Putin’s Battle To Control Reality
In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, Russia’s First Party Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, delivered a speech called, On The Cult Of Personality And Its Consequences, in which he roundly criticised Stalin’s foundationally dishonest, authoritarian brand of leadership:
The negative characteristics of Stalin, which, in Lenin’s time, were only incipient, transformed themselves during the last years into a grave abuse of power by Stalin, which caused untold harm to our party.
Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. […]
You see to what Stalin’s mania for greatness led? He had completely lost consciousness of reality.
The speech, which was never officially made public, nonetheless sent shockwaves through the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc. Once Stalin’s “cult of personality” had been revealed as a lie, all that was left was reality.
As I’ve watched the nightmare unfolding in Ukraine, I keep being dragged back to that question of reality. Primarily by Putin’s repeated attempts to deny it.
There’s his bizarre claim that Ukraine is being run by drug addicts and Neo-Nazis (especially strange given that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, is Jewish). There are the downright Orwellian attempts to frame Russia as liberators instead of occupiers. There’s his portrayal of Luhansk and Donetsk as plucky, newly-independent states when they’ve been Russia-controlled, totalitarian statelets for the past 8 years.
Putin, it seemed, had also completely lost consciousness of reality.
But maybe that’s why his remarks as he tried to justify the impending economic sanctions to an assembly of oligarchs stood out:
Everything that is happening is a desperate measure. They left us no other option. They’ve created such security risks that we couldn’t react differently. […] They could have created such risks that no one knows how the country was to exist.
This, at least from Putin’s perspective, is almost certainly true. After all, even for Putin…