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How Putin did for Pushkin (and Prigozhin)
What to do about the decline of the Russian empire + Kubrick's Trump + Upcoming events
History of the Present (fortnight ending 26 August 2023)
Putin, Pushkin and the decline of the Russian empire
Last month I stood on the corner of what used to be Pushkin St in Kyiv, but it's been renamed after a major figure of the early 20th century Ukrainian independence movement. Cancelling the author of Eugene Onegin seems over the top to many lovers of Russian literature outside Ukraine, but in this short essay in the Financial Times Weekend edition, I explain why Ukrainians are resolved to reject Pushkin as well as Putin. Indeed, in social media they refer to nightly Russian missile attacks being committed by ‘Pushkinists’ – as in this post: ‘Pushkinists didn’t allow us to sleep properly – it was very loud in Kyiv.’
Behind this rejection of Alexander Pushkin as a poet of Russian imperialism, there is a much larger story of the decline of the Russian empire, which has been shaping European (and world) history for the last 40 years, and is likely to preoccupy us for the next 20 – if not another 40. In this essay, I argue that we cannot ‘manage’ this decline of the Russian empire, although of course we must be ready to respond to a change of course from a post-Putin leadership.
What we can and must do, however, is to ensure that those countries who seek a better future outside a declining Russian empire are able to do so in peace, security, and freedom. And that means working to bring Ukraine, and its smaller neighbours, into both NATO and the EU – the two strong arms of the geopolitical West.
Unfortunately, FT Weekend rules do not allow me to reproduce the whole essay here, but they did very kindly give permission for ECFR to re-post it on their website, where you can read it without the paywall. Please be sure to acknowledge the original source in the FT if sharing.
Air traffic safety, Putin-style
Sober mainstream media are quite rightly being cautious in definitely attributing the death of the Wagner Group murderer Yevgeny Prigozhin to Putin. The Kremlin has denied that the Russian leader was responsible.
But just between you and me: pull the other one!
If Putin was not, one way or the other, responsible for the death of the mutineer Prigozhin (see my History of the Present newsletter two months ago), then Hitler was not responsible for the Reichstag fire and Henry II for the murder of Thomas Becket.
This is a clear message to the Russian elite. Coming on top of many earlier killings, it's a message of terror. Step out of line and you're dead.
Credit to veteran Russia watcher and current CIA director Bill Burns, who last month cautiously predicted ‘Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback so I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution.’
There's been a lively discussion on the question of whether today’s Russia can properly be described as fascist – and if it's useful to do so. I find this remark made by a Russian official (unnamed for obvious reasons) to the historian Mark Galeotti particularly interesting in that connection: “We started this war in the name of fighting fascism, but somehow it’s brought fascism to our country. Even when the war is over, I can’t see a return to normal, not without major changes, changes at the very top.”
Images of the fortnight 1: Kubrick’s Trump
Images of the fortnight 2: BRICS summit - Post-Western world?
If you are in Stanford next Tuesday, August 29, join me, Condoleeza Rice, Michael McFaul, Tobias Wolff and Anna Grzymala-Busse for this discussion of Homelands:
If you are in New York on Tuesday September 12, join me for this:
If you are at Yale on Wednesday September 13, join me for this conversation with Arne Westad about the book:
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