On 27 February 2015, a video published by the Russian blogger Evgeny Zhurov called “I am a Russian occupant” started making rounds in the internet. The sophisticated propaganda video justified Russia’s many invasions into its neighboring territories by Russia’s purported inputs into the countries’ development, while turning a blind eye to the numerous atrocities that the same invasion had resulted in. Vasyl Samokhvalov, the co-owner of the company PlusOne DA, which is one of the co-founders of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, published a response that has challenged the Russian imperial narrative. “The goal was in a couple of hours to produce a free rebuttal to a well-produced expensive Russian propaganda clip. In 10 minutes, I jotted down a response based on the motives of the Russian video,” he commented.
“It was I who invaded blossoming Afghanistan. I was asked to leave and I left, leaving in my wake the most dangerous hotspot on the planet, where weapons, violence, and drugs reign,” the Ukrainian video mocks the words of the “Russian occupant” which offer some imperialist apologetics for Russian expansion into the Baltic states, Siberia, Central Asia, Ukraine, justifying it by “oil, gas, aluminum and other useful stuff” produced in Siberia, aircraft engines in Ukraine, electronic goods in the Baltic States, cosmodromes in Central Asia. The omitted unsuccessful Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was not so rosy. Attempting to shore up the newly-established pro-Soviet regime, the Soviet army unleashed a brutal conflict that killed one million civilians, as well as 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers. Afghanistan reaps the consequences of this invasion to the present day.
“It was I who occupied Finland. I was asked to leave and today Finns make telephones, clothing, and products, the analogues of which we do not have,” continues the video, challenging the imperial Russian occupant’s claims that the withdrawal of Russians from the territories they occupied brings economic devastation. The Soviet invasion of Finland over 1939-40 generated a phenomenal partisan resistance that repelled the invasion at the cost of 25 000 Finns to 200 000 Soviets. Finland lost 10% of its territory to Russia.
The Soviet invasion of Poland is remembered too. “It was I who sliced up Poland and occupied Warsaw. I was asked to leave, and today an average Pole is 4 times wealthier than an average Russian”: the Soviet military operation that started in 1939 resulted in the two-way division and annexation of the entire Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union. “It was I who annexed Sakhalin and the Kuril islands from Japan, and to this day people survive there by fishing and subsistence farming, while neighboring Japan lives by the technologies of the future,” continues the video in its relentless economical attack. Having taken over the Soviet “brand” after the demise of the Soviet Union, Putin places considerable efforts in fostering USSR-nostalgia, which is widespread both in Russia and Ukraine. Remembering, or rather, creating the illusion of a “glorious” Soviet past is part of the Kremlin’s strategy to distract the Russian population from Russia’s current economic isolation and social problems, and to create positive sentiments for a “strong ruler” and military expansion into neighboring territories.
“It was I who organized Holodomor in Ukraine, when millions of people died due to hunger and forced starvation,” the video brings up the genocidal famine organized by Stalin that Kremlin apologists consistently deny. Other episodes that are not often mentioned in modern-day Russia follow suit: “It was I who became an ally of Hitler and unleashed the Second World War. It was I who drowned Budapest in blood in 1956, Prague in 1968, Tbilisi in 1989, Vilnius in 1991. It was I who built Gulag camps and persecuted dissidents.” Inconvenient truths for the Soviet brand on the Russian domestic market, to the point of shutting down the only Gulag museum in the country which had been illuminating Soviet-era political repressions. The museum may reopen, but as a memorial to the Gulag system, and is to bear no references to Stalin’s crimes. According to the latest Levada poll, 52% of Russians view Stalin positively. Growing positive sentiment for the repressive Soviet dictator is crucial for Putin’s regime to maintain the high levels of support it enjoys now (86% of Russians support Putin’s policies), as the analogies between the two policies are all too numerous.