President Putin has famously said that the “breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” Only a former KGB agent could come up with this idiotic statement. Such an ignorant analysis can only come from a position that is deeply imperialistic, totalitarian and ignorant of history.
Lenin was right when he called Russia the “prison house of nations.” Ironically, the creation of the Soviet Union continued the practice of imperialism: the totality of Russian colonial possessions – which to this day include all Caucasian, Siberian, East Asian, and Central Asian territories – was even increased by the addition of further territories as Soviet Socialist Republics. Whatever Russia was, the Soviet Union continued. This new prison house of nations was just as repressive as the old one.
Furthermore, let us not forget that the Bolshevik October Revolution did not constitute a revolt against the Czar, but against the attempt to create a democratic government during the February revolution. The Bolshevik revolution was anti-liberatory and anti-democratic from the beginning. Furthermore, the idea of creating democratic councils, “soviets,” eventually became a caricature as the Soviet Union became a totalitarian state that was not at all democratic. It was “soviet” in name only.
What characterized the Soviet Union and its satellites (including my home state of East Germany) was the rule of the secret police, the corrupt Communist Party, the total disrespect for civil and political liberties, and the constant rule of repression, implied or direct violence, imprisonment, labor and concentration camps, forced relocation, dispossession, outright genocide, fanatical heteronormativity, racism (point out a non-European Soviet leader!), war and imperialism.
Much has been made of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. That is indeed true. Many people don’t want to know that before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, him and Stalin were allies. This Hitler-Stalin pact was an alliance of convenience, and of ideological similarity. The two evil empires proceeded to share their bounty soon: Hitler attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, and Stalin followed suit by attacking Poland on September 17, 1939, Finland in November 1939, and the Baltic states in June 1940. Had Hitler not attacked the Soviet Union later in 1941, this would have been a partnership of equals. This does not diminish the great contribution the Soviet Union made to defeat Hitler. There can be different variants of Evil, and the Soviet Union did not come as liberators but as oppressors.
When the Soviet Union fell, a cry of relief was heard all over the world. The prison finally had shattered, yet everyone knew it might return. If you ask why so many Central and Eastern European countries wanted to join NATO and the EU, it was out of the joint experience of the terror of the Soviet Union, and the justified fear that Russian imperialism could rise again.
The false nostalgia for the Soviet Union is an insult to the suffering of millions. The failure by post-Soviet Russia to succeed as it should have, has been due to the very active sabotage by kleptocratic, corrupt and outright fascist rulers like Vladimir Putin. Had he not deviated from the path of perestroika (restructuring), glasnost (openness), democracy and freedom that was paved by both Gorbachev and (initially) Yeltsin, Russia would be a thriving, successful and happy country whose leaders would not feel threatened today by the successes of democracy and the free market in its former Soviet colonies.
Russia’s current failure is not due to the fall of the Soviet Union, it is due to the decisions and corruption of one Vladimir Putin.