Returning to the historical origins of today’s tragedy is a necessary condition for us to understand the situation we are in and how to find a way out of it. The current Russian elite is in many ways hostage to historical mythology, the lies that dominated Soviet school textbooks. But it must also be acknowledged that these lies have not met with any refutation in Western history textbooks. The Soviet Union has always ignored the fact that Stalin was as much the instigator of the war as Hitler, and the Western world has resigned itself to this assessment.
Both Stalin and Hitler were aggressors. The attempt to turn the Soviet Union from the category of countries guilty of starting the war into an ally has largely created the background against which Putin’s revanchism has grown. The psychology of today’s Russian elite can be understood from their assessment of the events of World War II. If for Europe it means “never again,” for Russia it means “we can do it again”. Historical myths have a very dangerous power to capture the minds of people and dictate behavior based on an absolutely incorrect assessment of the past. During the Soviet Union, the role of Lend-Lease was downplayed. Today I have the sense that the majority of even educated Russian citizens don’t have a very accurate idea of who fought in World War II.
The myth about the key role of the USSR in the victory over fascism created a completely false impression of the Soviet Union’s military power. Even in the West today many do not realize that without American aid and a second front, the Soviet Union would not have survived the war. The outcome of the Stalingrad battle was the result of the incredible technical equipment of the Red Army through American supplies. Failure to understand how the war was fought, failure to understand the balance of power, in this war has led to the illusion that today works for both sides and influences decision-making in both Russia and the West. Putin’s impudence in his decision to launch a full-scale aggression last February was based on his confidence in a quick capture of Kyiv, while the West in turn took no real action to prevent an attack.
We live in an environment of myths that shape many of today’s decisions. And if we have no way to bring Putin and Russian propaganda to heel, we would like to see the Western consciousness move away from the myths. Now is the time for the collective West to finally learn the lessons of history and come up with a vision for the future. If the war ends without the complete liberation of the Ukrainian territories, it will be a defeat for the free world. There are no intermediate stages. Putin is at war with NATO and with the principles of the free world that he believes threaten his power. There is no negotiation process in a war of principles. Such wars either end with the victory of one side or the other. World War II did not end at the negotiating table, nor did the U.S. Civil War. Because principles were at stake then, just as they are today. Now it is very important for us to fix that any attempts to find a “compromise solution” are attempts that ignore historical truth. Linking today’s events to that historical experience is essential. It is categorically impossible to allow Putin to negotiate with anyone and set his own terms. This is a criminal, criminal regime that belongs in a garbage dump.