Textbooks for Russian High Schoolers Try to Justify Ukraine War

By John Mercury September 4, 2023

As Russian high school students returned to classes after the summer break on Friday, they were expected to receive a heavily revised history textbook that claims that Ukraine is an “ultranationalist state” where “opposition is forbidden,” and that the United States is “the main beneficiary of the Ukrainian conflict.”

The rewritten version of “The History of Russia, 1945 to the beginning of the 21st Century,” a textbook for 16- and 17-year-old students, was first unveiled at the beginning of August. The book follows a singular and standardized version of history approved by the highest echelons of power in Russia, and it appears to be the latest push in the Kremlin’s youth-targeted propaganda campaign to justify its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The text devotes 28 pages to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which the authors frame as a response to an increasingly aggressive West that intended to use Ukraine as a “battering ram” to destroy Russia. Revised history textbooks for younger students will be released next year, according to a report from RIA Novosti, a Russian state media outlet.

One of the book’s authors, Vladimir Medinsky, is a former culture minister and an adviser to President Vladimir V. Putin. Echoing Mr. Putin’s own words, the authors accused the United States of spreading what they call “Russophobia” in former Soviet republics and of escalating the war in Ukraine, leaving Russia with “no other alternatives” than to call for a partial mobilization that aimed to press 300,000 men into service in the conflict in 2022.

The revised history text is only one of several ways the war effort has affected basic eduction. The Ministries of Education and Defense has said that, starting in 2024, high school students will be required to take a class called “The Basics of Defense and Defense of the Homeland,” which will include limited military training. Boys will study drill formation, drone usage and the ins and outs of Kalashnikov rifles, while girls will be instructed in battlefield first aid.

Critics have called the new textbooks a complete falsification. “Instead of history, they’re teaching propaganda in schools,” Anton Orekh, an independent Russian journalist, wrote on the messaging app Telegram.

One example of the omissions in the textbook is its treatment of gulags, the notorious labor camps where the dictator Joseph Stalin sent countless political prisoners and where millions of Russians died between 1929 and 1953. They are mentioned as an aside, with no details about their brutality.

Mikhail Myagkov, the director of the Russian Military Historical Society, praised the new educational materials for providing a more “objective” view of Stalin, whose policies led to a famine that killed an estimated 3 to 4 million people in Ukraine. The updated textbooks present Stalin as someone who “clearly defended the Soviet Union’s foreign policy interests,” Mr. Myagkov said.

“Not a word of truth,” Lyubov Sobol, an exiled opposition figure allied with the jailed dissident Aleksei Navalny, wrote on social media.


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *