About 15 years years ago, I remember having a brief chat with a Latvian of Russian parentage in a ski lift. He was young, rich, materialistic (his ski gear cost more than my holiday lol), shallowly-Western, and, of course, optimistic.
But did he feel Latvian, or Russian, I wondered.
He ducked the question.
I persisted. I asked him what side he would be on if the Russians sent their tanks over the border.
His eyebrows shot up; and he scoffed at the idea; insisting that we were “all friends now“, and intimated that I might be living in the past.
I’ve worked with Russian business-people. They have a particular culture, and it is not Western. Putin’s approach – a mix of secrecy, strategic lying, self-pity, and macho inflexibility – is not just a trait peculiar to him, it’s not uncommon in Russian business culture – see my post about the time a Russian businessman asked me to draft an assassination clause:
Westerners, nice bourgeois well-meaning Westerners who abhor violence and who pay their parking tickets, don’t really get Russia. It’s well-intentioned, but it is an innocent form of cultural arrogance, or, at least, a form of stupidity – to assume that a bloke with the same refrigerator as you thinks the same as you do.
People need to read more books. Proper books, ffs. You learn nothing reading woke modern navel-gazing fluff about “my journey“. The West has been in a wishful-thinking / naivety bubble.
Perhaps it’s because they never read enough Russian literature?
Never overlook the insights that a careful reading of great literature can give you into the mindset of a nation. Reading the Russians is no hardship, of course; Russian writers have been some of the finest that ever put pen to paper. You could read a Chekhov story ten times in a row and still enjoy it. I love them; ditto their great composers – complex, intense, wonderful. Of course, even when we do read them, we still may only see that which we wish to see. The West loved Solzhenitsyn’s anti-Communism of course, but chose to gloss over his less-palatable flip-side, namely his deep-seated convictions re the impossibility of Russia ever being like the West:
In a previous post, the most pertinent quote is the one in the article by Françoise Thom, lecturer at the Sorbonne:
“Reading the Western press, one is under the impression that nothing is happening. Westerners do not seem to understand what is at stake. They think that only the fate of Ukraine is being decided ...”
As Russia now openly bombs children and as some of its more unhinged MPs now openly call for nuclear strikes on the US and call for mass-hangings of Ukrainian civilians, one wonders if the penny slowly is starting to drop among well-meaning and somewhat gullible Westerners? Perhaps now they may accept that deliberate Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians might be a disproportionate response to the existence of NATO … Too many Westerners fail to understand that, regardless of NATO, Putin struggles to cope with the mere idea of a prosperous democracy on his doorstep. Not only does Russia have no soft power (and Putin knows that), but Putin is contemptuous of the very idea of soft power in any event. Russia cannot entice, and will not entice. Binary. If it isn’t invading you, it’s feeling threatened by you. Westerners, especially younger Westerners, generally miss that. All that talking to Putin before the invasion lol.
My view of Russia is as it always has been – Russia will out. It’s in its nature. It’s been an imperial power for centuries. Culturally, its elites have always been contemptuous of democracy; and, culturally, many of its citizens expect no better.
Nevertheless, if there is a half-sane ending to all this, with some sort of stability for Ukraine, and someone less-egotistical than Putin in charge in Russia, the West needs to: (1) have a plan to avoid the mistakes made at Versailles in 1919, and start to rehabilitate Russia; and (2) accept that Russia will always do some things differently, and to be realistic about where it can go politically.
Ugly fact alert: Western countries forget that China and Russia have vast, and variegated territories, and democracy may not always be the best way of keeping a lid on such sprawling places. It’s barely working in the US these days, ffs. Never make the mistake that people in other places think like you do, or that structures and approaches which work in your country can be transplanted into a different country.
It also points up the utter futility and self-indulgence of our various whining oppression Olympians (identity politicians of all hues, anti-vaccine freedom fighters, Brexiters) – when you see what real aggression and real tyranny looks like, pretentious onanistic bullshit about “micro-aggressions“, or “vaccine tyranny” or “tyranny of the EU” is more than ever indicative of a collective mental disorder.