Staunton, November 19 – There are “no influential forces in the Kremlin now” calling for peace in Ukraine or with Russia’s other neighbors, independent Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet says. There are only various groups calling for war and differing only on when, where and how to carry out a full-scale war with Ukraine.
In a commentary on Colta.ru, Sheremet says that one might call some of these restrained imperialists and others unrestrained, but in fact, they are all advocates of war, largely because there are influential groups in the Russian elite who currently see themselves as profiting from it even if Russia as a whole will not.
“The Russian ruling elite,” he writes, “does not consider the Ukrainians to be people or more precisely a united people or a strong and unified nation.” Instead, they look down on them, and that attitude is both reflected and reinforced by Moscow media coverage, coverage that currently is not challenged as it would be in most countries.
This elite is bothered by Western sanctions, but “on the other hand,” it sees them as providing a justification for acting even more “harshly and quickly” in pursuit of the goal of “the dismemberment of Ukraine.” That may seem an overly severe judgment, Sheremet says, but it is better to face up to “a bitter truth” than to live with “a sweet lie.”
The world and the countries of the post-Soviet space in particular are living through “a critical moment in history.” No one knows precisely how it will end, and no one today can say for certain whether Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine are the beginning of the restoration of a Russian Empire or the beginning of the end of Russia itself.
From Putin’s perspective, Russia’s war in Ukraine has helped him solve for the time being the domestic problems he had been facing. But there are no “pluses” for the Russian people, there is no justification for what Moscow is doing, and there will not be any “happy end to this story for Russia.”
But Putin will continue because he is not responding to current reality but rather is being driven by his own psychological demons, demons that became part of him because of his experiences in East Germany and his sense that a regime that looks powerful may collapse overnight if it shows any weakness or willingness to compromise or retreat.
According to Sheremet, “that experience made Putin an easy target of manipulation by those who see the world through the prism of the Soviet model of the world and its customary anti-Americanism.” And the Belarusian writer points to three groups which are pushing the Kremlin leader along a path of least resistance for him.
The first of these groups are the military and the military industry sector, whose leaders are only too happy to boost their own careers and incomes by increasing tensions and engaging in expansionist military operations, arguing that all such things are for the good of Russia as a way of concealing how good they are for each of them.
A second “large group” of those “lobbying for war with Ukraine” are the oligarchs and their allies in the bureaucracy, Sheremet says. “These are not businessmen but they are not bureaucrats either.” Instead, they are people who are always on the lookout for new things to seize. Ukraine appeared and appears to them as yet another opportunity.
And the third group are the journalists and analysts who have been only too willing to be swept along by “the propaganda wave” and not challenge anything the Kremlin says, however outrageous that may be. In other countries, the media are divided: In the US, “for every CNN there is a Fox News.” But not in Russia.
As a result, he says, “the gap between reality and its interpretation by Kremlin propagandists is rapidly on the increase,” with the interpretation overwhelming reality in the minds of the leadership.
The only way out of the current disaster, Sheremet suggests, is if the elite could come up with some project that “would allow President Putin to retain his image as father of the peoples but also protect the country from confrontation with the civilized world.” That might take the form of replacing the war with Ukraine with a “total war on corruption.”
Tragically, there are practically no chances for that to occur, Sheremet says, arguing that as Spengler wrote on the eve of World War I, “optimism at the present is simply ordinary cowardice.”