The world celebrates the year 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism during the World War II. For the first time in history, Russia postponed its military parade traditionally held on Moscow’s Red Square on May 9 due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the pandemic subsides, Russia will now mark this historical event on June 24 as decreed by President Vladimir Putin.
For Russia, the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War is unique and has its historical importance and therefore must necessarily to commemorated.
The Head of State explained he had chosen this date because June 24 was the day when in 1945 the legendary historic parade of victors took place, when soldiers, who fought for Moscow and defended Leningrad, who stood their ground for Stalingrad, liberated Europe and stormed Berlin, marched on Red Square, and provincial cities throughout the Russian Federation.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told President Putin’s meeting with permanent members of the National Security Council that 12 leaders had confirmed they would attend the event in Moscow. “We confirmed that all invitations are still active for all those invited to the parade [initially] planned for May 9. We already received confirmations from 12 heads of state, most of whom are [heads] from the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS],” Lavrov informed during the video link.
While contributing to the discussion, Putin further noted that the pandemic had made substantial adjustments to preparations for that event, including the work with foreign colleagues. “We certainly need to ensure the full safety of our guests,” Putin said.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu assured the meeting with the permanent members of the National Security Council: “Everything is definitely ready for the parade.” During preparations ahead of the parade, “all people were tested and all medical measures taken,” he added.
The Victory Parade on Moscow’s Red Square on June 24 will bring Russian troops for the parade, a mechanized column and flyover of military jet fighters and host military demonstrations of its strength and artillery firework displays. The same form of activities are expected in the regions throughout the Russian Federation.
For the Moscow parade, only part of the details was made public by the Defense Ministry. “The mechanized column comprised 232 modern and advanced weapon systems, including 20 items of military hardware will take part in the military parade for the first time,” the Defense Ministry said on its website.
Over the years, there has been some controversy about the war history. The evolutionary and development processes of the war are in public reference libraries, and are available for any analytical research. According to Russian officials, Europe and the United States have, in the past, attempted to erase or distort the history of the World War. Understanding the evolution, the concepts and consequences, prompted Putin to pen an article that aims at straightening the historical records.
Russian news agencies reported that President Putin has written an article about World War II, could be published before the Victory Parade on June 24. He first revealed his plans to write this article about the developments of the war during his annual end-of-year news conference in December 2019. His article is based on archive materials. The president has been mentioning these developments, including the so-called Munich Betrayal, or Munich Agreement, and the role of individual European states, Poland in particular, in many of his speeches. Putin has repeatedly stressed the inadmissibility to falsify the history of WW II.
Quite recently, Russia’s State Duma Chairman, Viacheslav Volodin, also noted that denying the role of the USSR in the common Victory in some states is inappropriate and it is important to transfer historical memory and truth to children and grandchildren.
“We should do everything to protect those who are no longer able to protect themselves, but they gave us the opportunity to live,” said the Chairman at the meeting of the CSTO PA Council and added “we should do everything to ensure that the attitude to Victory, to World War II, is based on the principles of honesty and objectivity.”
“We should not stand to see defamation of memory of the victorious soldiers,” said Volodin and stressed that it is necessary to protect those who are no longer able to protect themselves – 27 million people who died: our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, relatives.
“We should ensure that no one undermines the contribution of the Soviet Union to the Great Victory, a country with many nationalities, a country that had united all of us. We should do everything possible to prevent such war, but at the same time to respect history and not let anyone rewrite it,” he concluded.
Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov, gave an interview to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, published on June 9. In this interview, Bogdanov explicitly noted that the current tendencies to revise history are alarming.
“We have been seeing this cynical historical aggression for years, unleashed by certain groups abroad. Undoubtedly, this is done for political and opportunistic purposes – they are launching campaigns to rewrite history and demonize the Soviet Union’s and the Red Army’s actions before World War II, during the war and after it ended. Certain countries’ attacks on the monuments and memorials erected earlier as a tribute to those who fought against Nazism and fascism look especially cynical,” he told the Al-Ahram.
He further said that Russia is confident that all countries, as heirs of the Great Victory, have a duty to preserve the truth about the events of that period of time that happened in the European, Asian and African theatres of war, paying tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the triumph of the ideals of humanity.
In line with efforts at the United Nations to combat the glorification of Nazism and the distortion of history, Russia annually submits to the UN General Assembly the resolution on combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
An official statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the Collective Security Treaty Organization on the 75th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War also condemned various attempts to the distortion of history.
“It is with deepest gratitude that we remember the courage and valiance of all those who gave their lives for the freedom of future generations. Any distortion of the historical truth about those events demeans the memory of those who had suffered the cruelty of the war. Any attempts to rewrite history and misinterpretation of the events that had led to the world war are hindering the awareness of and response to the challenges and threats facing all of us and are fraught with a repetition of the tragic mistakes made in the past,” according to a document released on May 26.
The document was signed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia and Tajikistan.
For the CSTO member states, this is a special commemorative date of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of the peoples of the Soviet Union, whose contribution became decisive in the outcome of the entire World War II. The deed in a war that claimed the lives of more than twenty-seven million will forever remain in memory. Diminishing the significance of their deed is unacceptable.
Being conscious of the enormous debt owed to the fallen in the fight against Nazism and its victims, following on the principles of protecting historical truth, the provisions of international legal acts adopted after World War II, and urged the parliaments of the member states of the Council of Europe to take following measures at the legislative level:
- to counteract the revival and encouragement of Nazism and its manifestations in modern Europe;
- to protect the historical truth about World War II, to combat attempts to revise its results, to diminish the decisive role of the peoples of the Soviet Union in the Victory;
- to prevent the desecration of graves of participants in the fight against Nazism and military burial places, vandalism against monuments to Soviet soldiers-liberators, harassing of veterans, trampling the honor of those who died and were tortured to death in extermination camps;
- to stop any attempt to justify the Nazis and their accomplices who committed the most serious crimes during World War II, the actions of their followers, the denial or distortion of the decisions of the International Military Tribunal in relation to the prosecution and punishment of the main war criminals of the European Axis Alliance.
The consolidation of the entire international community is crucial for counteracting the resurgence of Nazism. It is the common duty to preserve the memory of the Great Victory, that unites all people who defeated Nazism together. It is important to honor the memory of those without whom the Victory would have been impossible, who gave their lives in the name of the freedom of people and for the sake of the future.
Putin’s post-Soviet world remains a work in progress, but Africa already looms
Russian civilisationalism is proving handy as President Vladimir Putin seeks to expand the imaginary boundaries of his Russian World, whose frontiers are defined by Russian speakers and adherents to Russian culture rather than international law and/or ethnicity.
Mr. Putin’s disruptive and expansive nationalist ideology has underpinned his aggressive
approach to Ukraine since 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the stoking of insurgencies in the east of the country. It also underwrites this month’s brief intervention in Kazakhstan, even if it was in contrast to Ukraine at the invitation of the Kazakh government.
Mr. Putin’s nationalist push in territories that were once part of the Soviet Union may be par for the course even if it threatens to rupture relations between Russia and the West and potentially spark a war. It helps Russia compensate for the strategic depth it lost with the demise of communism in Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, equally alarmingly, Mr. Putin appears to be putting building blocks in place that would justify expanding his Russian World in one form or another beyond the boundaries of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
In doing so, he demonstrates the utility of employing plausibly deniable mercenaries not only for military and geopolitical but also ideological purposes.
Standing first in line is the Central African Republic. A resource-rich but failed state that has seen its share of genocidal violence and is situated far from even the most expansive historical borders of the Russian empire, the republic could eventually qualify to be part of the Russian world, according to Mr. Putin’s linguistic and cultural criteria.
Small units of the Wagner Group, a private military company owned by one of Mr. Putin’s close associates, entered the Centra African Republic once departing French troops handed over to a United Nations peacekeeping force in 2016. Five years later, Wagner has rights to mine the country’s gold and diamond deposits.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Russian mercenary presence persuaded President Faustin-Archange Touadera that the African republic should embrace Russian culture.
As a result, university students have been obliged to follow Russian-language classes starting as undergraduates in their first year until their second year of post-graduate studies. The mandate followed the introduction of Russian in the republic’s secondary school curriculum in 2019.
Mr. Touadera is expected to ask Mr. Putin for Russian-language instructors during a forthcoming visit to Moscow to assist in the rollout.
Neighbouring Mali could be next in line to follow in Mr. Touadera’s footsteps.
Last month, units of the Wagner Group moved into the Sahel nation at the request of a government led by army generals who have engineered two coups in nine months. The generals face African and Western sanctions that could make incorporating what bits of the country they control into the Russian world an attractive proposition.
While it is unlikely that Mr. Putin would want to formally welcome sub-Saharan and Sahel states into his Russian world, it illustrates the pitfalls of a redefinition of internationally recognised borders as civilisational and fluid rather than national, fixed, and legally enshrined.
For now, African states do not fit Mr. Putin’s bill of one nation as applied to Ukraine or Belarus. However, using linguistics as a monkey wrench, he could, overtime or whenever convenient, claim them as part of the Russian world based on an acquired language and cultural affinity.
Mr. Putin’s definition of a Russian world further opens the door to a world in which the principle of might is right runs even more rampant with the removal of whatever flimsy guard rails existed.
To accommodate the notion of a Russian world, Russian leaders, going back more than a decade, have redefined Russian civilisation as multi-ethnic rather than ethically Russia.
The Central African Republic’s stress on Russian-language education constitutes the first indication in more than a decade that Mr. Putin and some of his foreign allies may expand the Russian world’s civilisational aspects beyond the erstwhile Soviet Union.
Some critics of Mr. Putin’s concept of a Russian world note that Western wars allegedly waged out of self-defense and concern for human rights were also about power and geopolitical advantage.
For example, pundit Peter Beinart notes that NATO-led wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya “also extended American power and smashed Russian allies at the point of a gun.”
The criticism doesn’t weaken the legitimacy of the US and Western rejection of Russian civilisationalism. However, it does undermine the United States’ ability to claim the moral high ground.
It further constrains Western efforts to prevent the emergence of a world in which violation rather than the inviolability of national borders become the accepted norm.
If Russian interventionism aims to change borders, US interventionism often sought to change regimes. That is one driver of vastly different perceptions of the US role in the world, including Russian distrust of the post-Soviet NATO drive into Eastern Europe and independent former Soviet states such as Ukraine.
“People with more experience of the dark side of American power—people whose families hail from Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, or Mexico, where US guns have sabotaged democracy rather than defended it—might find it easier to understand Russian suspicions. But those Americans tend not to shape US policy towards places like Ukraine,” Mr. Beinart said.
Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia
Through all the discussions that accompanied the preparation of the Valdai Club report “Space Without Borders: Russia and Its Neighbours”, the most clear question was whether Russia should or should not avoid repeating the historical experience of relations with its near abroad. This experience, in the most general terms, is that after Russia pacifies its western border with its foreign policy, the Russian state inevitably must turn to issues related to the existence of its immediate neighbourhood. With a high degree of probability, it will be forced to turn to its centuries-old method for solving problems that arise there: expansion for the sake of ensuring security.
Now Russia’s near abroad consists of a community of independent states that cannot ensure their own security and survival by relying only on their own forces; we cannot be completely sure of their stability. From Estonia in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east, the existence of these countries in a competitive international environment is ensured by their link with one of the nuclear superpowers. Moreover, such connections can only complement each other with great difficulty. As the recent developments in Kazakhstan have demonstrated, they are not limited to the threat of an external invasion; even internal circumstances can become deadly.
The dramatic events in that country were intensified by external interference from the geostrategic opponents of Russia, as well as international terrorists, but it would be disingenuous to argue that their most important causes are not exclusively internal and man-made. We cannot and should not judge whether the internal arrangements of our neighbours are good or bad, since we ourselves do not have ideal recipes or examples. However, when dealing with the consequences, it is rational to fear that their statehood will either be unable to survive, or that their existence will take place in forms that create dangers which Russia cannot ignore.
In turn, the events experienced now in relations between Russia and the West, if we resort to historical analogies, look like a redux of the Northern War. The Great Northern War arose at the beginning of the 18th century as the result of the restoration of Russia’s power capabilities; the West had made great progress in approaching the heart of its territory. Within the framework of this logic, victory, even tactical victory, in the most important (Western) direction will inevitably force Russia to turn to its borders. Moreover, the reasons for paying more attention to them are obvious. This will present Russia with the need to decide on how much it is willing to participate in the development of its neighbours.
The developments in Kazakhstan in early January 2022 showed the objective limits of the possibilities of building a European-style sovereign state amid new, historical, and completely different geopolitical circumstances. More or less all the countries of the space that surrounds Russia, from the Baltic to the Pamir, are unique experiments that arose amid the truly phenomenal orderliness of conditions after the end of the Cold War. In that historical era, the world really developed under conditions where a general confidence prevailed that the absolute dominance of one power and a group of its allies creates conditions for the survival of small and medium-sized states, even in the absence of objective reasons for this.
The idea of the “end of history” was so convincing that we could accept it as a structural factor, so powerful that it would allow us to overcome even the most severe objective circumstances.
The Cold War era created the experience of the emergence and development of new countries, which until quite recently had been European colonies. Despite the fact that there are a few “success stories” among the countries that emerged after 1945, few have been able to get out of the catch-up development paradigm. However, it was precisely 30 years ago that there really was a possibility that a unipolar world would be so stable that it would allow the experiment to come to fruition. The visible recipes of the new states being built were ideal from an abstract point of view, just as Victor Frankenstein was guided by a desire for the ideal.
Let us recall that the main idea of our report was that Russia needs to preserve the independence of the states surrounding it and direct all its efforts to ensure that they become effective powers, eager to survive. This desire for survival is seen as the main condition for rational behaviour, i.e. creating a foreign policy, which takes into account the geopolitical conditions and the power composition of Eurasia. In other words, we believe that Russia is interested in the experiment that emerged within the framework of the Liberal World Order taking place under new conditions, since its own development goals dictate that it avoid repeating its past experience of full control over its neighbours, with which it shares a single geopolitical space.
This idea, let’s not hide it, prompted quite convincing criticism, based on the belief that the modern world does not create conditions for the emergence of states where such an experience is absent in more or less convincing forms. For Russia, the challenge is that even if it is technically capable of ensuring the immediate security of its national territory, the spread of the “grey zone” around its borders will inevitably bring problems that the neighbours themselves are not able to solve.
The striking analogy proposed by one colleague was the “hallway of hell” that Russia may soon face on its southern borders, making us raise the question that the absence of topographic boundaries within this space makes it necessary to create artificial political or even civilisational lines, the protection of which in any case will be entrusted to the Russian soldier. This January we had the opportunity to look into this “hallway of hell”. There is no certainty that the instant collapse of a state close to Russia in the darkest periods of its political history should be viewed as a failure in development, rather than a systemic breakdown of the entire trajectory, inevitable because it took shape amid completely different conditions.
Therefore, now Russia should not try to understand what its further strategy might be; in any case, particular behaviour will be determined by circumstances. Our task is to explore the surrounding space in order to understand where Russia can stop if it does not want to resort to the historical paradigm of its behaviour. The developments in Kazakhstan, in their modern form, do not create any grounds for optimism or hopes for a return to an inertial path of development. Other states may follow Ukraine and Kazakhstan even if they now look quite confident. There are no guarantees — and it would be too great a luxury for Russia to accept such a fate.
This is primarily because the Russian state will inevitably face a choice between being ready for several decades of interaction with a huge “grey zone” along the perimeter of its borders and more energetic efforts to prevent its emergence. It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. This is not a hypothetical invasion of third forces — that does not pose any significant threat to Russia. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991. Even now, there seems to be a reason to believe that thirty years of independence have made it possible to create elements of statehood that can be preserved and developed with the help of Russia.
from our partner RIAC
Do as You’re Told, Russia Tells the Neighborhood
The Kremlin has always argued that it has special interests and ties to what once constituted the Soviet space. Yet it struggled to produce a smooth mechanism for dealing with the neighborhood, where revolutionary movements toppled Soviet and post-Soviet era political elites. Popular movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and most recently Kazakhstan have flowered and sometimes triumphed despite the Kremlin’s rage.
Russia’s responses have differed in each case, although it has tended to foster separatism in neighboring states to preclude their westward aspirations. As a policy, this was extreme and rarely generated support for its actions, even from allies and partners. The resultant tensions underlined the lack of legitimacy and generated acute fear even in friendlier states that Russia one day could turn against them.
But with the activation of the hitherto largely moribund six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kazakhstan seems to be an entirely different matter. Here, for the first time since its Warsaw Pact invasions, Russia employed an element of multilateralism. This was designed to show that the intervention was an allied effort, though it was Russia that pulled the strings and contributed most of the military force.
CSTO activation is also about something else. It blurred the boundaries between Russia’s security and the security of neighboring states. President Vladimir Putin recently stated the situation in Kazakhstan concerned “us all,” thereby ditching the much-cherished “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring states. The decision was also warmly welcomed by China, another Westphalia enthusiast.
In many ways, Russia always wanted to imitate the US, which in its unipolar moment used military power to topple regimes (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and to restore sovereignty (in Kuwait.) Liberal internationalism with an emphasis on human rights allowed America and its allies to operate with a certain level of legitimacy and to assert (a not always accepted) moral imperative. Russia had no broader ideas to cite. Until now. Upholding security and supporting conservative regimes has now become an official foreign policy tool. Protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan helped the Kremlin streamline this vision.
Since Russia considers its neighbors unstable (something it often helps to bring about), the need for intervention when security is threatened will now serve as a new dogma, though this does not necessarily mean that CSTO will now exclusively serve as the spearhead of Russian interventionist policy in crises along its borders. On the contrary, Russia will try to retain maneuverability and versatility. The CSTO option will be one weapon in the Kremlin’s neighborhood pacification armory.
Another critical element is the notion of “limited sovereignty,” whereby Russia allows its neighbors to exercise only limited freedom in foreign policy. This is a logical corollary, since maneuverability in their relations with other countries might lead to what the Kremlin considers incorrect choices, like joining Western military or economic groupings.
More importantly, the events in Kazakhstan also showed that Russia is now officially intent on upholding the conservative-authoritarian regimes. This fits into a broader phenomenon of authoritarians helping other authoritarians. Russia is essentially exporting its own model abroad. The export includes essential military and economic help to shore up faltering regimes.
The result is a virtuous circle, in the Kremlin’s eyes. Not only can it crush less than friendly governments in its borderlands but it also wins extensive influence, including strategic and economic benefits. Take for instance Belarus, where with Russian help, the dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka managed to maintain his position after 2020’s elections through brutality and vote-rigging. The end result is that the regime is ever-more beholden to Russia, abandoning remnants of its multi-vector foreign policy and being forced to make financial and economic concessions of defense and economics to its new master. Russia is pressing hard for a major new airbase.
A similar scenario is now opening up in Kazakhstan. The country which famously managed to strike a balance between Russia and China and even work with the US, while luring multiple foreign investors, will now have to accept a new relationship with Russia. It will be similar to Belarus, short of integration talks.
Russia fears crises, but it has also learned to exploit them. Its new approach is a very striking evolution from the manner in which it handled Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, through the Belarus and Armenia-Azerbaijan crises in 2020 to the Kazakh uprising of 2022.
Russia has a new vision for its neighborhood. It is in essence a concept of hierarchical order with Russia at the top of the pyramid. The neighbors have to abide by the rules. Failure to do so would produce a concerted military response.
Author’s note: first published in cepa
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