Seven Reasons Why Putin’s War in Ukraine is a Turning Point in Russian and World History

April 21, 2016
Flag of Donbass People's Militia April 2014. Photo by Andrew Butko.

Russians’ Approach to Politics Inconsistent and Paradoxical, Sociologist Says

Staunton, VA, April 21, 2016 –  New polls showing more than half of Russians regret the demise of the USSR and that 40 percent of Russians do not believe the state is meeting its obligations to them have attracted a great deal of attention.

But a third survey conducted by Irina Vorobyova of the Russian State Humanities University may be the most important because it focuses on the paradoxes and internal inconsistencies of the approach of Russians to politics, political self-identification, and expectations.
Her study, “Contradictions and Paradoxes of Political Orientations in the Structure of the World of Russians,” (Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, no. 1 (2016), has been presented in detail on the Tolkovatel portal.
According to the sociologist, “only 20 percent of Russians take an active interest in politics,” but much larger shares identify as patriots, nationalists or liberalist. The usual explanation for this divide, she says, is that Russians “delegate” politics to the government; but she reports that only 20 percent believe the authorities are honest.
Russians’ interest in politics has been falling for a generation, Vorobyov reports. In 1987, 54.4 percent of Russians said they were actively interested in political life. But by 2013, that figure had fallen to 27.1 and now it is even lower.  And over the same period, the share of those with no interest in politics has risen almost 1200 percent.
The sociologist points to another paradox in Russian views as expressed to survey researchers. On the one hand, Russian value the democratic rights and freedoms they have acquired; but on the other, “they are quite skeptical about the institutions called to transform democracy into life” and believe that they need a strong state with a tough leader.
Another paradox Vorobyov points to is that “the political identification of Russians” with this or that trend “does not always directly correspond to their electoral choices.”  She argues that this reflects an increasing desire of Russians to support a center as in the central power and the center of the spectrum.
 Yet another paradox among Russians about politics is that “the high level of support for the powers that be” is combined with an equally high level of alienation from the state, “a lack of trust in the majority of government institutions,” and the conviction of the majority that the state does not serve their interests.
Vorobyov concludes that this leads to a situation in which “the population supports the authorities”  not because the latter meet their needs but because the population is afraid of changes and the possibility that however bad things are, they could as a result of any change get worse.
The sociologist concludes that “in Russian society there exists massive support for the authorities alongside a low level of trust in specific government institutions and a sense that the authorities do not support ordinary people” and that “the desire to have democratic rights and freedoms exists in parallel with support for a strong state, a firm hand, and paternalism.”
It is likely that these paradoxes, which reflect a specific national set of experiences, explain many of the other poll results often citied, including those which appear to represent radical breaks with earlier positions but in fact simply mirror the divisions and contradictions within Russian minds.
Seven Reasons Why Putin’s War in Ukraine is a Turning Point in Russian and World History
Staunton, VA, April 20, 2016 –  As the world’s attention shifts, many Russians and many in the West are telling themselves that Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has been a war like any other regardless of whether they support it or not. But in fact, as Arkady Babchenko points out, this has been something else, “a point of bifurcation” and a fundamental turning point in Russian and world history.

Citing the Russian commentator’s words with approval, US-based Russian commentator Kseniya Kirillova lists seven reasons why Babchenko is right, reasons that no one should forget or even worse dismiss as the world “moves on” from Ukraine and Russia to other issues.
First, as Kirillova points out, Putin’s war in Ukraine began with the Anschluss of Crimea, the first time since World War II that “one state in Europe annexed part of another sovereign state.” That action “violated all the recognized borders in Europe, the entire system of guarantees and international treaties which existed in the world and the world order as such.”
Second, the Russian intervention was based entirely on lies rather than reflecting real concerns. There was no ethnic genocide against ethnic Russians, as Moscow charged, nor did the regime that emerged from the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity represent “a fascist junta,” as Putin continues to say.
Third, despite the obvious role of Russian troops in Crimea and the Donbass, Moscow has denied they are there, only occasionally acknowledging what it can’t say isn’t true but confusing the situation enough for some to allow them to include the Kremlin’s version of reality in the list of all versions.
Fourth, Putin’s war in Ukraine has been marked by “a particular level of cynicism and shamelessness” by Russians who have no excuse not to know what is going on in Ukraine, a country with which they have shared many, and instead have been willing to believe whatever the Kremlin and Kremlin TV tell them.
Fifth, as Kirillova writes, “the war in the Donbass has destroyed all those values on which the Russian state had been based and had supported in recent years,” transforming Russia from a country aspiring to be a modern European state back into an evil empire and dictatorship.
Sixth, “the war in the Donbass has irreversibly changed Russia itself” by involving far more people in the criminal activities of the Russian state and leading them to lie about what they and that state are doing and to become increasingly hostile to anyone who questions what Putin and they are doing.
And seventh, the war has “irreversibly changed Ukraine and the place of Russia in the post-Soviet arrangement of the world” by promoting hostility among peoples as a whole, attitudes that undermine the principle of citizenship and cooperation and that will not be overcome for decades and perhaps longer.
For all these reasons and more, Kirillova concludes, “the war in the Donbass really has become a turning point not only in Russia but even in contemporary European history. All of the consequences of this are not yet recognized or even fully manifest. But the longer Russians” – and one should add all others – “close their eyes to them, the more pernicious these will be.”