Putin rewrites World War II history -- and does battle over historical memory

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 18, 2020.

(CNN)William Faulkner's famous line, "the past is never dead. It's not even past," is back in vogue. It's not just about debate in the US about removing Confederate statues, or in the UK over monuments to imperialists -- the war over World War II is back in play, too.

On Thursday, the US magazine National Interest published an essay by Russian President Vladimir Putin, about the legacy of the war in Europe that ended just over 75 years ago.
Putin begins the essay with a personal note: Like millions of citizens of the former Soviet Union, his family's life was touched directly by the war.
    "For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year-old brother Vitya died," he writes. "It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded."
    But Putin's reading of wartime history has a very deliberate message for today.
    First, there's the timing. Putin had originally planned a major celebration to mark Victory Day on May 9, the day that Russia observes the end of the Second World War in Europe, inviting world leaders to join him for an extravagant parade in Red Square. Victory Day was meant to signal that Russia had reclaimed its place as a historic liberator, after years of harsh sanctions that followed the country's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
    It also would have followed a carefully scripted domestic political moment for the Kremlin: a national vote on constitutional amendments that would have paved the way for Putin to stay in power until 2036.
    The coronavirus pandemic put paid those plans. The Kremlin rescheduled the parade, after World War II veterans raised concerns about the health risks of holding an event that would draw massive crowds in Moscow and other cities. The parade is now slated to go ahead next week.