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Putin the Terrible

Around the world, the crisis of democracy and the rise of neomedieval memory politics go hand in hand. By falsifying and elevating the legacies of Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, and other canonical figures, Vladimir Putin hopes to justify his own authoritarianism and neo-imperial wars of aggression.

ATLANTA – In early August, the Russian occupiers of the port of Mariupol demolished a monument to the city’s Ukrainian defenders. Soon after, plans were announced to replace it with a statue of Alexander Nevsky, a thirteenth-century medieval Russian warlord known for his military exploits against the Swedes and the Teutonic knights.

Not long before, the Russian nationalist website Regnum had published an article entitled “New Assault on Rus: What Unites the Battle of the Neva and the Special Operation in Ukraine,” which favorably compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to Nevsky. Depicting Putin’s “special operation in Ukraine” as part of a war that the West has waged against Russia since the Middle Ages, the article warned that “the Fatherland is in danger,” and described both Nevsky and Putin as “national leaders” around whom the Russian people should rally.

Such medieval analogies are nowadays all too typical in Putin’s Russia. In another recent article, published by FederalPress, Putin’s brutalization of Ukraine is likened to Russia’s tenth-century conversion to Christianity under another medieval Russian warlord, Vladimir the Saint. Again, the West – and Ukraine especially – is said to represent “pagans” and “Satanists” who are threatening Russian traditional values.

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