Foreign Affairs

This war is not in the name of the Russian people

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Russia is a country that has produced some of the world’s greatest authors, classical musicians, architects and painters. But above all, it is a country that is, like all countries are, populated by mostly kind, generous, and peaceful people.

The nation’s immense cultural heritage and the behaviour of most of its citizens are once again overshadowed by the appalling actions of its long-term dictator Vladimir Putin and his gang of equally evil Oligarchs who have plunged Europe into war.

The Ukrainians are defending their country and loved ones from an unprovoked Russian invasion. Russian soldiers are made up of young individuals who haven’t been provided with the luxury of choice, and the ones who believe they’re fighting to free Ukraine from “Nazi occupation” have been fed a terrible lie.

This narrative, however, is one that many in Russia are not buying. This war is not being waged in the name of the Russian people but on the whim of a tyrant. The mass protests across Russia and the anti-war sentiment of Russians on social media attests to this.

There is a reason why the Golden Rule is a fundamental part of every religion, it is the foundation of our shared humanity. Regardless of race, religion, or nationality, most of us long for the same thing. None of us choose the country we are born in, we each had a higher chance of being born in Russia than in the UK.

Men between the ages of 18-27 have a higher chance of being sent against their will to fight their Ukrainian brothers than they do to live on a rainy island in the middle of the North Sea.

The 1990s was meant to herald a new age for Russia. Under Soviet President Gorbachev, Russia began the journey from a one-party state to a democracy. Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (“openness”), allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and press. It seemed that Russia was finally going to remove the shackles of dictatorship once and for all.

But things didn’t go as Gorbachev, and many others had hoped. The newly created Russian Federation was soon overtaken by an ex-KGB officer, Vladimir Putin. Over the last 22 years, Putin has plundered Russia’s wealth, stealing the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars, suppressed civil liberates, started wars across the ex-Soviet states, murdered journalists and protestors, infiltrated western democracies, and now started an unprovoked war against Ukraine. Just as the first victim of Nazism was Germany, the first victim of Putin was Russia.

Zelenskyy and Putin are the exact opposite. President Zelenskyy has chosen to remain in Kyiv and defend the frontiers of democracy alongside brave Ukraine men and women. Zelenskyy is a key figure in the building of Ukraine and its emergence as an outward-looking democratic state, a model perhaps of what Russia could be if Putin’s kleptocracy is removed.

Putin, in contrast, remains safe in his palace in Moscow, far from the harrowing scenes unfollowing across Ukraine. Scenes he is wholly responsible for. He lives in unimaginable luxury acquired by stealing the wealth of his citizens. These are the same citizens murdered by the state if they dare speak out and whose young men at the prime of their lives are being sent to their deaths.

In some cases, the families of some Russian soldiers didn’t know their sons were part of the invasion. These are young men aged 18-21. Imagine the horror felt by their parents after finding out that their sons are off to the front lines without telling them. Putin is sending so many young Russian men to their untimely deaths without being able to say “do svidaniya” to their loved ones.

As fighting advances into the major cities, the death toll of both sides will only accelerate. Russian soldiers sent to Ukraine should surrender to Ukraine forces. They will be treated with dignity and, above all, will be able to return to their families alive. The Ukraine government wants this. The Ukrainian defence ministry has set up the “Come Back Alive from Ukraine” hotline to help families of captured Russian soldiers.

Russian POWs have told the Ukrainian army that they were lied to and would be shot if they refused and have “no idea” why they are in Ukraine. That is a good question. Why are they in Ukraine? Ukraine was not a danger to anyone. Why is Putin staining the fields of Ukraine red with the blood of young men? The overwhelming majority of Russians do not want this. Why is Putin risking the entirety of human civilization? A global culture to which his people have contributed so much.

There have probably been hundreds of articles and videos trying to explain the reasoning behind Putin’s actions. Countless hours have been spent analysing every moment of his hate-filled lies that he broadcasts to the Russian population before unleashing a wave of destruction, pain, and death on the people of Ukraine and his soldiers. The explanation is quite simple: he is evil.

There is a phrase, “never attribute to malice that is adequately explained by stupidity”. Sentiments do not work here. Putin, Lavrov and countless other Russian officials have been planning this for months – perhaps even years. We should not presume that Putin will stop with Ukraine.

The only way to ensure that this bloodshed ends is if Putin is removed from power, but this can only happen from within. The Russian people have a history of overthrowing tyrants; let’s hope that comes sooner rather than later. By then, it may be too late. Not just for Ukraine, Russia, or even Europe, but the whole world. The latest threat from Moscow regarding nuclear weapons being placed on high alert shows that Putin hasn’t removed any options from the table.

It should be clear that your anger should not be aimed towards Russia or its people but at its leaders. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of working with geology students and researchers from both Russia and Ukraine. Not once did I feel any sense of otherness or animosity from any of them either towards myself or each other.

I hope that Ukraine wins in its battle for freedom from a Russian invasion and that the Russian people can gain their freedom from Putin. Governments seldom represent their people, and it’s clear that Putin does not represent the people of Russia.

All I’m left to say is this: love Russia, love Ukraine, but hate Putin.

Cover image: SamuelFrancisJohnson via Pixabay. Image was cropped. Licence here.

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