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French Revolutionary Lessons Of 1968 For Putin's Russia Of Today

Putin in Vienna on June 5
Putin in Vienna on June 5
Vladislav Inozemtsev

MOSCOW — Fifty years ago, in May 1968, France was swarmed with such powerful mass protests that the government feared a full-fledged civil war or revolution. This popular unrest became a turning point in the history of modern France, and eventually brought about serious changes in the French state.

Vladislav Inozemtsev, a scholar writing for the Moscow-based RBC Media, looks at parallels between the situation in France in 1968 and today's Russia, finding some lessons that can be drawn from the "Paris spring" to help understand Russia's current prospects:

"The May 1968 events showed that, despite economic prosperity and growing quality of life that sharply contrasted with the hard post-War years, citizens can still rise up against the authorities if they lack personal freedoms and suffer from stagnation in social development. As for Russia in recent years, it is similar to France in the 1960s in the following respect: economic factors and the fact that the population has become richer in comparison with the 1990s can no longer compensate for the degradation of social and political spheres.

The authorities cannot control human minds.

"Secondly, the example of Charles de Gaulle demonstrated that a leader's popularity tends to evaporate if there are no reforms meeting the needs of the times. De Gaulle was the architect of the new French state after World War II just like Vladimir Putin is for today's modern Russian state. After World War II, de Gaulle was one of the most popular figures in France enjoying universal popularity and respect. However, by 1968 it had become clear that France was not responding to people's needs and aspirations, which resulted in a uprising.

"Thirdly, the example of France illustrates that the authorities cannot control human minds and maintain a certain moral order amidst globalization and a widespread access to information. Despite governmental censorship that existed in France in the 1960s, people revolted. So, it is very unwise of the modern Russian regime to try to impose a distorted worldview and so-called traditional values on its people.

"None of this necessarily means that there will be a revolution in the near future in Russia, but the French case certainly should be taken into account in trying to understand our country's current situation and possible scenarios of its future."

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Zelensky And Putin Agree On One Big Thing Right Now

Even with the war at a stalemate, and as far away as victory may be for both sides, negotiations are an absolute non-starter for both the presidents of Ukraine and Russia.

photo of zelensky looking tired

Zelensky in Kyiv on Dec. 6 to honor those killed in the war.

Pool /Ukrainian Presidentia/Planet Pix via ZUMA
Yuri Fedorov

Updated Dec. 6, 2023 at 7:20 p.m.


The Russian-Ukrainian war appears to have reached a strategic impasse — a veritable stalemate. Neither side is in a position at this point to achieve a fundamental change on the ground in their favor. Inevitably, this has triggered no shortage of analysts and politicians saying it's time for negotiations.

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These conversations especially intensified after the results of the summer-autumn counteroffensive were analyzed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhny, with not very optimistic details.

Though there are advances of the Ukrainian army, it is mostly “stuck in minefields under attacks from Russian artillery and drones,” and there is a increasing prospect of trench warfare that “could drag on for years and exhaust the Ukrainian state.”

Zaluzhny concluded: “Russia should not be underestimated. It suffered heavy losses and used up a lot of ammunition, but it will have an advantage in weapons, equipment, missiles and ammunition for a long time," he said. "Our NATO partners are also dramatically increasing their production capacity, but this requires at least a year, and in some cases, such as aircraft and control systems, two years.”

For the Ukrainian army to truly succeed, it needs air superiority, highly effective electronic and counter-battery warfare, new technologies for mining and crossing minefields, and the ability to mobilize and train more reserves.

China and most countries of the so-called global South have expressed their support for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile in the West, certain influential voices are pushing for negotiations, guided by a purely pragmatic principle that if military victory is impossible, it is necessary to move on to diplomacy.

The position of the allies is crucial: Ukraine’s ability to fight a long war of attrition and eventually change the situation at the front in its favor depends on the military, economic and political support of the West. And this support, at least on the scale necessary for victory, is not guaranteed.

Still, the question of negotiations is no less complicated, as the positions of Russia and Ukraine today are so irreconcilable that it is difficult to imagine productive negotiations.

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