Task Forces

16.09.2022.

If you Love Russia – Support Ukraine

By Dr Vojin Majstorovic, Assistant Professor of History, University of North Texas

Iurii Shevchuk, the frontman of the legendary Russian rock band DDT, delivered a riling antiwar speech at a concert in the city of Ufa on May 19. “The youth of Russia and Ukraine are dying. Old men, women, and children are dying because of the Napoleonic aims of yet another one of our Caesars. The Motherland, my friends, is not the president’s ass that has to be slobbered and kissed all the time. Our Motherland is an impoverished babushka at the train station selling potatoes.” The Russian authorities charged Shevchuk with discrediting the Russian military and his concerts were canceled.

Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which started in 2014, but turned into a full-blown invasion in February of 2022, has been a disaster for Russia and its people. Patriotic Russians and those who love Russia and wish it to be peaceful, prosperous, and an open country should support Ukraine in the war.

Lies have become the national idea in Putin’s Russia. As the Russian people are not traditionally hostile to the Ukrainians, Putin had to sell a compelling narrative to Russians to justify his brutal war of conquest. The main propaganda claim is that the Kyiv government is led by the Nazis bent on the physical destruction of ethnic Russians and Russophones in Ukraine. The Russian state propaganda machine has been relentlessly hammering these themes to its audiences, at least since 2014 when the Russian army first invaded Ukraine. These claims have no bases in reality – Russophones are effectively in charge of Ukraine right now, President Zelensky is Jewish, and Ukraine is a democracy. In 2021, the year before the Russian aggression escalated, twenty-five civilians were killed on both sides of the demarcation line in the sporadic artillery exchanges in Donbas, according to the United Nations. There was no genocide in Ukraine. These big lies about the Nazis and genocide have spun a web of smaller lies necessary to support the big lies. Some of the most absurd fabrications conjured by the Kremlin’s propagandists include stories of how Ukrainian soldiers crucified a three-year-old child in Donbas and how the United States and Ukraine are developing biological weapons that specifically attack Russian DNA. There are countless other fantastic falsehoods that the Russian propaganda machinery has spread.

These ludicrous claims led to the proliferation of verifiably false beliefs among Russians who swallowed Putin’s lies. These are some of the claims that Russian supporters of Putin’s war, who are otherwise intelligent, successful, and seemingly decent, have made to me: Russia never lost a war; Russia has only lost wars because of treason; Russian strength lies in the truth, whereas Ukrainians have been living by Western values for a long time; we will send one regiment to Kyiv and Ukrainians will remember that they are Russians; Ukrainian Nazis are bombing Ukrainian civilian targets to make Russians look bad; Ukraine is an orphan that is always looking for its parents (which would be Russia); the Russian assault on Kyiv in the opening stages of the war, which ended disastrously for the Russian army, was a feint meant to draw away Ukrainian soldiers from the Donbas. I could go on and on with this list. For me, observing Russians that I care about justify Putin’s aggression is a lot like watching a close friend go through a psychotic crisis while trying to convince you of some farfetched conspiracy that you know exists only in his deranged head.

Ukrainian victories on the battlefield tend to shatter Putin’s lies and force reality on Russians. For example, the recent successful Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region compelled some Russians, including public figures who support the war, to reexamine their assumptions about the conflict. American journalist Julia Davis published a series of videos that show various talking heads on state television beginning to question their previously unflinching beliefs in the superiority of Russian arms and the weakness of the Ukrainian national identity.

Putin has used the cover of war to eliminate the remnants of the opposition, potential opposition, and free media in the country, all of whom he has menacingly described as “the fifth column” and “national traitors.” Just before the war broke out, the Kremlin shut down Memorial, the oldest human rights organization in Russia. Soon after the full-scale Russian began on February 24, the authorities shut down the sole independent TV station TV Rain, and radio station Echo Moskvy. The venerable newspaper Novaya Gazeta closed itself down to avoid dealing with the repressive state apparatus. Many major social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram have also been banned, as well as VPN providers used to avoid Internet restrictions. According to official statistics published in early August, Russia has banned 138,000 websites, most of them in a bid to combat “fake news” since the war started.

The Russian government criminalized criticism of its war effort, by passing legislation that punished people with a prison term of up to fifteen years for spreading so-called fake news. The law has been used to threaten and imprison remnants of the isolated opposition. For example, Alexei Gorinov, the Moscow council member who objected to Moscow organizing a children’s drawing contest when children were being killed in Ukraine, was sentenced to a seven-year term.  By March 22, the Russian police had arrested more than 15,000 antiwar protestors, before the antiwar protests were rooted out through police repression. Some of the detainees were beaten and tortured in captivity, as numerous surreptitious recordings of police violence have revealed. The Russian authorities have refused to investigate these claims. Nine businessmen most of whom were connected to the gas and oil business, have died in suspicious circumstances since the war started.

According to official statistics, 419,000 Russians have left Russia as of September 5, compared to 202,000 in the same period in 2021. The exiles include an eclectic group of dissidents forced to flee, members of the intelligentsia who feel more comfortable in freer societies, and IT workers. This brain drain may not appear large in absolute numbers, but it is having a significant impact on the Russian economy. The pro-regime Lenta news portal reported the creation of a special program where imprisoned IT workers would be allowed to work for domestic IT programs from prisons, illustrating the growing shortage of IT specialists. Many of the beacons of Russian culture have fled their homeland, including numerous legends of the Russian rock scene Boris Grebenshcikov, Zemfira, Bi-2, and the lead singer of Time Machine Andrei Makarevich. Western investments in technologies, as well as scientific and university exchanges, have come to a virtual standstill. The United States, European Union, Japan, and South Korea will be fine without Russian technology and science, but in the long run, Russia will not do well without developed democracies.

Putin claimed on September 7 that Russia has not lost anything in the war, and he assured the Russians that it would not lose anything in the future. This was an outrageous claim, which insults the intelligence of any thinking person. In addition to corrupting Russia with insane lies and turning the country into a full-blown dictatorship that resembles Sudan more than its European neighbors in Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, Russian human and material losses in Ukraine have been staggering. According to the most recent Pentagon estimates, which do not include the figures from the recent trashing the Ukrainians gave Russians in the Kharkiv region, Russia has suffered 80,000 casualties (killed and injured). Meanwhile, Oryx, a team of Dutch open-source intelligence analysts, maintains that the Russians have lost 6,049 pieces of military equipment in the war including 1,122 tanks. Putin is squandering the lives of tens of thousands of Russians and hundreds of billions of dollars on a foolish colonial adventure that is doomed to fail.

Ukrainians are the main victims of Putin’s unprovoked expansionist war. The Russian military operations have forced over twelve million Ukrainians to flee their homes, with more than six million escaping to Europe. Tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed. In early August, the Kyiv School of Economics estimated that the Russian aggression has caused $108.3 billion in damage to the country’s infrastructure. Everybody should support Ukraine in its struggle for survival because it is the right thing to do.

However, a Russian victory would also be a tragedy for the Russian people, as it would not make Russia any freer, more just, less corrupt, or wealthier. If anything, it would legitimize Putin’s murderous regime and ensure that Putinism – a lethal mixture of kleptocracy, expansionist nationalism, and increasingly more violent dictatorship – would thrive even after the dictator dies or gives up power. A Ukrainian victory makes it more likely for Putin’s successors to seek alternative ways to develop their country, which could lead to the emergence of a more pluralistic, tolerant, and peaceful Russia. Indeed, Russians and people who love Russia and also believe that truth is important should heed Shevchuk’s advice: kissing Putin’s ass and supporting his Napoleonic wars of conquest has nothing to do with patriotism.