By Paul Goble
Because Vladimir Putin talks about recovering territory that Moscow lost when the USSR disintegrated and because he has had positive things to say about Stalin, many people assume that he is trying to restore the Soviet empire. But that gets things exactly wrong, Andrey Kolesnikov says.
The New Times columnist argues that that Putin both because of his motives and because of his tactics is in fact “provoking an entirely different process – the continuing disintegration of the imperial space” and in a way that will involve the kind of violence the region generally avoided during the first three decades after 1991 (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/232864).
In fact, Kolesnikov says, Putin and his team are trying to build what one could call “an anti-Soviet empire,” one based almost entirely on the use of brute force rather than soft power and “along the way destroying the very legacy of the USSR,” including both its positive values and its physical infrastructure.
Putin’s “empire of the Russian world is destroying precisely the achievements of the Soviet empire,” at least after 1953, including the values of internationalism rather than the supremacy of one nation over all the others, and doing so in a way that is driving all those in the non-Russian countries who can to try to distance themselves as far from Moscow as possible.
The views driving Putin are not those of Khrushchev, Gorbachev or even Brezhnev; they are those of the last years of Stalin’s rule. And “so what is taking place now is in fact Stalinization, attempts to return” to the past Soviet leaders after Stalin’s death rejected, Kolesnikov continues.
Two myths have gotten in the way of an understanding of this reality, the commentator says. On the one hand, many seem to think that a post-Putin future will be even worse than his current rule, a view that ignores the fact that after every period of repression in Russian history, those who are the successors have liberalized one way or another.
And on the other, many are convinced that Russia faces another round of disintegration, something possible but unlikely Kolesnikov says because of the situation the republics and regions within the Russian Federation find themselves in, a position which they could not improve, he suggests, by leaving.
“In sum,” he concludes, analogies between what Putin is doing and what post-Stalinist leaders of the Soviet Union did are possible, but they require significant modification. And it is becoming ever more obvious that “those who have built the current system” of Russian power for a Russian world “cannot restore the Soviet Union” or repeat the Soviet experience.