Putin’s war destroys Russian culture – Ivan Krastev

Rumor has it that when asked who Vladimir Putin’s most trusted advisers are, a person in his inner circle replied: “Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and Peter the Great”. On June 10, the Russian president compared himself to Peter I, comparing the invasion of Ukraine to the tsar’s war of expansion three centuries ago. To the inexperienced eye, his actions may seem like an attempt to restore the Soviet Union or even the tsarist empire. In fact, what we are witnessing is the perverse end of the last European empire. The so called russkij mir, or “Russian world”, perceived as something culturally larger than the Russian Federation, is being sacrificed on the altar of authoritarianism and Russian ethnicity. This view is devoid of any appeal to universal values ​​or appeal to Russia’s neighbors.

Putin’s attempt to seize territories in Ukraine is a demonstration of power that results in the collapse of the country soft force of Moscow. With the attack on Kiev, Putin cut ties with Brussels, provoking Europeans’ disgust with his country. A new poll by the European Council on foreign relations, based on a poll, suggests that the breach with Moscow is irreversible, at least in the short and medium term: The majority of Europeans have lost all illusion of integrating Russia into their world . Many are in favor of severing economic, cultural and even diplomatic relations. Western sanctions have failed to change Russian foreign policy, but have forced European governments to abandon the idea that Moscow can be a reliable partner for the West.

Ten years ago, the Russian-language sections were the richest in many Ukrainian bookstores. Not anymore today. It is likely that after the war they will disappear permanently

In terms of soft force, the invasion of Ukraine had two results: the end of any remaining post-Soviet identity and the undermining of the use of the Red Army’s victory over Adolf Hitler, exploited by Moscow to nurture its national mythology and international reputation. Before the annexation of Crimea, many Russian-speakers lived in Ukraine without having to wonder whether they were Russians or Ukrainians. It was not their passports that defined their identity. Today, when Russian troops kill thousands of civilians because these people insist that they are not Russians but Ukrainians, any kind of post-Soviet identity is gone forever. The war in Ukraine is not Putin’s Soviet period, but the anti-Soviet one. On the day he launched it, he expressed himself as a white-armed general defending the Tsars in the Civil War, not as the red colonel he actually was before the fall of communism. He declared that the Russians are the real victims of the Soviet regime and that Ukraine is a fiction, a unit invented by Lenin.

To build his authoritarian regime, Putin destroyed the “Russian world.” This is especially evident in the culture. Empires are often born on the battlefield, but die in bookstores. Ten years ago, the Russian-language sections were the richest in many Ukrainian bookstores. Not anymore today. It is likely that after the war they will disappear permanently. In European cities, where most until this year could hardly distinguish the Russians from the Ukrainians, many understood the difference. For Ukrainians, speaking Russian on the streets of Warsaw or Berlin is a political statement. Many of their children will never learn that language.

The Russian language in European cultural life may be another victim of Putin’s invasion. The Bolshevik revolution and the communist regime killed millions of people, but they failed to quench the interest of foreigners in the Slavic language. Many leftists in the West and South saw Russian as the language of the revolution and wanted to learn it.

Putin’s colonial war in Ukraine will not entice people to learn Russian, on the contrary. Moscow’s provocative definition of Russian-speakers from neighboring countries as ethnic Russians diminishes those countries’ willingness to encourage Russian-language education. Before the war, Moscow’s middle class and Putin’s oligarchs appeared to be a small part of the Western world. This “amphibious” existence is no longer possible. In Russia, being “Russian” now means public support for the war, in a sincere or obvious way. In the West, on the other hand, being Russian no longer means belonging to the West. Many Russians living abroad feel like exile.

Changing the character of the borders to the West, not just their position, was the main goal of Putin’s war. The president is tragically achieving this goal. ◆ ff

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