Russian commentary on Putin’s address to the Victory Parade, 9 May and broader lessons that need to be driven home

In my observations yesterday on the Victory Day parade in Moscow I omitted mention of the speech President Putin delivered at the outset of the event. To be sure that speech was one other element of the day which broke with tradition, and so contradicted my overarching generalization of “déjà vu” to characterize the day. Now that one of Russia’s leading journalists and television personalities, Vladimir Solovyov has publicly called attention to what he called Putin’s “extremely tough” statements from the reviewing stand yesterday, I feel obliged to take a step back and add my comment.

Indeed, as Solovyov has remarked, Putin yesterday underlined the unique contribution of the Soviet peoples to the victory over fascist Germany, their massive sacrifices that spelled the turning points in the war. His hands were free to do this, given that this year there were no “Allies” or other state leaders with him on the tribune apart from Rakhmon from the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan. These remarks were clearly issued as an antidote not only to efforts in the West to airbrush from history the decisive role of the USSR in the Victory by equating Stalin with Hitler, and by praising the contribution of the Allies via Lend-Lease and via the second front  so as to diminish the role of Russia itself in the victory.  This antidote is all the more relevant given that the poison is spread in Russia itself by a pathetic minority of Russians who declare themselves to be sworn enemies of the “Putin regime” but are in reality enemies of their own compatriots, whom they despise.  We think in this connection of the friends of Ekho Moskvy, of Meduza and…of Alexei Navalny.

Another measure of the “toughness” in Putin’s speech per Solovyov was his taking on directly the issue of neo-Nazi ideology in European countries as represented by the naming of streets and monuments for known and exposed war criminals of WWII who, as Putin said, had the blood of hundreds of thousands of civilians on their hands.  This was a direct challenge by the Russian leader to the ruling ideology in Ukraine and to the unseemly revival of Nazi scum in their midst, celebrated for their supposed pro-Ukrainian, anti-Soviet views.  Putin’s direct mention of this issue was all the more telling given the silence on this subject from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during his visit to Kiev days earlier, a silence that was especially shocking given Blinken’s status as the step-son of one of the most widely known and celebrated internees of Nazi death camps, Simon Pisar.

Solovyov also calls out the lightly veiled condemnation of Western leaders in Putin’s address for their indifference to the rise of Hitler and gleeful anticipation of a war to the death between Fascism and Communism

In my capacity as an “independent” observer who is not constrained by raison d’état, I will go one step further than Vladimir Putin and his semi-official interpreter Solovyov. 

Readers of my Memoirs will be aware that I lived and worked in Germany for more than 4 years in the period 1988 – 1993. I mastered the language reasonably well, enjoyed life in the culturally appealing metropolises of Frankfurt and Cologne.  In the time since, I have on occasion tossed bouquets to present-day German elites for their purposeful remembrance of their parents and grandparents’ savage and deadly persecution of Jews and others in the 1930s and 1940s.  But in the context of Vladimir Putin’s address to his people yesterday at the start of the Military Parade celebrating the 76th victory over fascist Germany, I want to deal directly with an issue that only comes out obliquely from Official Russia but bears directly on all of European – Russian relations today and going forward:  by the barbaric behavior not only of SS units but of the entire German armed forces on the Eastern Front, representing the German nation at large, Germany has forfeited for the 500 years to come any right to stand on a podium as Angela Merkel has done, as current German Foreign Minister Heiko Haas has done, and reproach Russia for violation of  “European values.”  Indeed, Russians today are not angels, but it is not for the devils to call them out. Let us all just proceed in establishing international relations on the neutral grounds of respectful acknowledgement of national interest and non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states.  In a word, the validity of Westphalian principles is timeless.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021