The 75th anniversary of the end of World War II was the only forthcoming event Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned in his New Year's address to the nation. Creating an alternative to the dominant Western narrative about that war is key to Putin's way of securing Russia's place in the world.

Putin has appeared lately to be obsessed with World War II, discoursing about it at every opportunity — during an informal session with other post-Soviet leaders, at his big end-of-year news conference, in a meeting with Russian tycoons, at the Defense Ministry in the presence of top generals.

He's talked time and again about delving into archival documents; he's mentioned working on a scholarly article about the war. Even for a leader who has made the Soviet Union's victory over the Nazis (seen by many as a triumph over a rotten Europe) a cornerstone of the new Russian national identity, Putin's evident emotional involvement and the sheer time investment are unusual.