In this insightful piece, a Countess Staff Volunteer from Russia, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the sensitive subject matter, gives us her perspective on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
She traces the friendly relationship between the two countries since the collapse of the USSR 30 years ago, and explains that many Russians believe they are on the right side of history, fighting for the freedom of Ukraine from what they believe is a “Western puppet”. They trust their president and are willing to endure Western sanctions to prevent their neighbours from being turned into enemies, “corrupted by the West.”
She speculates as to whether Putin would have been so successful in convincing Russians of Western corruption, if the West hadn’t been so divided in recent years, distracted by luxury beliefs such as gender ideology and critical race theory, its citizens engaged in cancel culture and its leaders more concerned about tomorrow’s newspaper headlines or a potential Twitter backlash. The Russian people see this and they don’t want those values.
And she asks, how much are Westerners willing to endure to support Ukraine? Higher inflation? Colder homes? Higher food prices? Full military conflict with Russia?
I am Russian. On Thursday I woke up to a world that I never thought could exist, a world where Russia was at war with Ukraine. I am still trying to comprehend this inconceivable fact. After all, Russians and Ukrainians over the age of 30 were born in the same country (USSR) and spoke the same language. We are neighbours, Slavs. We have shared history, culture, religion and so much more in common. I think every Russian has either a friend or a relative who is Ukrainian. I am worried we will never recover from this catastrophe.
This is my attempt to try to understand what is happening and why. I don’t claim to be an expert. I am likely wrong, but I must try and make sense of it all.
I don’t think EU citizens have the same sense of being part of an international “family of nations” as I had growing up in the Soviet Union. I am from an ethnically mixed family. My parents and I have had friends from various ethnic groups and backgrounds, despite many differences and not infrequent misunderstandings. The breakup of the Soviet Union was a huge shock, but we suddenly had more athletes to cheer on at the Olympics (who now represented 15 countries instead of 1), they were still “our” people. There was so much to ensure we stayed friends. Yet it seems it wasn’t enough.
People have asked me many times in the last 2 weeks whether I thought Russia would invade Ukraine. Exasperated that people knew nothing about Russia, I was confident in my answers:
I was wrong.
So, to explain why it happened, I suppose I could say that Russia was worried about eastward expansion of NATO, despite assurances that it will never happen after the dissolution of the Warsaw pact. I could also say that it was too tempting to point a finger at Russia as a threat to NATO countries. It was easy to resurrect old fears with the memory of the Cold War still fresh in everyone’s mind. So, the standoff began again, with Russia increasingly feeling that it was being surrounded by hostility, its friends being turned into enemies, “corrupted by the West”, first Baltic states joining, and then both Georgia and Ukraine talking of joining NATO. As independent states they have a right to do so, of course. However, being surrounded on all sides by hostile neighbours isn’t a nice feeling, irrespective of your size. That’s how Russia felt. When you are pushed into a corner (whether real or perceived) the only way to get out of it is to fight. Russia did. Ukraine got caught in the middle. There is some truth in it. It could probably explain (not justify) the takeover of Crimea, where Russia had the only warm water military port in Sevastopol, which it couldn’t afford to lose if Ukraine joined NATO. Besides, no one was killed in the process. However, none of this could explain the events we are witnessing now: the blood spilled, the destruction caused, families torn apart, relationships ruined.
I could, like many people, say that president Putin has gone mad. But I don’t believe it. He’s an intelligent strategist, he usually has a long-term plan. I think, however misguided, he is doing what he believes is best for Russia. I don’t know what he thinks it is. Perhaps, enlarging Russia (after all, he did say the collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge tragedy). Perhaps, he believes that he’s preventing NATO’s threat to Russia. Perhaps, both. He doesn’t care about his reputation in the world. He just believes in power that he can show to prove that Russia is still great. None of this is going to repair Russia’s relationships with Ukraine or Russia’s reputation in the world.
I do wonder if Russian president would have sanctioned the attack had the West not been so weak and divided, distracted by luxury beliefs (like gender identity or critical race theory), its citizens upset about “microaggressions”, engaged in cancel culture and victimhood Olympics. I was shocked that on the first day of this humanitarian catastrophe there were activists shouting that LGBTQ people would suffer the most in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. They seem to have forgotten that bombs don’t discriminate where they land or that Ukraine does not have a great record on LGBTQ rights. They completely ignored the vast number of displaced women and children instead seizing this tragedy to remind the world that they are the most “oppressed” group. I was equally disgusted by Western “commissioning parents” worried about their surrogate babies in Ukraine while forgetting to mention women that carried and gave birth to them and were left to survive in a war-torn country.
So, why do I blame the West? Before Donald Trump became US president, I read an article by Andrew Sullivan in the New York magazine (America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html) in which he quoted Plato’s Republic, according to which tyranny is born out of democracy. Andrew wrote that democracy, for Plato, “was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.” …The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise. The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable…Family hierarchies are inverted:
“A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen. And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.”
Oh, the wisdom of the ancient philosophers. Western countries are those “late-stage democracies”. The West is destroying its own civilization from the inside. It is ignoring the reality of the rest of the world, which operates on a premise of a constant battle between the weak and the strong. The West is so arrogant in its belief that its idea of “right and wrong” is the only correct one, that it got involved in dubious military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, with disastrous consequences. It lacks real leadership, instead being led by people who are worried about tomorrow’s newspaper headlines or a potential Twitter backlash instead of thinking strategically, planning ahead, deciding what’s best for the future of all. That’s why there is no decisive climate action (it will harm their electorate in the short term, so won’t be popular). That’s why there’s unquestionable acceptance of gender ideology (without any review of what unintended consequences it may have on women’s rights and child safeguarding or that it is forcing an unscientific belief system and the use of compelled speech onto people). That’s why the West doesn’t object to the genocide of Uighurs in China (who will produce all those cheap products Westerners are so used to?). That’s why no one in the West confronts Saudi Arabia on its attack on Yemen or its treatment of women and gays (Imagine how much the oil prices are going to jump!). That’s why the EU isn’t able to wean itself off the Russian gas (its citizens are going to freeze).
Top that up with the fact that mainstream and social media are run by entitled kids that are more interested in identity politics, overinflated opinions of themselves, self-righteousness, policing people’s speech and looking to be offended than in actual responsible journalism. People are hired into positions not on merit but to ensure “diversity”, where the more “oppressed” you are the more “value” you have. People’s knowledge and expertise mean nothing because we now have Instagram and Youtube “influencers” and Google that have answers to all your questions and are the “moral authority” on every issue of our times.
That’s why Donald Trump became US President. That’s why Justin Trudeau thought he had a right to freeze bank accounts of Freedom Convoy truckers that were expressing their democratic right to peaceful protest. That’s why we faced 2 years of unprecedented limits on our democratic freedoms with dire consequences for people’s mental and physical health, social unity, economic prosperity and trust in governments. That is why Vladimir Putin is popular among many Russians. They see what’s happening in the West (a certain magnified version of all of the above) and they don’t want that in Russia. They don’t hold luxury beliefs of the Western nations. Their lives are harder than those of an average European, so their beliefs are pragmatic, rooted in reality and fairly straightforward. Men can’t become women just because they say so and they can’t get pregnant. Men wanting to sleep in dorms with children are predators (irrespective of how they “identify”). People arguing with you doesn’t mean they hate you or are bad. You can remain friends even if you believe different things. Not all people deserve respect just because they belong to the human race. Those Russians want to protect that reality.
Is it any wonder that president Putin saw his chance to use this opportunity (of the weakened West) to do what he thinks is best for him and for Russia? This belief is misplaced, and Russia will pay a high price for it, but he believes that “strong Russia” is the one that stopped bowing to the West and is carving its own path. As do many Russians. Many also believe that the attack on Ukraine is pre-emptive, that they are protecting ethnic Russians in Donbass region, that they are fighting Ukraininan neo-nazis. They see footage of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Russia from Donbass region, they hear of Donetsk and Luhansk being bombed by Ukrainian forces for the last 8 years. So, believing they are on the right side of history, attacked by the West and fighting for the freedom of Ukraine from a “Western puppet”, they trust their president and are willing to endure Western sanctions. They have an example of their forebears that endured much worse.
How much are westerners willing to endure to support Ukraine? Higher inflation? Colder homes? Higher food prices? Full military conflict with Russia?
I started writing this on Thursday. I had to stop and start a few times. It’s too difficult, too painful. The guilt, the shame. I do hope no more people will die. I do hope we will all heal. Eventually.