op_khrushcheva2_Photo 12Universal Images Group via Getty Images_stalin Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Stalin’s War and Peace

In dealing with Vladimir Putin's Russia, the West has both underestimated and overestimated the country, often simultaneously. An examination of Soviet history – from World War II through the Nuremberg Trials – shows just how dangerous such miscalculations can be.

MOSCOW – From the 2008 war in Georgia to the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the build-up of troops along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders just this spring, Russia’s actions in recent years have been increasingly worrying. Could history – in particular, the behavior of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union after World War II – give Western leaders the insights they need to mitigate the threat?

The authors of several recent books about Stalin seem to think so. But not everyone gets the story right. Instead, modern observers often fall into the trap of reshaping history to fit prevailing ideological molds. This has fed an often-sensationalized narrative that is not only unhelpful, but that also plays into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the perception, popular in the West, that Putin is a strategic genius – always thinking several moves ahead. Somehow, Putin anticipates his Western foes’ tactical mistakes and is invariably well prepared to take advantage of them. As a result, he is not only one of the world’s most powerful autocrats, but also among its most effective spoilers. Much like Stalin.

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