Saturday, February 25, 2023

West Bears Some Responsibility for Russians’ Failure to Protest War in Ukraine, Filipenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 20  Atomization of Russian society, repression and propaganda by the Putin regime, and widespread poverty among Russians, one in four of whom don’t have indoor toilets, Belarusian writer Sasha Filipenko says, go a long way to explain why Russians aren’t protesting the war.

            But the writer, who now lives in Europe, says that the West by acts of commission and omission bears part of the responsibility as well and must face up to that fact if the situation inside Russia is going to change ( in German; in Russian).

            After detailing the reasons usually cited for the absence of mass protests – atomization and the flight of many abroad, intense propaganda, the decapitation of groups that might have gone into the streets, widespread repression, poverty, and their bad experience with protesting in the past – Filipenko points to three foreign causes that he says are critical.

            First of all, the powerless that many Russians feel as far as their ability to influence Putin by protests is justified by many of them with the repeated observation that if the West can’t influence the Kremlin leader with all of the West’s enormous powers, how can anyone expect Russians to do anything.

            Second, Putin has been pursuing an ever more repressive course at home and an ever more aggressive course abroad over the last 20 years; but despite the outrage of some, most Western governments did not do anything even as tough as impose serious sanctions until a year ago. Had the West acted earlier, so too might the Russians.

            And third, and most important, Filipenko says, when Russians think about protests, their model is not Ukraine but Belarus. When there were mass protests in Belarus, the West celebrated them but then has imposed sanctions on that country as if it is just as guilty as Russia for what is going on in Ukraine and ceased to give Belarusians visas.

            Any Russian thinking about protest “understands all too well” that he is likely to face repression at home and that while Europe will celebrate him, it will quickly “forget about him” and leave him on his own. “You are a hero today but tomorrow we will not open bank accounts for you because you haven’t overthrown your dictatorship with which we continue to trade.”

            Those in the West who condemn Russians for not protesting need to look in the mirror, Filipenko says; because what the West has done explains why Russians aren’t in the streets almost as much as Putin’s propaganda and repression against a population he fears just as much as he fears the Ukrainians. 

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