Monday, May 16, 2022

How Rusians think about the Ukraine war

The Russians may well love their children too, but many of their views about their war on Ukraine span a narrow range from intellectually dishonest to morally bankrupt.

Ironically, it’s only overt Russian imperialists that think in a way – though abhorrent in its application – that is arguably consistent. The West’s real challenge is to defeat their imperial ambitions which threaten, not only Ukraine, but global stability.

Let me step back to a day in a hotel room between trips to Ukraine.

I spent some time watching Russian television, including its vox pops, scrolling Russian social media sites, and reading the Tweets of mainstream Russians. Not the full rigorous analysis of my past lives with pollsters and in politics, but certainly part of the process that many campaigners and communicators normally follow. One tries to see the context through many prisms. Here’s some of what’s out there.

‘There’s nothing I can do.’

This fatalistic view is patently false. If every Russian took a similar view of their own lives and their own circumstances, there would be no one getting out of bed from St Petersburg to Vladivostok every morning. While there may be a limited number of choices available to Russians living in a neo-dictatorship, there are certainly still choices, and their own history of revolutions and Glasnost prove it.

Further proof of its falsehood is that hundreds of thousands of moneyed and educated Russians have actually made a significant choice recently; they’ve hurriedly left the country and were indeed encouraged to do so.

‘I’m not political.’

One way to describe this type of position is the ‘Instagram position’ (though ironically Russian influencers actively mourn their loss of that vanity platform).

Those who see themselves as beyond politics are those that can afford to be beyond politics. They typically feel themselves as not substantially impacted by the course of world events. It’s a standpoint founded in immaturity, narcissism, and materialism. Without a hint of self-awareness, it selfishly ignores the interdependence that led us out of caves and into civilisation. Such people have replaced society with brand and, through their vanity and irresponsibility, provide the space for dictatorships to operate in.

‘I support peace – stop the war.’

This type of view might be called the ‘oligarch position’. It’s the queen of all motherhood statements – the equivalent of liking puppy pics on social media.

Safe, unsubstantive, and sterilised of all meaning, but extremely convenient for those needing to cleanse themselves of culpability and/or superficially distance themselves from their country’s war against a neighbouring country.

Oligarchs who need to protect their direct interests, including avoiding sanctions, and the small Russian upper middle class who want to protect their global access use this type of statement as a ‘get out of jail card’ after mostly tolerating and indeed supporting Putin for decades in exchange for mafia-styled material gain.

‘The Zombie views.’

Some Russians put forward this broader set of views, or some part of it, that basically parrots Putin’s state-controlled propaganda machine.

‘We need to deNazify Ukraine… Nato is threatening Russia… The world hates Russia… A genocide is being committed against Russian speakers…Putin is our leader and we support our leader… Events in Ukraine are false flags by Ukrainian Nazis and their Nato sponsors…’

That these folks are aligned with the Kremlin’s (often inconsistent but always untrue) narratives is obvious. What’s less obvious are their various motivations.

First, we need to accept that Russian social and cultural structures have been authoritarian and collective – as opposed to democratic and liberal – for around a thousand years. Inasmuch, it’s logical that there’s no inherent personal dishonour in going along with prevalent norms, even if they are objectively problematic, in Russia. The bandwidth of the Russian people’s capacity for cognitive dissonance is necessarily narrowed by their history, cultural mores, and socio-economic development.

If we then go to a purely emotional level, and that’s where 80 per cent of our decision-making resides, the motives for Russians buying into Putinism as a worldview could variously be:

Protecting themselves from the perceived authoritarian threat of persecution for dissent.
Giving themselves the ‘benefits of belonging’ and group identity in a vast, multi-ethnic and relatively poor country that is actually short of a modern unifying ideology.
Isolating themselves from information that destabilises their view of themselves.
Taking queues from those they culturally trust – for better or for worse – to run their country.
‘Ukraine is not a real country and is part of Russia.’

While this is a historically and objectively false statement at every level, it is distinct from all those above. Namely, for those who (mistakenly or intentionally), hold it, it is arguable that it is intellectually and morally consistent whereas the positions above are built on one form of dust or another.

In some respects, those who are open about the fact that Russia is pursuing an imperialist agenda to crush and colonise Ukraine are, ironically, the most ‘honest’ Russians. They don’t try to dress up the unprovoked aggression and brutality of their dictator, government, or military with some false construct. It’s the no-bullshit approach.

Think of the difference between America’s ‘destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’ to ‘we need to protect our strategic energy interests and key ally’.

Indeed, this group of Russians are the ones who most acknowledge a state of war and an expanded invasion, intentional full-scale violence against civilians, and the enormous costs to their own society. However, because of their foundational belief – that Russia should be ‘restored’ as an empire and a global power – this set of people logically see all actions, no matter how monstrous or bestial, as justifiable steps toward, in their view, a positive objective. It is a disgusting view, but it is not a lie or a fiction.

And, we would do well to treat it as the well-spring current events. Russian imperialism and all the forms it takes is the true opponent.


The Ukrainian national anthem. It's rather good


The UK government shocks observers with a host of new genuinely conservative bills

The government of Boris Johnson has faced an endless list of accusations since its accession to power in 2019, except for one: being too “conservative.” In fact, the Johnson government’s impotence at meeting the expectations of the Brexit movement, its complacency about the Channel migrant crisis, and its endless praise for multiculturalism and diversity, have led some to question its conservative credentials entirely. That is why Tuesday’s list of new policy proposals, announced during the Queen’s Speech, were met with a certain degree of shock.

To the casual observer, the main story of the day was that Queen Elizabeth II could not attend the ceremony in the Houses of Parliament, and her eldest son, Prince Charles, filled her role for the day. He was tasked with presenting the government’s 38 new bills that will determine the government’s policies for the coming parliamentary season. Some among these are well worth noticing, because for the first time since leaving the clutches of the EU, the British government is demonstrating the virtues of political freedom and national sovereignty, for which the majority of British citizens voted for in the Brexit referendum.

Chief among these bills is a Bill of Rights, which would help fulfill the conservative dream of replacing the much-despised Human Rights Act. The new Bill of Rights would enshrine freedom of speech in law, protecting it from the attacks of woke and politically-correct activists. It will also protect people’s right to express their views against European-style privacy laws that have muffled a number of newspaper reports about the rich and powerful in the past.

Crucially, the new bill will impede foreign criminals’ ability to use human rights laws to fight deportation to their country of origin, or against those who use human rights legislation to shorten their jail sentences. The myriad of human rights cases that are currently bogging down British courts will, in the future, be prejudged by the courts on their merit, before they can be allowed to proceed in front of the judges.

In a sign the government is beginning to prioritize national security in accordance with the present threats the UK faces at home and from abroad, the Queen’s Speech included a National Security Bill, that will update current spy laws, making it easier to prosecute leaks of classified data to foreign governments or terrorist organizations. Foreign interference, sabotage or the theft of trade secrets will be punishable by life sentences, in the case of serious offenses.

In line with current affairs the government has also announced an Economic Crime Bill, that is likely aimed at avoiding national scandals, such as Russian and Arab oligarchs laundering their ill-gotten money through British companies. If the bill passes, those aiming to establish a firm in the U.K. will have to verify their true identity with Companies House, a government controlled register. Crime fighters will also get new powers to seize cryptocurrencies from suspects, something that was exceedingly difficult to do with the current legislation.

A newly proposed Online Safety Bill will tackle social media companies if they fail to remove harmful or illegal content from their platforms. They can be fined in the tune of 10 percent of their global turnover in case they do not comply. Newly reintroduced duty of care plans will protect users of these websites from attacks or harmful information. It remains to be seen though how this bill is going to be implemented, as most understand that regulating online content, apart from extreme examples, can be a double-edged sword, and can impede the freedom of speech, which the government is allegedly trying to protect.

Perhaps one of the most interesting, and popular of the new bills will be the Public Order Bill, which is aimed at stopping radical political- or eco-activists from causing havoc and economic damage. In the past, radical climate protesters brought anarchy to Britain’s roads during peak hours, blocked newspaper printing and delivery companies, or chained themselves to gas stations, causing unquantifiable damage to ordinary citizens as well as companies. Once the bill is introduced, offenders will face a maximum jail sentence of up to six months.

Furthermore, local governments will be banned from introducing boycotts against the products from certain countries, as some did against Israeli products in the past. Such misguided policies championed by far-left politicians have been blamed for a rising antisemitic sentiment in parts of Britain.

The new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is another attempt to stop the extremist, often violent protests at student campuses and British universities, which have in the past prevented a number of public figures from delivering speeches or from visiting campuses. The government will introduce a complaints scheme for staff, students and visiting speakers who believe that their right to freedom of speech was violated. Universities and student unions can be punished for violating these new rules.

The proposed Brexit Freedoms Bill 51 will abolish the 1,400 EU laws still actively used in Britain, with Johnson looking to accelerate economic growth by ending inherited EU red-tape.

These bill proposals, and the government’s imminent introduction of the deportation of channel migrants to Rwandan processing centers, creates the impression that the conservative government of Boris Johnson has finally gotten the message from its core voters. They are not interested in supporting a conservative party that aims to compete with the Labour Party for left-wing voters. The Conservatives are currently some 5 points down against Labour in the polls, but the legislation introduced during the Queen’s Speech is a true testament to Boris Johnson’s exceptional survival instincts.




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