Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Harrumpf post lamented the indiscriminate demonisation of all things Russian. My argument was that it was unfair to the large number of Russians who loathe what Putin has done to their country, and that, being unfair, it was likely to be counterproductive, so far as any hope might exist that Putin could be overthrown. Better, I felt, and still do, to cultivate the sense of a ‘good Russia’, the better to make the case that there is a place for Russia in the family of civilised nations, if only they can find a way of getting rid of Putin and his inner circle. And if that means overlooking some of the misdeeds of his ‘outer circle’, it’s probably a fair price to pay to get the madness to stop.
Since those early days of the present conflict, Russian-bashing has persisted, and been rewarded, if at all, by an increase in support for the Kremlin. Two aspects of this appetite for Russia-bashing strike Harrumpf as especially perverse.
The first is the decision of Poland and the Baltic countries to refuse access to Russians either wishing to visit them, or attempting to flee Russia. Now, of course, careful scrutiny of emigres, to guard against fifth columnist infiltration, is to be expected. That said, however, the flight of Russia’s brightest and best is surely a major source of anxiety for Vladimir Putin, and one we should all be doing our best to exacerbate.
So far as that large segment of Russia’s population which is neither particularly bright nor especially good, but nonetheless relishes the joys of travelling beyond the borders of its mother country, it’s clear that a key reason Putin is able to gull so many of his subjects into believing the twaddle he peddles about the West is that so many Russians are strangers to the internet, and depend wholly for their news and views on the Russian TV and press, both of which he controls. So, the opportunity to let them experience the dismal truth that when Russia isn’t waging unprovoked war on her neighbours, Westerners give it scarcely a thought, and to return to Russia to share this intelligence with their neighbours, is one not to be missed.
The other baffling bit of Russia-bashing concerns sport. When the International Olympic Committee proposed to compel Russian and Belorussian athletes to compete as ‘neutrals’, that was apparently not good enough for some Ukrainians and their sympathisers. This is baffling to me. Every time a ‘neutral’ athlete competes, the audience is reminded of Putin’s bastardry. On the other hand, every time a Russian or Belorussian athlete doesn’t compete…. silence. I’m pretty sure that if I were Ukrainian, I’d prefer to have Russians and Belorussians competing, and preferably doing well, so that the word ‘neutral’ gets maximum exposure.
It seems Harrumpf isn’t alone in believing that reflex Russia-bashing is hindering Ukraine’s war effort, not helping it. According to Mikhail Kordokovsky, dissident oligarch and vociferous Putin critic, the demonisation of Russia plays straight into Putin’s claim that the war in Ukraine is being fought in defence of a Russia beset by malign foreign interests bent on her subjugation.
That many of the voices calling for the demonisation of all Russians are Ukrainian just makes the whole thing even more baffling. Those of us who long for a Ukrainian victory should surely be doing all we can to diminish the faith ordinary Russians repose in Vladimir Putin and his gang of thugs. Many ordinary Russians have behaved reprehensibly in the last 15 months. We must be prepared to overlook a good deal such behaviour, if it brings closer the bigger prize of toppling Putin. A few very brave Russians have dared to defy Putin, and are paying a grievous price. As Kordokovsky says, we do these brave souls no favours by thoughtless Russia-bashing.