Putin Looks to Make Equating Stalin, USSR to Hitler, Nazi Germany Illegal

Russian legislators are looking to ban people from likening the behavior of the Soviet Army and Joseph Stalin to the actions of Nazi soldiers and Adolf Hitler.

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, instructed the bill to be introduced after a meeting of the Presidential Council for Culture and Arts in October. Opponents of the legislation have criticized it for infringing on free speech. However, the bill's backers argue it's not about cracking down on what people say but about recognizing Russia's contribution to Hitler's downfall.

"The Soviet army is a liberator, and therefore a benefactor of Europe," Elena Yampolskaya, the chair of the Committee on Culture, said in a statement. "It is possible and necessary to discuss any specific situations, facts, documents. Just not forgetting that the Soviet Union, the Russian people fought the main struggle against the universal evil of Nazism."

Russia's involvement in World War II is a complicated story that puts the country on both the Axis and Allied sides. For nearly two years, Russia collaborated with Germany as both forces moved through Eastern Europe, bringing with them death, destruction, brutal occupation, and the shipping of people away to forced labor and concentration camps.

However, after Germany invaded Russia in 1941, the Nazi regime became an enemy of Russia as its army joined the fight against Hitler. Russia's winter and the army's relentlessness during the Battle of Stalingrad delivered a heavy blow to Hitler's forces and is considered by many historians to be a major turning point in the war in favor of the Allied forces.

putin stain nazi soviet ban illegal
With Russian President Vladimir Putin's support, legislators introduced a bill banning people from comparing Soviet Union's actions during World War II to those of Nazi Germany's. Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

The Soviet army was also responsible for liberating Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz, the most infamous Nazi concentration camp where more than a million people were killed.

While Russia helped bring release to those suffering in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis, its leader Stalin is considered one of the most ruthless figures in history. He created the Gulag, a forced labor camp system that imprisoned about 18 million people and subjected them to brutal conditions. After the war, he claimed swaths of Europe for his own and lowered an "iron curtain" down, blocking East Berlin off from the world and starting the Cold War.

Putin has been trying to crack down on criticism of Russia's actions during World War II for years. In 2014, he signed a law that made distorting the Soviet Union's role a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

"It is our duty to defend the truth about the victory; otherwise what shall we say to our children if a lie, like a disease, spreads all over the world?" Putin said in a speech in January 2020. "We must set facts against outrageous lies and attempts to distort history ... This work is our duty as a winning country and our responsibility to the future generations."

Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War Studies Project at Harvard's Davis Center, acknowledged in 2020 that the heroism of the Soviet soldiers is "undeniable" but said the "much darker side of the Soviet war effort" is also unavoidable. He called it "unfortunate" that Russia only tolerates "glorious images and speeches" and said that a "more even-handed discussion" would be in the nation's best interest.

The bill, which was published in the State Duma's records on Wednesday, blamed the media, including publications in Russia, for making "derogatory" statements about the Soviet Union's role in World War II. It would forbid people from publicly comparing actions of the USSR's military and leaders to those of the Nazi's leadership, including in the media and on the internet.

Its authors said the goal was to put a legislative barrier between "obvious insults to our grandfathers and great-grandfathers," while "preserving space for historical research" and scientific discussions, according to a translation of the bill.

"The family has its black sheep. Can particulars discredit the whole? Never. Good remains good, evil remains evil, " Yampolskaya said in a statement.