Staunton, Aug. 19 – Many liberal Russians find it difficult to understand that there is deep and widespread support among other Russians for the war. After all, they say, none of their friends and associates support the conflict; but that reflects the deeply segregated nature of Russian society and liberal failure to see that today to be for Putin is to be for the war.
That is the conclusion of London-based Russian analyst Vladimir Pastukhov, who argues in a new commentary that just as liberals now surround themselves with people who feel as they do so too do others who feel just the opposite and who can’t imagine that there are more than a tiny minority who oppose the war (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=64E0E8A7C5658).
Blaming support for the war on some innate Russian imperialism is at least insufficient given that such values to the extent they exist have existed for a long time, the analyst says. What is necessary is to understand what specific ideas linked the Russian people to the goals of the Kremlin elite.
Pastukhov says the war is “a false and weak response to the really existing challenges Russian civilization faces,” given that it is falling further and further behind not only the West but the East as well. That is undoubtedly part of the answer and explains the emotionalism of support for the war. But it is clearly insufficient.
The real basis for this, he suggests lies elsewhere; and “one must give Putin his due – he selected the correct key to the ignition of the Russian car: the theme of ‘a divided people.’” The liberal intelligentsia has ignored this; but “for ordinary Russians, it has unexpectedly become a matter of principle.”
“After the disintegration of the USSR,” Pastukhov says, “the situation of the Russian-speaking population in the former Soviet colonies by rights was anything but simple. The problem objectively existed; and ignoring it was a serious political mistake.” But at the same time, it was often not where people in Moscow thought they saw it.
Most Russians in most places adapted to the new reality or returned to Russia; but a small number didn’t and they complained very loudly. That was picked up by the Russian media and became a working assumption in the minds of most Russians, including not unimportantly Putin’s as well.
Thus, “Putin with his ‘liberation war’ arose not on an empty place. Yeltsin’s policy in relation to the new abroad was from the start neo-imperialist, and Putin has only developed and deepened a pre-existing trend. It is simply the case that what Yeltsin did shamefully and with restrictions, Putin has done openly and even in a celebratory manner.”
“Calls for help from ‘Russian brothers’ suffering under ‘the Banderite yoke’ have played at the start of the 21st century the very same tragic role in the history of Russia which at the beginning of the 20th century played ‘the Slavic brothers’ in the Balkans who were suffering under the Turkish yoke.”
In both cases, they dragged Russia into yet another “unnecessary war,” Pastukhov says.
“Unfortunately, unraveling this tangle of thoughts in Russian heads, especially those bruised by the collapse of the USSR, traumatized by the 1990s, and stunned by Putin’s shock therapy is a task that will require a great deal of time and effort because the knot tying them together continues to tighten.”
Both the impact of these links and the difficulties of unpacking them must be recognized both to understand why Russians support Putin’s war and to prepare for a future in which many who back what he is doing in Ukraine will continue to back similar unfortunate and counter-productive policies elsewhere, Pastukhov concludes.