Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Thoughts in a troubled time

5 March 2022

by Viktor Kogan-Yasny, writer, political and civil society activist and commentator, advisor to the chair of the Yabloko party


On Putin

What is Putin doing in politics? My friend Yury Volkov suggested that he sees himself as a ‘Lone Samurai’ – he has no goal, but ‘he has his own way of doing things.’ He always strives to demonstrate his tactical superiority over those with whom he is dealing. I’ve seen this before. This is very sad, even when a person has no power. And if they have power, it is very disturbing. In a variety of ways, we see this kind of thing here and there in post-Soviet politics and in public life, although rarely to such an extent. We can say that this is a kind of Bolshevism. You can look for analogies in Germany in the 1930s, but they will certainly be very superficial. The situation is completely different. But the general point is that tomorrow’s goal is set depending on whether today’s goal by some lucky chance was achieved, or not. The main concern is the suffering of people. In terms of what it means for our society, the leadership of the ‘Lone Samurai’ is strategically dangerous since it is based on increasing ignorance, petty approaches to major problems, and, along with these, bursts of irrational nationalism.


World War III

The decision to start World War III is a tragedy, a tragedy for the citizens of Ukraine who were attacked, a tragedy for the Russian soldiers who have been dragged into it, a tragedy without end for the whole world. This tragedy will become part of our everyday life, and not everyone is destined to survive. The question of guilt will arise seriously later. Now what we have is tragedy, suffering and the consequences which will never be overcome. You can overcome these consequences only by putting a final end to cruelty, to the indifference to people’s lives and to lying, and this is not to be expected.


P.S. What has been done is not a reaction to certain failures in negotiations, not a reaction to the lack of concessions. Just the opposite, it seems. Concessions were very possible. But concessions by Ukraine and the West in the negotiations over the Minsk agreements and the non-expansion of NATO would not have changed anything in the course of history. And this is exactly what has become evident in the course of diplomatic attempts at settlement. Putin has his agenda, which is a struggle against the course of history, a war with history, and in this he wants victory over everyone. And this is the problem for absolutely all of us.


I don’t want to put add icons of flags, since this applies to everyone
For whom and at what moment it will become harder and more frightening, I do not know.
Everyone needs, among other things, patience. This is vital to stop the aggression against Ukraine. We will overcome!


It is difficult to say this, especially now, but: the judgmental stances of some EU figures regarding ‘all Russian citizens’ are very harmful and inappropriate. As for Russian generals and propagandists, I want to say: Take up guns yourselves and go to war. Then I can offer the glib European officials to exchange their passport with mine and see what happens. And at the same time ask them what they personally did to prevent this war.


A Note in the Margins. On Shame

I’ve been living for quite a long time. And for almost half of my life – it so happened, due to my place of permanent residence – I have been a citizen of the Russian Federation. This does not in any way alienate me from other countries of the former USSR. But I live here, in Russia, in Moscow, and, therefore, I bear a certain moral political responsibility. First of all, for what Russia does in terms of its politics. So: I am ashamed of this Russia, terribly ashamed for almost all those thirty and a half years that it has existed. I feel shame for her way of addressing the world and for her habits, for her ‘brand name.’ For her way of ‘solving’ all acute issues by deception and force, by manipulation, counting people as nothing, by ‘playing God’.

The idea that the ‘good’ can and should ‘shoot well’ at the bad (a destructive approach, by the way, if you think about it, for the traditional ‘Russian matrix’) first clearly made its appearance in October 1993 when the Supreme Soviet became a target for shooting and the there was a brutal suppression of street protests after Yeltsin’s sudden decree to suspend the constitution in force at that time. The war that began in 1994 ‘for the demilitarization of Chechnya’, was accompanied by carpet bombing that destroyed the city of Grozny which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of very diverse people of many different nationalities. It probably changed forever the mentality of this small Caucasian country that once breathed its peculiar charm. The shame I experienced then I remember and still can’t fully express it. (Then, out of shame, I did something good and a lot of stupid things: for all its validity, shame is a very subjective and ‘inexperienced’ thing). My shame knows no ends for the state that fought terrorism at the Dubrovka Theatre by shooting people who were asleep from the effects of gas, who were said to ‘ resemble’ terrorists in their appearance. And for the subsequent successful campaign to justify this ‘playing God’ both inside the country and in the West.

I have never been to Georgia, but I am personally ashamed of an event I was told about when Georgian female soldiers, seeing the journalists’ flag on the door of a Russian military car, lowered their rifles, and were immediately killed. I am ashamed of Russia’s role during the troubles and tragedies of Ukraine during the Kiev Maidan of 2014, for the special operation in the Crimea, for the provocative policy that made the residents of Donbass hostages.

And now I’m ashamed again. Just because I live here and there is very little I can do. For others, other countries, other peoples, other leaders and officials it can also be extremely embarrassing. The world is now a glass house and personal shame even unwittingly acquires global outlines when you see and know what is happening. It is impossible to localize it. But what is done on your behalf, what is being decided, as it were, next to you inevitably becomes the main and dominant cause for shame…

To all those who are now saying and writing that for the first time they are ashamed of Russia and Putin and for their helplessness, I really wish you a long life. And I hope that your sense of shame will not last a very long time, and that you will have no reason to experience all this later, not for the first time…


The Courts

The higher the position and professional level, the greater the responsibility… All war crimes must be investigated, the perpetrators must be brought to justice and punished. It would seem impossible. But this must be said. Otherwise, crimes will be repeated over again, or responsibility as a notion will simply evaporate and ‘everyone’ will be said to be responsible. Or random people will be held to account.



The Russian national team, after the first information about the obvious attempts to seize cities, should refuse to play against such a background or express support for the position taken by the football unions of Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden. Unfortunately, the statements of the Russian Football Union and the national team look formulaic and absurd. Smolov, as I read, expressed himself beautifully, he has well done.



National archetypes of consciousness are generally peripheral (romantic nationalism of the XIX century was, let’s say, not quite correct in its philosophical roots), and even more peripheral in the globalized world of universal communication, in the global ‘glass house’. But they exist. And chauvinism feeds on them: arrogance, compensation for various psychological complexes clings to anything in his untruthful life.

‘It is good and right for us, because it is ours,’ is obviously a bad and incorrect notion. Chauvinism was a hidden part of the state ideology in the USSR and chauvinism was not only large-scale, directed against the West, but also small, provincial in scale, creating a ‘small’ quarrel between peoples against the background of the ‘great friendship of peoples’: a small ‘ours is better, yours is worse’, which, to some extent, served as one of the psychological channels of distraction from real problems. Until the ‘small’ becomes the ‘large’…

Exalting the self against the background of an inferiority complex. And if it is used, exploited intentionally, then this is criminal. But it opens up a great many opportunities for unscrupulous gains – and for the unscrupulous to preserve what they obtain.

Democratic competition, by the way, almost everywhere in the world turns into a competition between various kinds of chauvinism: one has to praise and flatter one’s own people almost everywhere…

And if we have in mind that the thirst for power can be insatiable, and at the same time exercised with caution, and at the same time regularly sets ‘active tasks’ to strengthen personal power through chauvinism, then we have continuous crises and troubles, until something puts an end to it …

For Russia, with its objectively difficult living conditions, to this is added the habit of obedience, an attitude that ‘ life should not be like honey’, or, to bring it to the point of absurdity, ‘happiness in misfortune’. And, additionally, this complicates the task for achieving self-criticism and the search for freedom and justice. The oscillation between self-flagellation and self-aggrandizement has become the archetype and justification of chauvinistic authoritarianism.


Tragedy and Chaos

Wherever weapons are used, the situation is extremely tense and painful. Kiev, Kharkiv, Kherson, – and Donetsk, Gorlovka. In the world, human energy inevitably brings not just development, but also chaos. Yesterday’s civilization is in many ways probably irreversibly gone into the past, and its seemingly unshakable achievements will be devalued. Who needs computers if they can be taken away? Who needs cloud storage if you disconnect results in data loss? Who needs basic electronic household items if the opportunity to purchase and use them for private life, for life support, maintaining contacts and personal security is removed by government crimes?  How can one ‘in a bad country’ acquire the necessary medicines, overcoming a double barrier: from one’s own government and from informal sanctions, that swiftly and indefinitely are following those formal and rationally developed by state institutions? Humanity now lives – the part that does not die – one day at a time. How long can this go on? The question is very serious. A question for everyone who wants to preserve a weak but very ordinary and real petty-bourgeois civilization. We don’t have another one. A banal answer to the question of who is to blame, along with who is most to blame and whose blame comes afterwards, is of no use. It does not help in any way.

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