what is the basis for this commonly-quoted statement by Vladimir Putin? As reported on Politifact:
Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.
Several newspapers have attributed the Associated Press translation of this speech as saying "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe," rather than merely a "major" catastrophe; unfortunately I cannot find such a translation online. The Kremlin translation may have chosen softer wording to try to steer foreign reactions, or the AP translation may be wrong.
This is a strong claim, and a contentious one. For example, one could argue for any of these 20th century events as a greater catastrophe:
- The partition of India, which caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, several wars, and a nuclear standoff.
- The dissolution of the British and French empires, which (aside from causing chaos across half the globe) set up the events for the continuing trials in the Middle East.
- The Holocaust, depending on one's definition of "geopolitical catastrophe."
- The end of the Austrian and German monarchies after WWI, which led to WWII, and (arguably) all of the above catastrophes.
One could also argue that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical success of the 20th century, given that it largely eliminated the risk of nuclear annihilation of human civilization. I'm not interested in debating what event deserves the claim of "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," I'm merely pointing out that Putin's claim is contentious.
When someone makes a contentious claim, one may reasonably ask what basis he or she has made for that claim. This is what I am asking. It's clear that Putin has, or at least claims, a strong nostalgia for the Soviet days, but it's not clear why beyond woolly concepts of stability and respect. Does he have a more specific basis for this event to be a greater catastrophe than everything else from that turbulent century? Did the rest of his speech clarify matters? Has he discussed this claim in interviews? Has this statement been evaluated in any of his biographies? While it's possible that Putin was simply making a rhetorical flourish, not meant to be taken seriously, the specificity of his words ("greatest" catastrophe) suggests otherwise.