Aberdeen University history professor Robert Frost on how Putin uses Russia past as a propaganda weapon
Russian President Vladimir Putin sees his country’s history as the main justification for the war he is waging against the Ukrainian people. He has long used history as a propaganda weapon. In his rambling address On the eve of his invasion of Ukraine, he claimed that Ukraine’s independence had severed and severed “what is historically Russian land.” He also said: “No one asked the millions of people who live there what they thought“.
Putin is not known for asking those he governs what they think about anything. Nonetheless, his biased vision of Russian history is shared million Russians.
According to Putin, Russia has always been an innocent victim of foreign aggression, heroic repelling of invaders and foreign attempts to destroy Russia. Notable examples that he often uses are the 1612 Polish-Lithuanian occupation of the Kremlin; the Invasions of Charles XII from Sweden 1708–9 and Napoleon in 1812; the Crimean War and Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa 1941.
The last example explains the considerable sympathy for the Russian version of history in many Western circles. The crucial role played by the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler will be remembered with gratitude by many of the generation that lived through World War II and by many on the left. Consequently, despite Putin’s aggression in Chechnya, Georgia and Crimea, there has been no shortage of influential commentators urging that we must see things through Russia’s eyes and understand Putin’s fear of invasion.
This view of Russian history is one-sided and highly selective. In each of the cases cited above, it could be argued that these invasions followed or responded to attacks by Russia itself.
Putin has also repeatedly referred to what Russians call “Kievan Rus,” a medieval state centered around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The Rus were the ancestors of today’s Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. Putin, like many Russians, views these three nations as one, with Ukrainians and Belarusians being merely “younger brothers” to Russians.
The Grand Duchy of Moscow (Moscow) was only one of the successor principalities of Kyivan Rus and one that remained under Mongol suzerainty the longest. Since it was under the rule of Ivan III. (1462–1505) threw off Mongol supremacy, the Russian rulers pursue a grand imperial vision. They claimed they were the rightful heirs to the inheritance of Kievan Rus‘, which was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century.
But when Ivan III. first claiming to be ruler over all of Rus’ meant all of former Kyivan Rus’, the vast majority of that territory was ruled by the grand dukes of Lithuania. They had extended their protection and dominion over Kyiv and most of the Russian principalities after the Mongol conquest.
Unlike Ivan III and his successors, who established a ruthless autocracy, the pagan Gediminid dynasty (ruling the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland from the 14th to the 16th centuries) operated a decentralized system of rule. Junior princes were assigned Russian principalities, converted to the Orthodox Church, married local princesses, and assimilated into Russian culture.
This system of self-government was far more in the political tradition of Kievan Rus than in Moscow autocracy, while the Russian language itself is the ancestor of modern Belorussian and Ukrainian. It was the legal language of the Grand Duchy since Lithuanian was not a written language until the 16th century. After 1386, Lithuania’s negotiated, consensual union with Poland brought expanded legal rights. From 1569, the powerful Union Parliament limited royal power and encouraged religious tolerance of the Orthodox Church.
As Ivan III. When the first of five Muscovite-Lithuanian Wars began, fought between 1492 and 1537, he did not ask the Orthodox Lithuanians what they thought of it. He claimed the lands of all Rus’, but although Muscovy’s aggression secured a third of Lithuania by 1537, these lands were sparsely populated. And the Orthodox residents of the Belarusian and Ukrainian heartlands preferred freedom to autocracy.
In September 1514, Kostiantyn Ostrozky, the greatest Orthodox magnate in modern-day Ukraine, crushed a much larger Moscow army the Battle of Orshaand built two Orthodox churches in Vilnius to celebrate his victory.
The Russians paid a heavy toll when Ivan all but destroyed the country’s economic and military systems and the occupation of the Kremlin came at the height of a civil war in Moscow in which significant numbers of boyars (barons) chose the son of the Polish king as their tsar.
The ill-fated invasion of Charles XII. in Russia took place eight years after the start of Peter I an unprovoked attack on Sweden’s Baltic possessions. And Napoleon’s invasion was supported by tens of thousands rods and Lithuanians attempted to restore their republic, illegally erasing them from the map in three partitions between 1772 and 1795. In any case, Russia had played an aggressively assertive role.
The Crimean War was also a reaction to Russian aggression against the Ottoman Empire. Finally, Hitler’s 1941 invasion preceded Stalin’s unprovoked and cynical invasions of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland in 1939–1940.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is the latest in a series of acts of naked aggression by Russian rulers against the country’s neighbors, justified by grand imperial pretensions and an established and questionable narrative of victimhood.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/history/956227/vladimir-putins-narrative-of-russian-victimhood-examined Examines Vladimir Putin’s narrative of Russian victimhood