Vladimir Putin is not mad, says Stalinist biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, but he was ‘shoveling dogs in 1937’

Montefiore says it’s the only book he knows Putin has read because he discussed it with George W. Bush during the US president’s visit to St. Petersburg. It traces Potemkin’s annexation of Crimea and the conquest of part of southern Ukraine, creating the cities of Kherson, Mikolaev and Odessa – territory they called “New Russia” and which Putin wanted back.

Helen Mirren with Australian actor Jason Clarke, who plays Grigory Potemkin.Credit:fox showcase

“New Russia is what Putin wants to call it,” Montefiore said.

He said Putin likely planned to retake the southern coast to Odessa as part of Russia, and keep northern Ukraine and the capital kyiv as a republic but ruled by a puppet leader like Alexander Lukashenko. in Belarus.

Montefiore, who has written two biographies of Stalin, said Putin’s raving speeches betrayed the Russian leader’s level of isolation.

“Vladimir Putin in 2022 is as isolated as Stalin was in 1952, despite the fact that he has access to the Internet and WhatsApp,” he said, adding that this isolation has made Putin and his cronies had missed the increase in the Ukrainian population. pride that contributed to their heroic resistance.

He said Russian leaders generally become more isolated as they gain more power due to the violent nature of their rise. The rulers of the nation must maintain a constant state of vigilance against the enemies they have created for themselves. However, he said it was not the same as paranoia.

Photo of Joseph Stalin in 1940.

Photo of Joseph Stalin in 1940.Credit:Alamy

On Thursday, Putin appeared to threaten his people with a revival of Stalin’s Great Terror which began in 1937 and in which 1 million people were executed in 2½ years.

“He’s whistling 1937, so it’s quite scary, and the reason he’s doing it is because he realizes there’s opposition in the elite and among the people.

“He used all these key words: ‘traitors’, ‘enemy of the people’, ‘scum’, ‘bastards’, all from the 1930s, which a Russian would know threatens massive repression in Russia.

Russia's invasion united the Ukrainian military – and civilians – against Putin.

Russia’s invasion united the Ukrainian military – and civilians – against Putin.Credit:Kate Geraghty

“He literally puts fear, an ancient and terrifying fear in these people. People who would have heard these stories from their old parents, grandparents and great-grandparents about when people didn’t sleep at night, kept a packed bag in case they were deported. The people were never seen again.

“It was a terrifying speech in a way that Russians would know,” Montefiore said.

However, he said it was important not to get “hysterical” about Putin’s threatening remarks.


Montefiore predicts that Putin’s “silly” gamble, driven by his desire to carve out a name for himself alongside the great Russians, would bring about his downfall.

“At the age of 69, Stalin had conquered all of Eastern Europe, conquered Berlin, made Russia a nuclear superpower and industrialized Russia and Putin had just taken Donbass – some forgotten cities of the rust in eastern Ukraine.

“And I think he just felt it was time to take his place in history, to join Peter the Great and Stalin and based on bad intelligence he bet for that and I think that he didn’t think it was a big bet.”

And how will it end? “The war could last a long time; despite the Ukrainian courage and the charisma of Zelensky, the Russian force will advance.

But what if it goes wrong?

“Russian leaders are normally destroyed by palace coups, so that’s my guess.”

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