At the beginning of the war, the most optimistic assumption was that, after encountering the immeasurable cost of war — poverty and human losses, the Russian people would say “enough” and force the Kremlin to abandon its Ukrainian adventure. This chorus is joined by the voices of Russian inhabitants who do not want to fertilize the Ukrainian steppes and Russian liberal intellectuals burdened with conscience and understanding of the words “international law”. Even Russian nationalists like Dugin or Girkin-Strelkov understand that the Ukrainian war is destroying Russia. Finally, there are cases when this is exactly what happened. For example, the Americans, who initially enthusiastically supported the war in Vietnam, quickly sobered up and forced their government to withdraw troops.
But time goes on, Russia is already preparing for the next wave of mobilization, and support among Russians for the war in Ukraine shows no signs of decreasing. On the contrary, the number of those who demand to “go to the end” is increasing. And the thing here is not only the victory of the TV over the refrigerator.
Bad.ru: from Kandahar to Bakhmut
The habit of Russian inhabitants reacting to provocations only when they directly affect their private lives leads to those strange conclusions that we observe in the Russian segments of the information reality. Economic difficulties, the possibility of being drafted into the army, and the abundant flow of funerals are not attributed to the Kremlin, which sent “their boys” to Ukraine because this is too long and morally difficult cause-and-effect relationship. There is a much shorter and simpler path: “boys” are killed by Ukrainians. Therefore, they (that is, we) are enemies.
There is nothing new or surprising about this for a country that not only calls itself but in recent years has been a direct successor to the USSR. The direct analogue to the Ukrainian war is the war in Afghanistan, which was also not a “war” but a special operation within the framework of “international aid to the fraternal Afghan people.” At that time, in the USSR, no one could even think of sympathizing with the Afghans, and only crazy dissidents criticized Brezhnev and Ustinov.
The Mujahideen were enemies, who defended their land and their right to dispose of it. But this did not resonate with the viewers of the Vremya program (the main evening newscast in Russia). The Mujahideen “killed our boys” — that was the only thing that mattered. The entire culture of the “Afghans” celebrated the brotherhood of the front lines in sentimental songs and did not ask why we were there and why. Afghan chanson is not accidentally so similar to prison songs: it describes a difficult life, mourns fallen comrades, glorifies combat brotherhood, curses cowardice and betrayal, and grumbles about superiors. And it never asks the fundamental question: “How did we get here?” With the prison, everything is clear, but what about the war?
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Any doubt was expressed in one and the same cursed question: “So, did the guys die in vain?” In 99% of cases, the person asking this question considers it rhetorical. Interpreting it differently would be heresy, even worse — betrayal because it called into question the sacrifice made.
Love in the Russian way
According to a survey by the Levada Center, at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 68% of Russian citizens supported “the actions of the Armed Forces in Ukraine.” Less than a year later, in January 2023, support increased to 75%. There was no sobering effect, despite “our boys” who are dying. Moreover, paradoxically, their deaths only fuel the desire of inhabitants to continue.
One could say that Americans also didn’t immediately realize that the war in Vietnam was unnecessary — it took nearly twenty years and 58,000 dead “boys” for the US to turn this questionable page in its history. But let me remind you that the Russian-Ukrainian war did not start yesterday — it has been going on for over nine years now. And its beginning was marked by the first war crime of Russian troops in Ukraine — the shooting down of a passenger plane. The Russians have had plenty of time and reasons to rethink something. However, “our (bloody) boys” affect Americans and Russians differently.
The Americans forced their government to end the war not because they sympathized with the Vietnamese. They didn’t care about the Vietnamese any more than most Russians care about Ukrainians. They didn’t want to die and bury “their boys” for reasons that didn’t seem sufficient for such sacrifices. They asked serious questions about their “boys” and what they were dying for. And when they decided that their “boys” were dying in vain, this message permeated their entire society. Their rock stars sang about it in stadiums, teachers talked about it in schools, journalists trumpeted it on all frequencies, and intelligence officials leaked secret reports about the true situation on the Vietnamese front to the press.
The Americans decided that their live “boys” were more important to them than searching for meaning among the dead. The Russians make a different choice — they sacralize the death of their own. And in their own way, they are honest: they never loved their “boys,” never considered them “their own.” They were not surprised that their “boys” killed, robbed, raped, and tortured — the Russian inhabitant always knew that they were capable of this, and partly even grateful to their authorities for allowing their “boys” to do this to others, and not to those who now call them “their own.” “Boys” only became “their own” when they went to war and stopped being a hidden or overt threat. And even more so — when they had already died. The concept of “their own” outside the context of war and death for most Russians remains quite vague and extends to a very narrow circle.
What does the Motherland begin with?
In the Kremlin, they understand well and, presumably, themselves contributed to the fact that Russia remained just a territory as a country. Putin personally lifted the veil of secrecy over what lies at the heart of his unlimited power over a huge country: Russia does not end anywhere. But this was only half the truth, to which we, with our colonial traumas, were ready to cling. The fact that “Russia does not end anywhere” is indeed a problem for us. And also for Georgia, Chechnya, Belarus, Moldova, the Baltic countries, and beyond — everywhere.
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The other half of the truth, unspoken by the Kremlin’s head, concerns the Russians themselves: Russia doesn’t begin anywhere either. It is impossible to feel it underfoot as a certain physical reality, as a foundation on which to stand and defend it — both before our own and before strangers. War with Ukraine or anyone else — turns out to be almost the only moment when a mass of people inhabiting a certain territory begins to feel itself as a kind of community vaguely. United not by common action, but at least by common destruction. Not by a common mission, but at least by a common crime. Not by common prosperity, but at least by common grief. United not by a common cause, but by a common enemy. And the Russian inhabitant, like the Russian intellectual, only at this moment feels himself somewhat useful. He feels himself a part of something larger than himself. He receives what every human soul secretly longs for — a sense of community. And these same “boys” die precisely for this — to give the population of the territory at least a short-lived sense of community. They die so that Russia can feel some boundary: if you have enemies, then you exist.
An ordinary Russian trusts its government. He does not do it out of foolishness or because of “brainwashing” — it is a voluntary agreement that allows him to avoid taking on the burden and responsibility for the fate of his motherland. The motherland and its fate have always depended so little on the will of the average citizen that it literally costs nothing to lease them out for life.
The Russian “deep” people have never produced a more or less noticeable middle class. Not in terms of property (although they have not produced one in this respect either), but in terms of understanding the sources and guarantees of their own well-being and readiness to defend them. They inherited from the Soviet people a specific “privilege” — “not to interfere in politics.” Not to think about the prospects of the country as a collective organism. Not to analyze the decisions and actions of the authorities. And not even to relate them to their own private life. “Nobody will know the truth”, “politics is a dirty business”, “our people lie, their people lie” — with such clichés, the average Russian dismisses the very idea of responsibility for its country and, ultimately, even for its own life.
Without a class that is ready to “feel the country under itself”— at least because its own private well-being is connected with it — Russia has not become a country. It remains a territory full of various resources (including human resources) that the government considers its own and uses at its discretion and absolutely without control. And there is nothing “criminal” about this on the Kremlin’s part — this is what the “social contract” looks like in Russia. Why Russia turned out to be a failed state is a separate conversation. Here we will only note that this has become deadly dangerous for us.
It’s very tempting to brush this off and say that it’s not our problem. But unfortunately, that’s not the case: Russia isn’t going to disappear from the map of the world, no matter how our war ends and no matter how much we want to see the end of this new-old “empire of evil.” So it’s better to learn to look at things directly and not harbor illusions: neither “good” nor “bad” Russians will help us in this war. There’s no “Vietnamese option” for us. And that’s a good thing in its own way: when you look through the sight, it’s better for your gaze to be clear. Enemies are enemies. We’ll fight as hard as we can.
Originally posted by ZN.ua, translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website
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