I will stop blogging about the past week for a moment and talk about the war – not like a background for everything that’s going on in our lives now, but about the war as it is.
There are two main reasons for that. First is my correspondence with several people from Russia, who were sending me almost identical messages for the past week or two. And the second reason is President Biden’s speech in Warsaw, which I just listened to, so balanced, so thought through, so articulate, and pretty much answering all of these questions.
The first topic is economic sanctions against Russia, and that’s what people were saying:
The whole world united against Russia, which means that the rest of the world is indeed our enemy, and that means that Putin is right and we need to protect our borders. The West acted united immediately, which means that it was all pre-planned. The sanctions do not hurt the Russian elite; they hurt regular citizens, and even those who initially sympathized with Ukraine now support Putin’s aggression.
I already blogged about that, but let me repeat it again. In Russia, people perceive the government as something completely foreign to their citizens. In western countries, with all reservations, the government’s goal is to serve the citizens, and if it does not do a good job, the citizens will protest. So when western countries impose the sanctions, they believe that Russian people would realize that the sanctions are imposed because of the actions of their government and that they would raise their voices (and possibly not only the voices) against it.
Another thing that many people in Russia do not understand is that the companies that left the Russian market temporarily or permanently are not doing it “because their governments told them so,” and not even because they fear for their reputation. They leave because the people in the rest of the world want them to do so and because they risk their profits to decline worldwide if they won’t.
I said many times that in general, I am against sanctions precisely for that reason – they never help to change the regime, and they help the propaganda to build the “image of the enemy.” But in the current situation, I believe that the sanctions make a moral statement – a statement of support for Ukraine.
The second topic is about the attitude towards Russians in the world. That’s what people are saying:
Everybody hates us just because we are Russians living in Russia. Everybody accuses us of supporting Putin, even if we never voted for him. Everybody tells us we deserve it. This war is called the “Russian war,” not “Russian government war.” We were initially supporting Ukraine, but now we are not so sure. We feel hate all the time.
The answer to this statement is more complex. First, when I start asking people where exactly they get this idea, they are citing some Russian-speaking bloggers who live in western countries. That is the individual reaction of individuals, and regardless of how they are famous in the Russian blogosphere, they do not represent the attitude of the West towards Russians. There is a very clear distinction between the Russian government and ordinary people in the West. The majority of people understand that speaking against authorities will be prosecuted and that it’s dangerous to protest.
Speaking about that, President Biden was very clear in his speech:
“I’ve always spoken directly and honestly to you, the Russian people, let me say this if you’re able to listen: You the Russian people are not our enemy. I refuse to believe that you welcome the killing of innocent children and grandparents or that you accept hospitals, schools, maternity wards — for God’s sake — being pummeled with Russian missiles and bombs.” Citing the hardships of WWII, Biden said:
“These are not memories of the past. This is exactly what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine right now.”
“This is not who you are. This is not the future you deserve for your families and your children. I’m telling you the truth. This war is not worthy of you, the Russian people.”
However, with all that being said, one must also understand that the war any country is conducting is this country’s war. No matter how many people in the US protested the war in Vietnam, it was the “American war.” no matter how many people rallied against the war in Iraque (myself included), it was “an American War.” And Americans were ashamed of the actions of their government. And if we would look back to WWII, in the Soviet Union, “Germans” and “fascists” were synonyms until the late 50s. And if we look back to WWI, we would remember Saint-Petersburg being renamed Petrograd.
I will try to find the full transcript of this speech and paste it here.