Politics 21 June 2020

Putin defends the Soviet Union and proposes new Yalta conference

It was a week of articles. President Vladimir Putin wrote a long article about the Second World War while Nikolai Patrushev, the influential head of the Security Council, published a column on how Russian conservative values will save the world. Even former president Dmitry Medvedev took to print to examine the economy (the most boring of all three).

Putin on the parade in 2019

  • Putin pledged to write an article last year after he was offended by a resolution passed by the European Union Parliament in which the USSR was named as one of the countries responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War. Putin was noticeably obsessed with this topic last year — business leaders, deputies, and the leaders of neighboring countries all had to listen to his opinions on the subject.
  • The biggest surprise was where the Kremlin chose to publish the article — U.S. outlet The National Interest, which is owned by second rate conservative think tank Center for the National Interest that was once led by ex-U.S. president Richard Nixon. It is now run by the Soviet-born Dmitry Simes, who has his own show (Rus) on state-owned Channel One. The National Interest often quotes (Rus) Russian state media outlets. More well respected publications would certainly have been prepared to print Putin’s article, but it appears someone convinced Putin that The National Interest is actually influential.
  • Most of Putin’s contentions were unsurprising and difficult to dispute: the USSR did most of the fighting against Germany, sustained most of the losses, and Western countries (including Poland) share responsibility for the outbreak of war. On top of this there were many traditional Soviet talking points justifying Stalin’s decision to reach an agreement with Hitler in the 1938 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Only a few arguments were surprising: Putin claimed the Baltic states voluntarily and legally joined the USSR in 1941 (thi is untrue), and aired suspicions that the Allies signed secret deals with Hitler (apparently a nod to conspiracy theories about the 1941 flight of top Nazi Rudolf Hess’s to Scotland).
  • Toward the end of the article, Putin wrote about his favorite, albeit unrealistic, idea of a new ‘Yalta conference’ (like that held at the end of the war). The Russian leader wants Russia, the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and China — the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — to gather to discuss the key issues facing the world. Moscow has already issued invitations to such a summit.
  • The article (Rus) in Rossiyskaya Gazeta penned by Nikolai Patrushev is far more radical. A former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and current head of the powerful Security Council, Patrushev is seen as a leader of Kremlin hawks. The article is a real manifesto for Russian conservatism, and lists Western values “alien to Russian society” that supposedly include gay marriage, use of ‘parent 1 and parent 2’ instead of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, and “individualism, egoism, a cult of enjoyment, and untrammelled consumption”. Since the Kremlin is currently considering raising taxes on the middle class (see our story below) it was odd that Patrushev accused the West of the “destruction of the middle class”. Patrushev argued that the West’s “anti-values” are currently being forced on Russia via a “hybrid war” and that Russia must struggle to maintain its “cultural and spiritual-moral national sovereignty”.
  • Medvedev’s article (Rus) appeared in Russia in Global Politics, a niche journal about international relations, and is dull in comparison. The former president and prime minister lists the economic shocks caused by the coronavirus and calls on countries to cooperate in a common fight. The turgid prose means it is difficult to read — god forbid Medvedev overshadow Putin or Patrushev.

Why the world should care

It is worth looking through Putin’s article: although the language is formal, the Russian leader was clearly involved with the writing. Just as the piece reveals how Putin sees the world, so Patrushev’s article sheds light on the thinking of Russia’s powerful conservatives.

Peter Mironenko