Carol J. Williams reports: Only six years ago, President Vladimir Putin visited the Polish port of Gdansk, birthplace of the Solidarity movement that threw off Soviet domination, and reassured his Eastern European neighbors that Russia had only friendly intentions.
Putin spoke harshly that day of the notorious World War II-era pact that former Soviet leader Josef Stalin had signed with Adolf Hitler — an agreement that cleared the way for the Nazi occupation of Poland and Soviet domination of the Baltics — calling it a “collusion to solve one’s problems at others’ expense.”
But Putin’s view of history appears to have undergone a startling transformation. Last month, the Russian leader praised the 1939 nonaggression accord with Hitler as a clever maneuver that forestalled war with Germany. Stalin’s 29-year reign, generally seen by Russians in recent years as a dark and bloody chapter in the nation’s history, has lately been applauded by Putin and his supporters as the foundation on which the great Soviet superpower was built.
Across a resurgent Russia, Stalin lives again, at least in the minds and hearts of Russian nationalists who see Putin as heir to the former dictator’s model of iron-fisted rule. Recent tributes celebrate Stalin’s military command acumen and geopolitical prowess. His ruthless repression of enemies, real and imagined, has been brushed aside by today’s Kremlin leader as the cost to be paid for defeating the Nazis.
As Putin has sought to recover territory lost in the 1991 Soviet breakup, his Stalinesque claim to a right to a “sphere of influence” has allowed him to legitimize the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and declare an obligation to defend Russians and Russian speakers beyond his nation’s borders.
On May 9, the 70th anniversary of the Allied war victory was marked and Stalin’s image was put on display with glorifying war films, T-shirts, billboards and posters. Framed portraits of the mustachioed generalissimo were carried by marchers in Red Square‘s Victory Day parade and in the million-strong civic procession that followed to honor all who fell in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Read the rest of this entry »