Monday, May 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Putin Praises Denikin Whose Nationality Policies Led to Lenin’s Victory

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 25 – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday laid flowers on the Moscow grave of General Anton Denikin, a White Russian leader whose opposition to the aspirations of non-Russian nations in the Russian Empire and unqualified commitment to the “indivisibility” of Russia opened the way for the victory of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
Indeed, it was Denikin’s unwillingness to make any concessions to non-Russian groups, combined with Lenin’s false promises of respect for national self-determination that led to the collapse of the anti-Bolshevik cause and allowed the communists to triumph, first at the expense of the Russians and then of the non-Russians among and around them.
And consequently, as several commentators have already pointed out, Putin’s latest remarks, including in particular his denigration of the separateness of Ukraine, are certain to drive many non-Russians away from Moscow, even if they appeal to Russians as “the [latest] end of the [Russian] civil war” and a reaffirmation of the continuity of Russian history.
Yesterday, Putin laid flowers on the graves of anti-Bolshevik generals Anton Denikin and Vladimir Kappel, émigré nationalist philosophers Ivan Il’in and Ivan Shmelyev, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at Moscow’s Donskoy Cemetery. Accompanying him and relaying some of his words was Archimandrite Tikhon.
After laying flowers on the leader of the South Russia government, Putin quoted Denikin’s suggestion that “no one must be allowed to interfere in relations between us, big and little Russia, Ukraine. This was always an affair of Russia itself!” And he added that Denikin considered that any movement toward disunity was “impermissible.”
According to Tikhon, Putin “recalled how he had read the memoirs of Denikin in which the latter said that despite his hostility to Soviet power, even to think about the dismemberment of Russia was a crime, … especially when one is talking about the Little Russian land – Ukraine” (
And the Russian Orthodox churchman added that Putin had given the money from his personal account for the restoration of the graves of Denikin, Il’in and Shmelyev. Several months ago, Tikhon said, Putin had seen pictures of the graves and decided that he had to intervene to support the preparation of new headstones.
During his visit, Putin praised Denikin and the others as leaders committed to the Russian state, noting that “the main thing which distinguished them was a deep and true love for the motherland, for Russia, true patriotism,” something that made them “heroic people” in what Putin conceded was “a tragic time” (
Such comments are certain to be well received by Russian nationalists either as the latest indication of an “end” to the divisions of the Russian civil war out of which the Soviet Union was forged or as the beginning of the reaffirmation of Russia as a continuation not so much of the USSR but of the Russian Empire.
Evidence of this was provided today by nationalist Pavel Svyatenkov who suggests that Putin’s actions represented a concerted effort to create a new state ideology, one that would separate his government from the Stalinist past and ultimately lead to “reestablishing the succession of our state from the Russian Empire” (
Other writers, however, including many on the left, are appalled by Putin’s celebration of leaders who fought the Bolsheviks (Denikin and Kappel), welcomed the actions of the Nazis in limiting the spread of communism (Il’in), or otherwise opposed the rights of the peoples of Russia.
But the most serious immediate consequences of Putin’s words are likely to be on non-Russians around and even within the Russian Federation. As one writer points out today, “the historical logic” Denikin employed and that Putin invokes, “will drive Ukraine away from us,” however attractive Russians find it (
Indeed, many non-Russians are likely to see this latest statement by the Russian prime minister as further evidence that Putin does not view Ukraine as an independent state. In April 2008, Putin notoriously said that “Ukraine is not a state! What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, and part, a significant part, was given to it by us!”
And consequently, just as the unreflective nationalism of Denikin led to the destruction of the anti-Bolshevik cause 80 years ago, so too the equally unreflective nationalism of Putin could contribute to the final dismemberment of what he and tragically many others in Russia and elsewhere see as that country’s patrimony.

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