Former president Medvedev, once a critic of Stalin, now uses his speeches to motivate factory directors

The Bell

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who devoted his presidency to promoting civil and economic freedoms, has reinvented himself as one of Russia’s main war hawks. This week, he invoked Stalin’s spirit to motivate directors of factories producing equipment for the military to work harder. Interestingly, just 13 years ago Medvedev called the former Soviet leader a criminal.

  • Medvedev spoke at a meeting of the working group of the Military-Industrial Commission, which is responsible for delivering Russian defense policy. He said that he “couldn’t help drawing the attention” of directors of military factories to the way “this work” was evaluated in “a similar situation,” referring to World War II. To cheer up those in attendance at the meeting, he read a telegram that Stalin sent one factory director in 1941 asking him to supply much-needed tank hulls on time, and threatened to crush him “as a criminal who neglects the honor and interests of his motherland” should he fail. Muzrukov clearly didn’t, and went on to become a key figure in the Soviet Union’s nuclear program.
  • Medvedev said that Stalin’s telegram was proof that “no production, no organization is perfect" and suggested factory directors remember the Soviet leader’s words. When asked about Medvedev’s quoting of Stalin, the Kremlin replied that “we need to draw on all experience.”
  • During Medvedev’s presidency from 2008 to 2012, he sharply criticized Stalin and called him a criminal due to the Great Terror. “To this day, you can hear how the vast number of victims was justified by some higher state goals. I am convinced that no development of the country, none of its success or ambition, can be achieved at the cost of human grief and loss,” Medvedev said in 2009.
  • During World War II, Stalin often sent similar telegrams to the directors of Soviet military factories. In December 1941, he accused the directors of aircraft factories of “letting down the country and our Red Army.” In October of the same year, Stalin demanded that a shipyard in Nizhny Novgorod switch to producing tanks. The plant could not produce the required equipment fast enough, and its director, Dmitry Mikhalev, was fired and placed on trial. No trial ever took place, but Mikhalev didn’t return to his job.

Why the world should care:

Since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s leaders and propagandists have regularly drawn on the events of World War II, referring constantly, for example, to Ukrainian soldiers being “Nazis” and suggesting that Ukraine’s president will suffer the same fate as Adolf Hitler. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Medvedev would quote from one of Stalin’s telegrams.


Support The Bell!

The Bell's Newsletter

An inside look at the Russian economy and politics. Exclusively in your inbox every week.