The Cult of Russian Victory

Dmitry Orlov
In an unusual way for me, this post is an account (accompanied by some comments). On May 9, 2022, I took part in a million-person march down Nevsky Avenue in St. Petersburg: the annual march of the Immortal Regiment. One million people (probably a little more) marched under portraits of their relatives who fought in the Great Patriotic War (also known as World War II). We marched under a portrait of my wife’s grandparents, who served together in the Signal Corp and got along so well that my mother-in-law was born a few months before the fall of Berlin. They lived long and happy lives; but many other participants marched under portraits of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents whose lives were cut short. Some died in battle; many others died of mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis. It was a tragedy of immense proportions, and hardly any family in Leningrad/St. Petersburg remained untouched by it, but the immensity of tragedy is matched by the immensity of victory, and the brutal power of a “Hurrah!” sweeping several miles of the six-lane Nevsky Avenue, crowded from one edge to the other, was tremendous.

In that war, Russia defeated Nazi Germany and (as is often forgotten) also Romania, Finland, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and Austria, who sent their troops into Russian territory, as well as numerous mercenaries and volunteers from Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France and Spain, and, of course, Britain and the USA who financed the German Nazis and supplied them with key technologies and fuel.

Thus, the Russian victory was not even specifically against Germany, but against the West as a whole. The cost in human lives was absolutely staggering – a human tragedy beyond comprehension – but most Russians will tell you that it was entirely worth it. Moreover, many Russians will tell you that they will repeat the lesson if necessary.

Fortunately, as often happens in history, the tragedy is being repeated as a farce. In Hitler’s place, we have the German Bundeskanzler Liverwurst who has made a name for himself in Russia: he thought aloud that referring to tens of thousands of civilian casualties accumulated during eight years of Ukrainian bombing in Donetsk and Lugansk as “something like genocide… is really ridiculous.” The ridicule doesn’t stop there: there’s the aptly named “lady gynecologist” Ursula von der Lyin’ in charge of lying to the entire European Union and the various foreign and defense ministers who enjoy going for a ride in NATO tanks (a ritualistic humiliation for any politician, but these are too stupid to realize that).

Nazi Ukraine is running out of Nazis!

And then there is the rest of NATO, which looks impressive only on paper and keeps sending all kinds of useless or obsolete military junk to Ukraine, where it gets stolen on the way or remotely blown up by the Russians. What little does get to the front ends up being abandoned in heaps by the retreating Ukrainians who are, at this point, mostly inexperienced conscripts who hate their commanders with a passion and are often quite eager to surrender – because, you see, Nazi Ukraine is running out of Nazis! The Nazis are part of a neo-pagan death cult, immersed in the special battlefield drugs that the Americans have been providing, and so tend to fight to the death, but their numbers are being fairly well outnumbered by Russian artillery. The Russians are treating the entire “Special Mission for Demilitarization and Denazification of Ukraine” (SMODDU) as a live fire training exercise and are currently busy rotating their forces.

The idea seems to be to rotate the entire Russian professional army through the Ukrainian mission (there is a permanent ban on using reservists or conscripts). Going strictly by the numbers so far, this will take another four months. By then, Ukraine will no longer have an army (demilitarization will be completed) while denazification is more of a door-to-door job and will not involve much use of firepower. While some people dream of direct NATO involvement in a fight against Russia, and the Poles in particular are positively agitating to join the fight – being ever so eager to do the absolute wrong and self-destructive thing – I don’t see another partition of Poland (the traditional method of calming their restless nationalist spirits) as quite unlikely. It seems far more likely that, as a side effect of SMODDU, anti-Russian sanctions and subsequent economic collapse, NATO will be abandoned by the side of the road like a bombed-out Ukrainian Humvee, at which point it will be safe to declare the repeat of the World War II farce as complete and the Russian Victory Cult ready to continue for another 70 years, with new heroes, obelisks, eternal flames and Immortal Regiment marches.

There are, of course, other possible scenarios, but all are simply worse for everyone. An essential element of the Russian Victory Cult is that Russia wins. The role of the Russian military, both by intention and design, is purely defensive; Russia never attacks, but always destroys aggressors. This is a doctrinal question and is not open to discussion. The only minor modifications to this doctrine are:

  • – First, that Russia will not wait to be attacked, once it becomes clear that an attack is inevitable (as was the case with Ukraine), it will be anticipated.
  • – Second, that the fight will not take place on Russian soil, but will be brought to the aggressor and, in particular, the response will be directed not only at the attacking force, but at those who ordered it to attack, whether in Brussels, Washington or elsewhere.
  • – Third, the role of defense has expanded from defending Russian territory to defending Russian civilians wherever in the world they live (as in the former Eastern and Southern Ukraine).
  • – And finally, if a Russian victory is impossible, it won’t be possible for anyone else either because everyone will be dead. “We will all go to heaven as martyrs and they will die like dogs because they will not have a chance to repent,” Putin said. “What good is the earth to us if there is no Russia on it?” is another memorable quote of his. Pentagonists of all kinds and EU ministers beware: these are not jokes.

The Cult of Russian Victory is a state cult, generously supported by the Russian government. Its shrines and temples – the statues, the obelisks, the eternal flames – are ubiquitous: almost every town and village of any size has at least one. It is a kind of ancestor worship complete with music and ritual. It is not religious, but it does have a mystical element: the souls of fallen heroes are said to transform into white cranes – majestic and much-loved migratory birds that circle between Eurasia and Africa, nesting all over Russia during the summer months. The Immortal Regiment is one of its expressions that arose spontaneously relatively recently and has spread around the world. Although the cult is essentially secular, its temples and shrines are treated as sacred, and destroying them, as has been done in Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, are considered acts of desecration that must be avenged. This revenge is sure to be served in extra-cold Russian style. The profaners will suffer from cold and hunger and the Russians across the border, warm and well fed, will shrug their shoulders and smile enigmatically and not lift a finger to help. Lack of temper and patience are particular Russian traits. During the march of the Immortal Regiment yesterday, some woman shouted “Glory to Ukraine,” (This is a nationalist slogan, along with “Ukraine über alles”-or “ponad usé”). She was greeted with some loud shouts-“Shut up, you idiot!” – and the crowd moved on.

In addition to the portraits of the dead, the crowd displayed some specific symbols – very specific. Most people wore black and striped St. George ribbons on their lapels. There were many Russian flags and many victory flags – replicas of the regimental flag that was placed atop the Reichstag at the fall of Berlin. There were even fewer Soviet flags, but their presence was notable. Finally, there were only a handful of religious flags, specifically the Mandylion of Christ. And, of course, the white cranes, whose carvings were hung as decorations across the Fontanka River.

There is a song accompanying this image, performed by the peerless Zoya of Leningrad, who is, both in life and art, a bobona. Her exceptionally serious demeanor on this occasion reflects the deadly seriousness of the subject matter.

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and writer who is the author of such books as “Reinventing Collapse: the Soviet Example and American Perspectives” (2008) and “The Five Stages of Collapse” (2013). His new book is The Arctic Fox Cometh in 2021

The Immortal Regiment, Moscow, 9 May 2022