Kremlin plans to spark “history war” against Latvia

22.07.2020 Off By Кочевенко Юрій
Kremlin plans to spark “history war” against Latvia

The interpretation of history of Riga and Moscow has always significantly differed, but up until now we hadn’t seen such outrageous falsification of historical facts by Russia.

I think it’s no secret that the rewriting of history has always been the favorite pastime activity of the Kremlin’s political strategists. This was true during the imperial times, the Soviet era and undoubtedly now as well during the rule of dictator Putin. As suggested by the recent activities of Russia’s diplomatic institutions, during Putin’s rule the rewriting of history has taken a much more perverted and aggressive shape than ever before. I am talking about the Russian Embassy’s in Latvia (and not only) tweets that blatantly deny the fact that Latvia was occupied and state that the republic joined the USSR willingly.

The interpretation of history of Riga and Moscow has always significantly differed, but up until now we hadn’t seen such outrageous falsification of historical facts by Russia. Now, over the course of at least three years we have seen that Moscow’s deceitful activities in the sphere of history have reached unprecedented heights. I will give just a couple of examples of Moscow’s deliberate attempts to rewrite the history of Latvia.

For instance, one of the “research” (sorry, propaganda) institutes directly under the Kremlin the Historical Memory Foundation from 2017 to 2020 has issued six full length books, ten collections of documents with commentaries, as well as numerous smaller-scale research papers dedicated to the history of Eastern Europe, including Latvia.

The foundation has always worked with the history of Eastern Europe and World War II and its research is intentionally adjusted to use seemingly legitimate historical facts in order to justify numerous pro-Kremlin stances. For example:

·        Latvia willingly joined the USSR;

·        USSR was not responsible for starting World War II;

·        The Baltic states and Nazi Germany were planning to attack the USSR;

·        The Latvian SS legion consisted of volunteers and helped in committing Nazi war crimes.

As a rule, these “historical facts” are always taken from sometimes classified archives of the Kremlin and the FSB that can only be accessed by the historians of the Historical Memory Foundation. The main researcher in Russia is the director of the foundation Aleksandr Dyukov and former employee in the Russian Embassy in Latvia Vladimir Simindey. And because both men have been denied entry into Latvia, on this side of the border the foundation receives help from member of the Latvian Saeima Nikolajs Kabanovs. The foundation’s publications are usually followed by a large-scale information campaign in Russia’s federal media. The research carried out by these pseudo-historians is presented in the press center of Rossiya Segodnya and gets broadcast on Russia’s main TV channels.

Recently, the focus of the Historical Memory Foundation has shifted to SS legionnaires and their activities in the territory of the USSR during World War II, and when it comes to this topic, the foundation is supported not only by Russia’s propaganda machinery, but also by several repressive institutions.

A great example of this are the criminal cases initiated by the Russian Investigative Committee about the murders of civilians in the territory of the USSR committed by Nazis and their supporters. At the moment, such criminal cases have been initiated (or are expected to be) in several regions of Russia – Krasnodar Kray, Rostov and Novgorod oblasts, Oryol Oblast, the Republic of Karelia6 and in Volgograd.

The criminal cases are closely linked and justified by the research of the Historical Memory Foundation, data obtained during the excavations World War II victims as part of the Bez sroka davnosti project and in some cases information obtained from FSB archives.

In at least one of the criminal cases (Novgorod Oblast) those accused are Latvian legionnaires, while in others these are Estonians, Ukrainians and Finns. By the way, the Finns are also accused of murdering civilians in the USSR-occupied Karelia (!).

Interestingly, most of the cases are initiated based on the article “on genocide” of the Russian Criminal Law. Previously, Nazi atrocities committed in the territory of the USSR were interpreted as “war crimes”. This is the explanation given by the coordinator of the project Bez sroka davnosti Aleksey Bormotov:

“our goal now is to prove that during the occupation the Fascists and their followers murdered or burned 11,309,340 peaceful citizens, including 306,944 children, in the territory of the USSR.”

Bormotov’s statement is also backed by senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Science’s St. Petersburg Institute of History Dmitriy Atashkin, who noted that Europe often refuses to speak about the decisive role played by “smaller nations” in the genocide against Soviet citizens. To prevent this, Russia intends to turn to the UN with documents that prove that during World War II the Nazis and their followers carried out genocide against the Soviet nation.

It is clear that in the upcoming years Russia’s propaganda machine and state institutions will continue working in this direction. This means that Latvia must be prepared to face increasingly aggressive attempts of falsifying history by the Kremlin. These attempts could manifest as:

·       accusations of genocide or its justification;

·       demands of reparations;

·       demands to Western countries to extradite Latvian SS legionaries residing there to be tried in the world’s most “humane” court in Russia.

The increase in such activities most likely has two somewhat logical explanations. First, the Russian regime is becoming increasing less popular with people becoming more and more tired. In such circumstances, the Kremlin has to divert the public’s attention from the present unpleasant reality. This can be best done either by emphasizing Russia’s historical achievements (victory over Nazism) or by promoting the battle against historical external enemies (for instance, Latvian Nazi collaborationists).

Second, Putin himself is most likely interested and engaged in shaping the policies related to history in Russia. Everyone knows that Putin has always been very interested in historical topics, and he has strong ideological beliefs in this regard – you can read this in an article by The National Interest titled Vladimir Putin: The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II.

For those who haven’t read the article, Putin quite openly states that:

·       Western nations are the ones to blame for starting World War II, not Nazi Germany or the USSR;

·       Poland itself is to blame that it got divided;

·       The Baltic states willingly joined the USSR;

·        By ignoring the interests of modern Russia, the West risks repeating (!) the scenario of World War II.

Knowing all of this, a question comes to mind – what does Latvia and its decisionmakers in different spheres intend to do to counter the looming “history war” with Putin’s Russia?

I personally believe that it is about time for the state to pay greater attention to local sphere of history. Additional funding must be given to conduct new historical research and to translate the historical papers (books) already made. The salaries of historians and academic staff need to be raised, students who want to research issues related to the history of Latvia-Russia should receive scholarships. In addition, complex historical topics should be discussed not only on the expert level but also by the entire society.

In other words, Latvia must become proactive and begin explaining its historical perspective to its own public, Western partners and Russia itself too. Emphasis should be put on regional cooperation between historians from the other Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine, as well as the opposition of Belarus and Russia.

Here’s a good way to begin – if the Russian Embassy decides to post absurd tweets, we should send them a letter or protest or summon the ambassador.


Janis Makonkalns (Latvia)