The Cold War ended in a defeat for the Soviet Union but in a victory for Russia and it is a crucial distinction, says Lithuanian author and Yale University Professor Emeritus Tomas Venclova.
Tomas Venclova
© DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Speaking at the Free Russia Forum in Trakai, Lithuania, last week, Venclova recalled a conversation he had with Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar.

“I said that Russia lost the Cold War. He responded: No, it was the Soviet Union that lost the Cold War, but Russia won it, because it got the chance to become a normal country. Of course, that’s something difficult to explain to most people in Russia. They believe that they lost the Cold War and now they need to be revisionist”, Venclova said.

Lithuania is not simply a victim

The distinction between the Soviet Union and Russia is hard to grasp even for most Lithuanians, who see themselves as pure victims of Russian imperialism.

"We often say that we were simply the victims and that we had nothing to do with the Soviet Union. The USSR was just a form of Russian imperialism, probably worse than in the times of Peter I or Nicholas I," Venclova argued. "That’s not entirely true. It wasn’t only the Russians who brought 'Stalin’s sunshine' here from Moscow and built the Soviet Union, it was also quite a few of our own people – some did it out of hopelessness, sometimes as a career move and sometimes because they believed in the idea, although believing it was nasty and impossible towards the end.

"But distinguishing between the Soviet Union and Russia is something very important and this must be borne in mind even if today’s Russia continues to outdo Soviet policies”, he added.

Assuming the position of victimhood is a bad idea for the Lithuanian nations, which should instead think of itself as an agent in its history. “I think that one needs to distance oneself as much possible from the victim mentality. This mentality was imbued in the Soviet times and not only by official governance,” says Venclova.

Believing that Valdimir Putin has a total grip on the country is also false, Venclova maintains, and such an attitude plays well into the Kremlin's hands.

"We must cooperate with Russia, not with Putin but Russia's democrats of whom there are more now than in the Soviet times.

“They are now in the thousands, tens of thousands, but their situation is dire. What the West can do is support them more, morally and otherwise,” Venclova argues.

He adds that the West is not doing too badly in handling the crisis that Putin has created. “The response of the West isn’t that lenient and weak as is sometimes argued,” he says.

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