Will we leave Putin‘s key weapon in his hands?

Under Russia’s bloody aggression against Ukraine, the democracies of the Western

world have responded with stringent measures targeting Russia’s strategic sectors. However, in my opinion, the package of measures is missing Putin’s key weapon used both domestically and internationally. It is the so far prevalent pro-Russian or pro-Soviet interpretation of the causes and consequences of World War II. And together with it, the failure to provide proper, adequate, and international judgment of the criminal Soviet-Communist totalitarian ideology and the crimes committed by the regime from the legal and, most importantly, the political and moral perspective.

The myths of the glorious ‘Great Patriotic War’ and the nostalgic longing for the

Soviet empire are the main tools of Putin’s ideology. Together with Russian nationalism, which is actively promoted by the Kremlin and is clearly taking on increasingly fascist features, these are perhaps the only value bonds that hold together the very patchy Russian society. In ideological terms, the aggression against Ukraine that began in 2014 was a kind of continuation of World War II: Russia has been allegedly fighting a ‘holy war’ against ‘fascists and Banderovtsy’.

Without delving deep into the reasons for the above, we can say for certain that in

this respect, all is not well with the Western democratic world either. The lopsided narrative of ‘one German National Socialist evil’, which was formerly helpful to the Soviet Union and now to Russia, still dominates Europe’s interpretation of the causes and consequences of World War II. Moreover, the happy Western societies that were not subject to the horrors of the Soviet communist regime have, to put it mildly, a very limited understanding of its crimes. This specific circumstance has allowed Putin to pursue his political goals in the ideological war and the war of values. Moreover, it should be noted that Russia has always taken these ‘soft power’ weapons very seriously and has spared no expense in terms of resources. That, unfortunately, cannot be said of us. In all fairness, we could recall some successful steps taken by Lithuania and other East-Central European countries on the way to a proper international judgment of the Communist totalitarian regime. However, we have to state that our joint achievements in this area have so far been similar to our accomplishments in persuading Europe to move away from its dependence on Russian gas and oil. 

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the West seems to start realizing a few

things and is promising to abandon Putin’s ‘energy needle’. In this context, taking immediate and active steps is necessary to wean Europe from the Russian ideology drug. Even Russia’s ideological friends, ‘useful idiots’ or simply corrupt actors, are now hushed. On the other hand, politicians and societies are more sensitive to all the issues related to Russian aggression. Therefore, it is likely that even those who have so far found the judgment of the crimes of the totalitarian Communist regime simply an irrelevant topic may become interested in it and ally with us. Realistically, we have a few months to put these issues on the political agenda of the Western world because once the heat of the Russian aggression in Ukraine is over one way or another, widely raising the subject again will be very difficult.

True Western leaders, who see the situation rationally and soberly, speak very

explicitly about the emerging new world order and the inevitable global clash between democracy and autocracy. The democratic world will not be able to win this 21st-century confrontation of values unless the history lessons and mistakes of 20th-century history are appropriately taken into account. Unless the criminal Soviet-Communist ideology and its crimes are finally given a proper international judgment. Unless we properly judge the role of the Soviet Union (Russia) in starting World War II, its two years of collaboration with the Nazis, and the heinous war crimes committed during the ‘liberation’ of Europe, when the ‘liberators’ wiped out entire cities, massacred, murdered and raped civilians en masse. Now Putin is similarly seeking to ‘liberate’ the Ukrainian people. 

In this context, we must strive to raise and give voice to this value orientation one

way or another in one of the upcoming summits of Western leaders. NATO and/or EU formats or other forums of democratic states could serve this purpose. Our politicians and diplomats need to develop clear strategies, seek international partners who support these ideas, and build a value coalition for the de-Sovietization and de-Putinization of the Western world. We must seek official commitment from the states. Establishing an intergovernmental forum to address these issues could be among the first strategic goals. Institutionalizing the very process is highly important by shifting it from the non-governmental and academic format to international interagency cooperation with the required human and financial allocations. 

I am neither naïve nor do I believe that the problem that has remained largely

unaddressed for decades after the formal disintegration of the Soviet empire can be solved fast. However, today we have a unique chance, and we must do everything to ensure that we do not miss it.



Ronaldas Račinskas

Executive Director of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania