Putin teaches Russian students about Soviet era, Ukraine invasion


Speaking to children on the first day of Russia’s school year, President Vladimir Putin on Friday waxed nostalgically about the Soviet era, when “we lived in one single country” and were “absolutely invincible,” as Moscow imposed several new measures to shape a new generation for war.

“I realized why we won the Great Patriotic War,” he told students, using the Russian name for World War II. “It was impossible to defeat such a nation with such a spirit. We were absolutely invincible. And we are like that now.”

Putin spoke also of stepping up efforts to impose Russia’s “unified education system” on “the new territories, new regions” — a reference to occupied Ukraine. Those efforts include a new history curriculum that justifies the invasion of Ukraine as a fight against “neo-Nazis.”

Speaking by videoconference to students at a new school in occupied Mariupol, the port city largely destroyed by Russian forces last year, and in four Russian regions, Putin said Moscow would spend $19.8 billion in occupied Ukraine over the next two and a half years “to make people feel part of a big country and experience the advantages.”

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The lesson was a presidential version of the Russian schools’ compulsory weekly ideological sessions called “Conversations About Important Things,” in which teachers deliver propaganda, including the Kremlin line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, set by government authorities. They were introduced by the Kremlin a year ago as part of a broader effort to instill militaristic patriotism in young people, who form the bulk of Russia’s antiwar opposition.

To counter that dissent, the Kremlin has worked to militarize education. With the opening Friday of the new school year, an event known in Russia as Knowledge Day, Putin’s claims that Ukraine is part of Russia’s “historical lands” are now part of the official history curriculum taught in schools and universities across the country and in the territories it occupies.

New history textbooks reflecting Moscow’s views were introduced Friday to students in 10th and 11th grades.

In “Fundamentals of Life Safety,” a new course for grades 5 through 11, older students will get basic military training, learning about weapons and drones, and performing drills and military salutes. Next year, the “Fundamentals of Security and Defense of the Motherland”
course, which includes more military content, will be unveiled. The curriculum development is being guided by the defense ministry.

University freshmen will be taught that Russia has “no borders,” and that all who speak Russian, no matter where they live, are Russians and fall under Moscow’s responsibility in a course titled “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood.” The course claims that Russia is the only country in the world that is “fighting Nazism,” extols the country’s revival as a great power, and repeats the new official ideology that it’s a “civilizational state” with a thousand-year history.

At a primary school in Nizhny Novgorod school, first-graders were ordered to wear military uniforms for their first day (many still turned up in civilian clothing). Parents at some schools were advised forgo the traditional bouquet of flowers for the teacher in favor of cash to support the war effort.

In some regions, governors and military officers played “fathers,” escorting the children of soldiers killed in the war to class.

At a school in Krasnoyarsk, decorated with red, white and blue Russian flags and balloons, students sang the patriotic singer Shaman’s nationalist song “Let’s Get Up”: “As long as the Lord is with us and the truth is with us, we say thank you for giving us the victory.”

Elsewhere, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin played table tennis with a student. Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov sang the national anthem at his children’s school. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu congratulated the students of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the start of the academic year.

And at the “Share Your Knowledge Marathon,” an event for schoolchildren, Yuri Borisov, head of the state space agency Roscosmos, announced that Russia’s new generation of Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, had been put on combat duty.

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Moscow’s efforts to Russify four regions it has annexed in Ukraine — a country it says it occupied in part to protect ethnic and cultural Russians — are meeting some local resistance. Russian nationalists have been outraged to learn that nearly half the families in occupied Zaporizhzhia chose Ukrainian, not Russian, for their children’s native language lessons.

Justifying the invasion last year, Putin claimed that Kyiv was committing “genocide” against Russians in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have destroyed Ukrainian books and schools, distributed Russian textbooks, imposed Russia’s curriculum and required people to get Russian passports to access social benefits.

But the fact that 46 percent of children in the Zaporizhzhia region or their parents decided they would study Ukrainian as their native language, according to RIA Novosti, suggested that many identify as Ukrainians, despite the pressure exerted by Russian-appointed local authorities.

Outside the native language lessons, students in occupied Ukraine are to be taught in Russian. High school history students will be taught from the new Russian textbooks.

The Russian military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk criticized local authorities for allowing children in occupied eastern Ukraine to study Ukrainian, calling it “irrational.” “Is there really so much money in the regional budget for such trivial things, given the unresolved problems with infrastructure or housing and utilities?” he asked.

Sergey Mardan, a pro-war nationalist who frequently appears on state television, said the choice only proved the need for Russia to defeat Ukraine.

If the parents who chose Ukrainian for their children were closer to the fighting, he said, all of them would have chosen Russian. “And so everything is logical. We have to win.”

Kravtsov, the education minister, said this week that the new history textbooks were part of an “information war” against those who seek to weaken Russian education.

“Unfortunately, in the 1990s, pseudo-liberal ideas tried to capture the economy, the social sphere, and education,” he told the Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov in an interview. “So each school actually worked according to its own program. There were more than 50 textbooks on history.”

Now, he said, the government is reimposing control. He played a key role in delivering the new textbooks, long a pet project of Putin’s.

The Russian outlet RBK published excerpts this month that parroted many claims about the war, including that Ukraine is a “neo-Nazi” state controlled by the West, which is using the war to destroy Russia and steal its natural resources.


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