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Putin’s History Lessons

In its efforts to justify Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has introduced new history textbooks portraying the country as a long-suffering victim of Western hostility. But President Vladimir Putin’s promotion of this narrative has failed to heed a crucial lesson from the Soviet era.

MOSCOW – A revanchist agenda, driven by the desire to rectify perceived historical wrongs, lies at the heart of Russia’s foreign policy and provides the rationale for its war in Ukraine. But what Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have forgotten is that rewriting history to serve the interests of those in power tends to invite dissent and often backfires.

Russia’s new history textbooks for tenth and eleventh graders are prime examples. Authored by former culture minister Vladimir Medinsky and Anatoly Torkunov, rector of the once-renowned Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), the textbooks reflect Russia’s “new approach” to history, emphasizing the need to reclaim the country’s lost “historical territories” and praising the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

But Russia’s turn toward revanchism predates February 2022. State propaganda has long portrayed Russia not as a colonial power but rather as a “unique civilization” that must maintain its singular essence and whose demise could trigger global chaos.