Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Eternity policy

ABOUT UKRAINE (FROM THE ROAD TO FREEDOM). Putin claims the legacy of World War II
UKRAINE / What is the influence of the philosopher Ivan Ilyin on Putin's politics? Today, information warfare is at least as important as military warfare.


Da Timothy Snyder's book The Road to Unfreedom came out in 2018, there were many who wrinkled their noses. In the book, it was stated crystal clear that Russia would invade Ukraine and would not be content with invading the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lohansk. Equally crystal clear, it was claimed that the US election in 2016 was manipulated by the Russians.

It has now been four years, and many today have highlighted the book as unusually far-sighted. When I reviewed the book in MODERN TIMES in 2018, I particularly emphasized the relationship between Russia and the country's influence on the American election, but wrote little about Russia's relationship with Ukraine.

Now this part of the book has come out in a separate publication, called About Ukraine, with a cover that is blue with a yellow stripe in the middle. In other words, the same color as the Ukrainian flag.

As Snyder predicted

In the opening of this small publication, which should preferably not be read alone, but as a foretaste of the overall book, it is stated: "Russia's devastating war against Ukraine must be met not only with resistance, but also with inspiration. To end this war, the EU must continue its strategy of economic sanctions against Russia. […] The EU must show that it is capable of renewing itself morally, politically and intellectually. The leaders must show that they have a vision of the future that changes the history of war, and that contributes to ending the war."

It has gone pretty much exactly as Snyder predicted. On 28 February this year, the European Parliament agreed to give Ukraine the status of a candidate country. But as one can rightly claim: Ukraine's approach to the EU is one of the most important reasons why the country has been invaded by Russia.

Marco De Angelis

Ivan Ilyin's Philosophy and Politics

In retrospect, it is easy to see why many were wrong in the run-up to Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February this year: We were wrong, among other things, because we were unable to see Russia's politics as a whole, in the light of what Snyder calls "the politics of eternity" and "the politics of inevitability". Snyder spends a lot of time explaining the influence of the philosopher Ivan Ilyin on Putin's politics: “Vladimir Putin portrayed the annexation of Crimea as a mystical personal transformation, an exalted transition to eternity. Crimea had to be part of Russia, Putin explained, because the leader of the old Rus, Volodomyr/Valdemar, whom Putin called Vladimir, had been baptized there a thousand years earlier.”

Snyder explains Ivan Ilyins perpetuity policy thus: “A backward cycle replaces the forward course of time; the law is what Russia's leader says it is; Russia is making amends for God's failed world with violence.”

Putin is thus to be regarded as God's necessary helper. He is helping God to perfect the world, and Putin is a man who comes somewhere outside of history to change the course of time. Time has come off its hinges, and he is the chosen one to set it right again.

Ilyin's philosophy and politics rise high above the purely material conditions and are a spiritual form of politics. Snyder describes this, among other things, as "a spiritual defense against a permanent attack from the West".

If we don't try to get into and understand Russia as a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom that in Putin's eyes is totally innocent, and where the ignorant and uneducated masses represent Russia's spiritual innocence, but only see the country's invasion of Ukraine as a purely military strategic attack, we cannot understand Putin's actions as anything but insane or profoundly irrational. But is it due to a mental and intellectual shortcoming among us Westerners? Russia is another place, spiritually and mentally. Shouldn't we even try to understand the thinking behind Putin's invasion?

Interpretation and distortion

The invasion of Ukraine in 2014 is, we are to believe Snyder, just a continuation of the eternal policy that began with the invasion of Crimea, called by the Russians "the Russian Spring". But it distorts the part of world history that includes the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, where truth plays a non-existent role. Among other things, the distortion is based on the fact that Kyiv was once the capital of the Kingdom of Rus. Kyiv is said to have originally been the capital of Russia, and therefore Ukraine is not a proper country. This is how Putin uses the past to facilitate and defend his actions, and the truth is completely subordinate here. Could it be that he believes it himself?

Russia is a different place, spiritually and mentally.

In Putin's interpretation of the invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainians have played the role of Nazis. In the same way that the grandfathers honorably defended the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, the invasion of Ukraine has unfolded in an imagined 1941, writes Snyder. The myth of a common Ukrainian and Russian past has, in Putin's mind, become that Russia must be saved from Nazism once more by invading Ukraine. The reason may be, among other things, that Nazism is mixed with everything Western. In his speech on May 9, Putin compared the fighting in Ukraine to the Soviet Union's fight against Nazi Germany. It is thus a country that must be saved from itself and Nazified, Western and decadent influence.

According to Snyder, the EU must offer a different interpretation of the Second World War than Putin's interpretation, and it must be "an interpretation that explains the war being fought now, which Europeans today and future generations will understand".

It is not enough to offer military resistance, according to Snyder, one must also offer a credible interpretation of history, give it a truer interpretation, so that it gives the rising generation a contextual meaning in a larger, historical perspective. We must be able to offer a more credible version of history than Putin's false, distorted interpretation. This is currently missing.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

You may also like