22 October 2022
By Aleksandr Podrabinek
The attacks by Russian armed forces on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure signal a transition to a new phase in the war—preagonal, more than likely. War against a civilian population is the result of military impotence. The withdrawing from the front lines, the pointless mobilization, the forcing of patriotism on citizens, and the mounting universal chaos in the country have pushed the Kremlin to make an insane decision: not only to bomb housing in Ukraine but also to boast of this tactic as an important military achievement.
A DANGEROUS ROUTE
Of course, there’s nothing new about this. During World War II, both warring sides enthusiastically destroyed each other’s civilian infrastructure. After the victory, the Nazis’ allies were charged with war crimes for this. One of the charges in the Nuremberg tribunal’s verdict was “the senseless destruction of cities or villages.”
In this way, the Kremlin is taking a dangerous route. Russia’s leaders may be inspired by the fact that none of the victors were ever held responsible for their war crimes. No one was ever charged for the militarily pointless bombing of Dresden and other German and Japanese cities or for the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians perished.
Unfortunately, however cynical this sounds, to avoid accountability, you have to win. Here the Kremlin’s chances are few, the entire world is against Russia, but most important, justice is not on its side.
A NEW TACTIC
Russian state propaganda is doing all it can to convince its consumers that war against the civilian population of Ukraine is a new tactic: successful and promising, uplifting Russians’ fighting spirit. However, it is only going to be able to convince an insignificant percentage of the Russian “patriots” who have been embittered for life over this and, oddly enough, the foreign observers who blindly believe the successes of Russian state propagandists.
Their conviction that Russia’s inhabitants view the bombardments of civilian sites in Ukraine “either indifferently or approvingly” is Kremlin propaganda’s true success. The Kremlin is passionately interested in the whole world being convinced of Russian society’s solidarity around president Putin and their support for his aggressive policy.
The facts attest to the opposite, though. Hundreds of thousands of refugees not wishing to bear moral responsibility for the war have left Russia since the invasion of Ukraine began. From 700,000 to 1 million of those who have no desire to participate in the war have fled to other countries since the mobilization began. In the three months since the law against discrediting the army appeared, more than 2,500 people have been fined under this article for an amount totaling nearly 86 million roubles.
In the first half of this year, 161 verdicts were handed down under the criminal statute on public calls to change the constitutional order, and another 126 were issued for “justifying terrorism.” In the first six months of this year, Russian courts heard more than 16,000 cases for participation in unsanctioned rallies, the absolute majority of which were antiwar. More than 14,000 people have been fined a total of 171 million roubles, about 1500 have been put under arrest, and 361 have been sentenced to mandatory labour.
AN ABSENCE OF UNANIMOUS SUPPORT
You might say this is very little for a country of 146 million. You might agree that this is no way to stop the war and more serious efforts are needed. But you might say just as accurately that these numbers attest to the absence of unanimous support for this aggressive war in Russia. The thousands of people protesting openly attest to the millions of silent dissenters. Yes, you might reproach them for cowardice, for reluctance to risk their freedom, for excessive attachment to their families and the joys of life at liberty.
But you cannot accuse them of indifference or approval of the war. Pretentious foreign observers who so easily write off the entire people as Putin’s accomplices are one way or another supporting the Kremlin narrative about “the unity of the party and the people.” Anyone who lived during the Soviet era remembers that propaganda slogan. Unfortunately, there’s nothing surprising in the fact that some propagandists are using the very same propaganda construction to create a false impression of universal support for the state and by others to falsely accuse the entire society of supporting the dictatorship.
Translated by Marian Schwartz