Aleksandr Podrabinek: If your gunsight isn’t working. On the choice of target [Radio Svoboda]

30 June 2022

by Aleksandr Podrabinek

Source: Radio Svoboda

If the sight of your weapon isn’t working. you most probably won’t hit your target. This is axiomatic. It doesn’t need proving. If in war time you see your enemy not where he actually is but where it is more convenient or pleasant for you to see him, your chances of winning the war are seriously diminished.  An inaccurately defined target leads, at best, to a pointless loss of resources and, at worst, to defeat. I will clarify immediately that I am just as interested as the Ukrainians in the success of Ukrainian weaponry. More so even since, through the triumph of justice in the event of a Ukrainian victory, there will be greater chances of the fall of Putin’s authoritarian regime and the restoration of democracy in Russia. The chances aren’t great but they are there. And that’s better than nothing, which would be the case in the event of a Ukrainian defeat.

The inaccuracy of Ukraine’s aim lies in the fact that Russia rather than Putin’s regime has been defined as the enemy target. The simplification is understandable in war time but it gives rise to a great deal of stupidity,  meaningless hatred and erroneous judgement.  It is stupid, for example, to think that Ukrainians would behave differently to Russians in conditions of a dictatorship because Ukrainians are innately freedom loving and Russians innately slavish. This comical stupidity is refuted by at least two simple examples. In the eight years of the occupation of Crimea, the peninsula’s Ukrainian population have not once protested against the Putin regime, not even in a peaceful protest much less with weapons in their hands. Only the Crimean Tartars at the very beginning of the occupation attempted to protest, for which many of them paid with their freedom. This is not to reproach Ukraine’s Crimean residents but to understand the fact that a despotic regime quashes any civic opposition immediately and with room to spare. In the conditions of a dictatorship, everyone behaves more or less the same. 

Russia and Ukraine will remain neighbouring states

Another example is the Ukrainian diaspora in Russia, around 3.5-4 million Ukrainian citizens come to Russia to earn a living. They don’t go to demonstrations in Moscow and other cities to defend their homeland. Like the Russians, they are very well aware what a threat that would pose to them in authoritarian Russia. Once again, this is not to reproach Ukrainians lacking a conscience or a lack of patriotism but to understand what Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship is today. 

It is also possible to understand the flare up in the mass consciousness of dislike for everything Russian but when journalists with the wisdom of experience write that “Russians as a state-forming nation are the enemies”, this is a blatant stretch and hypocrisy. In times of socialism, these same journalists fitted beautifully into the Soviet context, suffering not in the slightest from the fact that they were living in Soviet Russia and sharing responsibility with that “state-forming nation”. 

Assimilating the enemy into the image of a whole country undoubtedly simplifies the propaganda perspective and keeps interethnic hatred at the required level. This is convenient in war time but glance a little ahead and this approach proves counterproductive. Russians and Ukrainians are fated to live side by side and living with mutual understanding is better than living with hate. Clearly, Ukrainians cannot reach such mutual understanding with today’s Russian authorities but it must also be grasped that the authorities and the people are not one and the same. The Russian soldiers going berserk in occupied Ukrainian towns aren’t the whole people either. Nowadays, the Russian authorities have called for violence and have given the freedom to commit crimes to the very lowest of Russian society but, firstly, this is not all the people and, secondly, it’s not forever. Regimes change but countries and peoples remain. Dmitry Medvedev’s calculations that in two years’ time Ukraine will no longer appear on the world map are as ludicrous as the cannibalistic dreams of some Ukrainians that after the war there will, instead of Russia, be a blank space with no state or population. It won’t happen. Russia and Ukraine will remain neighbouring states. 

The big question is what will these states be like. Ukraine’s democratic potential today is far greater than Russia’s and thank God. Given this difference in potential, however, tension is inevitable. Despotism will always strive to engulf democracy. Insulation from despotism is impossible. It is a natural threat to its neighbouring countries. Democratic changes are the only way out.  Only by this means can democracies be rid of a permanent threat on their borders.

Some politicians are lured by a simple option – fencing themselves off from the problem country with a sturdy wall: “Do what you like at home, just don’t come over here.” It’s a simple approach but an ineffective one. The experience of the 20th century convincingly demonstrated that the desire to expand is inherent in totalitarian regimes. As soon as they manage to boost their military potential, they come crashing down on other countries, their neighbours as a rule. 

What’s the way out of all this? Take correct aim! Ukraine’s enemy isn’t Russia but the authoritarian regime run by “president” Vladimir Putin. This regime is hostile to both today’s Ukraine and to the democratically oriented part of Russian society. A great deal more could be achieved in the way of allied relations with the opponents of the dictatorship. Naturally enough, brotherly love won’t be achieved any time soon but living in peace and safety would be possible. 

Translated by Melanie Moore

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