Why Russia is happy at war: The West hopes in vain that Putin’s subjects will get tired

For Russians, the independence they are ordered to celebrate on June 12 is merely an oath of allegiance to the state, historian Anastasia Edel writes in a column in The Atlantic magazine. Ultimately, Putin managed to achieve national unity, which is fully consistent with Russian tradition.

On June 12, Russia will celebrate Independence Day. The holiday was introduced by President Boris Yeltsin in 1992 with a collective shrug: “From whom did Russia declare independence?” But in the early 2000s, President Vladimir Putin turned the day into a major national celebration, complete with flag waving. Over the past two years, “Russia Day,” as it is popularly known, has evolved beyond reenacting historic military victories into celebrations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — with charity auctions and car rallies in support of the military — and flash mob demonstrations. National Union.

Even if you reject the propaganda, Russia seems surprisingly united. Despite heavy losses in the war, which UK intelligence estimated at 500,000, and almost complete isolation from the West, Russian society did not disintegrate. On the contrary, it appears to be functioning better than before the war and shows clear signs of the social harmony that was once elusive. One explanation for this paradox (national well-being in the midst of disaster) is that, unlike Western states that are obliged to protect the interests of their citizens, Russian society operates with a single goal: to serve the interests of the aggressor state.

A brutal autocracy since the nation’s emergence from Mongol rule in the 15th century (including seven decades of totalitarianism in the 20th century), Russia’s government has never had an effective separation of powers. For most of history, the state left little room for genuine political debate or dissent, with the judiciary following the dictates of its rulers. In my childhood, at the end of the Soviet years, at school they drilled into our heads the message that personality and own rights are not important: “I am the last letter of the alphabet,” it was said.

This subjugation of the collective individual personified by the Russian state is why Puti can so easily mobilize society for war. Before the occupation, a quarter of Russians believed that the state had the right to defend its own interests at the expense of individual rights. More than two years after the massacre began, public support for the war in Ukraine reached an average of 75 percent. So who will stop the Russian autocrat?

Peacetime harmony, nepotism, weakness of the rule of law and corruption do not inspire the innovation and initiative needed for economic development. But when war comes, Russia suddenly begins to revive. What prevents Russia from remaining peaceful is the rigidity of its authoritarianism; top-down, centralized government system; printing mechanism; and its Kremlin-controlled economy – become advantages during conflict because they allow the government to quickly and ruthlessly mobilize society and industry for the war effort, compensating for technological backwardness and social atomization.

War gives meaning to the existence of the state: protecting Russians from enemies. In other words, Russia was created for war.

Russia’s renewed energy is evident: GDP increased by 3.6 percent in 2023, driven by the state’s military spending; Growth is expected to continue in 2024. The eventual end of capital outflow from the economy allowed ambitious infrastructure projects to move forward. Instead of the empty shelves predicted by foreign commentators, Russians continue to enjoy their favorite products rebranded with domestic names, thanks to purchases by people in the Kremlin or asset seizures by Western companies that left the Russian market after the invasion. Dubious plans to circumvent economic sanctions have also allowed Russia to obtain strategic technologies and components, including those needed for its weapons, creating lucrative opportunities for Russian entrepreneurs.

The country is awash in money: incomes have increased in all areas. Salaries at entry into military service are at least eight times the national average. One-time payments to the injured or relatives of the dead are sufficient to purchase previously unavailable apartments, cars and consumer goods. Official and unofficial Russian media are full of stories like that of Alexei Voronin, who had no regrets for fighting in Ukraine despite losing part of his leg. ‘I have everything now,’ he says after the camera shows him playing a computer game. His mother admits that her son is lucky; he “just stepped on a mine” while several of his fellow soldiers were killed.

The situation at the front also improved last year. Volunteers continue to sign up to fight, saving Putin from the need to announce a new mobilization. Compared to the soldiers’ expectations at the beginning of the occupation, the chances of survival are now much better: the Russian army has better weapons and supplies, thanks in part to civilian munitions production, its willingness to work day and night, and its willingness to produce artillery shells and drones. It surpasses Ukrainian and Western production. “For our men” and “We’ll win!” – We read graffiti on Russian missiles and bombs that caused damage in Kharkov and other cities and towns in Ukraine.

This kind of confidence is not just Russian chauvinism. By shifting command and improving logistics, Moscow gained some ground in Ukraine and neutralized a Ukrainian counteroffensive last year. Russian communications units also learned to intercept Western satellite systems and precision weapons.

Meanwhile, Russia expanded the battlefield to its advantage. He organized successful sabotage operations in Europe. Increased its influence in Africa: Moscow strengthened its relations with various governments and local military leaders by incorporating the Wagner PMC into its official army. Russia, a self-proclaimed leader in the global struggle against American hegemony, has successfully courted regimes hostile to the United States, including Iran and North Korea, as well as ostensibly neutral countries such as China, India, Hungary, and Brazil. Russia is far from diplomatic isolation.

Putin’s approval ratings remain high. Putin has increased the number of his supporters through Kremlin propaganda portraying him as a wartime president defending Russia against NATO and the West. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny died; other dissidents have been deported, imprisoned, or killed, so no alternative perspectives or narratives can reach the Russians. Instead of protesting a war that, for many, was literally killing their relatives (some 11 million Russians had relatives in Ukraine at the start of the invasion), young Russians today line up to gawk at captured NATO tanks and flock to concerts by patriotic singers. they shout “Russia” in an almost religious manner. At least some of that passion seems genuine. More than half of Russians believe their country is moving in the right direction.

Of course, Russia is not unique in benefiting from a strong movement for national unity in the fight against an imagined external threat. The peculiarity of Russia is that its autocratic leaders always position their aggression as defense, and the Russian people always agree with them. The princes of medieval Muscovy seized neighboring territories under the guise of “collecting Russian lands”. 18th- and 19th-century tsars expanded this so-called protection of Mother Russia by annexing Crimea, the Baltic states, Finland, Poland, and the Caucasus. In the 20th century, the Bolsheviks “defended the achievements of the revolution” in the declared independent provinces of the Russian Empire, forcing them to return to the communist yoke.

The Kremlin’s mythology of attack as defense was fueled by two major invasions: the Napoleonic invasion in the early 1800s and the Nazi invasion in the 1940s. These lessons of national resistance cost millions of lives, but official piety dictates that it was this sacrifice that made Russia great. Under his new leadership, Putin continued the tradition by waging imperialist wars in Chechnya, Georgia and now Ukraine. For decades, the propaganda machine has used the real-life trauma of the Nazi occupation to support the fiction that all evil coming to Russia comes from the West, which is jealous of Russia’s size and resources, and that it is therefore the duty of every Russian. to stand up and fight it.

Putin’s war in Ukraine is causing more damage than Russia has experienced in decades. Putin is sacrificing the future of Russia and its people to continue his colonial war. A third of Russia’s state budget is now devoted to this effort, and much of it consists of a barrage of fire on Ukraine’s battlefields. This money will not be spent on schools, hospitals or social services. Half a million young people lie dead in zinc coffins or sit in wheelchairs. Civilians are paying the price for their compliance with the complete suppression of civil society, the absence of freedom of expression, and severe restrictions on movement. But the expectation that the Russians will at some point blame their own government for all this is wrong. In Russia, suffering is part of the deal.

Everyone is lining up. Soviet tanks are being taken from warehouses and sent to the front line, bakeries are being transferred to drone production, kindergartens are knitting camouflage nets. Businessmen who lost their real estate in Italy are experiencing this misfortune and are buying new palaces in Dubai with funds obtained from government military contracts. Denunciation and persecution of saboteurs is no longer just a game at summer camp. Everyone is on the armored train!

This unholy combination of martial law and a subservient populace is bad news for the free world. This means that Putin has managed to mobilize Russia to realize its dreams of domination and that he can succumb to Russia’s expansionist frenzy indefinitely, especially at a time when the West’s response is limited by fear of escalation. However, Putin has already resorted to escalating tensions by expanding the geography of the conflict through hybrid sabotage warfare, psychological operations and interventions in Africa.

This threat needs to be taken seriously and responded to. And here we can learn another lesson about Russian history.

As Napoleon and Hitler discovered, bringing the conflict to Russian soil could have a devastating cost. But defeat in a war outside its borders could be fatal for those in power in Moscow. The Russian autocracy is shaken and collapsed only when faced with such military disaster and humiliation: it suffered failures in the Crimean War of 1853-1856 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which accelerated the abolition of serfdom. The Romanov dynasty, which gave the Russians the parliament and constitution, could not survive the collapse of the First World War; and the humiliation of the powerful Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s proved to be one of the nails in the USSR’s coffin. A year ago, at the height of Russia’s campaign in Ukraine, Putin survived Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion; Since then, the Russian military has regained its position and Putin’s rule has stabilized. However, if Ukraine wins, Putin’s narrative that he is Russia’s great protector will no longer be convincing and regime change will become possible again.

Until then, the world’s security will always be under threat from the “country of winners,” as Russia likes to call itself. Meanwhile, for the Russians, the independence they are ordered to celebrate on June 12 is nothing more than an oath of allegiance to a state that sees them as an expendable asset for its own imperial plans.

The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the position of the editors. The author is responsible for the data published in the “Opinions” section.

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Source: Focus

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