Staunton, February 24 – Five years ago this weekend, the Sochi Olympiad ended with many Russians convinced that it showed Russia had truly recovered as Vladimir Putin promised. But those hopes, Kseniya Kirillova writes, were soon dashed by the doping scandal that showed the Games were simply the latest “Kremlin special operation … a fraud, a scam and another lie.”
That needs to be remembered, the US-based Russian journalist says, because all too many people in Russia, Ukraine and the West continue to repeat “the mantra” that all might have been well “’if only Putin had not invaded Crimea.’” ( ).
“Undoubtedly,” Kirillova continues, “and after that to an even greater degree the Donbass became a watershed moment, a red line, forever dividing peace from war, the forgivable from the unforgivable, the justified from the unjustified. And as a result, it was natural for any normal person … to idealize” what went before.
“But each new unmasked ‘special operation’ clearly shows that pre-war Russia was distinguished from that of the present day by much less than we thought and the war became not an accidental mistake but the logical result of the development of this country,” the Russian journalist says.
She acknowledges that she has often said that after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine, “Russia changed to the point of unrecognizability. To a large extent, this is really the case: ‘pre-Crimean’ society did not know such a level of lies and aggression.” Repression was less, propaganda less outrageous, and Russian laws less absurd and even insane.
Admitting all this, Kirillova says, it would nonetheless be “more precise to say that Russia has not so much changed as displayed after the start of the war all its real features.” The size and blatancy of these features may have been less, but they were all there from the apartment bombings of 1999 onward.
In fact, many people in Russia and the West acknowledged all this but “somehow learned to live with it.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made that stance impossible to sustain, and it has forced those people who “lived with it” to see Putin’s Russia in all its “falseness,” violence, and repressive and aggressive illegality.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “torn off all the former masks” and called attention to that which many preferred to ignore. And this drives one to the conclusion that war is perhaps “the only genuine consequence of the Putin regime, Kirillova says.
And that highlights in turn “the paradox of this war” is that “it revealed a harsh truth” that Putin had managed to conceal, the nature of his criminal regime. Had he not invaded and seized Crimea, “we might have been satisfied for several more years by the surrogates” for reality he tried to offer.
Thus the war freed Ukraine and the world from the illusions Putin had worked so hard and often effectively to maintain and gave Ukrainians several extra years the chance to engage in the difficult work of building up their state to deal with Putin’s realities rather than with his illusions.