Yesterday’s Moscow Times had an article by one of my favorite Russian commentators, Fyodor Lukyanov, which highlighted a very surprising moment in Putin’s four-hour address to the nation. In Lukyanov’s words:
Putin almost completely refrained from his usual accusations and recriminations against the United States … [but] A more interesting moment came with a question about recent attempts to equate Stalinism with Nazism. Putin initially gave a traditional explanation of why “the ugly nature of the Stalin regime” was incomparable to the crimes of the Nazis.
And then he made this unexpected remark: “In truth, we, or rather our predecessors, gave cause for this. Why? Because after World War II, we tried to impose our own development model on many Eastern European countries, and we did so by force. This has to be admitted. There is nothing good about this and we are feeling the consequences now. Incidentally, this is more or less what the Americans are doing today, as they try to impose their model on practically the entire world, and they will fail as well.”
That put an interesting twist on the government’s massive campaign to forbid any denigration of the past — in other words, to prohibit casting doubt on the actions of the Soviet Union. It would normally be unacceptable to compare the past actions of the Soviet Union with what the United States is doing today, but that is exactly what Putin did.
And it sends a wake-up call to those who had been hoping to build Russia’s future out of its Soviet past.