Wednesday, October 9, 2019

With Steinmeier Plan, Putin is Doing in Ukraine Now What Stalin did in Eastern Europe in 1946-1948, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to seek control over all Ukraine precisely by not shifting borders rather than risk losing power over much of it by moving them westward shows that the current Kremlin leader is doing what Stalin did in eastern Europe in the late 1940s rather than what Vladimir Lenin had wanted, Andrey Piontkovsky says

            The Russian commentator makes this point in a new article about the situation in Ukraine today, a situation he says he been brought on by the party of capitulators now in control in Kyiv, and one that he says was made by another commentator, Yury Shvets, who defected to the United States (

            The analogy contains important insights not only about Putin’s calculations but also about the sources of his geopolitical ideas.  He clearly accepts Stalin’s approach while rejecting Lenin’s on this issue, one that divided the two men as early as 1920 and that drove Stalin’s actions after Lenin’s death.

The fight between Lenin and Stalin took place largely out of public view.  In his draft theses on the national colonial question for the second congress of the Komintern in 1920, Lenin outlined his view that as the revolution spread, so too should the borders of the Soviet state, an idea that the Red Army’s invasion of Poland may have made appear plausible. (Cf.

Stalin registered his objections in two code cables, one of which was published in Soviet times only once and by someone who did not die in his sleep as a result as a footnote in the third edition of Lenin’s collected works and one of which remained unpublished until after the demise of the USSR.

In both, Stalin made clear that national identities would remain powerful even after a socialist revolution and that trying to impose Moscow’s control via incorporation on those who had never experienced Russian rule before would be a mistake.  He said that the Poles would never accept Soviet RUSSIAN rule and that the same would be true elsewhere.

That did not mean that Stalin did not plan to totally control those in the bloc he expected to establish and did after 1945. Rather it meant that he was prepared to use indirect methods rather than shifting borders lest moves in the other direction create problems for him both internationally and within the borders of the USSR.

In the event, Lenin was incapacitated and died not long after the USSR was formed, and Stalin was able to put his ideas into practice, ideas that gave birth to a world socialist system in which there were many states not one with the kind of diversity that he had no intention of allowing within the Soviet Union.

Stalin violated his own view only when he occupied Western Ukraine, Western Belarus, and parts of what is now Moldova and when after a gap of 25 years re-imposed Russian rule in the Baltic countries, and it was these violations that contributed mightily to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Had Stalin moved the USSR’s borders further outward, the Soviet Union likely would have exploded even earlier; but if it had survived in the form Lenin wanted, it would not be a Russian-dominated system but rather one in which the majority of its population would be speaking Chinese, certainly something that would give even the most pro-Soviet Russians pause.

Like Stalin, Putin has violated this principle only in the case of Crimea, an action that may entail analogous consequences for the Russian Federation; but also like Stalin, he recognizes the risks of shifting borders. Power and control are more important to him than lines on a map, even if those are what his opponents focus on and fail to see his strategy.

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