Staunton, December 19 – In perhaps the clearest indication yet that Vladimir Putin plans wholesale changes in the borders of the Russian Federation and the destruction of the non-Russian republics within the current borders of that country, the Kremlin leader attacked Lenin for nationality policies he says ultimately led to the destruction of the USSR.
Lenin’s approach not only destroyed the unitary nature of the Russian state that had existed for a millennium, Putin said at his annual press conference, but put in its place a confederation which gave the units the right to leave and created some 2,000 ethno-territorial conflicts in the Russian Federation and post-Soviet states.
But at the same time, he continued, Lenin’s body should not yet be removed from the mausoleum on Red Square because so many people still alive definite themselves in terms of Lenin. Instead, Putin argued, Russians and others should look to the future instead of focusing on the past.
Because Putin’s words are likely to have such dramatic consequences, they are worth quoting at length:
“And when I spoke about the millennium-long history of our state, it was strictly centralized and unitary. What did Vladimir Ilich Lenin propose? He proposed in fact not even a federation but a confederation. By his decision, ethnoses were attached to specific territories and received the right of exit from the Soviet Union.
“But even territories were cut up so that they did not always correspond and do not up to now correspond with the traditional places of residence of the various peoples. As a result, immediately arose hot spots. They exist now among the former republics of the Soviet Union and even inside the Russian Federation. There are 2,000 of these spots. One can’t ignore them even for a second.
“By the way, Stalin was against such an organization: he even wrote an article about autonomization. But in the end, he accepted Lenin’s formula. And what happened? In the course of the establishment of the Soviet Union, immemorial Russian territories, which in general had never had any relationship to Ukraine were handed over to Ukraine with the strange justification that this was ‘for increasing the percentage of the proletarian in Ukraine.
“This is a somewhat strange decision. But nevertheless, it occurred. This is all the heritage of the state construction of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, and even now we are dealing with it.”
Putin has been denouncing Lenin in this area for four years and since 2014 has often suggested that Lenin “laid an atomic bomb under the building which is called Russia.” But at today’s press conference, he explained in greater detail how he came to that conclusion:
“For a long time, I worked in intelligence which was a component part of a very politicized organization, the KGB of the USSR, and I had my eyes about our leaders and so on. But today, as a result of my experience in my present position, I understand that besides the ideological component there is a geopolitical factor. It was not considered at all in the creation of the Soviet Union.
“Instead, all was very politicized at that time. The party began to fall apart and the country fell apart afterwards. This must not be allowed. This is a mistake. An absolute, cardinal, and fundamental mistake for state construction.”
At the same time, in the course of his responses to several other questions, Putin declared as he has earlier that “I regret that there is no Soviet Union” (vz.ru/news/2019/12/19/1014500.html and vz.ru/politics/2019/12/20/1014614.html).
Not everyone accepts Putin’s reading of history as correct and convincing. Abbas Gallyamov, a commentator who earlier served as one of his speech writers, says that it simply isn’t the case that Russia was a centralized and unitary state before Lenin arrived and that Lenin’s policies led to the country’s demise (realtribune.ru/news/authority/3302).
Lenin inherited “not a united and indivisible Rusisa but a much-weakened country with powerful centrifugal forces. Nationalism and separatism flourished not only among civilians but in the army – there after the February revolution, even national military units began to be formed spontaneously."
In the spring of 1917, the Ukrainian Central Rada “demanded the creation of a Ukrainian national army and ‘the Ukrainianization’ of the Black Sea Fleet.” And “approximately the same thing happened in other national borderlands as well,” with the Provisional Governor, “long before Lenin,” recognizing the right of nations to self-determination.
According to Gallyamov, Lenin “had no chance to ignore these processes and preserve Russia as a unitary state. He acted not in ideal condition but in a situation in which the state was in fact splitting apart along national lines. In such a situation, you cannot only take; you must give something in return. Thus, the federation was born.”
Moreover, the commentator continues, these “centrifugal tendencies” arose as a result of “the policy of the Russification of the borderlands” that was carried out by the tsarist government, again well before Lenin appeared on the scene. It was those policies and not Lenin’s that set the country on the road it followed.
But one perhaps can understand why Putin doesn’t understand that or wish people to focus on that history. After all, with his policies regarding non-Russian languages, the current Kremlin leader is repeating the mistakes of the tsarist regime. In this situation, it is much more convenient to blame Lenin for problems than those who were their real authors.