prisoners of history

Jade McGlynn, senior researcher at the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies, spoke with Ivan Krastev of the Center for Liberal Strategies and Michael Kimmage of Catholic University of America in a webinar titled “Prisoners of History? Memory, Myth-Making, and Russia’s War on Ukraine” on April 15.

The online discussion examined the Putin regime’s use of narratives steeped in history to justify the invasion of Ukraine, analyzing President Putin’s “cultural obsession” with Russia’s past and the degree to which Russian citizens buy into their leader’s myths.

During the conversation, the experts outlined Russian leaders’ search for an identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union amid deep uncertainty about borders. Putin crafted the collective sacrifices of the Soviets during World War II into a new Russian nationalism. Krastev highlighted the dangers of aligning the invasion of Ukraine with a fight against Nazis, pointing out that it prevents compromise: “You cannot partially defeat a Nazi.”

McGlynn and Kimmage discussed the Western actions of imposing sanctions and providing weapons to Ukraine and how these policies might be perceived by the Russian public, and McGlynn added that even supporters of the political opposition in Russia were not necessarily pro-West. Questions from the audience prompted the speakers to consider the role of domestic politics in Western countries and the potential for global reactions to the war in Ukraine to impact the Russia-China relationship.