Dr. Gordon Hahn: Putin’s “Decommunization” of Ukraine?

By Gordon Hahn, Russian and Eurasian Politics Blog, 7/21/22

It is very likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin tipped his hand months ago regarding one of the end-of-war scenarios that at least he would accept as having achieved an important goal or even victory in his Ukrainian ‘special military operation’ otherwise known as the Russo-Ukrainian War. In his February 2022 speech, signaling his decision to take military action, Putin discussed Ukrainian decommunization efforts and condemned them, retorting: “You want decommunization, we will show you decommunization”.

A look at the map below shows the regions of Ukraine that were handed to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukraine SSR) by Bolshevik Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in 1922 as the territorial-administrative formation of the USSR after the Red victory over the Whites in the civil war was implemented.

The map’s area in pink and gray display the regions Lenin gave to the new Ukraine SSR in 1922 and the Crimea which Khrushchev handed Kiev in 1954, respectively. It is no coincidence that it was Crimea in 2014 and the Donbass regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine’s far east in 2014 and that it is the remainder of those regions’ territories plus Kharkiv in the north and Zaporozhia, Kherson, Nikolaev, and Odessa now that have been at the spearhead of Putin’s military moves in Ukraine. The war map as of June 12 shows Russian forces (red-colored portion of the map) having occupied much of the very same pink area (‘Novorossiya’), adding to plus gray shaded Crimea annexed in 2014. The red

areas of Russian-occupied territory include all of the the pink and gray areas incorporated into Ukraine by Lenin in 1922 and Khrushchev in 1954 except for Kharkov (Kharkiv) in the northeast, Nikolaev, where Russian have entered but not moved deep into the region, and Odessa, which is rumored to be on Putin’s target list should Zelenskiy continue to reject peace talks.

The move towards Kiev at the beginning of the war may have been a feint — Edward Littwak argues credibly that its was a failed coup de main or coup de etat by a foreign power) designed to hold troops there and make the Lenin-added east and south easier for the taking. Putin may have seen the present goals in the east and south as part of Plan A along with Kiev as a target and then backed off and accepted Plan A minus Kiev as Plan B, which is to complete the ‘de-Leninization’ or ‘de-communization’ of Ukraine begun in effect in 2014 by annexing Crimea gifted to Ukraine SSR by Lenin’s ultimate second successor, Nikita Khrushchev. Whatever the original plan, Russian forces continue to press slowly forward and could occupy the 1922 territories by summer’s end should negotiations continue to be rejected or stall again. Thus, the direction of the present Russian war offensive suggests a goal of returning the territories given to Ukraine by Lenin in 1922. To be sure, this will bring several other benefits should Moscow decide to hold these territories as independent protectorates or as members of the Russian Federation, which is likely since the casualties, sanctions, and false propaganda being leveled by the West and Kiev need to be compensated for in the Russian mind. The benefits include: numerous natural and labor resources in these regions ranging from coal to natural gas to mining and steel production and other labor; the formation of a land bridge from Donbass to Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway republic of Transdnistria; a bridgehead threatening to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea; and the incorporation of a significantly pro-Russian population back into the Russian fold.

Putin has no love lost for Lenin and his communist experiment, especially the aspect of the latter that ignored indeed denigrated Russian nationality and bourgeois patriotism in service of the global socialist revolution to which Lenin was solely dedicated. Lenin was famous for condemning ‘Russian chauvinism’, and figures as diverse as Lenin’s fellow Bolshevik Leon Trotsky and American historian Richard Pipes noted that Lenin hardly knew Russia, especially after having spent nearly two decades in European exile before his German-sponsored return in April 1917.

For his part, Putin has not been shy about criticizing Lenin and the Soviet experiment. Putin is especially repulsed by Lenin’s collusion and treason in cooperating with and receiving financial and logistical support form the Central Powers in order to foment revolution and then organize the October coup while Russia was besieged during a failing war effort. Putin seemed to accuse Lenin of “treason” twice in 2012, and he has been highly critical of Lenin, the Bolshviks, and at times even Soviet power. Like many Party-state apparatchiki who jumped the sinking Soviet ship of state in 1990-91, then deputy mayor of St. Petersburg Putin rejected “that person” and Marxism-Leninism in a 1991 interview, saying he came to understand as he matured “more and more clearly the obvious truth” that communism was but “a beautiful but harmful fairy tale; harmful because its implementation or any attempt to carry it out in life in our country brought in the end enormous damage.”[1] At the beginning of his third-term, Putin accused Lenin and the Bolsheviks of “national treason” in World War I. At the July 2012 ‘Seliger’ Youth Forum, Putin accused Lenin and the Bolsheviks of “a unique, major example of national treason” for having “wished the defeat of their own country in the First World War,” making “their own contribution to the extent they could in Russia’s defeat,” and for the “amazing situation” of having “capitulated” so that “Russia lost to the losing side, Germany.”[2] At a June 2012 session of the Russian legislature’s upper house, he repeated the accusation of “national treason” and capitulation in war to the losing side, which, he exclaimed, was “a unique situation in all of mankind’s history.”[3] А year later, Putin again castigated Marxism-Leninism and by implication Lenin himself, telling a meeting at the Jewish Museum and Center for Tolerance that the Soviet regime was “guided by false ideological thinking, they moved to arrests and repression of both Jews and Orthodox, representatives of other faiths, Muslims. They raked them all in together. Now these ideological blinders and false ideological constructions, thank God, have collapsed.”[4]

More pertinently, in his long June 2021 article on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine and Russians and Ukrainians, Putin indirectly mentioned Lenin’s transfer from Russia of the regions noted above in forming the Ukraine SSR in 1922. He noted – incidentally quite accurately: “(M)odern Ukraine is entirely the brainchild of the Soviet era. We know and remember that to a large extent it was created at the expense of historical Russia. It is enough to compare which lands were reunited with the Russian state in the XVII century and with which territories of the Ukrainian SSR seceded from the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks treated the Russian people as inexhaustible material for social experiments. They dreamed of a world revolution, which, in their opinion, would abolish nation-states altogether. Therefore, borders were arbitrarily cut, generous territorial ‘gifts’ were given out. Ultimately, what exactly guided the leaders of the Bolsheviks who were shredding the country no longer matters. You can argue about the details, the background and the logic of certain decisions. One thing is obvious: Russia in fact was robbed.”[5] Finally, three days before the February 24th invasion Putin warned in a speech signaling that he had already decided on military action: “As a result of the Bolshevik policy, Soviet Ukraine emerged. Which even in our day can by all rights be named Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Ukraine.” He then warned Kiev that if it wants decommunization represented by its dismantling of Lenin statues, then “We will show Ukraine real decommunization.” [6] Putin had essentially declared war (special military operation), perhaps only in his own mind at that point until the official declaration three days later. He did so in part for this territorial ‘decommunization’ as much as he did in the name of ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine and of course of stopping eternal NATO expansion to Russian borders. It is the last factor, its provocations in Ukraine, and Ukraine’s ultranationalist defiance of a great powers’ perceived self-interest and security that have sparked Putin’s desire to return these territories to Russia.


FOOTNOTES

[1] In 2002, he stated to the same interviewer that his views had not changed and he was ready to repeat what he had said “word for word.” See excerpts from both interviews at “EXCLUSIVE: Young Putin denounces communism and Lenin in 1991,” You Tube, 2016, https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?hsimp=yhs-att_001&hspart=att&p=Putin+on+Lenin#id=6&vid=ceb78447964994fe4ecd979eb450edb9&action=view, last accessed 11 October 2019.

[2] “Vstrecha s uchastnikami foruma ‘Seliger-2012’,” Kremlin.ru, July 2012, http://kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/16106, last accessed 11 October 2019.

[3] “Otvety na voprosy chlenov Soveta Federatsii,” Kremlin.ru, 27 June 2012, http://kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/15781#sel=39:1:yBw,49:3:XfF, last accessed on 10 October 2019.

[4] “Poseshanie Yevreiskogo muzeya i Tsentr tolerantnosti,” Kremlin.ru, 13 June 2013, www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/18336, last accessed on 10 October 2019. In January 2016 Putin ridiculed Lenin’s aspirations for “world revolution” and having “planted an atomic bomb under the building called Russia,” that “later blew up,” by creating national-territorial autonomies in the USSR. “Zasedanie Soveta nauki i obrazovaniya,” Kremlin.ru, 21 January 2016, www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/51190, last accessed on 11 October 2019.

[5] https://wsem.ru/publications/vladimir-putin-ob-istoricheskom-edinstve-russkikh-i-ukraintsev_191/.

[6] https://wsem.ru/publications/vladimir-putin-ob-istoricheskom-edinstve-russkikh-i-ukraintsev_191/.

3 thoughts on “Dr. Gordon Hahn: Putin’s “Decommunization” of Ukraine?”

  1. “Dehumanization”? Putin isn’t doing this, the US is and has been for 8 years. The US fostered an illegal coup in Kiev in 2014 and all the pain and sacrifice in Ukraine today is a direct result of that coup. The US did it to provoke Russia and after several years and US sponsored or supported anti Russia Ukrainian policies, it finally did provoke Russia. Then the US delivered billions of dollars of war matriel to Ukraine which caused the death and destruction to continue in Ukraine without any hope or possibility of Ukrainan winning the military contest. American is evil, totally evil!

  2. I think this gives a misleading picture. Putin’s Russia accepted the dissolution of the USSR as a fait accompli, Ukraine included; never, before the 2014 US funded and orchestrated coup, did Russia make any territorial claim on Crimea or any other part of Ukraine. It’s focus till then had been (1) on internal recovery after its ruthless exploitation by the West in the 1990s and (2) resuming its rightful place as a major player internationally. That stance changed only in consequence of the relentless expansion eastward of US/NATO with Ukraine as its spearhead; no Russian regime worth its salt could stand by and let that process proceed to its outrance. After years of warnings backed by a concerted military build up, Russia finally drew the line in the sand it did with its December security treaty proposals. When these were formally rejected by the West, the Russians took up the American’s Ukrainian gauntlet and attacked. Having done so, territorial acquisition, desired or not (Ukraine is something of a tarbaby), became the only way for Russia to demonstrate to the West and the rest of the world that it is has prevailed in this contest. The rest is windowdressing. In particular, Putin’s disparagement of the borders drawn by Lenin and his successors was merely intended to provide historical context, not to advance a motive, goal, or justification for Russia’s military response to America’s challenge.

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