Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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.

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