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Opinion | Putin’s Holy War: The Messianic Myths Fueling Russia’s Assault on Ukraine

Ian Garner

Haaretz, May 11, 2022

In today’s Russia, the memorialization of World War II has become a destructive religion, and anybody who attacks the faith is decried as a “fascist.” And while the Victory Day celebrations this week may not have seen the declaration of war or general mobilization that some western observers were expecting, Vladimir Putin’s spectacle amplified the contorted propaganda narrative that his country is waging a spiritual crusade against a global enemy. 

In his speech to troops on Red Square, Putin reiterated Russia’s familiar justifications for its war in Ukraine. He claimed that Russia is under attack from all sides and that its “special operation” is a form of self-defense. Less apparent, however, may have been the significance of the religious symbolism in Putin’s performance. 

Putin mixed historical description, mythical allusion, and religious language to build his case for war in the present. “The defense of the Motherland has always been holy,” he intoned, before asserting that popular actions like the Immortal Regiment parades would keep Russia’s heroes “forever young.”

Ian Garner is an expert on Russian war propaganda and the author of “Stalingrad Lives: Stories of Combat & Survival.” Twitter@irgarner

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