Leaders across the planet united to observe the 70th anniversary of D-Day on Friday, and the milestone has caused a resurfacing of comments by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in which he contended the West “diminishes” Russia’s role in the war.
In comments highlighted by Russia Today, Shoigu urged Russians to recall with pride the Soviet Union and refuse to allow Western powers to take credit for the victory of World War II. “Today, when the West is trying to diminish the heroism demonstrated by the Soviet people in times of the Great Patriotic War, we must be especially careful with our history in order to keep the priceless experience of our fathers and forefathers, and pass it to the younger generation,” Shoigu said in a speech at an event in Crimea this May. The event, in Savastopol, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Crimea from Nazi rule.
The comments did not get major play in the mainstream media, though they are resurfacing now, as Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the D-Day victory observance in Paris, France, on Friday. Putin’s invitation to the event was controversial, as the Obama administration attempted to unite the West to isolate Russia for the nation’s military belligerence in Ukraine.
The event proved newsworthy in itself, as it allowed for a personal exchange between Putin and President Obama. The conversation was said to last 10-15 minutes, and reports state that the President told Putin that he must recognize new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to restore stability to the region, as well as cease aiding separatists in the eastern provinces of the country.
Shoigu’s comments continue a pattern of the second Putin administration in incorporating Soviet history into modern Russian political pride in a positive way. Earlier this year, Putin scheduled the first government-sponsored celebration of May Day in Red Square, an international socialist holiday celebrating the worker. More than 100,000 people attended the festivities, which also served as a celebration of the annexation of Crimea, after a combination of Ukrainian internal strife and Russian military pressure led the region to break away from Ukraine.
That Shoigu used a World War II milestone to evoke the ghost of the Soviet Union reflects an attitude increasingly concerning to national security observers on the part of Russia that appears to glorify the Soviet Union and seek to rebuild it. Open celebration of the annexation of Crimea and subsequent provocative actions in neighboring states serve to corroborate claims made by Putin’s opponents that the current Russian administration is pushing to expand its scope of influence into post-Soviet states it perceives as rightfully its own.