Russians, voting in a contest organized by state broadcaster Rossiya, chose Josef Stalin as the third greatest Russian of all time. The results were announced yesterday. Alexander Nevsky, a 13th century hero who defeated the Swedes, came in first, and Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister during the rule of Nicholas II, took second. Stalin nearly came in first-falling only 5,200 votes short out of 4.5 million ballots cast-and actually led at one point. Russians voted on the internet and through text messaging.
Although results in these types of polls are typically unrepresentative of the population as a whole, the clear message for President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is that a large segment of the Russian populace values strong leaders. That’s understandable for a nation that collapsed into pieces last decade after losing a multi-decade struggle to the West and its allies.
Nonetheless, the clear message for us is that we should start seeing Russia as it sees itself. The Russians obviously hold values we find abhorrent. That should, at a minimum, make us rethink the nature of our cooperation with them and their government.
We should remember we tried working with Stalin once. Maybe Putin is no communist dictator, but he is reasserting hardline rule when he is not trying to destabilize the international community. It’s time to take a fresh look at him and his Russia.