why putin is right

in a long article published in this magazine last week, vladimir putin outlined his views on the reasons for the outbreak of world war ii. many western commentators rejected the article as biased propaganda. being a scientist who worked in moscow archives for a long time, and later served as a diplomat, i disagree with this.

to understand why, academics and diplomats must offer more creative responses. and to understand this, we need to ask four questions.

1. what did putin say and is there any truth in his words?

putin most of all wants to justify the molotov-ribbentrop pact, signed in august 1939, and thus remove from the soviet union responsibility for the beginning of the second world war. instead of this pact, putin proposes to pay close attention to the munich agreement of 1938 and to make the countries that signed it responsible. much has been written about the obvious mistakes in putin's article, outright reservations, and the selective use of sources. and while this is indeed worth paying attention to, the broader context is more important.

any knowledgeable historian can tell a lot more about the mistakes of great britain and france. for example, in his article, putin does not mention the anglo-german naval agreement or the 1935 chora-laval agreement, although both agreements undermined the foundations of collective security. few would argue with putin's assertion that “all the leading countries, to one degree or another, bear their share of the blame” for the outbreak of world war ii. in an interview on russian television in march, putin said with irritation: "let other countries then honestly say how they assess the behavior of their leadership in those days." apparently, putin does not realize that criticism of the policy of appeasing the aggressor is still the main topic of debate in the west. historians always choose, rank, and combine historical facts in different ways to formulate their arguments. however, no matter how serious their differences may be, they are never accused of “falsifying history,” as is sometimes the case in russia today.

the significance of putin's arguments boils down not so much to how much they correspond to reality, but to what exactly they can tell us about the views of the russian president and the state of relations between russia and the west.

2. why did putin write this article and what does it mean?

putin wrote his article in response to a resolution adopted by the european parliament last september, "on the importance of preserving historical memory for the future of europe." the second of the 22 paragraphs of the resolution condemns the molotov-ribbentrop pact, its secret protocols and the partition of eastern europe that followed the signing of the pact. contrary to putin's assertions, the resolution does not at all say that this particular pact provoked the outbreak of world war ii. it only says that he became the "immediate" cause. this key word was added to the text of the resolution after the consideration of its first version. it implies an understanding of deeper real causes. if this word were not there, putin would be right.

the european parliament has no diplomatic role. the adoption of this resolution was not followed, and only a few europeans noticed it. putin may well have ignored her. however, while he ruled a nuclear power, fought the spread of the coronavirus, and prepared to amend the constitution to stay in power beyond 2024, he decided to personally respond to the resolution. in december last year, in his lengthy speech to the leaders of the cis countries, he declared his desire to write an article in response to this resolution. he claims to have read a huge number of documents, including documents relating to relations between the soviet union and germany in 1939. the journalist aleksey venediktov, who has been watching putin for many years, is convinced that the style of the article betrays putin as its author. this behavior is unusual for a leader of a major power. the article shows that putin is not only proud of the role of the soviet union in world war ii, he is fixated on it.

why did putin do it? he claims he wants to defend the sacred memory of the soviet union's enormous sacrifice in that war. from his point of view, the claims that the soviet union was responsible for the outbreak of the second world war belittled this sacrifice. however, there is no contradiction between criticizing the actions of the state and honoring the dead. germany was defeated thanks to the soviet people and despite the actions of stalin. western leaders and diplomats have always respected the soviet citizens who died in that war.

некоторые обозреватели считают, что путину необходимо защищать память о второй мировой войне, чтобы обеспечить легитимность своему режиму. чем дальше эта война удаляется в прошлое, тем более выраженной становится ее роль в качестве опоры нынешнего режима, — отсюда и ужесточение контроля над мнениями и криминализация инакомыслия. тот факт, что сергей нарышкин, глава российской службы внешней разведки, является также председателем российского исторического общества, не стоит считать совпадением. однако статья путина была нацелена прежде всего на западную аудиторию. хотя она была размещена на официальном сайте кремля и ее обсуждали в россии, она была опубликована в крупном американском (не европейском) журнале.

3. почему европейский парламент принял эту резолюцию?

путин утверждает, что резолюция евросоюза представляет собой элемент «осознанной политики по разрушению послевоенного мироустройства». но правда все же является менее драматичной и более красноречивой.

во-первых, эта резолюция была принята далеко не единогласно: 20% членов европейского парламента проголосовали против нее. главным источником оппозиции — 24 из 73 голосов против — стало соединенное королевство. то есть 38% британских членов европейского парламента проголосовали против резолюции — это самый высокий процент несогласных среди всех стран, если не считать грецию и кипр. среди несогласных с резолюцией оказалась энн виддекомб (ann widdecombe), бывший государственный министр великобритании. не только западные историки спорят о причинах начала второй мировой войны. политики тоже это делают.

практически все члены европейского парламента, выступившие в поддержку этой резолюции, были представителями стран центральной и восточной европы. они обращаются к прошлому, потому что беспокоятся по поводу настоящего. они указывают на ужасы любого рода экстремизма, в том числе внутри европейского общества, потому что он может возродиться и стать «современной угрозой для демократии». зачем нужно было упоминать именно о пакте молотова-риббентропа? потому что эти страны боятся повторения истории.

они боятся именно россию — страну, которая оправдывает тот пакт, — а вовсе не германию, которая его осуждает. в резолюции говорится, что «российские власти отрицают ответственность за подписание того соглашения и его последствия». в мае министр иностранных дел сергей лавров попытался оправдать тот пакт, находясь на выставке, приуроченной к 80-летию его подписания. и его заявление оказалось далеко не единственным. когда российские посольства пытаются в социальных сетях оправдать оккупацию европейских стран во время второй мировой войны, они намекают на то, что однажды россия вновь может перейти в наступление. подобные карикатуры на публичную дипломатию не служат ничьим интересам.

as faulkner wrote, "the past never dies, it doesn't even pass." but russia, and now putin personally, are doing their best to keep him alive, and this only hurts them. this further undermines the credibility of contemporary russia and its intentions. ironically, it was the lack of confidence in the intentions of the soviet union that made the uk and france refuse to conclude an alliance with the ussr on the eve of world war ii.

4. what should the west say now?

think about how weird this episode turned out to be. putin misinterpreted an insignificant document and went to great lengths to write a critical answer, which can convince few people, but can further increase mistrust in russia. is there any way out of this situation? diplomats focus on where they can reach agreement. the west now has three things to do.

firstly, no matter how disagreements were about the reasons for the outbreak of world war ii and no matter how terrible the soviet regime was, no one can dispute the fact that it was the soviet union who made the greatest sacrifice in that war - the russians , ukrainians, belarusians, kazakhs and other peoples. it's about simple arithmetic. and the west must say this clearly and loudly. it will not require any special effort from him. and the european parliament may even pass another resolution.

secondly, putin insists that in assessing the war "it is fundamentally important to rely only on archival materials, testimonies of contemporaries, to exclude any ideological and politicized speculation." certainly it is. we all need to exchange more documents from more sources. in the case of the soviet union, this means that it is necessary to study the documents not only of the ministry of foreign affairs, but also of the central committee, politburo, nkvd and other elements of that system. in recent years, russia has made significant progress in the process of opening archives. in this sense, it should move forward, like other countries. it is a universal principle that applies to any historical question. therefore, it is necessary to stop persecuting historians, especially those who are trying to investigate the crimes of the stalinist regime. respect the sources. if the authorities disagree with this, let them explain why.

third, argue about history in its language. if you condemn the actions of a country in the past, this does not mean that it is guilty of the present. there is nothing wrong with honest criticism and should not be feared. today, many western countries are faced with the consequences of the horrors of slavery and racism. recognizing the past is hard and painful, but necessary. historical truth is not a game in which there can only be one winner.

this is how the west should react. he shouldn't look for the culprit and count the points. let's say this openly and honestly. a call to truth always sows its seeds. and if putin can hardly be persuaded, there are people who can be persuaded, and they will outlive him.

источник: national interest
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