Letter to the editor of the Economist (by Ambassador Yakovenko)
Like many Russian citizens, I do have a problem with your highly biased piece on the Great Patriotic War (The Economist, May 2nd 2015).
First, in their arrogance the authors overlook the fact that WWII was utterly critical in moulding our national identity, pretty much the same as WWI was for Britain. Notwithstanding ideology or regime, Russia, as at the time of Napoleon, was doomed by history to pay dearly for another total failure of European politics. Shall I refer you to R.Kipling’s Tommy to make the point? The Munich did set a precedent and as the Phoney War would show, Moscow could rely on the word of Paris and London in 1939, as much as did Warsaw.
Second, if only for the enormity of our sacrifice and the fact that nobody else was capable of stopping and destroying the German war machine, that experience transcends everything else. But the War established a very intimate relationship between us and allies, including Britain. It was of the type Virginia Woolf discussed in her Russian point of view, dwelling on the difference between the words “mate” and “brother”. This brotherhood (you mention it as a thing of the past) is for ever, and the sentiment is not only kept alive by us, but by the British veterans as well, in particular those who went to sea on the Arctic convoys. Even the possibility of our present debate was paid for with the blood of the Soviet people, including the Russians.
Third, what is happening in Ukraine has a lot to do with history. It was nationalistic and repressive regimes, like the one taking shape in Ukraine with the Western acquiescence, that brought about WWII. Those who determine what the Kiev authorities do or doesn’t do, take up, quite openly, the cause of the nationalists who fought on the German side and committed crimes against humanity. They were not a kind of third force, say, like the Polish Armia Krajowa. No wonder, that the Ukraine crisis is increasingly viewed in Russia as unfinished business of WWII.
Fourth, in our time State sovereignty is no carte blanche to suppress one’s own citizens. You chose to disregard the open letter to President Poroshenko by many Ukraine scholars last month, for its criticism is deemed politically incorrect. But it makes a critical point on the huge gap between the Kiev authorities’ policies, including imposition of their historical narrative on the entire population, and the perceived European values or the ideals of Maidan.
May I refer to Professor Geoffrey Roberts, who wrote (FT, 6 May): “The Second world war was far more than a geopolitical contest. It was a struggle for the future of Europe, and European civilization was saved from Hitler and Nazi barbarism by the colossal sacrifices of the Soviet people and the Red Army.”