The moment of truth
Whatever happens this week will remain with us for the rest of our lives, either as a mortal danger we managed to avoid, or as a calamity that cost us dearly.
Everything worth saying or writing – has been said and written. Everything is pretty clear, except for one final piece: we still don’t know what decision Russian President Vladimir Putin will make.
At any rate, it’s evident that he will never be at peace with the very existence of an independent, pro-Western Ukraine. Even if we can avert the war today, there’s no guarantee it won’t break out tomorrow.
Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the Russia radio station Echo of Moscow, called Putin’s current presidential term an “age of obscurantism,” and it rings true. Putin’s ideology is heavily influenced by Ivan Ilyin, a prominent monarchist, or “white” Russian thinker, a kind of “devil of philosophy.” His ideas are a mix of fascism, orthodox Christianity, and Russian exceptionalism. None of these individual components are rational, let alone the concoction they comprise.
Irrational logic meets petty criminal thinking. When Putin talks about “crappers,” “grandmothers with balls,” draws feline posteriors, and recites lyrics to necrophiliac songs, he betrays his nature – that of a mugger from a seedy urban underbelly, intimidating pedestrians: “Do you have a lighter? And mind if I pat you down?”
To paraphrase a famous quote, we are living next to an active volcano, hoping firefighters will save us. The Western countries are those proverbial firefighters, trying to contain and pacify Putin with talks and sanctions.
It appears, though, there has been a breakthrough in recent months. Washington seems to have finally realized that diplomacy is not effective when dealing with thugs. The U.S. response to Russia, translated into the language of muggers and thugs, would sound something like “Fool around and find out.” Go ahead, try and start something, let’s see who comes out on top.
The White House is raising the stakes, constantly talking about an almost inevitable Russian invasion, with maps and precise time tables.
Ukraine is making its own laws, shaping its reality.
Putin finds himself in zugzwang. He loses face by backing down, and could lose everything – including Russia – by starting a war.
Somehow, despite their impressive, renowned culture, Russians have left the fate of their entire country in the hands of a criminal lowlife. And they better not claim it wasn’t intentional. Russians embarked on their present course deliberately and eagerly. In 2004, U.S. historian Richard Pipes wrote an article titled Flight from Freedom, which used Russian opinion polls to clearly show how Russian citizens yearned for a strongman leader who would establish order and stability. And they were ready to give up their freedom for it.
To be fair, it was an untestable reaction to the violent, turbulent 1990s, mired in economic misery and organized crime. The Great Depression of 1929-1933 led to Adolf Hitler gaining power in Germany, and Russia’s economic crisis of the 1990s is thought to have been even harsher.
But these excuses don’t hold water, thanks to the Ukrainian example. The crisis of 1990s in Ukraine was more severe than the Russian one, and yet Ukrainians did not sacrifice liberty for security and order.
And it wasn’t by happenstance – Ukraine and Russia differ on the most fundamental level: their values. According to a recent survey by SOCIS, Ukrainians consider freedom of thought and action the second most important value next to national security, while giving authoritarianism the lowest priority.
And even if under our current President Zelensky it’s uncouth to talk values (“who cares”), it doesn’t mean they don’t matter – they matter quite a bit. Paradoxically, Ukrainians are drifting even further towards freedom amidst the current crisis, while conventional wisdom dictates that hard times trigger a lurch towards authority. It seems Ukraine is writing its own rules on this, shaping its reality.
Washington’s Russia policy of keeping tensions high is causing Ukraine considerable economic pains. And while the United States and their allies are supporting Ukraine and pledge to keep doing so, they outright rule out going to war to defend it.
It’s as if Kyiv has been made into a piece of cheese in a mousetrap, intended to lure in the Muscovy rat. Despite the threat, Ukrainians are not panicking or surrendering, and stand ready to defend themselves. Such sober resolve, confidence, and self-reliance are most impressive.
Crises make things clear, disprove half-truths, and separate the important from the irrelevant. And the important thing is that Ukraine is a beautiful country, and we will remember it that way, no matter what happens next. And we won’t grow tired of working to make it even more magnificent.
The following has been republished from the latest edition of the NV weekly magazine. It has been translated and edited for clarity for English-language readers.
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