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From Nicholas to Putin: Russia Since 1900: Conclusion

By David M. Durant


Fittingly, this essay ends with a book that focuses on the nexus between Russia’s history of warfare and its preferred historical narratives. Scholar Gregory Carleton provides a fascinating study of this topic in Russia: The Story of War. He discusses not Russia’s actual military history, but what he calls its “mythic history,” the narratives that Russia tells itself about its wars and its role in them. As one would expect, this mythic history portrays Russia and its soldiers as unfailingly noble and heroic. Key themes that Carleton focuses on are the cult of self-sacrifice, in which fallen Russian soldiers are regarded as martyrs who laid down their lives for God and the Motherland, and also the fear of domestic disturbance, ranging from the seventeenth-century Time of Troubles to the upheavals of the 1990s. Carleton ably summarizes how Putin employs this mythic history to legitimize his autocratic rule:

“Crushing the oligarchs, attaining unrivaled political power, making Russia a force to be respected once more—these are his signature achievements… Putin is Russia’s savior, which, more than anything, fuels his domestic support, no matter how he might appear to the outside” (p. 215).

As Carleton goes on to put it, without Putin and his ruthless dictatorship, “Russia’s very survival would fall into question—or so mythic history would teach us.”

In short, it is impossible to understand Putin—his regime, his beliefs, his actions, or his appeal to ordinary Russians—without understanding the history that shaped him and his country.

Works Cited