Project SyndicateProject Syndicate

The history trap

By Ian Buruma

08 Feb 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

Vladimir Putin was rightly criticized for evoking the defeat of the Nazis to justify his attack on Ukraine, Ian Buruma writes in Project Syndicate. His opponents must avoid falling into the same trap.

NEW YORK – Speaking in Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently evoked the horrors of World War II to justify his invasion of Ukraine. “Again and again, we have to repel the aggression of the collective West,” he said with a straight face, without mentioning that the United Kingdom and the United States were the Soviet Union’s allies during the war. Then as now, he added, Russia is threatened by German tanks, forced to defend itself against “the ideology of Nazism in its modern form.”

This is of course a malicious distortion of history, cynically delivered on the site where over a million Soviet and German soldiers died during World War II’s deadliest battle. Russia is not defending itself; it has invaded a sovereign country whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, happens to be a Jewish man who lost relatives in the Holocaust. The suggestion that Nazi ideology is what drives Zelensky and his fellow Ukrainians to defend their country against Russia’s aggression is preposterous, even by Putin’s standards.

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