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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How Stalin Saved Democratic Russia

As the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany draws nearer, it becomes increasingly obvious that the peoples and countries that once made up the Soviet Union have not yet come to terms with their past.

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When President Vladimir Putin recently described the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a measure designed to beef up Soviet national security, the Baltic states issued a barrage of official protests. Recent marches by SS veterans in Riga, on the other hand, aroused a storm of indignation in Russia. According to press reports, at the request of local veterans the polar city of Mirny plans to restore a monument to Stalin in time for Victory Day. A monument to Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill is planned for the grounds of the Livadia Palace, where the Yalta Conference was held in February 1945. Another such monument may go up in Volgograd, where there has long been talk of restoring the city's previous name, Stalingrad.

Can we really refuse the elderly men who helped to win the war what may well be their last request? And did the three chief Allied leaders not in fact make history in Crimea? Yet when any normal person hears all these reports, alarm bells go off in his head. Don't they all indicate a "creeping rehabilitation" of Stalinism?

Our recent history is so emotionally charged that we cannot escape the sway of stereotypes. We have difficulty considering our past from a nontrivial perspective.

The traditional view of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact -- which Putin shares, as it turns out -- holds that it shifted the Soviet border further west, creating an invaluable buffer zone in the lead-up to an inevitable war. From this point of view, the Yalta agreement and the acquisition of satellites in Europe expanded this buffer zone and further enhanced Soviet national security.

But in creating the so-called socialist bloc -- the Warsaw Pact -- the Soviet Union basically acquired allies that it generously subsidized but that nevertheless loathed and feared it. When the bonds of friendship began to weaken under Mikhail Gorbachev, the satellites bolted without so much as a "thank you" for all the benefits they had received. Such "enhancement of national security" under Stalin looks more like a betrayal of national interests.

Stalin was obsessed with expanding the empire. But by annexing the Baltic states and western Ukraine in 1939, he introduced the disease that finally killed the Soviet Union. The independence movements that sprang up in the Baltic states during perestroika inspired nationalists in other republics. And western Ukraine was the driving force in the republic's secession, which sealed the fate of the Soviet Union. Traditionally Russian Crimea, where they now want to erect a monument to Stalin, became part of a foreign country.

How is Russia supposed to react to all this? If we consider ourselves the heirs of the Soviet and Russian empires, it follows that we ought to curse Stalin and his imperial ambitions for bleeding the country dry and leaving it to die. And if that's the case, how can we talk about putting up monuments to the man? World War II vets would be the first to destroy the remains of Stalin's legacy. By finally and unequivocally condemning Stalinist imperialism, we would make peace with all of its victims.

If we consider Russia a new, democratic state that has broken with its imperial and totalitarian past, however, we actually owe a debt of historical gratitude to Stalin for helping Russia get rid of colonies that it didn't really need. In this case, we have every reason if not to encourage, then at least not to hinder the erection of new monuments to Stalin. And to remind our neighbors, including Ukraine and the Baltic states, that they have Stalin to thank for increasing the size of their countries.

Alexei Pankin is opinion page editor at Izvestia.