The year that is ending will therefore have been marked by a date, a sinister date that the next generations will soon learn at school: February 24, 2022, the start of the invasion of Ukraine and the return of war to the European continent. . A mad war, a dirty war, a massive war full of tanks, bombs and crimes against unfortunate civilian populations, started on the order of a man who was not just joking, on the day in 2016 when he resumed on his own account the disturbing official slogan of the Russian paratroopers: “Russia’s borders don’t end anywhere. »
This man is obviously Vladimir Putin, about whom miles have been written throughout the year. Geopoliticians, military strategists, psychiatrists, even novelists, have tried to grasp what is going on in his head. And everyone could experience the difficulty there is, seen from the West, in deciphering the intentions of this impenetrable tsar.
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Another approach is necessary, however. Because the will to power that drives Putin is not new. To bring out the deep nature of his imperialist logic and identify the messianism on which it is based, we must go in search of lost time, with the idea dear to Faulkner that “the past exists in the present”. This is the ambition of our special end-of-year dossier, which unfolds over fifty pages, in around thirty dates designed to retrace a thousand years of Russian history.
This millennium is incredibly rich. How could a small city-state populated by Vikings become the largest federation in the world, currently with 17 million square kilometers? What country was the birthplace of Ivan the Terrible, the beauties of Saint Petersburg, the epileptic masterpieces of Dostoyevsky and the 1917 revolution? From the conquest of the Siberian immensity to the formation of African leaders of the XXe century, and from the reign of Catherine II to that of Joseph Stalin, Russian history is a gigantic epic full of sound and fury, battles and prayers, splendor and misery, of which Putin is in his own way the heir .
Of course, this is not to reduce Russia to megalomaniacal dreams of grandeur. Imperialism is unfortunately not just a Slavic passion and, in this area, humanity has no more lessons to learn from the Kremlin than it has to give it. From ancient Rome to the United States via China, and from the first crusades to colonial France via Louis XIV or Napoleon, the spirit of conquest has always, alas, been one of the main explosion engines of the Story.
But the past, like geography, is sometimes used to wage war. Can it also help to make peace? It all depends on what we take away from it, the way we tell it to ourselves, the lessons we want to draw from it. And it is clear that Vladimir Putin, for whom the end of the USSR is “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XXe century “does not hesitate to rewrite the nationalist novel of his country to consolidate his power, with the idea that his people are of a different essence, if not superior.
This belief is always dangerous. Going back in time to make archeology of it means plunging into everything that can nourish it, but also defuse it, rather than fatalistically invoking the identity springs of a “Russian soul” on which Chekhov, from all way, had probably already said the main thing: “No matter how hard you look, you won’t find anything. This famous Russian soul does not exist. The only tangible things are the alcohol, the nostalgia and the taste for horse racing. Nothing more, I assure you. »