“All I can say is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims– and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of the pestilence.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague
These dark days have given me a lot to think about. Those who, like me, have studied long enough the “transition” towards nothingness of many of the former Soviet republics and the Russian Federation in particular, has seen this moment arrive slow and inexorable, as in those nightmares in which one is lucid and however, it is not possible to wake up, nor to dispel the feeling of discomfort. The constant updating from the front causes me a sense of guilt, frustration and helplessness. What more could be done, or what else could be done? Where did we go wrong? Am I where I should be and is this the maximum contribution I can make?
But I cannot fail to realize, rationally, that these are all nonsense questions at the present time. These are reflections that will go well in the future, for History with a capital letter and for history without. Those kind of questions were automatically generated in the mind of each of us when, apparently suddenly, we find ourselves involved in a catastrophic event, of which we don’t know nore the past or the future.
One thing I can do, however, and that is to make the knowledge acquired in recent years available to others, and therefore, in this article, I will take some questions that I have been asked, both in person and through social media, and answer concisely and concrete, as far as I can. The main problem we are dealing with, in my opinion, is that in addition to undergoing the war on the field, we are also undergoing it on a psychological level, in that battlefield which is propaganda, narration, storytellig, you choose the term but the result does not change, we are undergoing it in our mind.
The following was written almost straight away, so you will forgive misprints and in-depth arguments. For the former, do not hesitate to underline it, for the latter you just need to scroll back through the pages and in principle you should find the answers you are looking for. The intent at least for now is to put the “weight” that we can exert on the scales.
What does Putin want?
The real question we should be asking is “what can Putin achieve?“, Which is quite different. His new “mask”, one of the many I have seen him wear over the years, is that of the ruthless leader, at the head of a cohesive and warlike nation. And today, just as in past years, the West, its media and political system, are once again his stage. The news does nothing but tell us what it wants, what it does, what it threatens: let’s be clear, not that they shouldn’t do it, God forbid, censorship, but they should also be able to do a minimum of verification, European politicians are not able to answer him in kind, and therefore, with each passing day, in the eyes of the beholder he appears more and more invincible, dangerous or crazy.
The first thing we must understand, and which we should repeat every time he makes one of his statements, is that yes, he is a dangerous man, but not crazy, but “desperate”. Repeat this to yourself every time. He is not the Tsar, the Conqueror, a shrewd strategist, a capable statesman, a new Hitler at the head of a nation of fanatics ready to follow him to death; he is a bureaucrat, and not one of those capable. A man who for twenty years ago had an incredible stroke of luck and who thought he could solve all the problems of a country like Russia with oil, like Norway or Saudi Arabia. His immobility gradually isolated him, and while the world moved around him and the Russian Federation, taking refuge in his past so as not to have to face the present.
Understanding the man behind the image doesn’t make him any less dangerous or brutal, but it shatters his aura, whatever you see around him. This war is the last act of cowardice of an ordinary man, who has found himself having to face too big an issue, and is now looking for a way to get out of it. Putin does not want Ukraine, nor does he want to restore the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union or other similar nonsense. What should be done with a country that, if it was not in great shape before, is now in pieces? Russia has not been able to decently settle the situation in the separatist territories, let alone a huge country which, moreover, would spend the coming years fighting it in any way possible.
So why start a war?
Like most autocrats or dictators before him, Putin is not alone in command, and neither is he invulnerable nor is his authority. He is a pivot around which Russia’s underground forces, national and local interests, small and large clienteles (think two of his bodyguards, who are now governors in two states, so to speak) have balanced, and he simply cannot resign as the President of a Western state, no one would let him and he would have no way to get away with doing that.
Becoming the banner of the Nation doesn’t just give you benefits, on the contrary, in the long run it makes you a perfect target, a scapegoat for any problem. More than twenty years ago, his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was in the same situation and the solution to his problems was an anonymous official, Vladimir Putin, who took the burdens and honors by giving the resigning president total immunity. But at the time, many saw Russia as an opportunity, while now, even before the war, who would have taken on twenty years of unsolved problems with the gun to the head?
Russia postponed the choice as long as it could, but when the geopolitical balance began to change, much less sensationally, it had to choose: West or East. And even that could only prove to be a painful and compromising choice: on the one hand, it was necessary to take back years and years of anti-Western rhetoric and come to terms with Europe and the United States begging hat in hand, the same image that Yelstin’s critics at the time they used that of a humiliated and offended Russia. On the other hand, however, there is a real nightmare, the People’s Republic of China: despite the declarations of deep friendship and the imaginary anti-Western alliances, there is nothing that the Russian elites fear more than China, and how to blame them. ? On the one hand alms, on the other slavery.
If “war is the continuation of politics by other means” this is the clearest example. I don’t want to sound cynical, but war is a means of political communication, and Russians and Ukrainians are “dead to bring to the negotiating table”, paraphrasing another who said he wanted to restore ancient empires and relive the glories of the past.
This strange word, which has no counterparts (it is a bit close to the French “Grandeur”), is another leitmotif that we “suffer” from the media every day. The “Great, Invincible,” Mileage “Russian Army” against “the powerless and frightened West”. It would be good if every now and then it was pointed out that we are the ones with the knife on the side of the handle, the Russian enstablishment knows this, and tries to be as brutal as possible, hoping that many here are convinced that it is worth treating and giving them. what they want, after all who cares what the Ukrainians want? Until yesterday we did not even know of their existence, even if they are our friends, neighbors and colleagues.
It is not such a different strategy from the one used a few years ago by Daesh, or ISIS: “we are dangerous, evil and violent and if you do not leave us alone and give us what we want we will do worse and worse and sooner or later we will reach you too”. How many in those days did imagine the Ottomans to be at the gates of Vienna? And how many today imagine the Red Army invading Europe? That of the “mad dog” is another political language, which we suffer without ever replying, unaware of our strength.
Did the West do anything to provoke Russia?
The answer is “Yes”, but not in the way the Kremlin or the pro-Russians militants that we have here put it down. So what did we do instead? The answer is simple and complex at the same time, and can be summarized as follows: “we have left Russia to its own chosen fate”.
I believe that no one, not even the most obsessed general, could truly believe that with Ukraine in the EU or NATO, the next day someone would have thought of attacking Russia. Much more realistic as a fear, as regards Europe for example, is that of a drastic decrease in the demand for fossil fuels in the coming years, given the huge investments made to combat Climate Change: if the Russian elite thought they could survive of exports for another 30 years, having the expectation reduced to ten implies the economic death of the country, worse than any sanction, and, as mentioned, the lack of planning has left the country “hanging” in a vacuum, as reforms economic that, for example, were made so quickly in Saudi Arabia, in Russia it is impossible.
The second “provocation” was that of the United States and, once again, involuntary. For some years now, it has been evident to everyone that the US has understood that its true global competitor is the PRC, and has slowly begun to do so: withdrawal from the Middle Eastern scenarios, low profile, investment and development programs, etc. In short, they understood the mistakes made and decided to implement the same strategy as their opponents, challenging them on the economic field. The “Russian superpower” is left out of this game, simply because it cannot afford it (they have made some timid attempts) because they do not have the social and economic strength that the United States, China and the EU have in abundance. For those who have spent years building their political fortune on the “Mythology” of the Cold War this has been a huge blow. Worse still, the Covid 19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to the Russian Federation, while other countries, with all the burden of suffering, were emerging. Once again, the country would collapse without anyone firing a shot.
These are not conclusions yet, but, with this article, I have tried to re-establish some fixed points, some facts. Those who wish can begin to make them their own and no longer passively undergo the narration of a single part. There is no shame in feeling fear and worry, I myself am worried and scared, but fear can be studied and fought, the anguish that I see widespread around me is instead much more complex to stem, and risks transforming us into useful idiots of a failed regime.
Remember that all this concerns us much more than we think, it is not a TV show, we should not be passive spectators, this is my little bag of weapons, I hope it will be useful to you, use it well. In the meantime, it is important that you remember one thing above all else: the Kremlin will try in every way and by every means to drag us into its hell, to overturn us the state of despair in which they live, to give the impression to their people that we are undergoing the same consequences of the war, that we are a regim as much as they are: dont allow them to do that.
The second part will come shortly, for any questions, as usual, I am available.