Statements taken from the interview for

Why is history so important to the Putin regime?

It is the feeling of the impossibility of the current ruling class, which is trying to legitimize itself through the appeal of history. They are descendants of Aleksandr Nevsky and Peter the Great. For the first time in Russia, political life is under the control of the secret services. Officers for intelligence occupy dominant positions at all levels of administration and in the economy. Membership in the caste of officers for intelligence fosters a political, administrative, business career. Ethos and career specifics in the secret services make the Russian elite a homogeneous and united group.

They can be good people in their profession of secret agents, they gather information, they organize challenges. Leading Russia far exceeds its powers. Even though they have degrees in various fields, they are neither economists, diplomats, sociologists, psychologists, they are officers of the secret services. They believe that economics, diplomacy, sociology, psychology, culture, art must serve the state and its objectives. During the Soviet Union, the party defined the interests of the state. The NKVD, then the KGB, served the interests of the state, as defined by the party. Officers for intelligence were the armed arm, the fist, never the brain of the Soviet system. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the secret services assumed brain-effects.

The group of officers for intelligence holding power in Moscow has a specific view of the world based on the idea that Russia is surrounded by enemies who want to destroy it. Basically, the whole world is plotting against the holy Russia. The secret services are self-investing with an almost metaphysical mission to save Russia, to shield it from these plots.

Rivalry with the West, the conflict with the US, is essential to keeping this group in power. The past, education in military academies, and the present, ideology, ensure the coherence of the Russian elite. And history plays a key role in refining Putinistideology. Hence the obsession with control over textbooks, teaching, debates on history in society. Now, we only see and comment on Putin’s revisionist offensive, but control over the writing of history is an older phenomenon.

Why did Vladimir Putin launch this revisionist offensive in the field of history? Who is she addressing? Why now?

Authoritarian regimes are also characterised by control over the past, not just the present. The past is rewritten in such a way as to correspond to the present objectives of the regime. It’s rewritten as many times as it takes. History becomes the tool used by power, the weapon of combat, both against the enemies of the regime and for mobilizing society.

Putin does not invent events, historical contexts, but uses facts from the past, which he puts in an order that leads to certain conclusions, generates public emotions, fuels frustrations, in other words to manipulate.

What the Kremlin leader is doing is rather a propaganda exercise, where truths, half-truths or simply omissions are combined that they manipulate the public. The exercise of power in Russia is not based so much on coerciveness, as in the Stalinist period, but on manipulation through propaganda.

History is a matter that can create emotion, so that it can be used to reinforce hatred of foreigners, the obsession of the besieged city, forcing comparisons between different eras and events that often lead to aberrant conclusions. Not coincidentally, it was only in the last phase of the Putin regime, after 2012, and especially after the annexation of Crimea and the launch of the war in Ukraine, that control over “historical truth” became an obsession of the Kremlin.

Putin uses the rewriting of episodes of history to mobilize and strengthen Russian society around power, but also to induce  Ukrainian neighbors, Hungarians or Germans doubts about the intentions of the great Western chancellors and the values of Western civilization.

Examples of manipulation by falsifying history.

The 75th anniversary of the Yalta Conference recently began, it was an opportunity for Russians to promote the idea of betraying Poland. Thus, Churchill and Roosevelt would have sold Poland, in fact all of Eastern Europe, to Stalin. First, the decision on Poland’s borders was not taken in Yalta in February 1945, but in Tehran in November 1943. Second, Poland’s fate depended on Stalin, who occupied the whole of Eastern Europe, and not Churchill or Roosevelt. The Americans and the British couldn’t give up what they didn’t have. It’s a thesis to this day repeated and that still stirs a lot of emotion in eastern Europe, and now it’s being used by  Putinist propaganda to highlight how wicked and cynical the West is that sold a lot of peoples. Unlike Russia, which is empathetic and loving with these peoples.

Another example: Pervîi  Kanal, the TV station with the largest audience in Russia reported on the bombing scans in  Desda, on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. The Russian correspondent took the full message from Hitler’s propaganda that Dresden was a peaceful city full of refugees, and his bombing was a barbaric gesture of British and American aviation. What  Pervii  Kanal does not say is that in Yalta, a few days before, the Soviets had urged the Westerners to bomb Dresden because it was the main railway hub through which German troops, armaments, and ammunition were transferred between the western and eastern fronts.

The revisionist offensive against Poland is very visible.

In the recent past, Russia has argued about history with other countries, even Romania. Only, the political elites in these countries, as well as public opinion, have been much more relaxed. The Warsaw regime is much more sensitive to the management of historical memory. Unlike the countries around it, Poland has entered into a debate with Russia. There are also Western commentators who say that the Warsaw elite likes this polemic, it needs it, to distract public attention from the slippage of the authorities.

On the other hand, for public opinion in Russia in general, for older generations that were born before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in particular, Poland is an important reference, which can be exploited by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.

Who makes Putin’s narratives when it comes to history.

According to Russian media, the president receives information on history from Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service. Close to Putin,  Naryshkin was the head of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. Since 2012 he has provided the President with historical information, as President of the Russian History Society.  Naryshkin knew the world of historians well because he led a commission to combat the “falsification of history”, established in 2009 by President  Medvedev. It was a commission with a mission to combat the falsification of history in order to diminish Russia’s importance prestige. This committee sought to corner and mobilize professors from universities and researchers from the institutes of the Academy of Sciences to actively combat critical opinions about Russia’s more recent or distant past.

However, what follows Putin?

Putin’s drama is that he arrived too late in the Kremlin. He campaigned in 2020 for a return to a geopolitical situation in 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Context forced him to act like a revisionist, but he’s a deep conservative. He wants to preserve the status of the USSR on the international stage, resulting from the Second World War, only the Union no longer exists.

Vladimir Putin was invited by the World Holocaust Forum to the January 23 ceremony in 

January 27th is the international day of remembrance for Holocaust victims. 75 years ago, the Soviet research battalion, commanded by Major Shapiro, a Ukrainian jew, happened to arrive at the gate of the Auschwitz camp, where it saw hundreds and thousands of bodies stacked. He called his commander and reported what he found there. I repeat, to free the camps it was not a military operation.

Thus, 27 January was adopted by many countries as a day of Holocaust commemoration. Not all countries, Romania commemorates Holocaust on October 9, Poland, Israel, USA have set different dates… But in most countries, it’s January 27th.

Putin was not invited to the ceremony in Poland but was present in Israel on January 23 at the ceremony organized by the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem.

This World Forum has a lesser-known history. It was founded in 2005 by Russian-Israeli billionaire Vyacheslav Kantor, Moshe Kantor for the Israeli and international press. He is the most important personality of jews in Russia, being active in promoting the theme of the Holocaust in education.

Moshe Kantor organized a major commemoration in Krakow in January 2005, 60 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. It has been a success since then it organizes such ceremonies annually in Poland. For the first time this year, he brought the ceremony to Jerusalem. Moshe Kantor appears on the list of oligarchs close to Putin published by Washington. It’s the famous U.S. Treasury list, published in 2018. There are 100 businessmen, including Kantor, and more than 100 political figures, all closely linked to power circles, Putin personally and who are sanctioned for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

So he’s a close friend of Putin’s, there’s a variety of disclaim… Jewish leaders in Ukraine, the country with which Russia is practically at war, went so far as to accuse Kantor of organizing this Holocaust Forum for Putin.

Kantor, accused of politicizing the Holocaust.

There are other organizations that preserve the memory of the Holocaust. There’s some competition between them. Perhaps the most important is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation Birkenau led by Ronald  Lauder. For nearly four decades, Lauder has been funding the restoration of jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe. The first ones were in Poland. There is also a  Lauder school in Bucharest.

He invested money and energy in saving the last material remains of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, identified and supported survivors and – very importantly – always opposed the politicization of Holocaust commemoration. Which he didn’t always do.

Tense discussions have been going on in other years, but now the World Holocaust Forum has displeased too many people. First, the Auschwitz survivors who were not invited to the ceremony. And those who were invited, however, we’re disappointed because not even a survivor was called to the microphone to speak at the official ceremony. After hostile to  Holocaust survivors, it’s no wonder that some of them, interviewed by the Israeli press, called the Jerusalem event “circus.” Even Foreign Minister  Shlomo Ben-AmiAmi- otherwise a very reserved diplomat – said the yad Vashem ceremony was just an opportunity to take more pictures.