Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Brutality within Russian Army in Ukraine Now ‘Worse than in Hell,’ Veterans Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – Although the Russian authorities work overtime to hide it, brutality by officers and soldiers in the Russian invasion force in Ukraine is now so bad that some veterans say things are “worse than in hell,” the product they believe of the entrance of so many former criminals into the ranks and their propensity to follow the mores of Russian streets.

            That is the conclusion Olesya Gerasimenko of Verstka media draws on the basis of conversations with veterans, their relatives and their defenders after the last three months of the fighting, and the picture she paints is truly disturbing and a sign that unit cohesion is weakening (

            The closer Russian forces are to the front lines and the rarer leave has become, the more officers and even some soldiers feel they can get away with anything, she says, confident that no military prosecutor will appear and that they therefore have the power to act as they like up to and including torture, rape and murder.

            According to the investigative journalist, “the problem of extrajudicial punishments, bullying and ‘non-regulation relations’ has intensified;” and the longer the forces are on the front lines, the more serious things are becoming. Those with a criminal past are leading the way in applying the rules of the streets, but regular officers aren’t far behind, soldiers say.

            Both groups view those who are weaker than they as somehow less than human and therefore appropriate targets for their anger. Some Russian soldiers are shooting themselves to escape, and others, Gerasimenko says, are surrendering on occasions when there was no need for that only to escape the hell of service in the Russian military.

After Two Years of War, Russians May Look the Same Externally but They’ve Changed Internally in Fundamental Ways, Rubtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – Two years after Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine, that war has been transformed from an event into “a fact of life,” Anastasiya Rubtsova says. But while Russians may look the same to each other and outsiders, they have changed mentally in fundamental and even disturbing ways.

            Over the last two years, the Moscow psychologist says, Russians have adapted to the world by viewing it as a fact of life much like the weather, something they can do little or nothing about. But at the same time, the war has changed the mindset of Russians and thus the way they respond to many things (

            Russians now see their first task as to survive, something that makes them more angry, Rubtsova says, and more distrustful. In almost any circumstance, they know ask who is a threat and who is an ally, an approach to the world that Kremlin propagandists do everything to strengthen.

            Such attitudes exclude empathy, an emotion that is “a luxury” when one is simply trying to survive, the psychologist observes. And it also excludes close examination of the relationship of causes and effects, a major reason why no one now, unlike a year earlier, is bothering to ask who is guilty for starting the war.

            Those are major changes, and they are hidden behind the fact that “the external contours of life in Russia have remained practically the same that they were. But it is very much the case that imports are far from the only thing being replaced. Also being replaced are “internal values,” with people shifting from “there must not be a war” to indifference about one going on.

            In addition, Rubtsova continues, Russians have redefined who is close to them and who is not and calculate their relations with those around them in terms of what harm or good those people can do to or for them. That arises from “fear which is apparently the new national idea of Russia.”

            According to the psychologist, “the level of distrust and horror regarding the police and any force structures has risen to a level that had appeared possible only in the last century. It is thus somewhat comic that these people are called as they were before, ‘the organs of security,” They are now anything but that.

            A year ago, Russians could talk about the world around them, but such discussions are a luxury when people are trying to survive, and so such conversations have largely stopped, a pattern that leads many to conclude that there is more agreement in society than there is any reason to think.

             Because of the war, Russians are angry and worried, “the eternal satellites of stress,” Rubtsova continues. And “the metamorphoses taking place” in the minds of Russian are occurring “very rapidly. Even just watching them makes one ever more sick,” the psychologist says.

            “Before our eyes, there was a great leap upward and now there is a free fall down into a political reality in which greedy and cruel narcissistic old men have power.” A year ago, Russians could tell jokes about that, but now they have largely stopped, another reflection of how much the war has changed Russians even if it seems that they have remained the same.

For Russians, the First Year of Putin’s Expanded War was Bad, but the Second was Far Worse, ‘Horizontal Russia’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – The first year of Putin’s expanded war in Ukraine was “a time of constantly increasing hardships” for the Russian people, the Horizontal Russia (7x7) portal says; but over the course of the second year, the situation became even worse for residents of all the regions and republics of the country.

            The second was not only worse but very different from the first, the portal continues. In the first, “companies and brands left, familiar services disappeared, prices rose, new restrictive laws were put in place, and relatives of soldiers and residents of border regions lost friends and relatives” (

            In the second 12 months of the conflict, it continues, “the state concentrated on convincing people of the need for ‘sacrifices’ to achieve ‘victory.’” And to that end, “agents of the system helped create an atmosphere of fear, with denunciations, administrative prosecution, and criminal charges for anything from earrings to laying flowers in memory of Navalny.”

            The Horizontal Russia portal points to 10 ways in which the lives of Russians have become worse over the course of the last two years and provides details about each in the course of a 4500-word article:

1.     The greatest loss has been that there is no longer a sense of security among residents of Russia.

2.     Even surviving has become more complicated and making plans still more difficult.

3.     Prices for even the most basic consumer goods have risen.

4.     Repressions have increased to “an unprecedented level,” now that Russian citizens can be punished for almost anything.

5.     NGOs have been marginalized or closed altogether and Russians have lost their last defenders in almost all spheres of life.

6.     Censorship has destroyed the media and cultural phenomena inside the country. There is no real discussion and often no reporting of any kind on important events.

7.     Getting a decent education is ever more difficult.

8.     The regime’s promotion of its traditional values are hitting more and more groups of the population.

9.     Regions have less and less money but are expected to perform more and more functions as Moscow diverts money from domestic needs to its foreign war.

10.  Russians generally are losing friends and relatives as combat losses mount, and those living near the border with Ukraine are themselves at increasing risk of suffering losses as well.

Ethnic Armenians who Fled Karabakh Reject Yerevan Plan to Resettle Them in Border Areas

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled Karabakh after the arrival of the Azerbaijani army there. Many flooded into Yerevan, and now the Armenian government has offered special support for the acquisition of housing if they will move to Armenia’s border regions adjoining Azerbaijan.

            But a large share of these Armenians are rejecting that offer, not only out of concern for their security in the border regions but also because there is little work available in these depressed areas, according to interviews conducted by the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency (

            That suggests that most of those who fled Karabakh will remain in the Armenian capital where they are likely to exacerbate social tensions there and may even be recruited for public demonstrations against the incumbent government and its policy of seeking a peace agreement with Azerbaijan by those working for the downfall of Nikol Pashinyan.

Abyss Opens between What Russians Want and What They Expect as Long as Putin is in Power, ‘Khronika’ Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – A recent poll of Russians conducted by the independent Khronika sociological center highlights what its organizers say is “a large divide between the future people want and the future which they expect under Putin in the future,” a reflection of both popular pessimism about the Kremlin leader and also a breeding ground for opposition to him.

            Khronika sociologists surveyed 1602 Russians at the end of January ( and and found the following divisions among them:

·       85 percent said they did not view any future mobilization in the future as desirable, but 39 percent said they were certain Putin would continue to conduct one.

·       82 percent said they would like to see the conclusion of the war in Ukraine “after Russia achieves its goals,” but 44 percent think that “Putin will not end military actions.”

·       58 percent would like the authorities to focus on the resolution of domestic problems, but 56 percent think Putin won’t do so.

·       56 percent would like to see the lifting of sanctions but 81 percent believe that as long as Putin is president, that won’t happen.

·       And 52 percent say they would like to see a restoration of good relations with Western countries, but only 28 percent think that will be possible with Putin.

Division between Russians in Russia and Russians who’ve Left Deepening, Tenisheva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – Among the many divisions which have opened among Russians since Putin launched his expanded war in Ukraine two years ago, one of the most important but least commented upon is between Russians who have remained in their own country and those who have fled abroad to avoid mobilization or in opposition to the Kremlin, Anastasia Tenisheva says.

            The Moscow Times journalist reports that Russians living in Moscow have told her that “those who have left have fallen out of touch” with those who have remained and “perceive everything in Russia in a negative light while those who stayed understand that life has not drastically changed apart from rising store prices and mobilization.”

            “Even among those who still live in Russia but are opposed to the war,” she says, “emigres are viewed as a distinct social group, defined by their more hawkish views toward the regime and pro-war Russians” (

            One of Tenisheva’s interlocutors, a Russian woman who went abroad and then returned, told her on condition of anonymity that she has stopped following independent Russian media, most of which is now based abroad because, in the journalist’s words, “exiled journalists fail to accurately portray what is happening inside Russia.”

            The returnee added that she has “mixed feeling about the idea that [emigres think] they are all building a new beautiful Russia somewhere.” And she concluded: “The illustion tha tone can remain part of Russia and live abroad has vanished.”

If Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were Alive, Russians Say, They would have Collaborated to Write ‘War and the Idiot’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 24 – On the second anniversary of Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Russians observe that if Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were alive now, they would have collaborated to write, War and the Idiot, with no one in any doubt as to what is the war and who is the idiot.

            That is just one of the anecdotes in the latest collection offered by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       Two years ago, Putin started bombing Ukraine and all of Russia began to shake and bleed.

·       February 24 will become a new Russian holiday because there is no end in sight to that war.

·       European leaders are coming to Kyiv, while terrorists are coming to Moscow. To each his own.

·       Medvedev cracked that Navalny’s widow is smiling. She isn’t, but Medvedev’s widow would be as the wives of binge drinkers always look forward to their departure to another world.

·       Having banned 252 books referring to LGBT people, the Kremlin will soon ban books in general, except for one based on Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson and that will become required reading for all Russians.

·       A Moscow court has now arrested in absentia Columbus for discovering America. Had he not done so, Russia would have escaped all its troubles.

·       They can poison but not cure; they can destroy but not fix; they can steal but not create; and they can lie but not tell the truth. Guess which country.

·       In Russia, people cooperate only when what they want to steal is too heavy for an individual to carry away.

·       Two St. Petersburg men were arrested for holding hands to avoid falling on the ice. They denied they belong to some criminal community but no one believes them.

·       The Russian Embassy in Washington protested to the State Department about Biden’s offensive remarks about Putin. Fortunately, the Americans don’t read Medvedev’s telegram channel or they’ d declare war on Russia.