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It is not just Ukraine-erasing and a violent charge to wipe a brother country, or at least parts of it, off the map. The mission and mindset go much further, according to preeminent Kyiv-born, Russian-educated author and literary translator, Elena Kostioukovitch.
In a recent essay called “What’s Going on In Putin’s Mind,” she says there is a toxic fascination in Russia, starting at the very top, with alternative histories of the entire world, theories which paint Russians as the real masters of the universe and ancient civilizations like Greece and Rome as mere inventions of phony scholars. Fake history, essentially, trumping even fake news.
This world view is largely based on volumes of something called “The New Chronology,” which is the brainchild mainly of two Russian authors, an academic and a mathematician respectively– Anatoly Fomenko and Gleb Nosovsky. One of the key premises is that dark forces tampered with all the history books in libraries across the globe at a certain point in time, wiping out or changing real versions of events and resetting dates.
According to Kostioukovitch, it is one of the many mystical, fantastical theories Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle are peddling, and they have managed to sweep not insignificant parts of the population along with them, manipulating masses towards the conclusion that it is high time to make amends—not just for losing the Cold War-but for long-standing injustice against Russians. For the Kremlin, this works very well for the moment.
“They created the idea that any action can be supported by a pretext,” Kostioukovitch told Fox News earlier this month. “It must have a historical context. It sounds idealistic, but idealistic is good for the Russian people and the masses. They love this historical pretext.” She goes on, “this is fake history. But it is what Russian people love deeply. Because the idea is that everything in the world can be faked.”
Such a position would give carte blanche to question or disobey anything and everything that is unpleasant, the theory goes. Kostioukovich, of course, is not privy to Putin’s reading list. She is , however, convinced that the Kremlin is gripped by such revisionism from the language used by its top lieutenants, mouthpieces and the leader himself.
“I have read with great attention his (Putin’s) speeches,” she says. “I have seen the lexicon, the expressions he quotes, and I have seen the names and ideas he drops, and he supposes everybody knows, but not everybody knows. To know all this trash, you must read these kinds of books be part of some sort of sect of re-enactors of history and this is dangerous for us all.” Kostioukovitch says the sheer volume of readers of the “New Chronology” has gathered over years is also striking.
This deep, if deluded, dive back in time serves to reinforce the recent rants from the Kremlin about the necessity of protecting the long-suffering “Russian World” and putting an end to rising Russophobia propagated by the West.
Kostioukovitch also delves into the symbols being used for this campaign against Ukraine and the West at large. The letter “Z” plastered over tanks but now codified as something to be added in many official contexts and communiques has never been explained. The “Z” can be seen on anything from buildings now to bumper stickers. The less used but still prominent “V” is another symbol of this so-called existential struggle. Neither are letters in the Russian alphabet. It is thus, one of the war’s great mysteries.
“By leaving this inexplicable, nebulous unresolved air over everything,” Kostioukovitch offers, “perhaps the regime is hoping to further weaken people’s cognitive and logical capabilities, continually remarking that they are not required to understand. Only to obey and intuit.” Kostioukovitch sees the “Z” as a sort of reverse half of the Nazi swastika—which she finds as such a strange choice of symbol for a war against supposed Nazis in Ukraine.
However, she believes this symbolism comes from a twisted fascination among certain segments of the Russian power base with SS soldiers from World War II which have been portrayed in all their clean-shaven, polished-boot precision in many Soviet films. She suggests “Z” could even represent the “Zentre” Nazi strike force that conquered Ukraine. Kostioukovitch says there may even be a “romanticizing” of “that aesthetic,” and “that destructive energy, that unstoppable force mixed with elegance and unholy evil.”
Last week, incidentally, Kostioukovitch, who now lives in Italy but whose work over the years has linked her closely with Russia, renounced her Russian citizenship. It is something easier said than done, according to the author. One does not just rip up their passport—it is a long bureaucratic process that in her case was held up over three cents due on a tax bill according to her, laughing at the apparent absurdity of being held hostage over a few kopeks.
Kostioukovitch, who says that she and many Russians in exile are doing whatever they can to try to help Ukrainian refugees, push back against this war and fight for democracy in Russia, brushes off her gesture, calling it nothing compared to what the likes of jailed dissidents Alexei Navalny, and most recently Ilya Yashin have sacrificed to protest the policies of their government.
“They will be symbols,” she says. “They will be heroes. They will be the future leaders of Russia. Not those who are in Europe.”