No doubt remembering that the devil finds work for idle hands, my friend Vlad has been a busy boy.
Thereby he has stayed on the side of the angels, even though not every one of his numerous exploits can be truthfully described as angelic.
For example, his Chinese hosts took exception to Vlad’s chivalrous gesture of wrapping a shawl around the shoulders of Peng Liyuan, President Xi Jinping’s wife.
That act of avuncular kindness was mistaken for a flirtatious pick-up attempt, which it probably wasn’t. The only thing Vlad could be accused of was ignorance of foreign mores, but that’s only a minor misdemeanour.
Other accusations fall more into the area of felony. For example, Vlad’s tanks are driving into the Ukraine, in defiance of the treaties, which, to be fair, no one this side of Peter Hitchens ever took seriously.
At the same time Vlad has been sending his warplanes on missions either invading the airspace of still independent nations or coming dangerously close to it.
Nato interceptors are being scrambled on a scale not seen since the Cold War, with Putin’s nuclear bombers overflying, well, the world. His tireless airborne activity has scared the wits out of Norwegians, Estonians, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Canadians and even Californians.
At the same time Vlad has made arrangements to flog eight nuclear reactors to Iran, and there I was, thinking he was concerned about the Islamic threat. That bit of news upset me.
After all, since all the world leaders agree, in deed if not yet in word, that Iran is going to become a nuclear power come what may, it would be better if the Ayatollahs’ billions went to a Western country, such as France.
But what caught my eye more than anything else is Vlad’s foray into scholarly pursuits, specifically history.
Displaying the catholicity of interests not seen in any Soviet leader since Stalin, Vlad gathered historians together and taught them, well, history.
Or, to be more exact, he taught them how to teach history, to what purpose and based on which premises.
Vlad began by saying “Russia’s past was amazing, her present is more than marvellous and, as for the future, it’s greater than anything the wildest imagination could picture – that is the point of view for examining and writing Russian history.”
Oops, I’ve failed to check my sources yet again: Vlad didn’t say that. The author of that stimulating directive was actually Count Benckendorff (d. 1844), head of Russia’s secret police in the reign of Nicholas I.
Mea culpa, but I do plead extenuating circumstances. For what Vlad actually said faithfully reflected the spirit of Benckendorff’s command, and came close to reflecting the letter as well.
Not to cut too fine a point, Putin ordered historians to fiddle facts in the interests of the state.
A historian’s task, he orated, consists in defending “our views and interests”. He, the historian, must “convince the overwhelming majority of citizens that our approaches are correct and objective [or rather]… win the battle for the minds, encouraging the people to adopt an active position on the basis of the knowledge you present as objective.”
To achieve this ambitious goal, “the content must be good, and the wrapper must be lurid and impressive”.
Benckendorff expressed himself more eloquently, but it’s the thought that counts, and the similarity between the two secret policemen that charms. Then again, Putin did say on 9 May that “continuity of generations is our chief asset”.
Another parallel I’ve unsuccessfully tried to suppress is between Putin’s lesson to historians and Stalin’s to writers.
In 1932 Putin’s idol assembled as many scribes as could fit into Gorky’s house and unveiled socialist realism, one artistic discipline obligatory for all.
The perplexed heirs to Tolstoy were more than ready to comply but, in order to avoid potentially fatal mistakes, begged the leader for a clarification. What exactly is socialist realism? “Write the truth,” explained Stalin. “That’s what socialist realism is all about.”
Eighty-two years later similarly inspired historians asked today’s leader to illustrate his meaning on the example of any event of the past.
Vlad kindly obliged, overturning with a magisterial swipe of hand every fact accepted as such by any historian pursuing the truth, rather than ‘our interests’.
An example, is that what you want? Well, here it is: the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Toxic falsifiers of history claim that it pushed the button for the Second World War. The two most satanic regimes in history formed an ad hoc alliance to divide Europe between them.
Both predators intended to attack the new ally at the first opportunity, with the victor feasting on the spoils of pan-European, and prospectively global, conquest. Meanwhile, they kicked off history’s most devastating war by assaulting Poland from two sides.
Yet, if we accept Putin’s belief that truth is anything that advances his interests, none of this is true.
The pact, explained Vlad, proved Stalin’s peaceful intentions. And as to Poland, she had only herself to blame. Didn’t she grab a chunk of Czechoslovakia in 1938, when the Germans moved in?
Well then, the subsequent bilateral rape of Poland merely evened the accounts (“scored an equalising puck”, was how Vlad put it, somewhat frivolously, in the terms of his beloved ice hockey).
Hence Poland was at least as culpable for starting the war as Hitler and infinitely more than Stalin – such is the truth, as the word is used in the name of Putin’s favourite newspaper (Pravda is the Russian for truth).
The real truth, as known to every serious historian beyond the reach of Putin’s thugs, is somewhat different. None of them disputes that Stalin planned to conquer Europe, striking the Nazis in the back when they were bogged down in the western theatre.
The only disagreement concerns the date of the planned invasion. Some think Hitler beat Stalin to the punch by days, others by weeks, still others by months. The question to all of them isn’t if but when.
Such historians have facts on their side. For the Soviets had embarked on a military build-up unseen in history either before or since. By turning his enslaved, starving nation into a military cum concentration camp, Stalin mobilised the country’s resources to one end only: achieving military supremacy.
That things didn’t quite pan out the way Putin’s idol had planned shouldn’t distract us from the gruesome reality.
As of 1 June, 1941, the Soviets had 25,479 frontline tanks, as opposed to Germany’s 6,292, and 24,488 warplanes against Germany’s 6,852. The quality of the planes was comparable, but the quality of the tanks wasn’t: the Soviet machines were infinitely superior.
Their KV and T-34 didn’t have any German analogues until Stalingrad, and most of the Soviet ‘obsolete’ tanks, such as the 25.2-tonne T-28 armed with a 76mm cannon, were more than a match even for the Germans’ best tank T-IV (20-22.3 tonnes, 75mm).
The Soviets had more airborne troops than the rest of the world combined, and paratroops are only ever used for offensive purposes. These formed a significant chunk of the Soviet forces deployed in the west of the country before Hitler struck on 22 June, 1941.
The Soviets enjoyed a more than 2:1 superiority over the Nazis in the armies facing each other in Poland (with infinitely greater reserves), and both juggernauts were deployed in a strictly offensive battle order, putting a premium on first strike.
Stalin’s army formed two long salients aimed at the heart of Germany. This formation made them exceedingly vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike, as Nazi generals went on to demonstrate.
Cutting the Lvov and Bialystok salients at the base rendered them ripe for a series of lethal envelopments, which the Germans executed with well-drilled élan. The ensuing rout of Stalin’s regular army gave rise to the subsequent lies about his ‘peaceful intentions’.
Scientific historians have long since dispelled the lies for what they are. But Vlad doesn’t want Russian historians to be scientists. He wants them to be agitprop hacks – and I for one trust Vlad to get exactly what he wants.
This fiddler on the hoof can be as persuasive as Stalin, albeit still on a smaller scale.
My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from http://www.roperpenberthy.co.uk/index.php/browse-books/political/democracy-as-a-neocon-trick.htmlor, in the USA, http://www.newwinebookshop.com/Books/0002752