If you care about your country, you care about its people. That’s all it is. A country is not about territory, it is not about history, it is not about fame or glory or whatever egomaniacal thing it is Putin thinks it is about. Certainly, all these matter to some extent – but they are irrelevant if your people are dying, starving, or otherwise suffering. Skeletons don’t care about territory.
Russia and the Soviet Union have always had one core military strategy: Just sacrifice your young people, whether the cause is worthy or not. In World War II, in the specific fight against Hitler, this was worthwhile. It was not worthwhile in the wars against Japan (1904-05), Persia (1905-11), Ukraine (1917-21), Finland (1918, 1921-22, 1939-40), Latvia (1918-20 and 1940), Estonia (1918-20 and 1940), Lithuania (1918-19 and 1940), Georgia-Ossetia (1918-20), Poland (1919-21), Turkey (1919-23), Azerbaijan (1920), Armenia (1920), Georgia (1921), Mongolia (1921), Poland (1939), Viet Nam (1946-75), Korea (1950-53), East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), Afghanistan (1979-89), Georgia (1991-93, 2008), Transnistria (1992), Chechnya (1994-99, 1999-2009), Dagestan (1999), Ukraine (since 2014) and Syria (since 2015).
This long list shows only the Russian and Soviet aggressions in the 20th century. It also illustrates the consistent pattern of Russian imperialism – despite the Soviet Union’s claim to be anti-imperialist. Naked aggression has always been the modus operandi of the Russian government, with the only exceptions being the late Gorbachev and early Yeltsin years. This is a pattern enabled by what Vladimir Sorokin calls a “pyramid of power”.
Now, you may object that the West is not so innocent either. Certainly. But whatever you may think about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were directed against brutal dictatorships. That is not to excuse everything the West has done – we certainly need to do better at living up to our values –, but it puts it into perspective.
Russia today is attacking a young democracy. This is a completely different scenario. In the process, it is brutally attacking – without provocation, without legality, without any reason given within international law – a people that he himself claims are intimately related to Russia. What does that tell you? He is attacking Ukrainians and Russians alike. In the process, he is sacrificing yet another generation of young Russian people who have been lied to and coerced into fighting their brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
As to the argument that Ukrainians and Russians as brother nations: That is certainly true. But in which world does siblinghood mean you deny your relative the right to their own household? Yet the Russian imperial understanding is something different anyway. As the Soviet time joke goes, “the Russians are our brothers – because your friends, you can choose.”
Putin Does Not Care About Russia. He does not care about his own people. The sanctions – which he has provoked and even egged on – will hurt his people. He can end the pain very easily. Stop the attack. Restore Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and freedom. Empty your prisons. Restore democracy and rule of law. If you can’t do that, step down and let a President Navalny take over.
Sacrificing your own people for your imperial delusions is a Russian tradition that needs to change. Now.
Ceterum censeo Ucrainam esse defendam. Слава Україні!