Beware of Russians

June 28, 2023  

No more appeasement .

The recent “almost civil war” and  “imminent coup d’etat” in the Russian Federation has caused some turmoil and, at its conclusion, recognition that it was  “much ado about nothing.” Putin and his former chef  Yevgeny Prigozhin notwithstanding, Russians remain in control. The only positive result may be that the brutal Wagner forces may be out of the war in Ukraine, only to be replaced by equally brutal but less capable Russians. Those most hopeful, or at least with the most vivid imagination, perhaps forget that Putin and Prigozhin are peas in a pod or equally war criminals with the only difference that one has been issued a warrant for arrest by the International Criminal Court.

A Ukrainian from the RF, Marika Semenenko, recently pointed out in “The Moscow Times” that opposition leader Navalny’s closest adviser, Leonid Volkov,  described activists who demand Russia’s decolonization as “freaks.” Navalny’s supporters continue to repeat that the war in Ukraine is “Putin’s war” and that the Russian people are its victims. The chairwoman of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Maria Pevchikh,  has described the regime’s authoritarianism as domestic abuse. In any event, one thing is abundantly clear, Russian liberals who oppose Putin continue to support Russian hegemony over ethnic non-Russians from the national republics. Many extend that hegemony to include Ukraine and Belarus. 

It is important to note that the so-called Russian liberals have not issued any statements of condemnation, oral or written, about the atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by the Russians in Ukraine, whether they be of the Wagner or Russian standard defense variety. Recently, “The New York Times” reported about a newly liberated village in Ukraine’s  Donbas which revealed graffiti that can be attributed only to Russian soldiers, rank and file, expressing not only vitriolic hatred towards Ukrainian civilians but total disregard for their mutilation, and, in fact, satisfaction. 

Political pundits, experts, and fortunetellers are equally accurate. No one can tell how the Russian invasion of Ukraine will end. The West continues to foster diplomatic talks and continues to arm Ukraine in order allegedly to enhance Ukraine’s bargaining position. There is nothing wrong with that position.

There is a long history of the civilized world’s dealing with Russia almost as if Russia was a normal partner or adversary. Marika Semenenko makes a very salient point in comparing Russia to other empires. Her distinction refers to empires of the second and now the third millennia but does not include China as a similar empire. The Russian empire is not separated by oceans. It is essentially contiguous. There is a long sharing of history. While the British and other empires were cruel, they never sought complete assimilation and always recognized their colonies as such. Russia purports to incorporate its empire under one umbrella, at least in the case of Belarus and Ukraine. 

The history of Ukraine clearly predates that of Russia and thus becomes a sine qua not for Russia’s right to Ukrainian lands and history. What kind of a respectable empire would Russia be if its origin began only in the XII century and, even then, was founded by a Kyivan exile prince only to serve for three centuries as a vassal state to Turks and Tatars?

The West has a very difficult time understanding Russian culture and psyche. Putin, Prigozhin, and Navalny are all Russian imperialists. Putin and Prigozhin are killers and war criminals as well. Navalny has simply not had a chance.

Suggesting and urging an end to the war in Ukraine with a diplomacy option is essentially negotiating with war criminals. If Putin would come to the negotiating table, would the warrant for his arrest as a war criminal be withdrawn and then expunged by the International Criminal Court? And what could happen within twenty-four hours following the ceasefire?

Ukrainians certainly do not want to find out. They do not want to put Putin out of his misery. They need to put Russia out of everyone’s misery. 

For that to happen, the national minorities in Russia have to be heard. Ukrainians would breathe a sigh of relief if Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other so-called independent “stans” were free of Russian pressure and the Bashkirs, Buryats, Chechens,  Circassians, Erzya,  Kalmyks, Kazan Tatars, Sakha, and other nations heinously persecuted by Russia could raise their national flags and join the community of free nations via the United Nations. That would be a just and lasting settlement. Anything less would be yet another form of appeasement. We know how well appeasing Russia works. 

Askold S. Lozynskyj