What is the problem?
After the new stage of Russia's war in Ukraine took off in 2022, most Western supporters of Ukraine blamed Putin solely for all hostilities. Political leaders, cultural figures, and the media regularly express similar ideas. However, it's not the president terrorizing towns or destroying Ukraine's history, but the Russian nation itself. It's not the order being a root of violence, but the troop's decision to choose it. Russian soldiers, not the current president, committed the abuse and torture of civilians in the Kyiv region. Russian soldiers, not Putin, blew up the Kakhovka dam. Civilians in Russia are far from being passive, too. After all, during the one day of the Wagner rebellion in Russia, ordinary Russian citizens brought water and food to its mercenaries who had committed atrocious war crimes in Ukraine.
What is the answer?
As of 2022, Russia's defense industry has employed 2.5 – 3 million people, accounting for 20% of all manufacturing jobs. The war's total "budgetary" price in 2022−2023 would already exceed about $150 billion if the Kremlin were to stop combat operations tomorrow. Only in the last 30 years has Russia launched a series of unprovoked wars to conquer neighboring territories of independent states. This alone immediately nullifies the argument of Russian "anti-putinists" that military equipment and ammunition were made exclusively for defense or export.
During nine years of Russia's war against Ukraine, employees of the enemy military-industrial complex have been strengthening the aggressor's equipment, meanwhile, silently supporting Moscow's lie that "there is no Russian military personnel in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions." Russian forces plan to increase the manpower ceiling to 1.5 million by the end of 2026. The formation of army corps and even volunteer troops is aimed at securing the current size of the military budget, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing war.
"But Russians don't support the war," some pro-peace citizens may say. Russian poll data is quite inaccurate in terms of describing societal tendencies. Forming an impression based on individual posts and comments on social media is also not candid. However, according to the CNN poll
conducted at the beginning of the full-scale war, 50% of Russians believe using military force to keep Ukraine from joining NATO is appropriate. The latest anti-Putin Russian poll on March 8, 2023, proves it is not just the president and a small, marginal group of his supporters in favor of the war but a great majority, which equals 60%.
Silent resistance or a complete freak show
Some Russian citizens attempt to counter Putin's regime by enlarging liberal groups or parties, however only demonstrating their outrage, as all "leaders" remain linked to the political dictatorship. Does it really work? Instead of calling on Russian soldiers to surrender and turn down mobilization campaigns, so-called "free broadcasters" only sympathize with them for having poor gear to lead the war.
Another striking example is the appeal by Russian TV anchor Ksenia Sobchak, claimed as a prominent liberal against Putin in Russian society. She spoke on her fear of nuclear war. "No global geopolitical interests can be more important than the simple, peaceful life of millions of people!! Vladimir (Putin, — ed.) and Vladimir (Zelensky, — ed.)! Concede to each other today!" Usually, these statements involve withdrawing troops from both sides of the conflict or suggesting Ukraine give up on occupied territories.
"We cannot change anything" is an excuse for Russian so-called "ordinary people" who believe in having no resources to withstand Putin's power. Several attempts to protest against the regime caused only more rising fear. This does not persuade Ukrainians, who know from their own experience how hard it is to regain freedom. Russians could have changed many things besides the government, such as waking up from the "apolitical" national mindset. Ukrainian resources have been accessible in Russian to spread the truth and dismantle Kremlin's propaganda.
Russian audiences had time to unfollow all of Putin's mouthpieces and political pundits. Despite the relatively tolerable or neutral attitude of Ukrainians to their neighbors until 2022, Russians did not educate themselves with available messages.
Quiet (actually loud) endorsement of Putin
While scrolling through social media, users can stumble upon some outstanding Russian flash mobs in support of the war or the nation with hashtags #СвоихНеБросаем (#we_dont_give_up_on_our_people) or #stoprussianhate. Russian citizens don't miss out on the opportunity to express their pride of origin, culture, and history. Frankly, this only bolsters the war.
"Yet we did not elect Putin," they say. Russia's president has been in power for 22 years. Elections in the state are hardly considered fair and just, which caused Russians to evolve into apolitical and non-influential people. However, the problem didn't suddenly appear on day one of the full-scale war. Russians made a choice to take no public stance and avoid controversial topics for the sake of their safety. They blamed authorities but never themselves, as they didn't realize citizens practically raised Putin into being a dictator. Silently tolerating crime is a choice.
"No, we are against war, but these all are the personal ambitions of one madman," they go on. Ukraine's history is a book of battle scars, as it has resisted Russian oppression for centuries. Russian militancy permeated the future mindset with political regimes, hatred toward other nations, and artificial supremacy. We ignore the past if we reduce aggression to Putin's ambitions. History did not start with Putin; it will not end with his death.
Meanwhile, regular missile attacks on Ukraine's towns provoke unhinged comments from "ordinary" Russians on social media.
"Must wipe out Ukraine completely!!!" says a Russian citizen under post of drone attack on oil refinery.
"By attacking our oil refineries, Ukraine endangers not only the security of Russian citizens, but also our economy and the environment. Every effort should be made to enhance the protection of these facilities." says the user below.
"Seven explosions in Kyiv are not enough! Absolutely not enough!" says the comment on Russia's missile attack on Kyiv at night.
"Russia only seeks security. Russia only needs guarantees that the West will not target it again, as previous attacks caused the death of several million people." adds the other one, justifying crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
"When there are explosions and fire in Kyiv, it's such a cheerful day."
"Only the complete destruction of Ukraine can assure peace."
"Our fighters beat up armed Nazi formations! Good job, boys, work for the world without Nazism."
Being anti-war doesn't back-pedal having imperial views. Russians believe old historical myths of a single nation, such as Russia being an "older brother" or lands "donated" to Ukraine. Citizens engage in this outdated propaganda both in the state and abroad. Back to the same CNN poll, 64% of Russian respondents consider Ukrainians and Russians one nation. As for Ukraine, this figure is much lower: 28%.
Crime following punishment
Russian soldiers must be held accountable for their war crimes on Ukraine's land. Military personnel and the whole propaganda machine have to face a legitimate penalty, but what about "ordinary" Russian people who supported the army's actions and expressed their hatred for Ukrainians? Or what to do with those silent? The best solution, which some Russians may feel oblivious about, is sanctions. The first months of the full-scale war and the resulting response proved that Russia's economy is heavily dependent on international allies. Once they cut ties with the aggressor, the state faces its downfall quickly.
Long-term mercy and apology are another way for Russia to admit its centuries-long violence against Ukrainians. As post-war Germany immediately changed its direction to respecting human rights and promoting peace after WW2, Russians must obtain this policy and recognize their responsibility for caused destruction. Without it, one should not hope for a pleaded peace in the world.
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