I received a short letter from a friend from Russia, and his request to publish it, in the hope that at least part of the world public will hear an authentic Russian voice, a voice whose opinion of their country differs from the mainstream dictated by the Kremlin. Of course, it is impossible for him to publish his views on his country at home. The threat of retaliation is real. Here is the letter:
“Nowadays, many are wondering what happened to Russia and what the ways to solve it are. Let me explain to you that nothing happened to Russia. You are witnessing “normal” Russia. Russia has always been like this and will remain so as long as Russia is Russia.
Russian nationalism was always present in Russian society even during the Soviet days. Just like people in America have degrading jokes about people from Kentucky, similarly, even during the Soviet days the people from the Russian republic of the USSR had many insulting jokes about people from Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and even the tribes that were a part of the Russian republic of the USSR.
Russian society was always anti-Semite, chauvinist, and had resistance and prejudice against all different and alien tribes and nations. The unity was always held with force and terror was always imposed by the government. All territories that now comprise Russian Federation were acquired by force, bribery, or both. Imperial Russia was adding more territories, Soviet Russia was adding more territories, and today’s Russia is adding territories.
Just a few examples: Imperial Russia occupied north Caucasus tribes, Russia occupied Chinese territory, and the Soviet Russia attacked and seized Finnish territories.
Today’s Russia does the same in Ukraine in precisely the same manner as the Soviet Russia attacked Finland.
Russia was and still is an occupier.
Russia cannot be a decent democratic state because a decent democratic state will not be able to hold the territories Russia already has, which were previously occupied.
Russia attacked Ukraine dominantly because Russia needs to exercise the Russian world narrative. A current Russian doctrine perceives Ukraine as a breakaway region that must remain under Russia’s control, because if Ukraine succeeds in escaping Russian dominance, other regions and republics as Kazan and North Caucasus for example can try the same.
The world community must understand that if Russia succeeds in Ukraine, Russian ongoing madness and aggression will only grow. Russia will not stop. Russia can only be stopped.
The West must stop Russia in Ukraine, and the West must disintegrate Russia, so that Russia will not attack ever again.”
The author of this letter, my friend Sergei, is swimming against the current, and his views on Russia are completely different from the opinions of the vast majority of his compatriots. More than 80% of them support Putin in the aggression against Ukraine and the crimes that their army is committing against the Ukrainian people. But that does not make Sergei a lesser patriot, on the contrary. He is just a free man, unlike most.
Erich Fromm wrote about Sergei’s compatriots in Escape from Freedom, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, back in 1941, but Russian society then, as now, fits into his triptych. Russians are persistently fleeing freedom in two of Fromm’s three sanctuaries – authoritarianism and destructiveness, while the third – conformity, has remained reserved for liberal societies.
No generation of Russians had the opportunity to live in a free society; therefore they did not have the opportunity to face freedom, as Fromm experienced it. He experienced it as freedom “from something” – through resistance to the shackles imposed by society and ideology, let alone to fight for “positive freedom”, to independently create a space in which to express their individuality. Simply, in Russia, people did not want to have freedom of choice; they let someone else do it for them.
They are not the only ones who have given up freedom of choice, but they are certainly the only ones who have tried to make a virtue out of that handicap. They simply can’t stand anyone near them who dares to even go in a search of freedom. As overweight people despise the overweight people of yesterday who managed to lose weight with great effort. It is much more painful for them than when they look at the skinny people, who have always been like that.
Russia has always looked at Ukraine from above, it considered it second-class, because throughout history it has shown a desire to be free, and it has shown something that did not exist in Russia. Throughout its history, Ukraine has resisted and fought against Russian influence, sometimes it succeeded, sometimes it did not. But it did not give up that fight, just as Russia did not give up its efforts to prevent it from “conquering freedom”.
Let us dwell only in recent times, in which both Russia and Ukraine sought their way out of the Soviet legacy. Regardless of common diseases – corruption, enrichment of transitional robbers, privatization, Ukraine had more or less real elections, real candidates, the beginnings of the right media and the public. This was a dangerous example for Putin and a real political threat, which could escalate into an epidemic among other post-Soviet states. That is why he interpreted every change of government in Kiev, which he himself did not win, as Western meddling and an anti-Russian project.
In the post-Soviet space, those who sympathize with Ukraine are very rare, and even rarer are those who support its fight against the Russian invasion. Moldova, for example, recognized well on the first day of the aggression against Ukraine that it was next in line. Its pro-European government supports the Ukrainian resistance and seeks the support of Europe and the West, knowing that the conqueror will not stop at its borders. He already has almost 10,000 soldiers in Transnistria, both domestic “five-columnists” and his colonial troops. Georgia is divided over the war in Ukraine, and Kazakhstan is showing timid signs of resistance to Russia by not celebrating Victory Day, May 9, this year either.
Everyone else in the post-Soviet space is being silent. They suffer from the Stockholm syndrome, because neither they nor the Russians in Russia have ever had contact with true freedom, which means the possibility of choice. Both their societies and elites, as in Russia, are prepared by the narrative that anyone who dares to “betray” the common past, who dares to imagine their life outside the rules set by Moscow, will be punished.
The example of Ukraine will best show how everyone who dares to step out of this circle that has existed for centuries will manage. And that is why the Russian invasion of Ukraine is so brutal and ruthless, because in it, the fate of the so-called “Russian world”, an imperial idea based on constant conquest of territories and holding conquered through force, poverty and resistance to freedom, is decided.
It is not surprising that the greatest support for this malicious project comes from Russia itself and that it is so massive. Resistance to freedom is woven into the Russian social being, and with the Ukrainian invasion, it was raised to the level of a liberation mission whose goal is unity in obedience. History teaches us that the result of such a delusion can only be in war crimes and the eternal shame of those who allowed it. Even Putin’s Russia will not be able to avoid such a fate.