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Victory is to get back in time where the war hadn’t started yet

“...Don't do it, Grandpa asks.

No winning in my name,

No victories at all.

Also, he goes on, I'd be glad,

If you wouldn't carry me to the parade…”

E. Berkovich (in publisher’s translation)


In 1992, the first Victory Parade after the collapse of the Soviet Union was held without salutes and military equipment. Instead of deadly military equipment, it was attended by veterans of World War II: from the former republics of the USSR, France, the United States, England, Germany, and Italy. They marched solemnly from Free Russia Square to Red Square. An allied delegation from the U.S. also came that day - to plant fifty "trees of life" as a sign of friendship between nations.

This parade was called the Parade of Peace Victory. Few testimonies of this beautiful, life-affirming event have been left on the Runet because its meaning has come into conflict with Putin's political and military ambitions.

In 1995, many world leaders gathered at the Victory Anniversary Parade: over fifty foreign leaders, as well as six leaders of international associations and organizations. Among them were U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, French President Francois Mitterrand, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and others. The list of leaders who accepted the invitation was not limited to former allies in the anti-Hitler coalition. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was a special guest at the event. UN Secretary-General Boutros Ghali and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana also visited Moscow.

Since 2017, the parades have occurred annually and have become a national symbol of the country's unity.

In 2020, Vladimir Putin was joined in Moscow by the leaders of Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Serbia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the victory.

In 2021, only the president of Tajikistan came.

There was none in 2022.

Over a quarter of a century, the Victory in the Great Patriotic War has completely changed its symbolic meaning. From a holiday to commemorate the dead it has become a political instrument of power.

A leap in the propaganda of the "cult of victory" occurred after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. At that time, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of nationalism and fascism. Old narratives were used to justify the aggression and contrasted "fascism" with Russia as the inheritor of the USSR. A systematic revision of the role of allies began. Vladimir Putin even claimed that the USSR would have won the war without Ukraine.

The cult of victory and Russia's unique role in the war became one of the main focuses of the militarization of society and preparations for war with Ukraine. The theme of the victorious war against German fascism smoothly flowed into the narrative of victory over Ukrainian Nazism. The slogans of the Great Patriotic War came back into circulation. The post-war mantra "If only there was no war!" began to be supplanted by the meme "We can do it again!" The war was injected into the public subconscious as part of a thriple propaganda plan: anti-West, anti-Ukraine, pro-war.

For several years before the war, propaganda based on the motif of continuity constructed a paradigm justifying the war in Ukraine: There is a Nazi government in Kiev, which, together with NATO, poses a threat to Russia, just as Germany did to the Soviet Union 80 years ago. And just as in 1945, Russia must prevail.

The effectiveness of this infernal violence against history has been practiced in the Donbass. This is perfectly described in the work of the Public Sociology Lab: in the minds of combatants "World War II and the events in Donbass, together with the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conflicts that arose in its aftermath, were simply episodes in the long-term hostility between Russia and the West...The Great Patriotic War was a past event - a lost opportunity to become heroes, while the conflict in Donbass (and now in all of Ukraine) gave them a real chance to act as heroes here and now."

We must admit that this parallel has worked now as well: 24% of respondents in February 2023, agreed that the special military operation was similar to the Great Patriotic War (65% disagreed). This proportion was not the majority that propaganda wanted to achieve, but this comparison was digested quite deeply.

Illustration 1. Goals of the SMO depending on the similarity of SMO and the Patriotic War. The Chronicles, February 2023
Illustration 1. Goals of the SMO depending on the similarity of SMO and the Patriotic War. The Chronicles, February 2023

Fighting Nazism to victory is "a worthy continuation of the cause of our ancestors".

Practically across the entire spectrum of issues we see the influence of this indulgence - continuing the cause of defending the homeland, restoring historical justice, not sparing the state budget or people for victory, everyone must go to the front, we condemn the turncoats.

Illustration 2.  Different parameters depending on the similarity of SMO and the Patriotic War. The Chronicles, February 2023
Illustration 2. Different parameters depending on the similarity of SMO and the Patriotic War. The Chronicles, February 2023

From the first day of the war, the propaganda machine worked for confidence in a quick victory. The very semantics of the term "special military operation" implied the swiftness of military action until victory was achieved.

And it was obviously planned to be so. The pieces of evidence of such military calculations are parade uniforms found in the duffle bags of killed Russian soldiers, intended for the victory parade in Kiev.

Here are the targets obtained in an open question in the first study since the war began on February 28-March 1, 2022. Although the war is not even a week old, the repertoire is quite extensive.

Illustration 3. Purposes and reasons for the special military operation. Project Athena, February 2022
Illustration 3. Purposes and reasons for the special military operation. Project Athena, February 2022

The official narrative formed the goals and "victory plan" as follows:

  1. Military defeat of the Ukrainian armed forces.

  2. The subsequent cleansing of the territory from the Nazis (physical denazification). Tribunals for Nazi criminals.

  3. Termination of Ukrainian statehood, since any "Ukrainian" statehood is by definition Russophobic.

  4. Deukrainianization (education, culture, language, education, restoration of true history, eradication of Banderist ideology).

Theoretically, the image of victory should follow from the achievement of the goals of the special military operation, but throughout the war, surveys confirm the instability of the goals in the minds of respondents. Although more and more respondents name some goals, there is less and less consistency in their answers.

And here are the answers to the same open-ended question asked a year later, in February 2023.

Question: In your understanding, what is the ultimate goal of Russia's military operation on the territory of Ukraine? 
Illustration 4. Goals of a special military operation. Chronicle, February 2023
Illustration 4. Goals of a special military operation. Chronicle, February 2023

The plan is partly assimilated: spontaneous responses include "denazification, demilitarization, taking control of the territory, and the change of the Kiev government".

At the same time, respondents who, among other things, are ready to participate in military actions, to give budget money for the war, "to go till the end", proactively speak not only about the goals, but also about why the goals are not achieved: "bad command", "bad supply", "corruption" and "theft", "we underestimated the enemy", "excessive humanism", "everybody helps Ukraine".

An important and sensitive parameter for measuring expectations of the success of a special military operation was the assessment of its duration.

Illustration 5. Respondents' perceived duration of the war. The Chronicles, May, June, October 2022, February 2023
Illustration 5. Respondents' perceived duration of the war. The Chronicles, May, June, October 2022, February 2023

Failures at the front, high-profile defeats of objects not only militarily important but also symbolically important: the cruiser Moskva and the Crimean Bridge, growing war fatigue, and the realization that SMO is not an operation but a war, led to a decline in support for the special operation.

In mid-summer, the subjective duration of the war began to increase, and at the same time support fell from 64% to 55%.

Due to deceived expectations and the failure to achieve victory in a few months, propaganda had to redefine the goals of the special operation, shifting the image of the enemy from Ukraine to the aggressive collective West and NATO. Accordingly, the image of victory was blurred.

An image of a future that does not exist

In October, we asked about feelings about the future of Russia.


Illustration 6. Feelings about Russia's future. The Chronicles, October 2022
Illustration 6. Feelings about Russia's future. The Chronicles, October 2022

They certainly differ between supporters and opponents of the war. Hope is the only thing they have in part in common. The future today is, of course, peace. But it has yet to be achieved.

For now, the future remains as uncertain as possible, and this is the main reason for anxiety.

Paradoxically, the absence of an image of the future, about which even propaganda has fallen silent, drowning in the necessity of constantly changing the narrative of the purpose of the war, leads to fear of the end of the war. 72% of Russians believe that the Ukrainians will not stop at the border of Russia, will go further to the east, and therefore it's impossible to withdraw troops, to negotiate until the goals are achieved (which one, read above)

In attempting to understand the image of the future, let's look at the notions of the personal good that a future victory might bring. A victory in which 82% of our respondents believed in the middle of the last year.

Question: Do you think a possible Russian victory in a military operation in Ukraine would or would not bring any good to you personally? If so, what good will it bring to you personally?

56% of respondents answered: "No, it won't."

Those 29% who articulated expectations of the benefits of victory in an open-ended response gave the following answers.

Illustration 7. Personal benefit from a possible Russian victory. The Chronicles, July 2022
Illustration 7. Personal benefit from a possible Russian victory. The Chronicles, July 2022

Victory is to get back in time where the war hadn’t started yet.


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