Pop quiz- What do the investigative committee’s inquiry into the veracity of the moon landing and a Duma initiative questioning the legitimacy of the Baltic states’ independence have in common? Some would say nothing. They’d dismiss the moon landing conspiracy as typical antics from the clowns that apparently have too much free time on their hands after solving Boris Nemtsov’s murder case. The questioning of Baltic independence, however, is something we’re supposed to take seriously, however. As the RFERL article itself states:
Clearly, lawmakers in Moscow are growing more assertive about challenging the world order created after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Russia has seen a number of bills calling historical facts into question.
Last year, a group of lawmakers asked prosecutors to look into decisions taken by Gorbachev that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Here RFERL is engaging in a little chicken-little-ism, and I include the other two sentences following it because they help point to what’s really going on here.
First of all, the Baltic “threat” is nothing but propaganda for the foreign audience. It’s no doubt partially designed to intimidate the Baltic countries, to get them to overreact, and so on. This has a domestic benefit. When Balts appear panicky, Putin’s main demographic base will begin masturbating furiously. Nothing delights them more than the idea of other countries fearing them.
Another side of that coin is the Putin propaganda classic- that of allowing Duma members and other politicians to propose ridiculous, sometimes menacing laws, just so Putin or his press secretary Peskov can dismiss them as silly or unnecessary. The message is always the same. “You don’t like me? Well look who you might be dealing with if I’m gone?” This is a very old Putin ploy and many people, including yours truly, have been taken in by it in the past. The problem is that Putin is going one way or the other, so pretending he’s the magic charm that keeps the crazies away is pointless. Not only that, but people like the dipshits who propose these investigations would be scared stiff if master Putin wasn’t in power. In all likelihood they would probably stuff their bags full of cash and head for Europe or the US, where some of them might still have property assuming they aren’t on the sanctions blacklist.
In reality, what the Baltic threat has in common with the “investigations” into the moon landing, the break-up of the USSR, the reunification of Germany, and the transfer of the Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR is that all these things are far more related to Russia’s domestic propaganda than they are instruments of foreign policy. These are all pillars of the Kremlin’s post-modernist, conspiratorial wackyland narrative with which is controls the populace and hobbles dissent.
One of the best ways to understand this technique is to think about Hollywood movies from the 80’s, in particular Rambo: First Blood Part II. That Rambo movie, and a few knockoffs including one starring unfunny old meme Chuck Norris, all had a common theme which has been described as “re-fighting the Vietnam War so America wins.” This shines through perfectly in the second Rambo film, where Stallone’s protagonist utters the telling question: “Sir, do we get to win this time?”
To a younger or perhaps foreign observer, John Rambo’s question seems ridiculous. In fact, that question encapsulates the American back-stab legend of the Vietnam War. This was the idea that the Vietnam War wasn’t lost on the battlefield but at home, due to treasonous politicians, Marxist professors, and drug-addled hippies who were supposedly total pansies whenever they weren’t at airports spitting on returning Marines and Army personnel. In a sense, the US didn’t lose on the battlefield; American forces won virtually every engagement, and large scale offensives such as Tet in 1968 were in fact debacles from a purely military standpoint. But US involvement in the war was based on foolish, ignorant assumptions and gut feelings, and its concepts about victory and military goals in Southeast Asia were seriously flawed. As for the hippies and their professors, the truth is that most college students supported the war, the anti-war movement was largely a product of military personnel rather than hippies, and there has never been a verified instance of an anti-war protester spitting on a returning vet.
Russia’s sudden drive to rewrite history is motivated by the need to ramp up the conspiratorial worldview which has become ever so crucial since the Ukraine crisis. That being said, there’s little reason to believe that these investigations will go anywhere. Assuming any are actually completed and lead to a conclusion, they will ultimately “find” exactly what they were looking for, i.e. if they “suspect” that the Crimean transfer to the Ukrainian SSR was illegal- Well I’ll be! Turns out it was! Even if they never get off the ground or their details disappear down the memory hole, they will have served their purpose, which is to reinforce the conspiratorial narrative.
Rambo couldn’t take Hanoi and force them to respect the independence of South Vietnam, but he could rescue American POWs and more importantly, kill a shit-ton of Vietnamese soldiers and their Russian friends. All that and his sarcastic question about being allowed to win “this time,” and the message is clear- America didn’t really lose. Traitors let them win.
In the same vein, these “investigations” serve a similar purpose, that is showing how even if Russia “lost,” it actually “won” or should have won.That its just rewards were somehow denied provides a basis of resentment toward the West and former Soviet republics. The Russian empire might have failed, but since it was overthrown by a revolution all its territorial losses may be called into question. That it was so backward and strained by the war and internal contradictions that it simply could no longer manage many of those territories is suppressed and ignored. Similarly, the USSR might not have existed for nearly 25 years now, but the breakup was “illegal” and therefore all these countries really have no business being independent and flouting Moscow wishes.
This reminds me of the claims of some Kremlin apologists who, when conceding that fine, perhaps Russia doesn’t have a legal claim to the Crimea, insist that it’s really about “historical justice.” Sure, it’s true that justice is more desirable than following the letter of the law, and an unjust law is no law at all, but the problem is that the Crimean annexation wasn’t just either. Russians were not deprived in any way by the fact that the Crimea was part of another sovereign state. In fact, for all intents and purposes it was part of Russia in the sense that Russians didn’t even need a foreign passport to visit the territory, or any territory of Ukraine for that matter. So where’s the justice in this annexation? The answer lies in inventing ad hoc explanations as to why the Crimea never should have been part of Ukraine in the first place. Russia is by no means alone in picking and choosing which parts of Soviet law should be seen as valid, but what’s interesting is that in modern day Russia pretty much any Soviet policy was fine so long as it didn’t conflict with post-Soviet Russia’s geopolitical interests, or more accurately, the interests of Russia’s ruling elite.
It’s important to stress that none of these theories need to be rigorously proven in Russia. The very fact that they were raised will suffice. Pro-government people will bring up the fact that these topics were investigated and questioned, and that alone serves as ample proof that the Russian people were wronged by the West and internal traitors. There was nothing wrong with the Soviet system- certainly they weren’t part of the problem when they were skipping work to go drink vodka or stealing state property to sell on the black market. No, it was just Gorbachev and that handful of liberals, all of whom were working for the CIA. But none of that matters because the breakup was illegal and thus Russia has a right to interfere in the affairs of all the former republics.
I’ll admit that when observing and analyzing this sort of phenomenon, there’s a subjective factor. There can be completely different motives behind these tactics, idiotic though they may be. All I can do is look at them from the outside and try to put myself in the shoes of the intended audience, using my experience with similar worldviews as a comparison. In the end it could simply be that these state officials have nothing better to do while they siphon away wealth that belongs to the people of Russia, and this is all some kind of entertaining busy-work on their part. But based on what I see and the effects I have observed, I’d say this is just myth-building. It’s the state-managed equivalent to those 80’s action films that reassured Americans about the Vietnam War. The problem is that while the Duma and clown committee are busy crafting alternative history, people are ignoring crucial, real historical lessons.