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Will Putin become Stalin?: Anti-war protests erupt in Russia

… Stalin may have killed 20 million of his own people

A few weeks ago, I was helping a young high school student prepare to read George Orwell’s novella entitled “Animal Farm.” She had no idea who Joseph Stalin was or what kind of despot he was, so it was a chance to become a history teacher again while helping a young lady by teaching literature.

We were reading a piece by the Nobel-winning Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who had been convicted and sent to a Gulag in the Soviet Union, now Russia, during the Cold War. She had no idea of this history of Stalin and the Gulags, as most American students do not today.

Solzhenitsyn was arrested when he was a captain in the Soviet Red Army and sent to the brutal Gulags for criticizing Stalin in a letter. He was sentenced to eight years in the Gulags and then sent into exile.

His first novel was entitled “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and he wrote it in 1962, surprisingly with the approval of dictator Nikita Khrushchev.

I read part of Solzhenitsyn’s novella entitled “Matryona’s Place” with my student, who had been assigned by her teacher in preparation for reading “Animal Farm.” She was appalled that people could have lived in such squalor and repression during that time.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

When I told her that Stalin had killed tens of millions of his own citizens, she was further shocked.

Many thought that with the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the Soviet Union would change from its atrocities of the Stalin era.

Now, with the invasion of the Ukraine, anti-war protests have broken out across Russia against its dictator, a.k.a., president, Vladimir Putin, who was the leader of the infamous Soviet secret police, the KGB.

“20 Million Died As Victims of Stalin”

According to a 1989 story in a Soviet newspaper, Stalin may have killed as many as 20 million to 40 million of his own citizens,

A Soviet weekly newspaper today published the most detailed accounting of Stalin's victims yet presented to a mass audience here, indicating that about 20 million died in labor camps, forced collectivization, famine and executions.

The estimates, by the historian Roy Medvedev, were printed in the weekly tabloid Argumenti i Fakti, which has a circulation of more than 20 million.

The estimated number of deaths is about equal to the number of Soviet soldiers and civilians believed killed in World War II.

Mr. Medvedev's grim arithmetic was reported in a less detailed version last November in Moscow News, a limited-circulation weekly, which sells about 200,000 copies in Russian, but today's article marked the first time the numbers have been disclosed to a nationwide audience.

In all, Mr. Medvedev calculated about 40 million victims of Stalin's repressions, including those arrested, driven from their land or blacklisted.

Although the bookkeeping of Stalin's terror is an inexact and contentious science, Mr. Medvedev's estimates are generally in line with Western calculations that have long been disparaged by more official Soviet historians.

Bill Keller, “Major Soviet Paper Says 20 Million Died As Victims of

Stalin,” New York Times, February 4, 1989

It was a brutal era.

Is Putin becoming Stalin?

The whole idea that Putin could become as brutal to his own people was criticized in January in an Op-Ed in Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern newspaper. The evidence of Putin’s growing power and move toward Soviet intolerance has been growing, though, the piece noted.

Putin moved to name himself president for life, and he has brutally killed some dissidents,

In late December, a Russian court ruled to shut down Memorial, an organisation dedicated to preserving the memory of people who perished in communist terror. Memorial was founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov and fellow Soviet dissidents at the height of Perestroika in 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (free speech) made it possible to talk openly about Vladimir Lenin’s and Joseph Stalin’s genocidal crimes.

The tragic symbolism of this event is hard to overstate. The formal grounds for outlawing Memorial were based on its alleged failure to comply with the law on “foreign agents” – a term that immediately evokes memories of the 20th-century Soviet terror.

The closing of the organisation is a major blow for Russian civil society and it comes amid a massive wave of repression against regime opponents – the worst since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny was thrown in prison last January when he returned from Germany after recovering from a near-deadly poisoning with Novichok nerve agent, a Soviet-made chemical weapon. An investigation by Bellingcat, an investigative media outlet, and Navalny’s team blamed it on Russian secret services.

Leonid Ragozin, “No, Putin is not becoming Stalin,” Aljazeera, January 4, 2022

Putin shocked at anti-war protests in Russia

The fact that thousands of Russians took to the streets of Putin’s country was distressing to the Russian leader, who believed that he would be roundly supported by his own people.

That has not happened, and it has led some to think that Putin may order a crackdown that may be Stalinesque in its brutality,

Thousands of people protested President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine in cities across Russia on Thursday, a striking show of anger in a nation where spontaneous mass demonstrations are illegal and protesters can face fines and jail.

More than 1,700 people were arrested in at least 47 cities across the nation, according to rights group OVD-Info. The group was declared a foreign agent last year, when Putin launched a sweeping crackdown on activists, rights groups and opposition figures.

The protests came with an outpouring of horror from liberal Russians, social media influencers, athletes, actors, television presenters and others.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday spoke out against the attacks during a court hearing, as members of the Russian political elite either remained silent or celebrated.

Navalny appeared via video link in court on charges of fraud, one of several cases against him, after he was nearly fatally poisoned with a chemical weapon by Russian security agents in 2020 and jailed in 2021 upon returning to Russia following medical treatment for the poisoning in Germany. His political organization was banned as extremist last year. He calls the charges against him political.

“I have no method of communicating with the outside world,” Navalny said at the Lefortovo District Court hearing. “I ask that my appeal to the court and to the world be recorded,” he said.

“I am against this war. I believe that this war between Russia and Ukraine is being waged to cover up the robbery of Russian citizens and to distract their attention from the problems that exist within the country from the degradation of the economy,” Nalvany added.

Robyn Dixon, “Attack on Ukraine brings rare sight in Russia: Protests in cities against Putin and invasion,” Washington Post, February 24, 2022

The crush of dissent in the country could become Stalinesque if it continues to grow. Will that continue with executions for treason?

With Putin’s moves to crush dissent, including a bar on critical reporting of the military and security agencies, analysts predicted the protests would probably be swiftly curtailed. Last year, many activists and opposition figures were either jailed, placed under house arrest or forced to flee the country to avoid prison.

About 1,000 protesters rallied in central Moscow, chanting “no to war,” with some of them carrying antiwar banners. Riot police closed in quickly, forcing them into police vans. Large protests took place in other cities such as St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Perm.

Russia’s Investigative Committee warned it would track down protest organizers and participants, threatening “severe punishment for mass riots.” At least 290 people were arrested in Moscow, 128 in St Petersburg, 50 in Perm and 37 in Yekaterinburg, OVD-Info reported. More than 290,000 people signed a petition against the attacks on

Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, February 24, 2022

More on this as it evolves, but it is important to understand this Soviet history as we see the brutality return in the person of Vladimir Putin. For Americans who support Putin, they must be condemned for thinking of supporting an anti-democratic, anti-U.S. dictator.

And he is, in effect, a dictator.

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