Russia’s Soft Power and the “Great Patriotic War”

As Ukraine burns under quasi-covert attacks from Russia, with the Kremlin now demanding that Kyiv cease its efforts to reestablish sovereignty in its own country – that constitutes “aggression” according to Moscow, and represents a danger to world peace itself – Putin and friends continue to howl gigantic curses at anything that smacks of dissent from the Kremlin-mandated version of events. It’s hard not to notice an obsession with World War II emanating from Russia in this, and Moscow-approved outlets, including those who just got a whole raft of medals from the Kremlin for their “objective coverage” of Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, love to mention that war and Ukraine. All the time. Not a day goes by without Russian media complaining about Ukrainians daring to dissent from the narrative that Stalin’s armies “liberated” Western Ukraine in 1944.

This focus obsession with events of seventy years ago strikes most Westerners as, well, a bit odd. We, too, have our WWII myths – we like ours starring Tom Hanks when possible – but in Russia there remains the legacy of Communism, which used that potent myth – they called it the Great Patriotic War – to validate pretty much everything about the Soviet Union. Many have noticed that the orange-black ribbon worn prominently by pro-Moscow fighters in Ukraine today is that of the Order of St. George, a top Tsarist medal for bravery that was resurrected by Putin in 2000. But, not coincidentally, it’s also the ribbon of the medal commemorating Soviet victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War, which was issued to tens of millions of Soviet citizens. You can’t swing a cat in Russia even now without encountering an elderly veteran wearing one; this medal’s easy to spot since it’s got Stalin’s image on it. Such things matter in collective memory.

Just how central the Great Patriotic War remains in Putin’s ideology was made clear in a recent piece by retired General Makhmut Gareyev, a prolific writer on issues of defense and strategy who happens to the head of Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences. Despite Gareyev’s advanced age – he’s past ninety (interestingly he’s also a Muslim Tatar) – he churns out lot of turgid writings on military matters, and can be considered an official mouthpiece of the Kremlin. His recent analysis deals with the problem of Western “soft power,” and advises what Russia should do about it.

A veteran of the Great Patriotic War, Gareyev makes clear that the world remains a scary and dangerous place, no matter what woolly-headed Russian liberals may tell you:

Some people assert that no external threats whatsoever exist for Russia, other than terrorism or internal conflicts. Expenditures for defense have increased. The ideas of the defense of the Fatherland and mandatory military service have allegedly lost their meaning. Society’s defensive consciousness is thereby being eroded.

Some scholars of the Higher School of Economics and other ultra-liberal organizations propose that Russia abandon the Arctic Ocean and transfer the Arctic to international control and call for giving back not only the Kurile Islands but also the entire Far East. If we back away from our national interests, then there actually will be no threats but there will also be no Russia as a sovereign state.

The problem, you see, is that Western countries are trying to destroy Russia through the use of “soft power.” It’s not NATO bombers or tanks that endanger the Motherland now, it’s the Internet and movies. Per Gareyev:

The first group of threats is associated with information and other subversive actions, the creation of controlled chaos with the goal of provoking various types of unrest in opposing countries, the overthrow of undesirable bodies of government from without, and the disruption of a state’s internal stability as this occurred in Libya and, recently, in Syria. Assumptions are made that the preconditions for the emergence of armed conflicts in Europe are small as never before. But in recent years more than ten countries of the Baltic region and Eastern Europe with their military potential have joined NATO and the European integration of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova is being prepared. Formally, it would be without armed conflicts but threats with regard to Russia are being realized in other forms.

It’s a plot, you see, and it goes by terms like “soft power” and “color revolutions.” In this, Gareyev is just parroting the usual Kremlin line on such matters, seeing conspiracies by NATO and the EU lurking behind every last tree in Latvia. These require robust defense and eternal vigilance from the Russian people since, as Gareyev makes clear, the West will never cease its nefarious plotting. What is Russia’s first line of defense, you may ask?

The formation of society’s objective historical and defense consciousness, first of all opposition to the falsification of the history of the Great Patriotic War, is extremely important in order to create a solid foundation for the patriotic indoctrination of citizens and the affirmation of the ideas of the defense of the Fatherland. 

You will note the word objective again, prominently. Gareyev cites the need to maintain the Official Narrative about WWII before his mentioning nuclear weapons, his second point. In other words, if Russians start asking questions about what Stalin and Soviet leaders did between 1939 and 1945, they could start getting ideas, which would lead to dissent and, before you know it, color revolutions, “fascism,” and LGBT takeovers.

In the 1990s, after the Soviet collapse, there was a brief period where Russians actually began to ask questions about the genuine history of WWII – about the extent of Soviet crimes, enormously flawed Soviet generalship, and Moscow’s real agenda in the war – but that was all shut down once Putin came to power. Archives have been closed to non-approved researchers, and dissent from the Official Narrative has been criminalized. The Great Patriotic War remains the foundational myth of the Russian dictatorship, and presumably will remain so as long as Putin is in the Kremlin. Stalin once called historians “archive rats,” considering them troublemakers who only brought problems; Putin apparently holds a similar view. It will soon be May 9th, Victory Day in Russia, commemorating 1945, so get ready for a lot of celebrations of the Official Narrative, amidst troops, tanks, and aircraft, with extras added to hail the “liberation” of Crimea.

Thanks to regime policies, most Russians are wholly ignorant of the truths of the world’s greatest conflict. Namely, that Stalin partnered with Hitler to start the conflagration, in which the USSR was just as complicit as Germany. Together, the Nazis and Soviets raped and pillaged Poland, while Stalin stole not just half of Poland but all the Baltics, plus parts of Romania and Finland. Approved Russian histories mention none of this, and instead the Great Patriotic War begins, suddenly and mysteriously, on 22 June 1941, with the German invasion. Of course, the USSR was in no sense a victim of WWII, rather one of the two countries that caused the nightmare; inconveniently for Stalin, his partner in crime turned on him almost two years after their dirty deal to divide Eastern Europe between them.

Average Russians are emotionally invested in the potent lies of the Official Narrative and it’s hard to blame them, since most of them have never heard any other version of events. But it’s important to note that lies about 1939-1945 continue to serve as a justification for Russian crimes in Ukraine right now, and it’s unwise to expect Moscow to be honest about the present when the Kremlin continues to be deeply dishonest about events in the now-receding past.




40 comments on “Russia’s Soft Power and the “Great Patriotic War””
  1. mattw0699 says:

    ‘It’s a plot, you see, and it goes by terms like “soft power” and “color revolutions.”

    There is something to this “soft power” pushing societies in the direction of modern liberalism. Not really a plot but rather many different people thinking along the same lines. This is pushing the US in the direction of more liberalism. You can see the effect on the US as Obama is in the process of transforming the country, gutting the military and nuclear forces. The West is in the process of committing suicide, or more probably death by cop. In this case the cop will be Russia and China.

    Perhaps Russia is not all that excited about committing suicide with the West.

    1. 20committee says:

      What we’re terming “soft power” can, and is, used by societies of many kinds, including PRC and Putin’s Russia, neither of which is exactly charting a course to postmodern liberalism.

  2. Want2no says:

    “Thanks to regime policies, most Russians are wholly ignorant of the truths of the world’s greatest conflict.”

    Of course you are right on the facts, but I doubt that facts would even be relevant. Isn’t the “official” Russian version of the Molotov-Ribbentrop deal still the one the Soviets always gave–that it gave Stalin “time” to build up his armed forces? It is bull, but we know that people will believe what they want. Didn’t most Germans, in 1941 and well after the war, believe that Hitler attacked the USSR in 1941 because Stalin was preparing to attack Germany within the next year, even though there seems to be little evidence a Soviet attack was at all imminent or that the Soviet Army was at the time in any shape to carry one out?

    1. 20committee says:

      Yes and Yes …. latter is a huge issue/shitstorm I’m not inclined to get into.

  3. Monigatti Daniele says:

    Right! Putin has support in untruth, and in Eastern Europe, today! I see only confrontation unfortunately! So Germany is in this logic also a target for Kremlin! It is maybe the result of a uncontrolled Russia after UdSSR, so no wonder! How long will wait the free world before act to correction? It is dangerous and Russia is enough big did not need more territory! Unfortunately years of western money aids goes in to Putins weapons!

  4. Steve says:

    There’s a Russian historian, whose name is Soloviev if name serves me right, who claims that archival evidence proves that m Stalin was planning an invasion of Hitler’s Reich, and that Hitler merely preempted Stalin with Barbarossa. Is this true?

    1. 20committee says:

      The leading Russian historian of that viewpoint, with any respectability, is M. I. Meltyukhov

    2. traznev says:

      Did you mean Suvorov? He presented theory of Hitler’s preemptive strike in his “Icebreaker”, but he was discredited as tendentious revisionist by mainstream historians.

    3. Uwe Weber says:

      Maybe you think of Suvorov ( aka Rezun ) and his book “icebreaker”? IMHO his work on this subject misses the respectability John gives to Meltyukhov.

  5. tomislav says:

    The grave situation in the Ukraine is a carbon copy of the Serbian brutal aggression and occupation of Croatia. It only ended by NATO forces, using force against Serbia.

    1. 20committee says:

      Actually it was ended by the Croatian Army (HV) in Operation STORM. The HV, in collaboration with ABiH and HVO, ended it in Bosnia shortly after, under NATO’s air umbrella.

  6. MarqueG says:

    Hmm… Could Vlad be onto something?

    Okay, I welcome the abuse and smackdowns in advance (what’s the purpose of the internet, after all?), but I’m not so much about to join Pat Buchanan, or to excuse Vlad’s means to justify his ends. But we in the West seem to have become completely devoid of any similar sort of healthy civilizational self-respect. We have no sense of purpose.

    Putin seems to have recognized that dealing with the vast abuses of the Soviet past would similarly further erode healthy self-respect. But his choice was to go to the opposite extreme, previously used by the Soviet authoritarians, and slam the door shut on dealing with that past at all.

    Here in the Anglospehre West, we’ve adopted the post-modern nihilism that rejects the idea that our past was anything but evil. We have, at least from the top elites down, largely decided that the goal should be egalitarian, multi-cultural, morally relativistic. We act as if we’ve got nothing of any good or good purpose to offer the world, or even the immigrants we welcome to our self-hate meetings held under the banner of public education. We’re not just not better than anyone else, we’re worse, and we’re sorry.

    We’ve got nothing to take pride in, nothing to stand up for, nothing to fight for, no traditions worth preserving, no history to remember. How can we know where we want to go if we don’t know who we are or how we got here?

    We seem to agree that we in America are the world leaders. But what kind of leadership do we expect to offer if we don’t seem to think we can justify our own self-preservation?

    1. 20committee says:

      That’s a great question actually …

    2. section9 says:

      This is one of the critiques both the Russian and Chinese leadership classes make of the Western Ruling Circles, that there are no core beliefs in the value of Western Civilization by Western Leaders anymore.

      So, Putin and the Chinese Party Bosses suppose, rationally I would assert, why sign on to a world order underwritten by a crowd of rent-seeking nihilists? It is an incorrect set of First Principles, but I suspect vast swathes of the ruling elites in Moscow and Beijing chafe at what they perceive at what is going on here.

    3. section9 says:

      A profound question: why should Chinese and Russians subscribe to a world order run by people who don’t really believe in its foundational principles?

  7. traznev says:

    Good article

    It’s interesting how the loudest and the most vivid Pro-Russians on demonstrations are those born in 50’s-60’s, according to TV brodcast reports 🙂 Ladies in first rows, especially, haha..

    They were indoctrinated with Soviet propaganda, raised on the story of Little Pavlik as ideal komsomolets (it’s astonishing how influential it was in ex-Soviet indoctrination system). When you add a bad experiences form transitional period of 90’s: a massive loss of jobs during era of criminal privatization, demographic catastrophe and a ruining of whole society, all perceived as repercussion of liberalization and opening to “West” – you get the most resolute supporters of revival of mighty “mother Russia”.
    …in 90’s many of them lost a lot, and rising of a national-populism in Putin’s era gives them a stimulus to turf out personal frustrations…and, they don’t care about liberal values important for Westerns so much.

    Putin knows that very well when he exploits old ex-communist discourse and evokes nostalgia, jut like on recent Worker’s Day ceremony on May 1st.

  8. hacampbell says:

    History is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.

  9. mrmeangenes says:

    It is amusing-in a way-to read the typical Russian belief in a fictional history–and to see that same belief memorialized repeatedly by those in the USA who would like to create their own version of a “workers’ paradise”, and echoed endlessly by vacuous Chomsky-ites.

    I’m reminded of the circus calliope, which draws much of its sound from octave “drone strings”-resonating as the main course of strings is played.

    All-in-all, that “sideshow sound” seems appropriate !

    1. 20committee says:

      Indeed it does!

    2. mark says:

      Curious for all of the USA bashing Mr. Chomsky does, he has been a supporter of the Warren Dulles commission report for more than four decades.

      Most empires have problems with looking at their histories. There is a “memory hole” for every flavor of political opinion.

      Russia is as unlikely to look at Stalin’s lack of preparation for the Nazi invasion as the USA is to look at how the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary, the long term damage of nuclear weapons testing and production, November 22, 1963, Operation Condor or the warnings that 9/11 was imminent.

      I don’t think Russia Today will be airing a documentary on the FSB false flag attacks in 1999 blamed on Chechens, which were used to get Putin into the presidency.

  10. mrmeangenes says:

    Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this–and believe the Russians used quite a bit of “soft power” themselves.

  11. Doesn’t every ruling class have its’ own ‘history’? Isn’t ‘history’ changing every time the new political wind blows above the country? Don’t we, people, create our own ‘histories’ from the events we face which have not much to do with the objective facts? Isn’t it just human to choose the version that makes us look good, feel good? 😉

    1. 20committee says:

      NOT doing that is what historians are for. 🙂

    2. hacampbell says:

      Not when history is studied and written about by historians rather than governments.

  12. Uwe Weber says:

    Another piece of Garejew (long and in German). Sketching new methods, the direct and indirect approach and what you call secret war.

    Click to access elfp0802.pdf

    1. Krigl says:

      Mein Deutsch ist schrecklich und die Artikel lang, gibt es auch auf Englisch? Google ist böse zu mir.

  13. rachmaninoff1917 says:

    As a European reactionary I consider the Russian regime a continuation of the usurpers of 1917, and Russia to be a usurper regime until it returns power to the Romanovs or at least attempts to make some restitution to the old families that were dispossessed and murdered. Why Putin, who wants to embrace traditional Russian history does not do this, I don’t understand; it would solve his problems with RE to the “Patriotic war,” as it could be discussed honestly, and so could Soviet crimes, without degrading Russia itself, Russian history, or Putin’s project of embracing a traditional Russian identity. It could be a “return to 1917.”

    On the other hand, I am glad that Putin stands up to EU/American hegemony, since this latter is directed against all Christian civilization and it seems, in the USA, is directed racially against white men. Let’s not forget that the USA also uses a narrative or mythology about WW2 to support its nefarious activities (such as calling you a Nazi if you oppose mass third world immigration into white countries).

    Ultimately Putin is a very inadequate counterweight to the international forces of corrosion, but he’s the only one right now. His embrace of traditionalism, however, is entirely cynical until he makes amends for the crimes committed against the REAL Russia, the Russia of pre-1917.

    1. 20committee says:

      Putin is basically a vehicle for the projection of people’s political fantasies; the farther you are from Russia, the more plausible such fantasies seem.

      1. rachmaninoff1917 says:

        But you yourself in a previous post implied Putin does indeed oppose EU/globalist leftism, and for people like me, anyone who stands up to that is potentially an ally. On the other hand, I think he’s only a temporary or unreliable ally for the reasons I said above.

        Why doesn’t Putin’s Russia make some restitution to pre-1917 Russia??

      2. 20committee says:

        No mileage in that for the Kremlin, that’s why.

  14. Dan says:

    Of course Suvorov is correct, and Golitsyn before but dealing with the period after WW2. It’s a pity even this excellent blog’s author can’t bring himself to associate with such sordid people as these who would speculate cogently on matters regarding which nothing like a complete historical record will ever, ever see the light of day.

    1. 20committee says:

      My post was not about the Suvorov debate, FYI.

  15. Amberbock Mike O'Malley says:

    So what are the odds of RT airing a Holodor documentary or Crimea being allowed to have a second vote, to succeed from Russia? Probably about the same as Al Gore’s prediction of coming havoc caused by Global Warming…oops…man made climate change…oops…man made climate disruption.

  16. “History knows no greater display of courage than that shown by the people of Soviet Russia…” Henry L. Stimson. Secretary of War

    “We and our allies owe and acknowledge an everlasting debt of gratitude to the armies and people of the Soviet Union.” Frank Knox. Secretary of the Navy

    “The gallantry and aggressive fighting spirit of the Russian soldiers command the American army’s administration.” George C. Marshall. Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

    “I join … in admiration for the Soviet Union’s heroic and historic defense.” Ernest J. King Commander in Chief United States Fleet

    “… the SCALE AND GRANDEUR of the (Russian) effort mark it as the GREATEST MILITARY ACHIEVEMENT IN ALL HISTORY.” General Douglas MacArthur. Commander in Chief Southwest Pacific Area.

    1. 20committee says:

      One the Eastern Front, 1941-1945, one military of a murderous, genocidal totalitarian regime defeated another.

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