By the fifth month of the war, Russian public opinion about the so-called "special military operation" has divided roughly into three camps. On one side there is a camp of the bloodthirsty. The motto of their party is simple: "Not a step back! Wipe the Ukrops [derogatory term for Ukrainians sometimes used in Russia] and their cities off the face of the earth! And if they resist, we'll hit them with a nuclear weapon! They will all die, and we will go to paradise." On the other side, there is a camp of those who oppose the war, with its well-known rhetoric: "War is evil! Putin is a war criminal!”
The camp of doubters
There is no point in discussing the positions of the two opposing camps: they have nothing in common, their views of the world will never converge, and most importantly, they are a minority. It is much more important and interesting, as it seems to me, to talk about those in the middle, the camp of doubters, the people who reason like this: "War is evil, but...". And this "but" is usually followed by versatile opinions:
- in war, it is always necessary to support one's people;
- now that Putin has started this war, we can't afford a defeat, or else Russia will be ruined.
At first, I thought this rhetoric was a light addition to the program of the "bloodthirsty," a kind of manifesto of "decent patriots": it seems wrong to support the mass murder of Ukrainians, but even worse to wish the defeat of Russian army. But when I started to hear echoes of this rhetoric in the discourse of many people, including those whom I consider decent, I realized that we are talking about a much more widespread phenomenon.
It makes no sense to change the minds of those who think that people — whatever their nationality — should be killed. It is like trying to talk sense using references to Tolstoy into an ax-wielding maniac lunging at you. But I think it is important to look at the arguments of the doubters because to a large extent their opinions and actions determine when the war ends and what happens to Russia next.
In war, you need to support one's people
It is always difficult to oppose your army because such actions are usually fraught with accusations of treason. Not only in the criminal sense of the word, but also in the social sense. "No matter where we fight, we have to support our army," is the way many people think, even those who would never have voted for that war in the first place.
However, this argument does not stand up to criticism because history knows many examples when citizens opposed and even fought against their country's army if it waged unjust wars. I will not list them all but mention only the one with which even Russian propaganda cannot argue. It is the Red Orchestra
This is what the German Nazis called the Resistance movement in Germany and the countries of Europe during World War II. Among the opponents of the Nazi regime were both the most ordinary Germans — journalists, lawyers, priests — and high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht. From school we know: German Nazis were villains, German anti-fascists, many of whom were executed for their activities, were heroes. Today no one can deny that the Germans who fought against Hitler's army made the right moral choice. Even Russian propagandists and today's supporters of the war in Ukraine think so. (You can read what they write about it here: 1, 2, 3.)
The Red Orchestra example reminds us once again: if your army invades a foreign country, destroys entire cities with rockets and tanks, massacres civilians, rapes women, and declares some people worthy of annihilation, there is no shame in speaking out against your army. It is a shame not to do it.
If Russia loses, it is ruined
This argument migrated from the propagandists' handbooks into the heads of "decent patriots." For four months, the Simonyans, the Solovyovs, the Kiselyovs, and others have been scaring everybody that if Russia does not win, it will turn the planet into nuclear dust. This rhetoric is not primarily aimed at the West, but at its population, so that they will tolerate the war in awe until the authorities declare final victory, and will not for a moment wonder, "Maybe enough is enough?"
This trick works. "The war has already gone so far that as much as I hate Putin, as much as I was originally against all this crap, now we have no other choice. If we don't win, Russia is simply ruined," an acquaintance of mine, whose cognitive abilities and "decency" I never doubted, told me.
Well, let's agree with this argument for the time being. And let's try to imagine what will happen in the opposite case — what if Russia wins?
Let's imagine that Putin's most desired dream came true. Kyiv has fallen, Kharkiv has fallen, Odesa has fallen, Kadyrov is dancing lezginka in front of the Ukrainian presidential administration holding Zelensky's severed head, Shoygu on a white deer hosts the victory parade, Medvedev has been pulled out of his drinking spree and appointed Gauleiter of Little Russia, Macron and Scholz are calling Putin to apologize, but they cannot reach him because he — the father of the nation, the collector of Russian lands — stands with an unperturbed face on the podium on the Maidan square and calmly, with the awareness of his rightness and the greatness of the historical moment, looks at the many kilometers long column of captive Banderites shuffling along the Khreshchatyk.
Have you imagined it? Now let's ask ourselves a question: "What happens next?" No matter how we spin this question in our heads, we still end up with essentially two options:
- either the Russian army will withdraw from Ukraine, leaving behind mountains of corpses, destroyed cities, and a new puppet government represented by the "golden loaf" owners who fled Ukraine in 2014;
- or the occupational troops will remain in Ukraine until...
As for when they leave, we'll talk about it further.
So, Russia won. What should the army do next? Leaving Ukraine is not an option at all. We all know the ease with which Ukrainians overthrow an unwanted government. After the last Russian tank crosses the Ukraine-Russia border, Ukrainians will enthusiastically burn Gauleiter Medvedev, appointed by the occupiers, in a vat of his moonshine, which he made in the Ivanovo region at his homestead near Plyos. And then you would need to restart a "special military operation" to denazify Ukraine and then sacralize the burned martyr Dmitry.
Jokes aside, I'm sure no one has any doubts: Ukrainians will not live by Putin's rules unless there is a Russian army in the country.
So all that remains is the occupation. But this option is even worse than the first one.
First, it is simply impossible: Russia does not have enough soldiers to occupy one of Europe's largest countries. The population of Ukraine is about 40 million people (well, let's subtract five million refugees). The ratio of one occupant to 40-50 locals must be kept to maintain the occupation order. Where will Russia get more than 700,000 soldiers? Even half of that, considering that the 200,000 that invaded Ukraine in February were assembled all over the country.
Secondly, I am sure that even the most naive Russian soldier understands what awaits him in occupied Ukraine after Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, rocket attacks on Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kremenchuk, after all the rapes of women and murders of elderly people.
Even now, in occupied Kherson, where locals always spoke Russian, the Russian occupiers are facing a resistance movement: cars of their appointed gauleiter are being blown up in batches. Now imagine what would happen on the streets of occupied Kyiv, occupied Odesa, or occupied Kharkiv.
Russian soldiers will be slaughtered in alleyways at night, shot from around corners, blown up at intersections, poisoned in restaurants, and drowned in the Black Sea. And it will be done not only by former soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, it will be done by all of Ukraine — the children, wives, fathers, and brothers of those killed by the Russians.
Third, the occupation contingent needs to be fed. A Russian "decent patriot" may be ready to put up with the first two mishaps — that is, that Russia needs to mobilize and send all the mobilized soldiers to maintain the occupation order in Ukraine and that dozens of coffins with soldiers with slashed throats will return to Russia every day. So if our "decent patriot" is ready for all that, then they should be ready to work all their life just to feed the occupation contingent. Because as long as the last Russian soldier is in Ukraine, the West will not lift the sanctions, return the seized reserves and start buying Russian oil and gas again. This means that every year there will be more and more unemployed, poor and sick people in Russia.
Someone may point out that the Russian army has no plans of occupying the whole of Ukraine. The territories already conquered and Donbas, which the Russian government hopes to conquer in the next few months, are enough. But assuming this is true, we are all well aware that the war will not end as long as Ukraine has an army and a president elected by the people. This means that Russia will still face the same dead-end fork.
So it turns out that a true patriot of Russia today — if we agree that patriotism is wanting your country to exist and flourish, rather than trying our best to fuck it up — must do everything in their power to get, first, the Russian army out of Ukraine as quickly as possible, and, second, to end the Putin regime as quickly as possible. Otherwise, if the war drags on for years, either Russia will have no army left, or its army will come home on its own. How it can end, we know well from history.