From Republic.ru, Oct. 4, 2022, https://republic.ru/posts/105517 Condensed text:
It seems like those who thought Vladimir Putin started the war in Ukraine [see Vol. 74, No. 8, pp. 9‑13] because he wanted to be remembered in history as an emperor and an empire builder, including myself, were wrong. Perhaps this was his rationale in the early days of the blitzkrieg, but after his military plan failed, Putin’s ambitions only grew bigger. Like a cornered rat, he is not just ready to go berserk and attack everyone at once – he is already doing so. And I am not even referring to his “partial mobilization.” That, after all, can be written off as a botched military maneuver. I am talking about the attack on an underwater pipeline outside Russian and Ukrainian territory [see Vol. 74, No. 39, pp. 7‑9]. No matter who was behind the attack, no matter what their purpose was – what it means is that the war is no longer limited to Russia and Ukraine. And now anything can happen. We may see transatlantic fiber optic cables cut (naturally, Russia will strongly condemn the attack and call for a thorough investigation). Or we may see a liquefied natural gas tanker torpedoed by a submarine (and again, Russia will be outraged and demand an investigation). We have seen this tactic before. It was used in the killing of [Federal Security Service defector Aleksandr] Litvinenko and in the downing of Flight MH17 [see Vol. 66, No. 30, pp. 3‑6]: “We had nothing to do with it! Here are 40 alternative scenarios! We call for an investigation!”
This war has evolved into something bigger than just an empire-building project. It is what [American political scientist] Samuel Huntington described as a “clash of civilizations.”
In case you haven’t read the book, the idea is as follows: Now that the bipolar world (with the West and the Soviet Union as the two dominant forces) is gone, the world will be largely shaped by several civilizations clashing with each other. Each civilization is a group of countries sharing a common culture. And the central element of culture is religion. . . .
One thing that Huntington did not foresee is that borderlines between civilizations will not necessarily coincide with national borders. Yes, he did describe Ukraine as a “cleft country” (torn between eastern territories heavily influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church and western territories with strong European influence). But the actual situation has turned out to be much more complex. Even countries that are entirely incorporated into a specific civilization can also find themselves torn between two civilizations. Moreover, even individuals can be “cleft” between civilizations. This became obvious in the early days of the war, when Europe started acting in a purely Russian fashion: impulsively, with abandon, taking no prisoners, without carefully calculating potential outcomes. The economic sanctions imposed on Russia sent gas prices through the roof, making the war not just sustainable for Putin but even profitable. As a result of the sanctions imposed on banks, which made Russian bank cards useless abroad, the money that could have escaped from Putin’s regime together with emigrants ended up being locked up in Russia (not to mention the huge problems this created for the people fleeing from Russia). Simultaneously, channels of culture capable of presenting the Western lifestyle to Russian people (like Netflix) shut down their services in Russia. And there are many more examples like these. I have always admired the West for its rationality, but these days it has vanished without a trace.
Actually, the algorithm for undermining tyranny is well known. Ronald Reagan used it to bring down the “evil empire.” Historian and Russia expert Richard Pipes, who served on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, describes it in great detail in his memoir, “Vixi.”First, you have to impose heavy costs on the empire every time it tries to expand. Second, [offer] no loans. Third, [impose] export controls on technology. But, at the same time, [allow] consumer goods exports (as this helps drain the empire of hard currency). Instead, Europe acted just like the German retail chain REWE, which proudly announced in self-righteous indignation that it would no longer sell Russian groceries. I used to buy pretty good borscht at REWE. Now I can’t because REWE has banned Ukrainian borscht, punishing its manufacturer in Tartu, Estonia, and its importer in Rosengarten, Germany. What a smart way to punish the aggressor!
This irrational, overzealous indignation, which is so uncharacteristic of the West, is not the only fault line that has manifested itself. There is another one that is at least as dangerous.
I am referring to the new trend of ignoring people, their dignity and their rights, when it comes to people from Russia.
I don’t mean global Russophobia, a myth invented by Kremlin propaganda. I am talking about what happened after Russia launched its mobilization campaign – when Poland, Finland and the Baltic nations shut their borders in the faces of Russian men fleeing from military service (who were welcomed instead by Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Uzbekistan, which proved to be much more Western than Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). Furthermore, they did not just close their borders; they even offered an ideological reason for doing so: “Deserters have no business coming to Europe. They should stay in Russia to topple their Putin instead.” I could perhaps understand when emotionally distressed victims of war say such things (although, come to think of it, no, I can’t). But now a friend of mine in Berlin sends out invites to a rally demanding exactly that. I wrote back to her explaining that Russian people can’t protest and topple Putin for exactly the same reason Germans did not protest and topple Hitler in Nazi Germany, to which she responded that my sacrilegious remarks insulted the memory of Nazi victims, which is a criminal offense.
This sounds crazy, but there are many people like this. They blame draft dodgers for running away instead of storming the Kremlin bare-handed. This position is not just irrational (because such a protest would be immediately broken up by heavily armed riot police, or even tanks, the same way the Chinese authorities quashed Tiananmen Square protests with tanks – and then protesters will be seized and sent to the front line, where they will have to fire their weapons at Ukrainians). It treats Russians as if they were a subhuman species of sorts: “Since it is your fault that you allowed Putin to grow into such a monster, you should all die. We don’t feel sorry for you.” I am horrified when I see some people expressing such feelings who most certainly read Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”in their youth and sympathized with the protagonist, war deserter Lieutenant Henry.
By the way, this brings us to yet another fault line. Civilizations clash over the issue of collective guilt. I thought this matter had been sufficiently studied in Western postwar literature. I will only mention “The Question of German Guilt”by Karl Jaspers. Collective responsibility does exist: The whole nation is responsible for their country’s actions. But collective guilt is a terrible idea. The Holocaust was based on the concept of collective guilt: To Hitler, all Jews were guilty. The practice of decimation is based on the concept of collective guilt. I am horrified when I see the idea of the Russian people being collectively guilty spreading through Europe (“This war is your fault – all of you, including your imperial Russian culture, starting with Pushkin and Dostoevsky – you are all guilty.”) And I see how many people support the idea that the entire Russian culture should be banned, or at least kept out of sight – simply because it is Russian.
The reason I bring this up is not just to point out this harmful trend – and not even to lead us to an obvious conclusion: Putin will most definitely take advantage of these fault lines in Western civilization, of these cracks that give rise to ideas that are totally Putinist.
He knows how to do this. Somebody pointed out accurately that Putin’s Sept. 30 speech, deceitful and ignorant as it was, was written with a view to winning the sympathies of left-wing radicals in the West.
No, the reason I wrote about this is because I can see the cancerous spots of this barbaric, brutal civilization, which seeks to destroy the civilization of Enlightenment, developing even in people who seemed perfectly healthy. Until recently, I only saw this happen in Russia (for example, this is what happened to my former friend [pro-Kremlin anchor] Dmitry Kiselyov, who lost every bit of humanity); but now the same thing is afflicting people living in the West, including Russian people living here.
Russian people living in the West have a totally different mission. Their mission is not just to preserve their own humanity and avoid falling into the trap of irrationality; they should also explain to Westerners what Putin is and why his ultimate goal is to destroy the entire Western civilization – and why chances are he will not hesitate to target key European and American cities with his nukes.
We, those who are familiar with both civilizations, can feel it in our bones.
Unfortunately, Westerners are slow to see what we see.