This originally started as a reply to a post that Jim at A Unique Title for Me posted. It got me thinking about the broader context of government and in particular the idea that the people are accountable for the action of their government. In particular, Russians when it comes to Putin.
Yes, Vladimir Putin gave the order to invade Ukraine, the former Soviet republic that declared its independence on January 22nd, 1989. Putin has chosen this path not because of the excuses such as “denazification” or the perceived threat NATO presents to Russia if Ukraine achieves member status. It is all smoke and mirrors to hide the real reasons for Putin’s war, to turn back the clock to a bygone era. To return to some perceived Russian greatness that never really existed. He alone must answer to the world for his illegal actions in Ukraine and the war crimes he has committed in the name of Mother Russia.
I will say that from a world perspective I do not believe the international community and the allied countries of the West are doing enough to quell the Putin threat. Russian aggression in Ukraine has the eerie feel of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. The parallels are well documented elsewhere and too many to list here. We the world must stand with Ukraine and prevent history from repeating itself.
I believe the Russian people are good people. Historically they have suffered immeasurable hardship. For the record, the Russian experience is not unique. Many other peoples in various parts of the world have suffered repeatedly at the hands of internal and external forces. That type of suffering creates a certain pathos that brings about insecurity in the people of a nation. It doesn’t require a great leap to see how people end up following someone like Putin who instills a sense of national pride by assuaging their collective vulnerabilities and making them feel whole again.
There is a old proverb that says the people ultimately get the government they deserve. It is normally reserved for democratically elected governments but I firmly believe it to be true of any form of government across the spectrum. Time and again Russians have remained in the shadows, perferring to let tyrants run their governments and their country. They have shown they gravitate to authoritarion rule. Whether it was during the reign of the Czars, communist Russia following the Bolshevik revolution or in modern Russia they find a certain comfort in leaders like Putin. History does not lie.
When Gorbachev ushered in the era of glasnost (open government) and enacted the policies of perestroika (economic reforms) it seemed the Soviet Union was changing slowly for the better. Make no mistake the U.S.S.R. had no choice but to change. The West had won the Cold War not with brute force but by bankrupting the Soviet Union.
Remember the Cold War was essentially an arms race. Moscow was forced to spend an ever-larger portion of their GDP, upwards of 90% by some estimates, on military spending just to keep pace. American military spending was enormous but a much smaller fraction compared to GDP. You have to remember at that time in history the American economy was the largest in the entire history of civilization.
The American propaganda machine expertly painted the Soviets as a territorial hungry threat but in reality, Soviet influence around the world waned as the Cold War drew to a close. As Moscow became more and more isolated from the world, access to resources and the economic benefit they provided quickly evaporated.
What does that have to do with Russia today? The policies of glasnost and perestroika came too late to revive the failing Soviet economy and ultimately lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc partnerships. Many of the former republics and Eastern Bloc partners have transitioned to peaceful democracies in the 30+ year since the Iron Curtain fell, including Ukraine. For Russia, the real power behind the former Soviet bloc, there was an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, to build a free and democratic society but the people of the Motherland did not change the course of their history, choosing to allow another dictator to determine their destiny.
They share in the responsibility for allowing Putin to shape and reshape Russian politics to remain in power without free and democratic elections. They share in allowing him to escape accountability when his own citizens who voice disparate views to that of the Kremlin disappear without a trace or are assassinated in hotels abroad. They share when they embrace him with independently verifiable polls showing approval ratings in the 70% range.
Of concern is his support among Russian youth, the future of Russia. Not only do they support the current regime, large numbers actively participate by working in giant internet troll factories, pumping out volumes of disinformation and furthering the Russian campaign of Maskirovka. The efforts focused on destabilizing democratically elected governments around the world, and more recently to spread outright falsehoods about the Ukraine invasion.
They turn a blind eye because Putin has been able to bring relative prosperity to Russia, certainly beyond anything their parents and grandparents can remember and because it is in their DNA. Sanctions from the international community may change opinion, only time will tell.
It is their action, or dare I say lack of action over the last 30 years that has given rise to Putin, the autocratic madman who threatens world peace with his reprehensible actions in the Ukraine and his reckless threats of nuclear annihilation. The Russian people must take responsibility for their governance just as any other country must do the same.
I fully understand and accept that living in Russia is difficult. Freedom has been greatly curtailed and there is an air of fear if one speaks out against the Kremlin. Putin has been allowed to rule with an iron fist and has honed the war machine at home and abroad for this moment in time. His control today is a direct result of quiet complacency and blind acceptance. The time to speak was over the last 30 years. Today the task seems monumental, but it is never to late to do the right thing. Russians need to accept responsibility for the actions of their government and take a stand now!
We did not allow Germany to escape responsibility for Nazi war crimes at the end of World War II. I think we can all agree that Putin must be removed by whatever means are necessary. If and when Putin is silenced I believe we must treat the Russian people with respect and understanding. The tone must be conciliatory and compassionate but without tangible action from within Russia to stop Putin, the Russian populace must be held accountable for the blood of war that stains the Russian flag.
Images taken from various web sources.
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