Friday, June 26, 2020

Putin Seeking to Return Russia Not to a Real Past but to an Invented One, Davydov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – That Vladimir Putin wants to take Russia back to the past is a common observation, but it is important to recognize, Ivan Davydov says, that the past the Kremlin leader is seeking to “restore” never really existed but rather is something of his own invention.

            That understanding is a necessary but not sufficient condition to evaluate what Putin is doing, the Moscow commentator says, because even “in an invented history there are its own eras, its own mileposts, its own chronology, and its own key events” (

            That becomes obvious if one reads Putin’s essay about the leadup to World War II, an essay in which Stalin is “almost a saint” and the Balts are “happy” to have joined the USSR, visions that are completely at variance with what actually occurred in those years, Davydov continues.

            Some think Putin wants to go back to Stalin’s times, others to Brezhnev’s. “Happily, Putin’s Russia is very little like Stalin’s USSR, either real or invented. With respect to Brezhnev’s USSR, Putin’s Russia bears a closer resemblance,” but again not one that is real unless one invents a different past than actually existed.

            And thus it turns out that Putin doesn’t really want to go back to any past that has ever existed but to some particular one he has dreamed up that has never existed before.  And he wants to do that so that Russia will not change from what it is now and he will remain in power for the rest of his life.

            People like Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peshkov, Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov, and Senator Andrey Klishas are making that clear, Davydov says. They all insist that Putin must remain in office and Russia must remain unchanged. Even to think about a successor is to threaten the entire edifice.

            For them as for Putin, any changes must remain “unthinkable in principle,” including changes to some past or other. “This was not the case in Brezhnev’s times or in Stalin’s or even in the period of struggle with the Polovtsians and  Pechenegs.” Instead, this is a Russia somewhere “before the Big Bang.”

            That of course is a truly ambitious goal, Davydov concludes; but it is one that like any other return to the past is based not on a real past but rather one reimagined to serve current purposes. 

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