Why did the Russians turn out to be so cruel? - opinion
Kremlin (Photo:REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo)
Features of national aggression
First published in NV Magazine in April 2023. Reproduction is prohibited
Our former student returned to Lviv on rotation. Among other things, he talked about that year's Christmas at the front. Together with their brothers, they prepared a Christmas dinner from what they had and the products brought to them by the locals. One of them, an almost hundred-year-old grandfather, came with baked pies: this is the way, he said, they used to celebrate Christmas in the East. During the dinner, there was a conversation about "Chmobyks" - freshly mobilized Russians. Our guys showed off Russian trophies: body armor that was easily shot through and first aid kits dated back to 1962, with glass syringes, moldy gauze, and rubber tourniquets. Grandfather, however, said not to laugh and not to live lightly. In the spring of 1945, he was the same "chmobyk," without proper weapons, half-barefoot and half-starved. Nevertheless, he, along with others, was able to storm Berlin. The Germans, the grandfather said, lost the war because they got tired of killing us. Saying goodbye, he wished our boys not to get tired.
The truth couldn’t be hidden: in the territory they liberated, some were waiting for the Russian army. Several months of occupation reeducated most of them. Now the attitude towards the occupiers is similar to what Leo Tolstoy described in Haji Murat: it is not even a hatred, but a disgust, disgust, and surprise at the senseless cruelty of creatures that can hardly be called human.
Here is a story from one of the women.
The Russians organized a friendly football match with the locals. The weather was terrible, so they played in the school hall. At one point, the Russian goalkeeper had to use the toilet, and he defecated right next to the gate, in front of the women and children sitting in the hall. However, the biggest shock was caused by the reaction of the Russian football players: they applauded and laughed.
An Argument from History
There are dozens of answers to why the Russian army behaves this way in Ukraine. Because the Ukrainians are "pig Banderites," making the rest of the local population Russian is easier by mercilessly exterminating them. It is necessary to vent one's anger for defeats by the Armed Forces. Every society has its share of sadists, and the army is in the society's mold. By killing, you eliminate the witnesses of your crimes.
But among dozens of reasons, one general one is visible. The Russian army does not know how to win with quality. All it has is quantity.
In the dry balance, the attitude towards violence is key to every society.
The enemy's bayonet should rust and dull from the blood of the "chombiks". It doesn't matter if they are Russians, Ukrainians, or Tuvans. The main thing is that they are ready to die. To do this, they must be reduced to the status of embittered cattle whose life does not cost anything.
A characteristic feature of this war is that the Russian army shows cruelty not only against conscientious Ukrainians, but also against those whom Russia considers its own. That is, there is no clear distinguishing difference between "ours" and "theirs." If the "Chmobyks" are treated like cattle and their lives have no value, why then should the treatment of the locals be different?
Cruelty can be explained by the Russian national character, which has developed historically. Some will say that the Russians inherited cruelty from the time of the Horde. But this explanation is flawed. Evil is universal, like original sin. No nation is immune to it. It is enough to recall the history of Europe. King Henry VIII of England was not much better than Ivan the Terrible. The horrors of the Mongol conquests are no less than the horrors of the Thirty Years' War. It has been compared to the Second World War in terms of the scale of casualties and the level of mass violence. This last one did not begin in Asia, Africa, or the Americas, but in Europe.
Russian propaganda takes advantage of the weakness of this argument. If the West mass exterminated Jews, heretics, Indians, and Vietnamese, then why is Russia worse? Russia is not an "evil empire." Evil, Russian propagandists say, is rooted in the West.
The West has indeed committed terrible crimes in the past. But there is one fundamental difference between them and Russia: the West is ashamed of those crimes, condemns them, and repents for them. Modern NATO is essentially an organization of pacifist countries. In Russia, cruelty is passed off as justice, and violence as a historical necessity. And therefore, the Russians can always "repeat."
In the dry balance, the attitude towards violence is key to every society. Some governments and countries try to limit it as much as possible within the framework of the rule of law, and some governments and countries turn violence into a daily reality. It accompanies Russians at all stages of life. It is faced by children in kindergartens, sports teams, and schools, women in families, recruits in the army, the arrested in police stations, prisoners in prisons and colonies, and patients in psychiatric hospitals and homes for the elderly.
As a rule, this violence goes unpunished. Quit the opposite; it is encouraged. A recent example: in April 2022, Putin awarded the honorary title of "guards" to the 64th motorized rifle brigade, which is suspected of committing war crimes in Bucha.
As the American economist Douglas North showed in the book Violence and Social Orders, violence is related to poverty. Prosperous societies have managed to limit violence to a necessary minimum — to the personal safety of citizens and the safety of the entire country. However, in poor countries, violence is universal because how else to keep the wealth and power of the wealthy elite?
Prosperous societies cultivate conscious citizens, while in poor communities, everyone is reduced to the status of subjects. Subjects are deprived of dignity and must be ready to give their lives "for the king" at any moment. The ruler is not only the leader, but also the owner of the country. Therefore, there is no significant difference between Putin's Russia and, let’s say, the Aztec Empire. If there are, then it is one of species, not genus.
It is worth pointing out: Russia is a vast but poor empire. Even in its best times, it was said that it could send astronauts into space, but it could not deliver potatoes from collective farm fields to neighboring grocery stores. Having arrived in Ukraine, Russian soldiers are surprised by the wealth of Ukrainian villages. To the usual "Why, damned hochly [ed.: slur for Ukrainians], why don't you like us so much?" "And who gave you the permission to live beautifully?" is now added. As our guys from the front tell us, this attitude applies not only to the Kyiv outskirts, but also to the Ukrainian villages closer to the Russian-Ukrainian border, which they have liberated.
Poverty is not a mortal sin, and history is not a prison. Both can be overcome. A country's mental and national characteristics are important but not decisive. It is enough to compare post-war East and West Germany during the Cold War or the current North and South Korea. The problem with Russia and the plight of neighboring nations is that the Russian elite cannot or does not want to break the vicious cycle of violence and poverty. If not Putin, then Stalin; if not Ivan the Terrible, then Nicholas I. This kind of cyclical madness with brief mind moments to gasp for air.
Poverty and violence are the natural state of every society. But civilization's entire development consists of attempts to free oneself from the kingdom of nature. The Russian ruling elite and the useful idiots in its service invented a convenient excuse for their impotence. They say Russia is not a country; it is a separate civilization. Therefore, general laws are not written for us. Our poverty is evidence of our moral purity and integrity. We are alien to the pursuit of wealth. The main thing for us is to save the world from the sinful influence of the materialistic West.
Here is the ideology of the Third Rome, communism, and the "Russian world." All these ideologies differ among themselves in their message. But, structurally, they are very similar.
All of them are about the "special way" (Sonderweg) of "Russian civilization."
Nothing special is happening with Russia. It does not save the world, but destroys itself and poisons the lives of her neighbors. It is worth looking only at the indicators of abortion, divorce, alcoholism, life expectancy, and the Russian tanks loaded with washing machines and other goods looted from Ukrainian cities and villages.
It would be unfair to place all the blame on the Russian elite. The relationship between the Russians and their government is about the same as the relationship between the chicken and the egg. Most of Russian society is so easy to manipulate because it wants to be manipulated. It was not Putin who imposed his power on Russians. Sociological studies show that since the second half of the 1990s, Russians have been dreaming of someone who would come to power, restore order with an iron hand and restore their sense of former greatness.
Putin was the embodiment of most Russians' dreams. The autopsy will show whether he continues to be like that, as pathologists joke. In any case, Russia's disease increased too far to handle independently.
A radical surgical intervention from the outside is required.
The best thing that can happen to Russia now is its military defeat. Therefore, the chief surgeon for Russia is the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the best scalpel is a Western weapon.
And after the Russian defeat, conducting a long, difficult, and systematic therapeutic treatment will be necessary. It is for the safety of the patient.
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