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Andrei Kolesnikov: 'In justifying war, it's worth looking about at the ruins of empire' (Vedomosti)

posted 19 Feb 2015, 11:18 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Feb 2015, 11:39 ]
18 February 2015

By Andrei Kolesnikov


Meeting with veterans’ organizations to mark 25 years since Soviet forces left Afghanistan, Vladimir Putin finally spoke openly about what he thinks of the Soviet Afghan campaign. He thinks that sending forces there was objectively justified by the need to ‘seal off’ the threat. In other words, the decision taken by the so-called ‘small politburo’ on 12 December 1979 (consisting of General Secretary Brezhnev, Andropov, Ustinov, Gromyko and Chernenko), meeting as it is said at Brezhnev’s dacha, was justified. This is to justify a war that not only drained the financial and military resources of the country, but also its human and moral potential. A war that once and for all undermined citizens’ trust in Soviet rule is now being given out, in the context of justification for another war, as just and inevitable.

It’s as though Barak Obama were to address the American people and say: ‘The Vietnam War was not a bad thing, the US administration of that time was trying to close down the real threat of communism.’

Russia hasn’t had enough of war yet. It seems that the only thing that can stir up the spirit of the nation is war. Russian tour operators have thought up a new kind of tourism: going to war zones, to the Donbass. It would be interesting to know whether they are also offering the fine views along with bloody, battle-scarred landscapes.

The authorities draw on the legitimacy that can be derived from the Great Patriotic War. The head of state has already had occasion to justify the campaign against Finland that cost a great amount of valuable ‘human material’. Now the time has come to looki for positive meaning in the war in Afghanistan. Logic would seem to demand that next step to be taken (one forward and two steps back) will be to announce that it was right to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary in 1956.

In its earliest days, the new regime in Russia ‘reprivatized’ property and shares. Now it is privatizing political and military history to suit its needs. It is glorifying a national disgrace, the irresponsibility of past leaders and their fear of losing power.

In brief, Vladimir Putin has already begun his presidential campaign for re-election. We see him on patrol around his social and electoral base.

He visited the trade unions. Now it is the turn of the veterans’ organizations, some of whose members have no nothing at all to do with the Afghan war, simply as a matter of age and biography. But they do have something to do with the Anti-Maidan movement – those hired squads that have been given the task of quashing any political opposition in the streets.

The more serious the impact of the economic crisis on the well-being of the person in the street, the more actively the public will be force-fed this diet of military history. There will be nothing else to feed people on. At the same time it is very convenient: the dead can’t answer back.

Just as in 1979, the notion of ‘spheres of influence’ is being brought into play. Afghanistan was ‘ours’. Just as Eastern Europe was ours after the Second World War. Just as Novorossiya is now. Wherever the bells of geopolitics sound , the voices of a more humanitarian logic are drowned out. Who would pay any attention now to Aleksandr Nikolaevich Yakovlev who, insisting on the need to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, said: ‘We promised our people that there would be no more burials!’

It was precisely geopolitical thinking that brought about the ‘great geopolitical catastrophe’. And in justifying war, it's worth looking about at the ruins of empire.

Author is a programme director at the Moscow Carnegie Centre