To understand Putin, you must understand Russian history

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tags: Russia, Putin

Last week, Vladimir Putin was inaugurated to his fourth presidential term in Russia. What will his next six years in office bring? This is a difficult question, not least because most Western readers learn about Russia in short and transient news bites. Often lacking in context and interpretation, these quick takes do not yield a systematic understanding of Russia’s long-term political direction. Yet, Vladimir Putin functions in long-term historical categories. In recent years, he has increasingly invoked them to achieve political goals. To grasp Russia’s political vector under Mr. Putin, we need to be more attuned to his use of history.

In November, at the Livadia Palace, near Yalta, Crimea, Mr. Putin unveiled a monument to Russia’s Tsar Alexander III, who ruled from 1881 to his death in 1894. The monument is as symbolic as its location. The Livadia Palace had once been the summer residence of the Romanov dynasty — Russia’s ruling family. It was also the venue of the 1945 Yalta Conference, where U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin decided the fate of post-war Europe. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, provoking international condemnation. By unveiling a contemporary monument to a Russian tsar in Crimea, Moscow seeks to signal historical continuities with the peninsula.

This was also Mr. Putin’s first monument commissioned to a Russian tsar, and the choice of tsar is telling. Alexander III is known for abandoning Russia’s Europeanizing course and turning inward in search of native political values, traditions and norms. Among historians, Alexander has a controversial reputation. He was a nationalist who held anti-Semitic views, but he also presided over Russia’s economic boom during the 1880s.

Read entire article at The Baltimore Sun