To my Russian Friends

As some of you may have noticed, I already have made attempts to exercise my English here to engage with non-French-speaking audiences, addressing matters that would resonate with them in particular. So I have written « letters » to my British and American friends, evoking the Brexit and « Trumpism », respectively. Today I am writing to you, but making a substantial difference with these earlier posts: sharing my concerns about the blindness/stupidity of their respective political leaders, I would onboard the fact that, be it in the UK or US, citizens would, at some point in time, have their say about the domestic and foreign policies of their government. This is obviously not the case for you, who have been experiencing Putin’s leadership for two decades now, and have no reasonable prospect of seeing it ending before another good amount of years. My point is: whereas one can, in a way, « blame » British or American folks for the wrongdoing of their political class, one enjoys no such thing as political agency when an ordinary Russian citizen. So, assuming most of you did not and if so, not enthusiastically, vote for the « United Russia » party and/or do not openly endorse Putin’s leadership, the below is not about pointing any finger at you, my friends. It is about, if anything, sharing some thoughts from a more western part of Europe about what’s going on between Kharkiv and Lviv these days.

St Petersburg, May 2008

At the time of writing, Russian armed forces are devastating Ukraine, as decided by Vladimir Putin. The plan beyond annihilating Ukrainian military capacities is pretty blur at this point in time – should the complete destruction of the Ukrainian forces actually happen: it smells though like the general idea would be to replace the current elected Ukrainian political leadership by one that would be strictly obedient to the Kremlin, a Lukashenko/Kadirov-like puppet which eyes would definitely not be turned on the West. Now, would that come with a Russian military occupation of the country and for how long is unclear. Still, the claimed political rationale that led to this invasion is well-known: Russia’s safety would be at stake, should Kiev join the NATO, and the NATO did not commit to deny membership application to Ukraine, whilst Ukraine has strongly voiced its willingness to join. Therefore this « preemptive » military action. Over and above the fact that unilateral military strikes are ALWAYS being justified by an alleged « imminent threat » – e.g. the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is worth noting that, should this further extension to the east of the NATO ever happen, would it be more driven by a Ukrainian request than by western strategic considerations. Because the NATO is, as such and since its origins, the closest thing to an insurance policy when it comes to… Russian (formerly labeled as Soviet) military invasion risks. That’s why countries like Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to name a few, happily joined it in the early 90’s – History would tell them that such invasion risks were not hypothetical. Having said that, was it a good idea this US-led organization – with an unchanged agenda – to come so close to Russia, which leadership is so obsessed by the collapse of the USSR? Probably not. But should have Ukraine already joined the NATO wouldn’t have Putin moved an inch, that’s also very probable. Anyway: beyond the « Never-again-Barbarossa syndrome » that led Stalin and his successors to build and consolidate a collection of « buffer states » on their western borders, fact of life is that Putin works under a software that is no longer in western leaders’ brains since 1945: a software whereby a war in Europe is a diplomatic option like any other, as long as « country greatness » objectives are being achieved.

Some of you may not believe it, but you need to know that in a country like France, there are relatively prominent political leaders who have relentlessly and openly supported Putin’s agenda. Whereas until the late 80’s you had communist folks who would advocate for the « homeland of socialism » no matter what, since then the Kremlin fan-club mostly gathers far-right politicians and activists, on top of a few guys on Putin’s payroll like former PM François Fillon (who just resigned yesterday from his seats at Sibur and other Russian state-owned company boards). What’s driving these « useful idiots 2.0 » to endorse Putin’s software is a mix that can be briefly summarized as follows: 1) The eternal fascination of the far-right for authoritarian power; 2) A durable hatred of America – at least for the tolerant, liberal, multiracial version of it and 3) The idea that Putin’s Russia would stand for the last stronghold of the « white race », where there would be no such thing as multiculturalism (cf. point 2). Additionally, to make sure the picture is complete: Putin’s payroll also includes some of these people, like Marine Le Pen who was lended Euro 9 millions, during the 2017 presidential campaign, by a Russian bank (FCRB). This far-right admiration for Putin’s Russia is of course fueled by/overlaps with the large online production from conspiracy theorist morons, who would consider RT a honest media and CNN a propaganda tool. This kind of « political orientation » obviously also exists in other European countries, where ultra-nationalists and/or neo-fascists of all kinds in Hungary, Czechia, Greece, Germany… meet Putin’s need of a « soft power » capability in Europe. It is therefore a cruel irony that Putin justifies his attack on Kiev by claiming that the capital city of Ukraine needs to be « de-nazified » (a punch-line meant to revive the memory of the « great patriotic war », I guess). But it’s probably not because of this claim that far-right « Putinists » in France have suddenly become less enthusiastic about « your » president since last Thursday: fact of the matter is that publicly supporting the head of the Kremlin is no longer a saliency that would help building your image-as-a-leader in these times of presidential elections. Especially when, like Eric Zemmour (a newcomer in the far-right political arena, a « journalist » who made a success with a mix of racist hatred and « good-old-times France » nostalgia), you have stated on television early December: « Ukraine’s problem is not that it is threatened by Russia (…) Russia, I bet you, won’t invade Ukraine ».

Putin, in France and Europe, has made the friends he deserves. As far as Russia is concerned, I have no clue how much support he can expect – even if he technically doesn’t give a crap, anyway – from those who, so far, have not been labeled as « foreign agents ». I’ve seen that tens of thousands have bravely demonstrated against this war and that over 3,000 arrests have been reported all over your country. I may be naive but I like to believe that the attack on Ukraine could be the one-too-many initiative from « your » die-hard president: spreading death in Chechnya, Syria or even Georgia may be somewhat « OK » for the man-in-the-street. But Ukraine stands for a less « foreign land » than the others, I know for sure that your two nations are historically and culturally embedded. To a point where more and more people would open their eyes and say « enough is enough », and that this eventually would help you getting rid of this greedy tyrant, who knows?

In the meantime, let’s all hope that this brutal aggression is not a sparkle that would ignite an even broader fire…

Take good care of yourselves

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