The reason why you do not see the outbreak of revolution in Moscow is not that the population is indifferent to the situation in Ukraine. On the contrary, my social networks are full of messages from Russians who oppose the war. “What happened to us?” they wonder: “How did we get to this point? This is madness”.
They feel guilty for being Russian. People burn passports on camera. Fuck, I wrote to myself: “I’m Russian, but Putin is not my president.”
Many are against, but far fewer come out to protest. It is important to remember that ordinary citizens in Russia are scared. On the first day of the conflict, around 1,000 protesters were arrested across Russia for taking to the streets simply for carrying a placard that read “No to war.” According to an independent source, OVD-info, more than 5,200 people were arrested in the first four days of the conflict.
My friend went to jail for simply walking down the same street as the protesters. Sociology professor Grigory Yudin was detained in the center of Moscow and allegedly beaten in the back of a paddy wagon.
There are now more police units than I can count, with newly coined names like Rosgvardia (Russia’s internal armed forces), and they are ruthless. These forces were created several years ago with a mandate to walk the streets of Moscow (and other cities) and prevent anything “suspicious”.
It doesn’t matter if you are an 18-year-old boy or a pregnant woman, you will be beaten, put in a van and taken to the police station for interrogation. When a former KGB agent becomes president of a country, the country functions like a giant prison.
Putin went crazy
It is painfully clear to the Russians that this war is pointless. Putin twists history, laments the collapse of the Soviet Union, and makes statements about how NATO is gaining strength for the sole purpose of justifying his own stupidity. I think the real answer to the question social media users are asking is, “How did we get to this point?” that Putin has gone mad.
I do not know when and why Putin made this decision. Maybe it’s a matter of age. Perhaps his isolation during the pandemic made him question his heritage. I don’t know what to think.
When my Ukrainian wife and I woke up in a hotel room in Dubai last Thursday, our whole world turned upside down. We listen to Putin’s speech on television about the military operation. Twenty minutes later we turn off the TV. We were struck by the vagueness of his speech. What is a “special military operation”? Are we faced with the declaration of a third world war? We were sick of the theatrical performance of a president we had never elected. We were even more disgusted to think that most people in Russia believed him.
No coherent ideology
Between the “new Russians” – my generation, people born in the 1990s who never lived in the Soviet era – and the older generation there is a huge gap in opinion. None of my Russian friends believe that Putin has not planned this war for a long time. Older Russians are being fed lies through television and other media that convince them that Putin’s actions are justified.
The big problem is that there is no coherent ideology in Russia. There is no common vision of the world. Instead, a simplistic idea has prevailed – it is a story of “us against them.” Selling and getting votes is very easy. This is the agenda that Putin has been pushing for the last ten years.
He argues that Ukraine is an enemy that historically was part of Russia but sold out to NATO. He also claims that the entire world is a puppet of the United States.
It’s a very infectious sight. When you try to reason with a normal person in Russia, he can tell you something like: “The TV is right, but you are wrong. Maybe you’re a CIA agent.” Many people live in constant fear and find it easier to believe what they are told. Thinking differently than the herd can cost them their freedom.
None of my younger Russian friends living abroad are surprised. We are so used to being disappointed and ashamed of our government that we hardly feel shame. Like the children of abusive parents, after years of neglect, we can no longer distinguish between what is normal and what is not. We just sigh, shake our heads and say, “Well, what did you expect?” We, the “global Russians,” as we call ourselves, long ago gave up the opportunity to have a country and a government that we were proud of.
war in Afghanistan
I can’t help but remember the Soviet war with Afghanistan: 15,000 Russians killed. Nine years of struggle. My mother told me stories about her old classmates, people she really knew, returning in coffins. It was a completely useless attempt that cost Leonid Brezhnev the country’s economy and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin, who loves history so much, is unknowingly digging his own grave. With Swift blocked and under European Union, US and UK sanctions, this will put the country on the edge in a few years. And at that moment the population will lose fear. If history teaches us anything, it is that the population, even as stubborn and patient as the Russians, does not tolerate starvation. When the money runs out, Putin’s time will also run out.
And we, the new generation of Russians, will wait.
* Sergey Faldin is a writer and podcaster based in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Translated by Emma Reverter
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