As the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine approaches, the feeling of “accountability” for the war is reinforced on both sides, in an escalation of announcements and strategies aimed at destroying the adversary, and in the contemptuous rejection of any peace negotiations. Summits in Europe and the United States to help Ukraine are met by renewed global threats from Russia, reviving the rhetoric that Moscow’s mission is to rid the world of evil.
The commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad – the name they wanted to definitively restore to the capital south of the Volga – was presided over by the most classic Putin, the one who considers the figure of Stalin as his main inspiration. The dates of the Great Patriotic War have marked the Russian political agenda for a long time, even before the rise to power of the shadowy KGB agent. In 1995, the fiftieth anniversary year, grandiose re-enactments of the decisive battles were staged in all the squares of the great Russian cities until the entry into Berlin of the Soviet troops, who occupied Hitler’s bunker and found his body and that of Eva Braun, that they had committed suicide.
Since then, each anniversary has reinforced the feeling of revenge, recalling that the fall of the USSR, “the greatest tragedy of the 20th century” according to Putin, had to be reread in the light of the imperishable glory of the Stalinist era. Year after year the emphasis on the memory of the war grew along with the restoration of orthodox political theology, in a fusion between Church and State that finds its most complete expression precisely in the Army. In 2020, the 75th anniversary of the Victory, the Cathedral of the Armed Forces was inaugurated, the temple where the liturgy evokes past wars and prophesies future ones, such as the current one in Ukraine. Putin linked that date with the decisive turning point, modifying the constitution to perpetuate himself in power, consecrating “traditional values” as a motivation superior to any norm of internal or international law, and breaking the last reluctance of the patriarch Kirill, who did not want to lose their churches in Ukraine.
The reinterpretation of history highlights the moral, religious and military superiority of Russia, rewriting even the history textbooks and eclipsing the dates of shame: the fall of the regime in 1991, the suicide invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the tragic war civil war and famine of 1920, the shameful defeat against Japan in 1905, the catastrophic Crimean War of 1857, and going back even to Ivan the Terrible’s ill-fated sixteenth-century campaign against the Baltics, prophesying the current Ukrainian war. At that moment, the apocalyptic dreams of the Third Rome and the Moscow Patriarchate collapsed, swept away by the 17th century “turmoil” of the conflict with Poland and the schism between the True and Old Believers, clashing over how to claim superiority. of the Russian faith even above the Greek.
Putin’s ideology, and the mass psychology with which it is instilled, is “retroactive thinking”, looking to the future to restore the past, and the end of a year of massacres and destruction can be seen as a beginning, as the most appropriate moment to represent the soul of Russia, which proclaims victory when defeat becomes evident. Foreign Minister Lavrov denounced in RIA Novosti “the West’s attempt to resolve the Russian question by inflicting such a defeat on Moscow that it cannot recover for decades.” And consequently the war becomes universal, because “the whole of NATO is fighting against us, and the greater the range of weapons supplied by the West to kyiv, the more we will have to push them away from our borders.” The closer defeat approaches, the more comfortable Russia becomes, threatening the end of the world, because “we don’t just have traditional missiles,” as Putin recalled at Stalingrad.
The president of the Duma, Vjacheslav Volodin, affirmed in turn that “NATO uses Ukraine as a testing ground for its weapons and to test new ways of waging war.” On the other hand, similar echoes come from the opposite front, such as the statements by Rob Bauer, the Dutch head of NATO’s war committee, who declared that “NATO is prepared for confrontation with Russia”, although all Western leaders they rule out the possibility of reaching a direct confrontation. Of course, the decisions on the delivery of state-of-the-art tanks, in which many countries and even Germany participated, revive the Russian accusations about “NATO armies” that do not limit themselves to supplying weapons, but send “mercenary troops well paid,” as Lavrov reiterated.
One of the few things that will be remembered about Liz Truss, the last British Prime Minister under Elizabeth II and the first under Charles III, whose term was the shortest in the history of the United Kingdom (44 days), is her speech in April of the year past about “Global NATO”. There he rejected “the unfounded choice between Euro-Atlantic security and Indo-Pacific security…in the modern world we need both”, and then reiterated that “we need a global NATO. By this I do not mean expanding integration to those who they come from other regions, but because NATO must have a global vision, it must be prepared to face global threats”.
Since the end of the 1990s, as the feeling of revenge for sovereignty has grown, in Russia the already proverbial phrase that “if we don’t do it, NATO soldiers will do it” has been repeated all the time. The same idea also resonates in poetic form – as in a title of the Komsomolskaja Pravda of 1997 -: “remember children, if there were no Russian soldiers, you would be caressed by NATO soldiers”. These slogans evoke many similar sayings from earlier times, in which “the Soviet soldier protects the holy land / from the crazy plans of violent NATO.” At that time it was taught in schools, as it is again today, that the threat of the “aggressive NATO bloc wants to establish Anglo-American domination throughout the world.” Putin’s current speeches, deep down, are nothing more than reminiscences of primary schools, and that is why today “NATO is the refuge of Nazis with impunity, thirsty for revenge”, as he proclaimed in front of the monument to the glory of Stalin .
However, Putin himself had initially tried to establish cordial relations with NATO. In 2000 he declared in an interview with the BBC that Russia was willing to join the Atlantic Alliance and had previously received NATO Secretary General George Robertson in Moscow. Even shortly before invading Ukraine, Putin recalled that during President Bill Clinton’s visit to Moscow he had asked how the United States viewed Russia’s possible entry into NATO, but “the reaction to my question was very evasive.” The final entry into NATO of the Baltic countries in 2004 convinced him to “radically reformulate military policy”, excluding any possible friendship and alliance between Russia and the West.
The “new policy” was expounded in 2007 in his famous speech at the Munich Security Summit, and in 2010 NATO was officially declared “the main military threat to Russia’s security.” While in the 1990s Russia, although it was not in the Alliance, was considered by NATO as the “crucial partner” to “consolidate the positive changes of these years”, that is, the end of the Cold War, today defines it as “the most serious and direct threat to the security of the allies, to the peace and stability of the entire Euro-Atlantic region”, leaving China in second place, while “international terrorism” dropped to the third step of the podium of the “enemies of NATO”.
The resumption of mutual accusations, after a year of war in Ukraine, is already only a suitable topic for debates in television rooms. Discussing whether it is Russia that wants to wage war on NATO or the allies that want to destroy Russia does not change the picture of the situation, in which both parties are focused solely on the strategies and objectives they intend to achieve. And indeed there is no “NATO army” or battalions of “NATO soldiers”, an image that Russia needs to represent the single, global enemy. There are soldiers and armies from Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the United States, etc.: allies that renegotiate the rules of their reciprocal commitments and at the same time try to arm themselves and reorganize according to their needs, in a war scenario destined to change profoundly. relations between countries of all alliances and latitudes, on all continents, in the long years to come and regardless of the outcome of the Ukrainian conflict.
For years Pope Francis has been warning about the risk of a “third world war” in pieces, or in large portions, as is happening now. Peace is built through wars and tragedies, rebuilding a world that is truly falling apart. In 1638, the great Flemish artist Pieter Paul Rubens painted a picture of the Consequences of War, after the terrible years of the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War, while traveling from court to court as a diplomat. Europe is dressed in mourning, her clothes in tatters, and pleads for divine help; Venus, the goddess of love, tries to dissuade her lover, Mars, god of war, but he is challenged by Discord, an uncontrollable Fury that drags behind him the monsters of Plague and Famine. The war of Mars tramples and destroys the Arts and Charity of all the Muses, showing the madness that annihilates all humanity and all its moral and material patrimony. A four-hundred-year-old pacifist message, which shows the need to rebuild the world from its foundations, the task of all ages in history.
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