Vladimir Putin was born seven years after the tip of the second world warfare, and raised on the Brezhnev-era fantasy of the good victory. A person of no nice training, he beloved to cite Soviet movies and outdated tales. The historical past books portrayed the “great patriotic war” as a magical fable through which the hero – the Russian folks – vanquishes a monster, to the envy of the entire world. In this fantasy there was no room for most of the precise information of warfare, such because the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, the warfare with Finland, the occupation of the Baltics. The fantasy ignores the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles. It glosses over the Rzhev marketing campaign of the winter of 1942-43, through which the Soviet military sustained horrible losses, preferring to dwell on the storied victories of Moscow and Stalingrad.
The fantasy, celebrated immediately on Russia’s Victory Day, has change into the important narrative underpinning Putin’s plan to rule Russia eternally.
There got here some extent when Putin resolved to remain in energy indefinitely. Elections would come and go, and he would lie that they’d be his final, that he had no intention of fixing Russia’s 1993-era structure, which offers for a most of two consecutive phrases. His first technique for everlasting rule was to permit residents to change into rich, because the nation grew to become richer than it had ever been within the second half of the 2000s. But when progress stopped, with a lot of the wealth captured in a couple of arms, he needed to flip to propaganda. He started to invoke a way of “traditional values” to reinforce the notion of his paramount significance to Russia – the indispensable chief who was the one defence for Russians in opposition to westernisation and dissolution within the sea of European peoples.
And Putin got here to imagine his personal propaganda – that he now had a particular historic mission to create a Greater Russia. Not fairly a brand new USSR, as a result of nobody was about to rebuild Communism, or invent some new ideology or recolonise Central Asia in order to safe good low cost labour for the Russian financial system. Greater Russia fancied itself because the world’s third large energy (together with the US and China). And if the rival US had the EU as its satellite tv for pc then Greater Russia would want its personal sphere of affect. Putin’s “traditional values” primarily boiled right down to homophobia and the cult of army victory. It shortly grew to become clear that persecuting homosexual folks didn’t actually quantity to a sturdy technique for the everlasting rule of a robust chief. The cult of victory was all that was left.
The image slowly took form. The operetta of Russian militarism grew out of TV propaganda, the place quite a few “experts” started to talk of how we had been the strongest on the planet, nobody may order us round, our rockets may circle the world a number of occasions and destroy anybody we needed. It was ridiculous, however Putin’s speeches slowly started to sound increasingly like these of the late neofascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He spoke much less and fewer about boring issues like financial improvement, however actually lit up when speaking about new “unparalleled” sorts of weapons. “We can do it again,” grew to become the principle slogan of Putin’s Russia, a transparent reference to the truth that Russians defeated Nazism within the second world warfare, and imagine they will do it once more.
Putin has received 4 presidential elections, however a fifth is looming in 2024. Covid took a heavy toll in Russia and the financial system has slumped, so Putin’s choices are few. In his thoughts, his greatest strategy to maintain on to energy is a repeat of the good victory. A symbolic march-past on 9 May wouldn’t be sufficient; they’d have to fill the picture with blood.
And so that they tried to “do it again”, orchestrating Europe’s largest tragedy since 1945. The warfare is the world’s first to have been straight invented by TV. It additionally feels just like the second when the Soviet Union really fell aside, as a result of Russia, as inheritor to that empire, can’t come by way of this disaster with all these Soviet myths about victory nonetheless intact. We shouldn’t be shocked that almost all Russians have purchased into this and are detached to the army crimes being dedicated in Ukraine. It’s not simply that they don’t get the total image due to the obliteration of journalism and social media. It’s that in the event you cease believing the propaganda, you then not can imagine in a Russia of conventional values, a victory-day hero nation. All that’s left is a wild particular person wandering by way of the ruins of a militarised kleptocracy, carrying a nuclear suitcase in his hand. And who desires to imagine in that?
Who are we, and the way did we let this occur? It’s scary to reply this query. Russians will maintain on to their myths till the final. In the meantime, they’ve their army parade, their victory day swoon, the opiate of the plenty.