army’s participation in destroying fascist Germany, the extension of which was instating the Soviet Union’s control over a whole group of nations. When the socialist bloc disappeared, Russia’s claim to its historical world mission began to sound hollow, but it remains true that, in the political struggles of the 1990s, those whose goal was the restoration of Russia’s military might prevailed in Moscow. The conception of a victorious nation and the liberator of other peoples, created during the Stalin–Brezhnev years, was a fitting ideological basis for such efforts, as well as for historical memory, which the revived campaigns began to nurture and propagate.

It has previously been explained in Diplomaatia that the strong-armed group that took office in the Kremlin in 2000 quickly enacted the future campaign.2 Because the idea was only to commemorate the victories achieved during the war, the first two years of military losses were omitted from the campaigns. Of course, there was talk of these years as well, but only in the spirit of gaining strength, until the new round-numbered anniversary of a victory year was announced and a new three-year plan began. All of these campaigns have been executed according to a firm plan and routine, while each has also added something new. The content of the 2013–15 plan was largely determined by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and its anticipated finish was celebrated by unexpected guest participants in the parade in Red Square. There have been other innovations: the march of the “Immortal Regiment” in 2010, its “virtual” enactment and artistic performances in May 2020, and so on.

Since the aim of the campaigns is to strengthen the Kremlin’s idea of the Second World War, they have led to protests in other countries from the start. As time passes, perceptions in Eastern Europe—once a battleground—and the rest of the world, of the beginning of the World War II in 1939–41, and the events of 1944–45, have begun to differ from Moscow’s. This has happened not only among historians, but also at governmental level, that is, national policy.

Indeed, the round-year anniversaries of the events at the beginning and end of the war fit nicely with the Kremlin’s three-year plan: in other words, the clashes between various versions were known in advance, before Moscow initiated each new campaign. It remains clear, however, that the fourth campaign, which has just ended, was at a particularly politicised time that saw the creation of tensions in international relations. In order to understand this, it is useful to recall all the three-year plans, in order to create a context for the topics that have emerged.

First Plan: 2003–5

As history would have it, two of the principal dissenting voices—Poland predictably, and Ukraine unexpectedly—contradicted the Kremlin’s first “our victory” campaign. The Baltic states also chipped in but, as happens in politics, serious things only begin to change when large countries and regional leaders begin to change them.

During the significant expansion of NATO and the European Union (March–May 2004), the governments representing the WWII Western coalition issued, for the first time (!), an invitation to Russia’s president Putin and Germany’s chancellor Gerhard Schröder to participate in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of Allied troops in Normandy. Understandably, this made it possible to foresee a return visit by the Western leaders to Moscow in May 2005.

This ostensible beginning of cooperation between the large countries was unexpectedly spoilt by Poland, which by that time—like Romania, the Baltic states and, at least partially, Ukraine—had adopted a new political-historical opinion about the beginning of World War II and the events of 1944–45. Front and centre for the Poles was the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising (1 August to 2 October 1944). The uprising was put down by the fascists while the Red Army stood on the opposite bank of the Vistula and did not come to the rebels’ aid. Polish leaders and media hoped that the Kremlin would undertake a critical reassessment of its actions in the war—participating in the destruction of the Polish state, the mass murder of 22,000 Polish officers at Katyn, etc.—by first addressing how it stood by and watched the Warsaw Uprising drown in blood. However, on 1 August 2004, Schröder and the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, were present in Warsaw, but president Putin did not come. The Kremlin had other plans.

An example of the mood prevalent among top Russian leaders is an article by Mikhail Margelov in Izvestia of 10 November 2004. Margelov, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of Russia, later made several visits to Estonia. When mentioning the victims of Katyn, he announced that Poland should first apologise for the “80,000” (actually 17,000) Soviet prisoners of war who perished in the camps where they were confined by Polish commander Józef Piłsudski following the failure of the Red Army onslaught in 1920.

Other Russian politicians spoke in the same spirit, at least until the second round of the presidential elections in Ukraine (21 November 2004), which was won by the Kremlin’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. The outcome of the outbreak of protests was the announcement of a third round of elections, which marked the beginning of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Party leader Viktor Yushchenko, who used that colour as a symbol, was elected president of Ukraine on 26 December. Now, instead of a single story of the Great Patriotic War—the Kremlin’s—there were two serious contenders: Poland and Ukraine. At that time, they were clearly allies (their disagreements about what happened in 1939–45 became problematic later, with the help of Russian propaganda).

Poland’s opposition immediately became one of principle because, on the basis of Putin’s earlier decree, the Russian Duma decided on 24 December 2004 that Unity Day would be celebrated on 4 November. This would replace the anniversary of the Bolshevik October Revolution (7 November). There were other dates to choose from, but they chose the date on which the people’s militia (Russian: народное ополчение) liberated Moscow from the Polish conquerors in 1612. Thus, if one considers 7 November a national event—the victory of one side in a civil war—then by establishing national Unity Day, Russia now had another memorial event, which in effect marked its victory over the forces of another country. Given the rapprochement between France and Germany, sealed by the Élysée Treaty in 1963, bringing the past into the present like this seems strange, but in the capital cities of Western Europe it was preferred. As often happens with respect to the Kremlin’s actions, it was decided to remain silent.

On the subject of Poland, it is worth adding that the Russian Military Prosecutors’ Office halted the investigation into the Katyn mass murder on 11 March 2005. Warsaw’s reactions included the choice of a man with a totalitarian past as Poland’s official representative at the parade in Moscow on 9 May 2005: army general Wojciech Jaruzelski, who had ruined his military reputation in Poland by declaring a state of emergency in 1981.

Second Plan: 2008–10

This cycle began traditionally, with the 65th anniversary of victory in the Battle of Stalingrad, but a new qualitative level and state of preparedness was demonstrated at the parade on 9 May. First, the Russian armed forces presented their new uniforms, which had been designed in consultation with the fashion guru Valentin Yudashkin; and second, new planes and rocket assemblies were on display. The West did not pick up on the latter signal. Although Putin had demanded in a speech in Munich on 10 February 2007 that Russia needed to be included in making significant decisions—and on 11 December Russia unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)—Europe’s big powers reacted by retracting their April 2008 proposal to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO. This was followed in turn by the invasion of Abkhazia by a Russian railway regiment. Leading Western nations—who years before had given China the right to hold the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and who, prior to attending the opening ceremony, began to condemn the human rights situation in China—were to be faced with total political failure. Upon their arrival in Beijing in August they had to deal with the news of Russia’s attack on Georgia. The West had no response to this event, while the completion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline was met by the French government’s decision in 2010 to build up to four Mistral-class helicopter carriers for Russia. This was in acknowledgement of the fact that Paris had acted as an intermediary in Georgia. Up to that point, no NATO member had judged the aggressor so mildly.

In the light of events in Georgia and Viktor Yanukovych’s victory over Orange revolutionaries in the new presidential elections in Ukraine in February 2010, Putin promised to change his tactics with respect to Poland. While five years earlier he had simply not attended, this time his arrival in Warsaw was preceded by an article in Gazeta Wyborcza on 31 August 2009 in which, as in his speech on 1 September, he stated that “no state can boast of having avoided deeds and decisions that have nothing in common with high morality”. In other words, what could be expected of Moscow if everyone else did the same! However, Putin condemned “making heroes of Nazi henchmen, equating victims with killers and calling liberators ‘occupiers’”.

At the end of the speech Putin condemned the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (MRP), but immediately changed the subject to the 1938 Munich Agreement, which had left Moscow no other alternative. It is worth adding that, during the preceding campaign, in an interview in Slovakia on 22 February 2005 Putin pointed out that, while the Munich accords had been signed by heads of state and government, the MRP had only been signed by foreign ministers.3 Putin’s confusing Poland trip took place in a context in which the new US president, Barack Obama, thought it possible—despite the war in Georgia—to try to implement a policy reset with respect to Russia (March 2009), culminating in his acceptance of an invitation to go to Moscow for the 65th commemoration of the victory. Not only that, on 9 May 2010, representatives of the forces of the US, the UK, France and Poland marched alongside Russian military units in Red Square, confirming that it had been a joint victory.

However, at the last minute, relations became strained, and president Obama, British prime minister Gordon Brown and French president Nicolas Sarkozy did not attend. Those who did go, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish deputy president Bronislaw Komorowski (replacing Lech Kaczynski, who had died in April) and Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, had to put up with the presence of the leaders of the puppet governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and viewing the marchpast of Russian troops who had fought in Georgia.

Third plan: 2013–15

The 70th anniversary of victory at the Battle of Stalingrad was celebrated in that city because, two days earlier, the Volgograd city Duma had unanimously decided that on six Great Patriotic War anniversaries each year, including that of the Battle of Stalingrad, the city would be known by that name.4 Though there were later proposals to permanently rename the city in Stalin’s honour, this decision remained in effect as a compromise. Putin himself did not take part in the opening ceremony of the new campaign but, in a speech on the anniversary of the Battle of Kursk on 12 July 2013, he announced that the 70th anniversary three-year plan was intended as a joint celebration of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Baltic countries, also including other wartime allies. He even spoke of creating a medal on the occasion of the joint 70th anniversary of the CIS countries, which was to be distributed to all those who had participated in the war. A CIS summit intended to confirm this proposal, and several other events, did not take place due to the outbreak of Euromaidan in Ukraine in November 2013. The fight for Ukraine began, and the attempt of those in power to change the orientation of the country’s development from Europe to Eurasia ended in February 2014 with a change of power by parliamentary means. (The Kremlin considers this unconstitutional and tantamount to a coup because only 328 of the legally required 336 votes in favour were achieved—although 400 representatives were present.)

An assembly in Kharkiv of 3,477 pro-Moscow delegates from all levels, including the chairmen of both foreign affairs committees of Russia’s parliament and three Russian governors, declared they had seized power on 22 February—before the new government in Kyiv took office. The principled and intense struggle for power was accompanied by a merciless war of words, taken one-for-one from the past 70 years. Suddenly, the objects of propaganda were no longer figures from the past, but people from the present carrying labels from the past.

The world could only sigh in amazement when the Kremlin propaganda machine presented the Kharkiv group as a wartime Ukrainian front (Russian: украинский фронт), which was opposed by a European front (Russian: европейский фронт), i.e. the “fascists” who had come to power in Kyiv; the term “fascist junta” was used, a borrowing from the fighting in Franco’s Spain.5

The unexpected and widespread use of the term “Kyiv junta” began at Putin’s initiative when he spoke at a national journalists’ forum in St Petersburg on 24 April 2014.6 Since the week before he had admitted that in the Crimea there were no “green men”, but rather soldiers from Russia, the use of “junta” can be seen as a concession to the Germans, who had to begin mediating the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Knowing the authorities Putin considered trustworthy, it is worth mentioning that a well-known geopolitician, Aleksandr Dugin, described the opposition as a junta on 29 March 2014 in an interview with Donetsk separatists.7 On 29 August 2014, Putin once again referred to those in power in Kyiv as “Nazis”.

Other vocabulary was also appropriated from the past. In the Donbass, a “People’s Defence Force” (Russian: ополчение) had sprung up, just as in 1612 and 1941, and so on. On 24 August 2014—Ukraine’s independence day—armed separatists forced captured Ukrainian soldiers to march through downtown Donetsk, and Russian television channels that broadcast the story added footage of captured German soldiers marching through Moscow in July 1944.8 On 8 September 2014, the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Donetsk from the Germans was celebrated, as well as the victory over Kyiv fascists in Ilovaisk.9 In other words, actions from 1944 and 2014 were sometimes melded together, and what was really happening was internal strife among Ukrainians carrying opposing labels. There was also open talk of dividing Ukraine, particularly after the explanations Putin himself gave on 17 April 2014 about “Little Russia” (the Donbass and the northern shore of the Black Sea), which had ostensibly always been separate from Ukraine.

Under the influence of the provocative behaviour of Moscow and the local separatists, as well as the loss of the Crimea, and in light of the results of the 2014 elections for the presidency and the Verkhovna Rada, an anti-Moscow version of World War II in Eastern Europe (1939–45) rapidly took effect in Ukraine. However, this version of the past contained significant contradictions.

Principled political decisions were quickly taken: in August 2014, 23 February—previously designated Defender of the Fatherland Day—was deprived of this status, and 14 October became Defender of Ukraine Day. This date has several sources, including the establishment of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in 1941. The UPA also fought against Nazi Germany, but its activities have been condemned by Poles and the Jewish community as well as by Moscow. A similarly controversial figure was Stepan Bandera, who president Yushchenko declared a Hero of Ukraine, a title that was cancelled by president Yanukovych and then restored by president Poroshenko.

As regards Poland, foreign minister Radosław Sikorski, along with his French and German colleagues, led the resolution of the crisis caused by Euromaidan (November 2013 to February 2014), and the discussion between politicians from Poland and Russia over the history of the Second World War continued from a distance during this three-year period.

On the basis of the foregoing, it remains difficult to assess Russia’s victory campaign in this period. It continued despite international sanctions, and the parade on 9 May took place in Red Square each year. The parade has also been called a carnival, because of the memorable display of the brightly coloured uniforms of visiting military units.

Behind Russian military units and technology, military units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia and Tajikistan marched across the square, as did guests from Mongolia, China (representatives from all three branches of the military) and India. Bringing together the Great Patriotic War and the Asian war in Moscow looked artificial, but it appeared that, thus juxtaposed, they could indeed demonstrate something in common. More precisely, this was the role of the martyr. Both Vladimir Putin and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, spoke from the grandstand, declaring that Russia and China suffered the greatest losses in World War II—one in Europe, the other in Asia.

Foreign visitors were represented by leaders from Latin America, Africa and Asia. However, Alexander Lukashenko was not among the few European leaders present; he was in Minsk watching his own parade, in which a US military band took part.

The next day, 10 May, Angela Merkel appeared, having flown to the Kremlin walls, and she and Putin placed wreaths on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, expressing regret at what had been perpetrated by Nazi Germany. At the press conference, Putin emphasised the economic cooperation between the two countries and the help of German companies in building facilities for the Olympic Games in Sochi. Both spoke of the restoration of peace in Ukraine,10 without a word about the war of labels which had broken out and which was to continue poisoning the general information space for years to come.

Fourth plan: 2018–20

The rather strange end to the previous campaign required a reformulation of the rules of the game, and Putin tried to do this using existing policies. His lightning visit to the UN General Assembly and his speech there on 28 September 2015 were unusual in several ways. First, Russian military aircraft had already landed in Syria in order to begin bombing the strongholds of the Islamic “caliphate” on 30 September. Immediately prior to this Russia’s president called for everyone to join a “coalition like that against Hitler” to fight international terrorism. The threat was serious, but everyone could see what was happening in Ukraine, and only a French military unit in the eastern Mediterranean joined the Russians for a few weeks. The idea of an anti-Hitler-type coalition was soon forgotten.

The second move that followed on the heels of the third campaign continued. Unlike his predecessors, Andrzej Duda, elected president of Poland in the summer of 2015, made his first foreign trip to Estonia, and this took place on 23 August, the anniversary of the MRP. Inevitably there was talk of history, and Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves had reason to state: “Poland is the only large state in Europe that understands mass deportations”.

It was not difficult to notice that, if Estonia’s Central Europe policy ended at the Lithuanian-Polish border, after that state visit these boundaries had been extended to the shores of the Adriatic and the Black Sea (Polish: Miedzymorzam).11

In February 2018, when Moscow embarked on its new three-year period of victory commemorations, the subject of Poland and the participation of Poles in World War II came up unexpectedly and from a new angle. In 2005, the world had decided at the UN that the Jewish people who perished at the hands of the Nazis—the victims of the Holocaust—would be commemorated on 27 January, the date in 1945 on which the Red Army liberated the victims of the Auschwitz death camps. Of course, this place was in (occupied) Poland, and the village also has a Polish name. Unfortunately, for years it has been referred to as “the death camp in Poland” or “the Polish death camp”, while Poland has continued to protest against these descriptions without effect. In fact, in these very camps, the Nazis had exterminated almost two million Poles. The USSR, initiator of World War II, had for years also hunted down Poles, viz the notorious decision regarding the deportations of 14 June 1941. If you add to the equation the events in Ukraine of 2014–15, it makes sense in a way that, when adding up the victims, in 2018 there began to be talk of a “Polocaust”, and a law was passed in Poland containing penalties for the incorrect use of words on the subject of genocide. Jerusalem, Washington and Moscow demanded the decision be annulled. Poland declined to open a museum dedicated to the subject and changed the law.12 The joint position of Russia and Israel on interpreting World War II is set out in a declaration by Dmitri Medvedev and Shimon Peres of 18 August 2009 to mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of war. This condemned attempts to deny the decisive role of the Soviet Union in the victory over Nazi Germany and in recognising the crime of the Holocaust, vowing to maintain strong opposition to attempts to distort the tragic events and the main outcome of World War II.13 In July 2017 the Israeli parliament decided to celebrate Victory Day with Russia on 9 May. The following year, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Moscow on that date, and marched with the “Immortal Regiment” next to president Putin.

Relations in the Poland-Israel-Russia triangle became tense in a new way in January 2020, when a monument commemorating the victims of the Leningrad blockade was unveiled in Jerusalem (this was originally planned for May 2019). Putin was invited to be the main speaker at the ceremony on 23 January. Polish president Duda, who was aware that Putin had not been invited to events in Poland commemorating the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, was not content with being a member of the audience, and did not attend, but was the main speaker at a ceremony at Auschwitz on 27 January. This new antagonism between leading political figures who participate in one event or another occurred immediately before the arrival of the pandemic in Europe.

Tensions arose over efforts to commemorate Russia’s victory campaign in the summer of 2019 when it became apparent that, despite setbacks in the previous campaign, the Kremlin had resolved to continue on a grand scale, that is, celebrating events that happened in other countries without their consent. The calendar of festivities included the organisation of 17 salutes in Moscow between April 2019 and May 2020 marking the anniversaries of the “liberation” of foreign capitals and cities. On 10 June, the Estonian foreign ministry was the first to summon the Russian Ambassador to protest the planned salute on the anniversary of the “liberation” of Tallinn (Latvia and Lithuania did the same a day later). Since Estonia had just been elected to non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, this protest had a new ring to it.

This newly won status also added resonance to the event on 22 September 2019 in New York, attended by the Estonian prime minister and foreign minister, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the flight into exile of Estonians (the “boats to the West”). This undertaking deserves broader recognition, because the escape across the stormy autumn sea to Sweden of 27,000–28,000 Estonians—who, based on their “memories” of 1940–1, did not want to be “liberated” again by the Red Army—is in itself an unprecedented event in the history of World War II. More than anything else, this life-endangering choice gives the lie to talk of the Red Army as the liberator of other peoples. It is therefore wise to differentiate between these “boat people” from Estonia and others those who left on ships: although the total number of 80,000 carries more weight, going to Finland or Germany is something else completely than getting out of the war by fleeing to neutral Sweden.

The New York gathering also marked the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, the human chain from Tallinn to Vilnius that directly pressured top Soviet leaders to recognise the existence of the MRP’s secret protocols. In April 2009, the European Parliament designated 23 August as the day commemorating Stalinism and Nazism. From that time on, this date has always been officially marked, particularly in those countries that the MRP directly affected: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. However, from the outset Finland has not participated in these commemorations. On 23 August 2019, the government of Moldova marked Black Ribbon Day for the first time. (In the secret protocols, the term “Bessarabia” means both Romania and Moldova.) This decision was made by the pro-European government of Maia Sandu,14 who had to share power with the pro-Moscow president, Igor Dodon, who ignored the ceremony. In November 2019, Sandu’s government was forced to step down, and Dodon appointed one of his own advisers to lead a new government. Thus no one knows what will happen in Chişinău on 23 August 2020.

Before the Kremlin was able to restore its position in Moldova, the newly elected European Parliament passed a resolution on 19 September 2019 entitled “On the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe”, which once again declared Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union (which had entered into the MRP complete with its secret protocols) the initiators of World War II. In other words, the EU remained strong and, in keeping with parliamentary custom, it was clear that similar documents would begin to be passed in many parliaments. (The Riigikogu approved a statement “On Historical Memory and Falsification of History” on 19 February 2020.)

Meanwhile the Kremlin, still banking on the success of its victory campaign and having obtained the promise of French president Emmanuel Macron to come to Moscow on 9 May 2020, embarked on a pre-emptive offensive. This explains Putin’s several references in speeches at the end of 2019 to the European Parliament’s resolution. His argumentative style—including, for example (in a speech on 20 December 2019, “the facts are only that Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939 and the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941” and that the Red Army “went/did not go” to Poland, where there no longer was a government—cannot be taken seriously. Neither can his comparison of the MRP with the Munich Agreement and earlier pacts; none of these resulted in war, but the MRP did.

The same arguments are deployed in Putin’s article of 19 June 2020 in The National Interest entitled “75th Anniversary of the Great Victory: Shared Responsibility to History and our Future”, which was heavily trailed in advance. From the perspective of a great power, the article claims that the Soviet Union carried out the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on the basis of an agreement and with the consent of elected representatives. In reality, the same happened as took place in the Crimea in February–March 2014: send the army in first and, with its support, organise a new government and elections.

Before this article appeared, Putin had taken an even stronger step: a rapidly formulated decision to amend the Russian Constitution in order to obtain the right to re-election. However, the amendments included the chance to incorporate statements such as “The Russian Federation honors the memory of defenders of the Fatherland and protects historical truth. Diminishing the significance of the people’s heroism in defending the Fatherland is not permitted [не допустается]” (section 67 (3)).15 The referendum in June–July 2020 naturally supported these positions, which cemented the Kremlin’s politics of force. On 24 June, the postponed Victory Parade took place in Red Square. In a short speech, Putin summarised the results of the Great Patriotic War as follows:

Having defended their homeland, they continued to fight. They liberated European countries from the invaders, put an end to the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust, and saved the people of Germany from Nazism with its deadly ideology. It is impossible to even imagine what would have happened to the world had it not been for the Red Army that stood up to defend it. Its soldiers did not want war, or other countries.

It was inevitable that the free world would be irritated by these words, for if Red Army soldiers really did not need other nations, they were necessary to the leadership of the Soviet Union and the Comintern. Liberation turned into conquest, and the new oppressors would not be expelled for another 45 years. For Eastern Europe this meant two generations of suffering and a lag in development.

Since Putin also mentions saving the Jewish and German peoples, it seems appropriate to end this article with French president Emmanuel Macron’s assessment of World War II. He did not go to Moscow himself, but he shared his thoughts at a joint press conference with Putin on 26 June. With regard to the ceremony in Moscow, Macron declared: “France honours the sacrifices made by the Soviet people during World War II: this amounted to the death of 27 million people, military personnel and civilians. We also wish to commemorate the people of Eastern Europe, who also suffered during this difficult historical period.” The French president continued that he knew how hard it was to protect the work on historical memory that French history researchers were engaged in. It was crucial to remember all those historical wounds and necessary to avoid instrumentalisation which might occasionally occur. This work must be done by the great nations.16


1 The fourth campaign began in 2018; previous ones covered 2003–5, 2008–10 and 2013–15.

2 See Toomas Alatalu, “The Lies Need to Be Answered”, Diplomaatia 185–186, February 2019, pp. 10–12.

3 “Russian historical propaganda in 2004-2009”, Warsaw: National Security Bureau, 16 September 2009, pp. 27–9, 13.

4 Andrew Roth, “Russia Revives the Namesake of ‘Uncle Joe’”, The New York Times, 31 January 2013.

5 The reference to the junta led by Francisco Franco in Spain in 1936–39 was a skilful propaganda manoeuvre, for Red Army fighters designated as volunteers fought on the Republican side; this was an open secret and was considered praiseworthy in the Soviet Union. Hence, calling those in Kyiv a junta primarily provided a “roof” for Russian military forces, whose fighting in the Donbass was accepted without question.


7 Anton Shekhovtsov, “Aleksandr Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism and the Russian-Ukrainian War” in Mark Bassin & Gonzalo Pozo (eds), The Politics of Eurasianism: Identity, Popular Culture and Russia’s Foreign Policy”. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, pp. 181–200 [196].

8 “Donetsk POW March: When Is A Parade A War Crime?” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 25 August 2014,

9 Tatiana Zhurzhenko, “Russia’s Never-Ending War against ‘fascism’: Memory politics in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict”, Eurozine, 8 May 2015.

10 “Meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel”. President of Russia, 10 May 2015,

11 This means “between the seas”, i.e. the area between the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea. Since the 1920s, Polish politicians and geopoliticians have considered activities in this area as a foreign-policy priority.

12 See Toomas Alatalu, “Moscow enters a decisive stage in subverting the history of its neighbours and World War II”, Diplomaatia 192, 22 August 2019, pp. 7–9.

13 “Dmitry Medvedev met with President of Israel Shimon Peres”, President of Russia, 18 August 18 2009,

14 “23 August declared European Day of Remembrance of victims of all totalitarian, authoritarian regimes in Moldova”, Moldpres, 21 August 2019,

15Zakon Rossiiskoi Federacii o popravke k Konstitucii Rossiiskoi Federacii.Odobren Focudarstvennoi Dumoi 11 marta 2020 goda”,



This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.

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