The story of Russia: the antidote to the self-serving myths sold by Putin

Vladimir Putin struggled at the beginning of 2012. The Russian economy has not yet recovered from the economic crisis that occurred in 2008. His corrupt and ineffective political party, United Russia, only won’ won’ in the December 2011 parliamentary elections passed and blatantly fraudulent. This caused massive protests across Russia but Putin won the March 2012 presidential election because he did not face serious opposition and because he would also cheat in the elections. probe. But how can he minimize protests over fraud, legitimize the suppression of any protests that have occurred, and claim to be Russia’s savior?

the answer to these questions is to campaign for history and to see itself as a bulwark against the extinction of Russia. In a series of articles, he presented a view of Russia’s place in the world based on a misreading of his country’s history. This historical falsification justifies the label of opposition to Putin as a betrayal of Russia and sets a path to a full-blown invasion of Ukraine a decade later.

Putin argues that Russia is a ‘civilization state’. For more than a thousand years as its state, Russia has incorporated different ethnic and religious communities within its sovereign territory. These people have learned to live together and create a common civilization because they share values. Many ethnic groups in Russia are religious adherents whose basis for the social and political order is the family, in which everyone fulfills their traditional gender roles.

This civilization, and the social unity it promoted, flourished under the tsarist empire until 1917 and was largely preserved by the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991. The Russian state, and its Its leaders are legitimate, democratic and strong, Putin claims, as they defend and defend this civilization of shared traditional values.

He believes that Russia’s civilized state is being targeted for destruction. The internal and external forces of destruction against Russia all have a common agenda. Its ‘enemies’ – libertarians at home and abroad, Ukrainian nationalists, LGBTQ+ activists and socialists – all want a replacement. historical agreement of the peoples and state of Russia with new values ​​that are false and false because they do not come from the Russian peoples and common history and common cultures.

This is not just a threat to Russia. Many peoples that were once part of the tsarist and Soviet empires have now become citizens of independent countries. Even though they are not citizens of Russia, they still share the values ​​held by the Russian state because their history as part of the ‘greater Russian world’ is too deep for them to escape. . For Putin, Russia is their natural ally and leader in the struggle against foreign values ​​imported from other parts of the world.

Western threat

If these enemies succeed, Putin argues, Russia as it has been throughout history will disappear. There may still be something on the map called ‘Russia’, but it won’t be Russia as it has been for a millennium. This new entity would be like any other weak nation in the world. It will depend on the West, dominated by self-serving and deluded elites, morally corrupted by consumerism and gender equality. The community of values ​​of the Russian peoples will be replaced by competing factions.

True ‘Russian’ democracy – the state representing the values ​​of all its people – will be replaced by a substantive ‘democracy’ of special interests, willing to sacrifice the interests of the people. people for personal enrichment. This has happened in Europe, Putin asserts, because the elites there have sacrificed their national civilizations for feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, multiculturalism, a free and transitional European Union. to America. Only Putin’s election will ensure the preservation of the Russian state and ensure Russia’s future as a truly representative ‘democracy’ that can represent all right-wingers.

Putin’s arguments were used to justify political repression following his victory in the 2012 presidential election. They underpin his efforts to protect the larger civilized space in which he found existing across Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia by creating an ‘Eurasian Union’, an economic and political community that could keep the corrupt EU out of Russia’s sphere of influence. His ideas have been translated into policies that marginalize the gay community in Russia and eliminate some forms of domestic violence, supposedly to protect traditional families.


Author Orlando Figes. Phil Fisk’s photo

These ideas eventually led to his war in Ukraine. Putin argues that that country has never been, and can never exist outside of Russia, since it shares a common history and civilization. Since there is no such thing as the history of Ukraine, there can be no Ukrainian people or Ukrainian state.

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Whoever says Ukraine has a right to exist is simply an enemy of the ‘greater Russian world’ of which Ukraine is a part. Such enemies want to push foreign values ​​on Ukraine such as homosexuality and Ukrainian nationalists who worked with Nazi Germany in the 1940s. To Putin and his propagandists his tradition, Ukraine is ‘reasonably’ – and those quotes are doing a lot of the heavy lifting – run by gays and Nazis, and Ukrainian supporters who are homosexuality and sympathize with Nazi Germany.

Putin’s ideas about Russia and its history make him a prime target for Orlando Figes The Story of Russia. The British historian aims to debunk myths to give his audience a more nuanced view of what Russia was and is. This can only bring him into direct conflict with Putin’s statements about Russia because those statements are so far-reaching and so politically powerful. Anyone looking to get away from Putin’s mythical statements about Russia’s history and what it means to the world today will find relief in The Story of Russia.

Tell the timelines

Figure presents the history of Russia in a simple way. He goes through the main stages of its history, from the growth of the Orthodox Christian kingdoms after Kyiv’s conversion to Christianity, through the Mongol conquest and the destruction of those countries, to the emergence of Moscow as Russia’s main city and to the rise of the empire. and tsarism, and then the doom of tsarism. He concludes with a chapter on the Soviet Union and Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

He is best at dealing with the far-flung and ideological past than in the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia.

From the very beginning, he misled the idea so central to Putin’s myth, the notion of historical continuity over a thousand years of Russia’s history. He points out that there is no straight line from the first ‘Russian’ state, Rus’ in the 10th century in Kyiv, to the rise of the principality of Moscow in the 13th and 14th centuries and its transformation into an empire from the 16th century onwards. Kievan Rus’ can only be considered a Russian with a lot of fantasies. Russian empire building is not the same as Putin building a civilization with shared values ​​from the river of Kyiv and more than a series of brutal, repetitive rounds of war and repression. continuous. The war in Ukraine is just the latest of these, not some noble act to preserve a popular way of life.

The numbers are worse for the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia. He tells the story of the Soviet Union’s rise to the economy but says little about the nature of the Soviet experiment and its legacies. He understands Putin’s ideas about history well, but the description of how Putinism developed is truncated and Putin’s rise is presented as culturally determined and inevitable.

His description of Putin’s rule is a bit ironic because it’s pretty much what Putin’s apologists would say. However, this ballot should not disperse the overall message about The Story of Russia: history is politics and any politician making a statement about history for political purposes is probably not a seeker of historical truth but a self-serving liar.

Neil Robinson is a professor of Russian politics at the University of Limerick


The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes

Nonfiction: The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes

Bloomsbury, 368 pages, hardcover €26.99; eBook £11.38 The story of Russia: the antidote to the self-serving myths sold by Putin

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