I’ve long had a soft spot for Russia. Or, more specifically, for her people. Since I studied there in my youth, I’ve felt a deep-seated affection, verging on kinship, for this complex – and so frequently misunderstood – nation. Add now, as my heart goes out to the brave people of Ukraine, I cry also for the people of Russia. For a nation whose potential seems destined to remain forever unfulfilled.
The people of Russia have long been exploited by those who would purport to lead them. Used as mere pawns in a greater political game. Whether it’s Grand Princes, Tsars, Emperors, General Secretaries or Presidents, those who have sought to serve the interests of their nation, rather than to pursue some personal or ideological vendetta, remain the exception. And it is the Russian people who suffer.
The current incumbent of the Kremlin, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, continues this depressing trend. We in the West have treated Russia poorly, driving her away rather than drawing her in. And we’ve too frequently turned a blind eye to Putin’s domineering tendencies and acts of aggression. But nothing excuses Putin’s invasion – and I say Putin’s invasion, rather than Russia’s, entirely deliberately – of Ukraine and the death and suffering that this has wrought upon Ukrainians and Russians alike.
This invasion is not a rational act. It is the act of a fading autocrat. A leader divorced from reality and fearful of discussion or debate. I’m no psychiatrist, but Putin is clearly a bully. He knows only the language of force. He mistakes strength for greatness. He knows only how to destroy, not how to create. And he is a coward. He lacks the courage or the political imagination to build a Russia for the twenty-first century. And so he retreats to a past that exists only in his mind.
And now we are experiencing the inevitable consequences. Ukrainians are dying. Russians are dying. And now we, too, have cause to be fearful, as Putin taunts us with the nuclear button. Seeking to convince us, and quite possibly himself, of his continued relevance in today’s world. I don’t know how this will all end. But I doubt that it will end soon. And I doubt that it will end well. For anyone.
I know and have known many Russians. All of them kind and thoughtful people. Deeply fond – proud, even – of their county. And desperate for Russia to become an engaged, productive and respected member of the international community of nations. But this future remains so desperately out of reach, as long as Putin and his ilk remain at the helm. And so my heart goes out to the brave people of Ukraine. But I cry for the people of Russia, too.