Vladimir Putin's personal opinion of Lenin seems overwhelmingly negative. It is often alleged this is owing to a personal desire to avoid stoking revolutionary sentiment. The national holiday observed during Soviet times in honour of the revolution was rebranded in 1996, and then discontinued in 2004. The 2017 centenary of the revolution was celebrated only by Russia's Communist party. The Kremlin ignored it.
Both Yeltsin and Putin governments regarded the revolution as something of a national tragedy. Putin seems to downplay the significance of revolution and the fall, instead emphasising a continuity of Russian history and thus legitimacy.
In particular, Putin played down the major upheavals of the twentieth
century, from the collapse of Russian statehood, in 1917, to the
collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991. Instead, he tried to create a
more expansive view of history, minimizing the turmoil of
revolutionary Russia. “Russia,” he said, “did not begin either in
1917, or in 1991. We have a single, uninterrupted history spanning
over a thousand years.”
Putin has blamed Lenin and the Bolsheviks for butchering opponents, and establishing a federal rather than unitary model of government in which states had a right to secede. He has referred to this policy as a 'time bomb', responsible for the break up of the USSR, as well as the secessionist trouble in Ukraine's east. Curiously he does not recognise pro-Russian secessionists as the very thing he discourages, instead thinking them merely as people returning to an indivisible Russia.
However, it's odd that Putin blames Lenin for this. Lenin argued for world revolution, and against both nationalism and federalism; as he insisted they were both bourgeois concepts. Stalin however was of the opinion that Socialism in One Country was possible and necessary, in which case he insisted on a federal structure for the Soviet Union. This is apparently an inconvenient truth.
In recent years Putin and the Russian people have warmed to Stalin, with opinion polls finding consistent sympathy. Stalin is widely regarded as a leader whose personal strength helped transform Russia into a superpower. The Kremlin has remarked that Stalin is "demonised", while sometimes recognising that perhaps his purges went too far, and represent one of Russia's darkest moments.
The Russian government seems to be encouraging a very particular view of Stalin. Official teaching material from 2008 instructed history teachers that Stalin was an effective manager, rational in his modernisation methods, and whose violence was defensive.
New textbooks produced in 2016 provided less nuance, claiming the Second World War began in 1941 when the USSR was invaded by Nazi Germany. Analysis of prior aggression in Eastern Europe and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is muted. The seizure of the Baltic states, like the division of Poland, is said to be an act of democratic liberation. Stalin's purges are mentioned, but less and less time has been given to them, downplaying Stalin's violence in favour of a more sympathetic portrayal.
In 2013 Putin had a unique response to questions about a new monument to Stalin in Moscow.
“What’s the real difference between Cromwell and Stalin? None
whatsoever,” Mr Putin said on Thursday, according to news service RIA
Novosti. Mr Putin made the comments at a press conference after he
was asked about a monument to Stalin being put up in Moscow. The city
said recently that it planned to commemorate all Soviet leaders who
had lived there.
The president said that Stalin was just as deserving of a statue in
his honour as that “cunning fellow” Cromwell who “played a very
ambiguous role in Britain’s history”. However Mr Putin also added a
note of caution. “We must treat all periods of our history with care.
It’s better not to stir things up… with premature actions,” he said.
A statue to Cromwell was put up outside the House of Commons in 1899,
although it has occasionally attracted controversy due to his actions
in Ireland and his opposition to the monarchy.