Russians turn a blind eye; In the weeks before the Russian invasion. I spent hours walking around Zamoskvorechiye, central Moscow, where I lived and work in the AZ24 News office for seven years.
A pristine and peaceful part of the city, to me it embodies Russia’s complex present and past.
For centuries, Muscovites have come here to build homes and businesses. Live their lives in peace, leaving their rulers to pursue greater ambitions on a larger stage. Where ordinary Russians never had a role.
It is bound on one side by the Moscow River and the Kremlin. On the other by the imposing Stalinist mansions and 21st-century skyscrapers of the noisy Sadovoye ring road.
The maze of narrow streets echoes the past, along with 19th century churches and noble houses. Bolsaya Ordinka Street got its name from the Tatar-Mongol Order hundreds of years ago. When ambassadors came to collect tribute from Moscow’s princely leaders.
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I was there last February when I received a call from a friend. Who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and now works in Moscow.
Russians turn a blind eye; Is Putin really starting a war with Ukraine? None of us wanted to believe it.
But surrounded by reminders of Russia’s often ruthlessly violent past, war seemed inevitable to me. On my daily walks I waved at a home, even a country, that would never be the same again.
Bookshops still carry a wide range of titles, although books deem unsuitable are sell in plastic covers.
The popular car-sharing service is still operating, but the cars are now mostly made in China.
International sanctions have not brought Russia to the brink of economic collapse as in the 1990s. But as Belfast-based Russian scholar Aleksandr Titov has observed, Russia is nevertheless experiencing a crisis.
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It’s a slow burning crisis, but look closely and there are signs of it everywhere.
In Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border. Only 80 kilometers from the war-torn city of Kharkiv. Locals have grown accustomed to convoys of military trucks steaming towards the front line.
Russians turn a blind eye; If it bothers them that the Russians are bombing a city where many have friends. Relatives, they try not to show it.
The fun street festivals organize by the mayor are well attend, my friend tells me.
However, local doctors are leaving their jobs in droves. Unable to cope with the number of war wounded brought to local hospitals. Residents feel abandoned and angry in the small border town of Shebekino. Where cross-border shootings have become a daily occurrence. reality.
A local family visiting St. Petersburg was shock to discover that nothing had change while their lives were turn upside down.
In Pskov, near the Estonian-Latvian border, the atmosphere is gloomy and everyone pretends the war has nothing to do with them, they say.
Pskov is home to the 76th Guards Airborne Division, now infamous for war crimes its soldiers are accuse of committing in Bucha, near Kiev.
A bus service has been launch connecting the city to the local cemetery, where more and more soldiers who fell in Ukraine were buri. Under a bridge, someone had stuck the word PEACE in big red letters. Near the Finnish border, on the train to Petrozsény, a friend meets a group of teenagers playing the game “Name the town”.
Someone mentions Donetsk: in Russia or Ukraine? None of them are sure. It was illegally occupied and annexed by their government.
What do they think about the war? They have nothing to do with them.
Petrozavodsk seems to have returned to its dark past. Empty shelves, no foreign brands, exorbitant prices. Are the Russians really supporting the atrocities being commit in their name in Ukraine or are they pretending not to be alive?
It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from feelings and conversations. Sociologists and pollsters have tried to gauge opinions, but there is no freedom of speech and information in Russia, so it is impossible to determine whether people are honest.
Russians turn a blind eye; According to opinion polls, the majority of Russians, if they do not support the war, are certainly not against it.
This sparked angry debate among Russians living abroad. Many who study and report on Russia, myself included, believe that a small percentage of people actively support the war and a small percentage actively oppose it.
Most ordinary Russians are in the middle, trying to make sense of a situation they didn’t choose, don’t understand, and feel powerless to change.
Could it have been stop? Probably yes, if more people had stood up for their freedom and protested the state television propaganda about fabricated threats from the West and Ukraine.
Many Russians have chosen to stay out of politics and let the Kremlin make decisions for them.
But with your head down, you have to make some very disturbing moral compromises.
To avoid war, Russia must pretend this is not an expansionist invasion and turn a blind eye to Ukrainians dying and injured by the tens of thousands and millions driven from their homes by the Kremlin. he calls it a “special military operation”. Russians must accept that it is normal for soldiers to go to school and tell their children that war is a good thing.
It is natural for priests to support war and stop praying for peace.
That it doesn’t matter, they can’t travel further, they can’t be part of a wider world.
The Kremlin was right to block most of the independent media sites they read.
That the hammer is now a positive symbol of Russian power in executions capture on camera and post on Twitter by representatives.
And that it is normal to sit in prison for many years for saying what you think about the war, whether you are a minister or a journalist.
Why Russians do not protest is perhaps better explain by Russian history than opinion polls.
Since coming to power, President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his desire to rebuild Russia and restore its status as something the rest of the world should respect.
In his speeches and essays, he made clear his conviction that Russia occupies a unique place in the world as part of the East and the West. Russia has its own traditions, religions and its own ways of doing things. Russians need order and control and demand respect.
This message has resonated through the ages and shows no dissent or change. It’s a choke – to use a judo term from his favorite sport.
This vision of Putin comes at a cost: Russia has paid with its freedom; Ukrainians pay with their lives.
Russia has sometimes opened up after moments of adversity and disaster.
After the defeat in Afghanistan in 1989 came the Gorbachev era. Defeat against Japan was followed by constitutional reforms in 1905, and after the defeat in the Crimean War in 1856, the emancipation of serfs followed.
According to opinion polls, the majority of Russians say they support peace talks to end the conflict. But it is not yet clear what guarantees would be given to an independent Ukraine.
Sooner or later an answer will have to be given and the Russians will have to face what their country has done.