Staunton, August 30 – Speaking in at the Seliger youth forum yesterday, Vladimir Putin said that today, as during World War I, there are people inside Russia who are seeking its defeat, a resuscitation of Adolf Hitler’s “stab in the back” theory about why his country lost that conflict and the basis for his attacks on various groups.
According to the Kremlin leader, “there is the so-called extra-systemic opposition” -although Putin acknowledged that “this is not a single whole” but rather a category which contains “various people.” But his most intriguing and disturbing comments concern the past which he clearly sees as a model.
“The Bolsheviks,” Putin said, “in the course of the First World War wanted their own fatherland to suffer defeat. When heroic Russian soldiers and officers were shedding their blood on the fronts [of that conflict], someone shook Russian from within and pushed things to the point that Russia as a state was destroyed and declared itself to be the loser.”
“This was a complete betrayal of national interests,” Putin continued. While he did not draw the parallel with the current situation in which many Russian opposition figures oppose his invasion of Ukraine and even are cheering on the Ukrainian forces against Russian ones, many of those who heard his words directly or indirectly certainly did.
At the very least, Putin’s latest borrowing from the Nazi leader’s ideas is likely to lead to the intensification of the ongoing crackdown against dissent about his war. That means that those who do oppose the war are likely to face arrest or other formers of persecution if they speak out.
During his performance yesterday, Putin spoke on a wide variety of themes. (For a survey, see newsru.com). And among his other contributions to thought were:
– a suggestion that Kazakhstan was never a state before Nursultan Nazarbayev took over, a statement that will offend many Kazakhs including quite likely Nazarbayev himself;
– the idea that he is ready to shift some government functions to Siberia, a notion that will do nothing to win him more support in Moscow and only encourage regionalists to work against him; and
– a willingness to accept the idea that each of the non-Russian republics should be able to decide the title for their top leader, a reversal of his policy over the last several years and one that will likely lead at least some of them to demand that their presidencies be retained.
Not only will each of these have consequences in specific areas, but their very randomness seems certain to raise more questions about whether Putin has lost connection with reality and that he is acting in the ways that dictators often do when they assume that their power allows them to say and do anything they want without reflection or coordination.
But even if this does not have an impact in the corridors of power in Moscow, it is something that Western leaders must take into account because it means that Putin may be becoming more unpredictable and thus more dangerous, especially given his proclivity to lie, in the expectation that few either inside Russia or beyond will challenge him.