Putin needs both: a Great Victory and a Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Stalin with Ribbentrop in the Kremlin at the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact dividing Europe between his and Hitler's regimes (Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H27337, Moskau, Stalin und Ribbentrop im Kreml)

Stalin with Ribbentrop in the Kremlin at the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact dividing Europe between his and Hitler's regimes (Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H27337, Moskau, Stalin und Ribbentrop im Kreml) 

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Vladimir Putin finds himself caught in a variety of paradoxes none more glaring than his simultaneous need to defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by which the USSR became an ally of Nazi Germany and his need to celebrate the Great Victory over the Third Reich, according to Yevgeny Ikhlov.

On the on the one hand, the Moscow commentator says, Putin needs the Great Victory because it completes the shift from a focus on communism as the explanation for the Soviet Union’s win to one on Stalin and his totalitarian system as the source of that triumph.

And on the other “and at the same time,” the Kremlin leader is prepared to defend with “all the authority of the Russian state” Stalin’s alliance with Hitler which is “delicately called ‘the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’” because “that pact for the first time legalized zones of Soviet influence” beyond the borders of the USSR and based on “continuity” with the Russian Empire.

This is just one of the insights contained in Ikhlov’s article about the importance of mythologizing the past in a country like Putin’s Russia, one where “the weaker the institutions in the state are, the stronger must be the all-embracing mythology.” Indeed, his system is based on the idea that “the picture propaganda provides of the world is the only reality for the population.”

Up to a point, this approach has served Putin well. It has “rooted Putinism in Russian political history.” But the problems begin when one tries to make that political history consistent, something that is virtually impossible without blatant falsification because various events point in so many contradictory and incompatible directions.

And that in turn means, Ikhlov says, that “the more improvisations are introduced into this renewed cult, the stricter will be the struggle to ‘defend history from distortions and falsifications’ … There are many countries which have introduced punishments for denial of crimes against humanity… but there are only a few which [like Russia today] are criminalizing the unmasking of historic crimes.”

1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: Nazi-Soviet division of Europe

1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: Nazi-Soviet division of Europe

The approaching celebration of Victory Day, of Russia’s attempt to take credit for the defeat of Nazism, highlights this “real schizophrenia” in Moscow’s position: “One should not call oneself the main victor over Hitlerism while being proud of the alliance with this same Hitlerism” at the start of Hitler’s war to “seize Europe.”

There is a logic in each of the narratives, Ikhlov argues, but trying to bring them together into a single narrative is “impossible,” because “to be at one and the same time an anti-fascist, an anti-communist, and an anti-liberal in the contemporary understanding of the ideological spectrum cannot be done.”

The only way it can be done, he suggests, is with “one’s own fascism,” or as Putin would put it “’the Russian world.’”

But there is a deeper paradox and problem for Putin, Ikhlov says. It consists of the fact that Russian history consists of a series of “hermetically sealed periods,” each of which engages in the denial of its predecessor, as the late philosopher Aleksandr Akhizer pointed out a generation ago.


That makes stability very difficult as does “the struggle of two competing directions” in each, “each of which offers mutually exclusively approaches to the overcoming of internal crises.” Typically, the leaders of a country must make a choice; Putin has been trying so far to avoid doing so.

“Putinism’s difficulties began when it ceased to be simply ‘velvet Pinochetism,’ a regime of authoritarian modernization and began to convert itself into ‘an oprichnina,’ into market Stalinism,” Ikhlov says. That violated a chief requirement of myths: a certain consistency in their internal logic.

According to the Moscow commentator, “isolationism and anti-Westernism require support in a messianic legend. But Orthodox fundamentalism remains too much an exotic phenomenon.” Moreover, it is dangerous because it contains within itself “a very strong anti-state attitude.”

Moreover, “all the misfortune of Putinism” is that doctrines like “Moscow is the Third Rome” have the effect of “denying development and transforming life into an uninterrupted waiting for the end of the world.”

Leonid Reshetnikov speaking at the "Moscow the Third Rome" conference November 11, 2014. (Image: Dmitry Glivinsky pravoslaviye.ru)

The head of Putin’s administration analytical center and former KGB general Leonid Reshetnikov speaking at the imperialist “Moscow – the Third Rome” conference in November, 2014 (Image: Dmitry Glivinsky pravoslaviye.ru)

That leaves Putin and Putinism with few options, Ikhlov argues. Indeed, the only one really available is the implementation of a 160-year-old tradition that was “aborted by Bolshevism – the development of right-wing fascism.”

During that period, he says, Russia has moved “along a totalitarian arc: from radical-left form in the shape of Bolshevism with a gradual falling away from utopian pseudo-Marxist ideas to the side of right-wing totalitarianism which recognizes and cultivates obscurantism, chauvinism and petty private property.”

This evolution, Ikhlov continues, has included “periods of black hundreds-style post-war Stalinism, the anti-market ‘left fascism’ of stagnation … and up to the current dawn of the Russian conservative revolution, the first conquests of which have already appeared in Crimea and ‘Novorossiya.’”

“The evolution of totalitarianism from communism to fascist was broken off only three times – during the five years of the New Economic Policy, the decade of the Thaw, and the ingloriously just concluded liberal Perestroika thirty year period.” It is now resuming with full force and with all its contradictions in play.


Edited by: A. N.

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  1. Avatar Brent says:

    The ones ‘stolen’ by Poland from Austria that were previously “stolen” from Ukraine?

    Let’s also discuss the Kuban region of southern Russia, and maybe we can also discuss Konigsberg and the Kuril Islands too…..

    How about Muscovy also give back all the conquered Siberian lands to the indigenous inhabitants too? And give Crimea back to the Tatars? Ouch, got you right in your “holy Sebastopol” with that one….

    You trolls just love misdirection….until it points back to all of Russia’s historical crimes.

    1. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

      Don’t forget the territory Russia stole from China in 1856 and 1860. Peking wants that territory back and all it has to do is wait patiently until Great Putinstan implodes. The dwarf cannot stop that implosion from taking place. Furthermore, having used “historical rights” as an argument for the seizure of the Crimea, he can’t object to Germany demanding Königsberg back, or the Chinese demanding their land back.
      Wait a minute…… what’s there to prevent Kyiv from rightfully demanding the return of Moscow?

      1. Avatar leo direitero says:

        And Japan of Sakhalin, and Ukraine of Kuban, and Lithuania of Belaurs, and Finland of Karelia…

      2. Avatar Brent says:

        Kyiv doesn’t want Moscow…there’s a really bad ‘mindless sheep infestation’ there. and St Petersburg is too infested with trolls to be of value as well….

        1. Avatar Brent says:

          Hey Hristo the Bulgarian troll has resurfaced!!! I thought CSIS had deported you or maybe you working on Justin’s campaign?

          It’s really funny you claim “Kiev is taken by Nazi’s”. Were those the same Nazi’s that were recently in St Petersburg? Are they on tour? Let me guess, “Nazi-paloosa 2015”?

          I’ve got good news for you. Ordinary Russians are starting to complain about not getting their wages with Russia’s economy collapsing. Of course, you’ll likely blame that on the “ghost of Bandera”, but I think the ghost of Putin” may start having to deal with approval ratings below 85% soon….the sheep are starting to ‘talk among themselves’….buckle up troll boy, I think you’re going to be in for a fun ride in 2015!!! But maybe you can travel to Russia for the May 9th festivities of Russia saving the known universe after World War II. I hear the Bulgarian chair is empty so maybe you can sit up in the viewing stand with Putin and Kim Jong Un and you’ll be the tallest one there!


          1. Avatar John Shirley says:

            Don’t fret Brent, HRISTO will be gone soon. The “shelf life” of a St. Pete Troll is usually about 2 months. So unless someone else decides to use that name you won’t see him/her around much longer.
            Unfortunately though, with a “troll factory” staff of around 400 there will always be someone else to take his place.

          2. Avatar Wonfu says:

            Hristo the mental midget types his tripe once again.

            What a jokester.

            Careful Hristo, the dwarf in the kremlin is watching you.

          3. Avatar Dean Venture says:

            He should be prepared to crouch a lot. I don’t think anyone is permitted to be taller in the company of those two.

    2. Avatar Paul says:

      You need to go back to school to study English better or else your political masters are going to dock your pay accordingly.

      1. Avatar Paul says:

        Seriously, Yuriy, there are great online courses that you could take and many of them are free. Maybe you’ve even taken advantage of some of them. Keep working at it – someday your Eeeengrish will be good enough to get you out of the dungeon and escape life as a troll. Do svidanya, huilo!

    3. Avatar Brent says:

      Yuriy, I really have no clue what you’re trying to tell me.

      My point to you was that you want to make the West of Ukraine and issue and that you think it should be given back to Poland. My point to you was that Western Ukraine has been part of more than just Poland, and was traditionally part of Ukraine before Poland and Austria each had annexed it as part of their countries.

      My other point to you was that if you feel ‘historical lands’ should be returned to their previous overlords, then shouldn’t Russia have to give up Konigsberg? And the Kiril Islands? And Siberia?

      It was your suggestion about returning historical lands, and I’m only trying to point out that those who live in countries built on stolen land had better be careful what the wish for others….

      P.S. The Molotov Ribbentrop did not benefit Ukraine. The reclamation of Western territories occurred AFTER World War II, and was not part of the Nazi-Soviet alliance pact.

    4. Avatar Turtler says:

      It was more like those stolen by Lithuania from a decaying Kyivan Rus/Mongol occupied Ukraine, stolen by Poland from Lithuania, taken in a Ukrainian revolt from Poland, stolen from the Ukrainians by a Russo-Polish partition, stolen from Poland by Russia and Austria, taken from Austria by Polish and Ukrainian rebels before the Sovets moved in to steal it by steps.

      Austria had very little involvement in the region and even less claim to them, so if anything the Polish revolt probably was more legitimate.

      Though I agree by and large.

  2. Avatar Brent says:

    Russia needs something else. A great big NATO enema to get rid of all the shiite clogging its innards….one great big ‘dump’ would rid it of all the Putinfestation and Duginfestation that has it all clogged up with toxic noxious gas….