Grim anniversary

Sombre reflections after the first 365 days of the war in Ukraine

Grim anniversary
Participants of the ‘Veterans of Russia’ movement carry a wreath to the Unknown Soldier’s grave during an event dedicated to the Defender of Fatherland Day, Moscow. Photo: EPA-EFE / MAXIM SHIPENKOV

When Russia, having lost all conscience and reason, invaded Ukraine a year ago, no one thought that the war would last so long. Pessimists believed that Putin would take Kyiv, even if not in three days, then in two weeks. Optimists believed that having received a punch in the face in the first few days, he would declare victory — he defended, they would say, the Russian language in Donbas — and return to the positions of 23 February.

A year has passed. The war continues, and no one knows how long it will last.

But some consequences of the war, the way it changed the world, and changed it forever, are already clear.

I’ll start with Ukraine. I will not talk about the loss of people, the destruction, the incalculable suffering, or about the fact that all this will continue for some time (no one knows for how long).

When you think about what this country has done there, a wave of hatred fills you. But the idea is not only to curse but also to understand.

The main result of the year of the war for Ukraine is that not yet having won the war, Ukraine has already won its future. Yes, the post-war recovery is going to be long and difficult, but from now on, Ukraine will always be an independent country, and under no circumstances will it become either a colony or a vassal of Russia. In political and military terms, Ukraine will take the position of one of the leading countries in Europe. Like Israel in the Middle East, it will remain for a long time an outpost of the Western world on the borders of Russia or on the borders of a conglomerate of states that may arise in its place. The fantastic authority in the world that Ukraine has earned during this year, and the admiration for the courage of Ukrainians (“it’s not Ukrainians who fight like heroes, but heroes fight like Ukrainians!”) will be important factors contributing to its growth and international influence. The impact of the language and culture of Ukraine will be incomparably more extensive than before. And all this regardless of what territories will be liberated by Ukrainian soldiers and when.

The West is also changing. This transformation is not limited to the consolidation of NATO and the accelerated production of weapons. Faced with a threat that has not been equalled for eighty years, and gradually realising it, the West begins to return to itself — to the West of global creation and the era of great geographical discoveries, to the West of not only technological but also moral leadership. Of course, the West is still thinking of what is better for it, a quick victory for Ukraine with the risk of Putin taking fatal steps, a positional war that would exhaust him, or an agreement with him, which basically would be appeasing the aggressor. But, judging from the way the supplies of offensive weapons are unfolding, with different countries rushing to join these supplies, to transfer at least something to Ukraine, the heirs of Churchill and de Gaulle, not Daladier and Chamberlain, are winning. Those who are winning embody the spirit of the Polish lancers attacking the tanks and the spirit of those who rose up to the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. The European civilisation has changed, thanks not so much to pragmatism and rationality, as to its principles and values. And although politicians are inevitably prudent — and this can be partly seen in their help to Ukraine — this alone does not explain the actions of the West.

When Western leaders say that they “stand by” Ukraine for the values of freedom and human dignity, these are not only beautiful words but also true.

And for Russia, things are looking bad. Putin has started a war that cannot be possibly won at all, as it is a war to destroy a huge European country. In Putin’s picture of the world, Ukraine is a curiosity, a misunderstanding, and it should not exist. That’s why the causes and goals of the war are constantly changing: first, it was to defend the people in Donbas and to destruct laboratories that make Russian women infertile (as was claimed by the Russian TV propaganda), then it became a direct battle with Satan himself. While the truth cannot be spoken, to both Ukraine and the world it has long been clear. Therefore, this war cannot end with a compromise — the purpose of the war did not envisage a compromise. Ukrainians cannot agree that they simply never existed. The war will either go on indefinitely, or it will end the same way as in 1945 — with the complete military and political collapse of the aggressor. After all, today’s Russian state, sadly enough, is the reincarnation of the regime that also bombed Kyiv at four in the morning long before 24 February 2022.

There is no way for Putin to win. This will not be allowed not only by Ukrainians but also by the West, which gradually realises that the current Russian regime poses an existential threat to European civilization. There is an understanding that had he won in Ukraine, Putin would not have stopped, as Adolf Hitler did not calm down after capturing the Sudetenland and Austria, but went further. The West is beginning to understand that Zelensky is right when he says: well, you don’t want to fight, but if we don’t win, you will have to fight! Pay attention to how this understanding is changing the rhetoric of the leaders of Europe — the president of France is already speaking like the president of Poland!

This all means that the West will not stop until it destroys or repeatedly weakens Russia’s military machine. The economic consequences, no matter how much Putin puts on a brave face are obvious.

However, our immediate future is not only poverty and technological backwardness (direct consequences of this war). The number of people who have left Russia over the past year is already comparable to the scale of the emigration after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Only in our new Exodus, the proportion of educated and highly professional people is even higher than at that time. Surely, there are still plenty of people capable of being deputies of the State Duma in Russia, but who is going to work? The people who emigrated didn’t leave in search of a better life. They fled from the war that Putin unleashed.

Since the Civil War, Russian society has not experienced such a deep moral crisis as the one it is going through now. There has not been such a schism since then — literally brother against brother. There have never been (or have not been for a long time) such total lies and cynicism. There has never been such justification or even encouragement of murder and violence, as when bandits are declared heroes. Even in Brezhnev’s time, there was no such huge distance between the people and the state, when the Government does not care about the people and the people pay with the same coin.

The farce with Putin’s address to the parliament perfectly illustrates this: he talked about something that only he seemed to understand, but no one listened to him. And the world treats us the same as it treated the Germans in the forties.

It is clear that this cannot end well. The authorities have no other alternative but new repressions and tightening of ideological control, measures which will get more and more idiotic as time goes on. There will be absolutely no air to breathe.

And keep in mind the probability of Russia’s collapse, which is unlikely to be a peaceful affair.

In general, there are more and more chances for Russia to become just a geographical concept. And all this is a consequence of the war unleashed by one person in the name of his illusions. Plus, of course, the consequence of his policy in recent years.

We have little chance. There will be no popular uprising or resistance to mobilisation. and other outrages will take the form of evasion, and distancing, but not mass actions. Uprisings against such regimes happen only when they themselves, for internal reasons, begin to stagger. Despite the heroic behaviour of the many, the opposition will not be able to overthrow this regime — it may be unpleasant to hear it, but it is true.

The real threat to the system is an intra-elite conflict, most likely a coup d’état. The elites, of course, are extremely dissatisfied. They don’t care about Russia, no doubt, but the war has destroyed their lives as well. Of course, they are on the alert: is it time to betray the leader, or is it too early? Which is more dangerous, loyalty or rebellion? However, Putin understands this too, and his security measures, which amuse everyone so much, may be a direct consequence.

The last straw for loyal comrades, who have long been gnashing their teeth with rage, will be the liberation of Crimea. That’s why Putin will hold on to it at any cost.

If a coup happens, it may result not in a democracy, but a new dictatorship, which, since the dictator will try to earn the forgiveness of the West, will not be as crazy as the current one. Most likely, there will even be a series of dictatorships, each of which, if lucky, will become more and more rational, moving, conditionally speaking, from Pol Pot to Roh Tae-woo or Pinochet. And so, gradually, we will be returning to normal life.

Then the people who cherished plans for social-economic programs and political reforms, who consider Russia part of Europe, and who preserved the spirit of hope in their inner emigration and the emigration itself, will be especially relevant. And it will become clear that the resistance to state insanity was deeply meaningful, and the sacrifices were not in vain. And not only because the struggle was imperative from a moral point of view and allowed each of us to preserve ourselves, not go crazy and not become alcoholics. This struggle, without leading us to rapid success, was preparing the ground for the revival of the country —a slow one, but a revival. So do not despair and do not give up.

And do not blame me for being so grim. It’s the war! It’s been a year.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.