Today Russia is celebrating Victory Day, marking 70 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Much has been made of the West’s decision to boycott the Moscow events, but ultimately, it amounts to an incomprehensible snub to the Soviet people, without whom the war would most certainly never have been won.
It is one thing for the US to boycott the event. The war affected America only minimally compared to other nations. There is very little real emotion attached to this day in the United States – and what emotion does exist, is usually attached to an arrogant and false claim that the US won the war for Europe.
In reality, there was no battle equivalent to or more decisive than the battle for Europe on the Eastern Front. An unimaginable 27 million Soviets died defeating Hitler’s Germany. It’s estimated that 80% of men born in the USSR in 1923 did not survive the war.
Most Americans do not have any parent, grandparent or great grandparent who fought in the war. Whereas, it would be hard to find a Russian today who does not have some close connection to that history. So in a sense, Obama’s snub, while awful, is not entirely surprising.
But the leaders of the UK, France and Germany have no excuse. Not only do they lack the integrity to put current problems aside for one day — to celebrate perhaps the most important moment in European history — they also lack the backbone to stand up to directives from Washington.
The fact that our prominent Western narrative of the war minimizes or often even entirely ignores the Soviet sacrifice, shows that while the Cold War might be long over, we have still not been able to separate the Russian and Soviet people from Josef Stalin’s regime.
But today, while Barack Obama, David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel were shamefully nowhere to be seen, Vladimir Putin made a speech on Red Square thanking the US, UK and France for their sacrifices.
“We are grateful to the peoples of Great Britain, France and the United States of America for their contribution to the Victory,” he said.
They should have been there to hear it.
Less than a year earlier, he traveled to the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings — despite a slew of new Western sanctions imposed on his country — and even as he was given the cold shoulder by most leaders in attendance.
For all the legitimate — and illegitimate — criticisms that can be made against him (and there are many of both kinds), that was the right and respectful thing to do.
Today, instead of standing with Moscow to fight off common enemies, the West — led, cajoled and bullied by the US, has made a foe of Russia once again.
We have chosen to install and support a nationalist Ukrainian government that whitewashes the activities of rabid nationalists and neo-Nazis within its ranks, attempts to re-write its own history, and is led by an oligarch president and a prime minister who has referred to ethnic Russians in the country’s eastern regions as “sub-human”.
Russia is by no means perfect or entirely exempt from blame. Certainly, internally, Russia still has much to improve upon. For a transitional society, that is normal. But externally, where Western actions were offensive and provocative, Russia’s were largely reactive and defensive.
Seventy years on from the end of the war, we in Europe have become pawns on Washington’s chess board.
To look back at the last twenty-four years of world history since the Soviet Union fell, very little of today’s war and destruction can be traced directly back to the foreign policy of the new Russian Federation.
Yet it has become almost a requirement for citizens of Western countries to regard Russia as the world’s most dangerous aggressor.
That narrative is a myth propagated by Washington with the most sophisticated forms of propaganda and which serves only to provide cover to the White House as it continues unobstructed on its own course of aggressive, reckless and world-endangering behavior.
How long will it take us to see it?