The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
Vladimir Putin’s regime acts like it owns the memory and the narrative of the Second World War.
The Kremlin appears to believe that it has the right to dictate how other countries mark, remember and commemorate World War II.
And the latest example of this came just this week.
According to the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia, Russia is now threatening to impose sanctions on Poland if it goes ahead with plans to remove Soviet-era war monuments.
The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Warsaw of “Russophobia” and of attempting to “belittle the Soviet Union’s role as liberator.”
Now this, of course, overlooks the inconvenient fact that Poland, like the Baltic states, views the Red Army in World War II not as liberators but as conquerors and occupiers.
It conveniently ignores the pesky fact that before Moscow fought against the Nazis, it collaborated with them to invade and partition Poland and to occupy the Baltics.
And it is willfully indifferent to the fact that for these countries, World War II was a battle against two of history’s most nefarious regimes: Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The current tension with Poland is ominously reminiscent of Moscow’s reaction to Estonia’s decision 10 years ago to remove a Soviet-era war monument from central Tallinn.
Then, Russia responded with a massive cyberattack against Estonia and with orchestrated riots by ethnic Russians on the streets of Tallinn.
The Kremlin’s attempts to control the narrative about World War II is more than an academic exercise and it’s more than about preserving Russia’s national pride.
At its heart, it’s an attempt to legitimize Moscow’s postwar occupation and dominance of its neighbors.
It’s nothing short of an attempt to sanctify an autocratic empire.