Nothing unites Russians so much as their agreement that they did a good job in defeating the Nazis in WWII, and hence this achievement has been wheeled out at various times by politicians looking to shore up their popularity or galvanize the citizenry in support of some nationalistic drive or other.
It was therefore not very surprising when the Russian government potrayed the uprising in Kiev as driven by facists, implying that the rebels in the east were doing pretty much what great uncle Ilya did at Stalingrad in 1942. It was nonsense from the outset of course. Regardless of any unsavoury elements involved in the overthrow of the government, those who took over were not the Nazis and they were not bent on elminating ethnic Russians.
Now as Russia steps up their military offensive into Ukraine, the WWII rhetoric is being ramped up. Yesterday Putin likened the Ukrainian army in east Ukraine to the Nazis at the siege of Leningrad:
“Sad as it might seem, this reminds me of the events of World War II, when the German Nazi occupants surrounded our cities, like Leningrad, and directly shelled those cities and their inhabitants,” Putin said on Friday, speaking at the “Seliger-2014” youth forum.
He recalled the signs in St. Petersburg, preserved since World War II, which warned citizens which side of the road was more vulnerable to shelling.
Now “both towns and cities are surrounded by the Ukrainian army, which is directly shelling residential areas with the purpose of destroying infrastructure, and suppressing the will of those in the resistance,” Putin said.
Perhaps Putin has forgotten the siege of Grozny, which took place under his orders in 1999-2000, where the Russian army bombarded the city indiscriminantly, killing thousands of civilians in a manner not dissimilar to the Nazis at Leningrad.
But leaving that aside, I think he’s blundered here. The siege of Leningrad, like the battle of Stalingrad, occupies a special place in the minds of Russians for the reason that they undeniably represent incredible suffering, sacrifice, and ultimately victory over an enemy that was determined to destroy them. The siege of Leningrad needs no propaganda, the facts speak for themselves. Even those who disliked the USSR and everything it stood for regarded the city with a pride which had nothing to do with its namesake, and it was for this reason that even former dissidents objected to the name change back to St. Petersburg in 1991.
I suspect there are more than a few Russians who will find this clumsy attempt to co-opt such a major event into this latest cause somewhat distasteful, and it would not surprise me if he comes in for considerable cricitism over this in later years, when his inevitable decline and fall occurs, even if nobody will dare say anything now. The whole speech is an insult to the intelligence of those in the audience, and smacks of desperation. Little wonder that he chose to share it with a bunch of kids.