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Putin's own Victim: Russia

Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, western news media have repeatedly deployed the collective terms ‘Russia’ and ‘Russian’ – to identify them as the perpetrators of the carnage and, equally, to put them dead-centre for western punitive penalties - for example, ‘Russian’ sanctions to hamper the ‘Russian’ economy.


There can be no doubt that Putin is a dictator. In the September 2021 Russian Legislative elections ‘Mr Putin's biggest critics were barred from running, and there were reports of ballot stuffing and forced voting.’ (Rosenburg, 2021). At the same time, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was also barred from observing the Russian elections, with COVID used as an excuse for such restrictions (OSCE, 2021).


While there will be some Russians who support the murderous actions of Putin, it is wrong to tar all Russian people with the same brush as their dictator-president - as witnessed by protests, brutally suppressed, in towns and cities across the nation. In my own experience, having lived in Saint Petersburg until the invasion, I can attest to the moral and political revulsion felt by many ordinary Russians to this invasion.


The western response, while understandably seeking to punish Putin and his supporters for the invasion of Ukraine, inevitably hurts the Russian people as the draconian array of sanctions screw down on the Russian economy. 


In the early days of the invasion, with all flights cancelled, and credit cards no longer working, I was able to escape from Russia by bus to Estonia. I am now safe back in the UK, and life is back to normal – my credit cards work, I can buy food, I can speak freely - but I have left behind so many Russian friends who are now trapped in a dangerous and repressive state, facing a bleak future of rising prices and shortages (particularly of Western pharmaceuticals), and dashed hopes and prospects. 


For example, my Russian friend, Ivan*, a 21-year-old student in Saint Petersburg, discovered on Sunday that, despite his excellent degree in International Relations, he will no longer be able to travel to Germany next year to undertake a Master’s degree.  That has been devastating news to him, having cherished for years, the aspiration to further his education on an international stage. Now Ivan finds that his degree has become near-worthless overnight, and his opportunities to leave Russia diminish as Europe restricts foreign travel visas and Putin limits foreign currency holdings.  Even worse, Ivan now faces the frightening prospect of being conscripted, into the Russian Army, with minimal training, to fight in a war that he wants nothing to do with.


It is clear that Putin is willing to sacrifice the Russian people for his personal vanity and ambition, with a population facing the prospect of increased poverty and inflation, further destabilising a country with an already turbulent history.
While bad enough, all this is, of course, nothing to the misery currently being inflicted by Putin on Ukraine.


 *Name changed for the security of a friend


Reference List


 


OSCE (2021) No OSCE observers for Russian parliamentary elections following major limitations [Press release]. 4/August. Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/russia/494488 (Accessed: 13 March 2022).


Rosenburg, S. (2021) 'Russia election: Putin's party wins election marred by fraud claims', BBC, 20 September. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58614227 (Accessed: 13 March 2022).


 


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