Published by the National Interest on Thursday, Putin’s text revisits some of the lesser-known historical facts to address narratives increasingly popular in the West – including the claim that the Soviet Union was as much to blame as Hitler’s Germany for starting the war, or that it was somehow the Western Allies who won the war, while the overwhelming Soviet contribution is erased entirely.
Putin’s essay is more than a polemic about history, however. While he does seek to set the record straight, the Russian president also offers an important reason why he is doing so. Historical revisionism “grossly and cynically distorts the understanding of the principles” set forth in 1945 by the Allied powers, on which the current international order is based, he argues.
Now that order is under attack – not by Russia, as Western powers continuously claim, but by the West itself – through historical revisionism about the origins of WWII, erasure of memory, destruction of monuments and even celebration of Nazi collaborators.
Examples abound, from last year’s declaration by the European Union that Nazi Germany and the USSR started the war together by invading Poland – an official line in Warsaw, but a shameless falsification of actual history – to the recent statements by the White House and the Pentagon giving no credit whatsoever to the Soviet Union for victory over the Nazis or the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Less than two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the anniversary of D-Day landings in Normandy to claim all the credit for the victory in WWII, retroactively redefine what the war was about, and even demonize the Chinese government through absolutely inappropriate comparisons with Nazi Germany.
Putin, by contrast, gives credit to China for fighting against Imperial Japan, recognizes the contributions of both the US and the UK, and even mentions the Free French forces, often overlooked. While reminding everyone that the almost 27 million Soviet citizens perished in the war, he is grateful about the “significant” Lend-Lease assistance provided by the West, amounting to “about 7 percent of the total military production of the Soviet Union.”
In addition to erasing the USSR from history, the West is embracing and whitewashing Hitler’s collaborators, especially in Eastern Europe, by asserting moral equivalence between the Nazis and the Soviets. Putin specifically mentions Ukraine and the Baltics, where such narratives have been encouraged and maintained on the state level.
NATO countries like Poland and Czechia are systematically dismantling monuments to Soviet soldiers who died liberating them from Hitler, which Putin denounces as both hypocritical and vile. His point applies just as well to the current statue-smashing spree across the West, ostensibly in the name of social justice.
During WWII, the USSR, the US and the UK were “countries with different ideologies, state aspirations, interests, cultures” but their leaders “rose above the contradictions and preferences and put the true interests of peace at the forefront,” judging the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg and establishing institutions such as the United Nations that have ensured there won’t be another major war for the next 75 years and counting, Putin explained.
Just as it wasn’t Moscow – but London, Paris, and Warsaw – that made a pact with Hitler in Munich to partition Czechoslovakia in 1938, it is not Russia that now wants to “reform” the UN into another interwar League of Nations. A recent policy paper by the Republican Study Committee of the US Congress even advocates leaving the UN altogether and setting up a rival organization with other “democracies.”
Time and again, Putin notes that modern Russia is embracing its history – all of it, whether good or bad – while Western archives remain secret and revisionism runs rampant. If it can be distilled to any single point, it would be a none-too-subtle warning that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.