Tomasz is our ‘resident’ Polish writer. We preserve his unique voice in this challenging, thought-provoking piece on the reality of Putin’s Russia and the implacability of evil.
In the first days of this war I was really hoping it’s true, that this is just a madness of one man, that those poor boys were lied to, were sent to a war they weren’t even aware of, or at least told they will be welcomed with flowers. That could be true for the first two days or so. And for many of them it probably was – I truly believe that.
But today we know more. Today we know that Russians know more, too. And we know that very many Russians are supporting it. Of course, not all of them; perhaps it’s not even true that it’s the majority. But even if it’s not that 80 per cent we hear about but, for example, 20 per cent, it is still a problem.
Because even if the majority of the nation is against it, it changes little. They might be scared and appalled, discussing in their kitchens how terrible it is. But then they just go out and try to live as normal – as much as it is possible for them nowadays. And I see why it could be. Not everyone is made of hero material – and especially when in today’s Russia being a hero is just about as effective as Don Quijote’s crusade against windmills, and much more dangerous than that. I can’t judge – I have no idea what I would do in their place, and I am not in the slightest jealous of them that they do have this knowledge. It must be really tough.
But some things are very easy to judge. Just look here, there are English subtitles:
Roman Bykovsky is 27 years old. He has a wife, Olga – formerly Pinyasova – and a small kid with her. They come somewhere from the European part of Russia, south from Moscow, but they recently moved to occupied Crimea. Roman is a soldier who participates in invasion in Ukraine and his conversation with his wife was recorded by the Ukrainian intelligence.
Usually, I am very careful with everything Ukraine tells us. We have to remember they are at war, and they have to fight it on the information front as well. But here the authenticity of the recordings and positive identification was performed by independent journalists, and the case is looked into by renowned humanitarian organizations and institutions.
So what is in that conversation (trigger warning)? We can hear that their dialogue bumped on the topic of raping Ukrainian women. Olga seems to be a little uneasy about that (we can hear her voice trembling and that uneasy laughter), but eventually she gives him permission to rape other women, as long as he protects himself and won’t be telling her about it. He sounds really relieved that his love gave him that permission and absolution…
There is no place for any relativism here. This is exceptional bestiality and degeneration. And please, bear with me: we can’t judge all Russians through the lens of that couple. But the problem is: this is not just an aberration. This happens all the time.
The Ukraine has been invaded by an army of well over 100 000 soldiers. All of them had a several times bigger logistic operation behind them. They have family and friends, who know what is going on, who sometimes hear the stories first hand, and who openly support this. The families and friends are happy to be sent looted washing machines and kettles, and put them for sale online, proudly advertising them as war trophies. We have people who just rage with hate against Ukrainians (remember that clip of Ukrainian boy connecting with Russians on chat roulette or a similar video chat service, only to be instantly vulgarly abused by them when they see a Ukrainian flag in the background?)
We have people actively participating in war propaganda – from TV hate preachers like Vladimir Solovyov to some girls from a local dance group in some godforsaken village in the back of beyond that proudly photograph themselves standing in the shape of the dreaded Z sign… We have mass manifestations of support – not only in Russia – where people might be indeed forced to take part – but also amongst those Russians who live in the West, enjoying all those freedom their home country calls “a Nazi plague” – just to mention recent cavalcades that drove through Germany or Cyprus.
Even if the number of alleged supporters of that war in Russia is to be divided by four, it is still millions of people – who either truly believe in that, or are told to do so by the omnipresent propaganda, people who had their country’s wealth and a chance for a decent living stolen by the mafia-like state run by oligarchs, and who are given this militaristic propaganda as the only thing they could be proud of . Just watch this ‘moving’ documentary by Deustche Welle.
There are millions of people like that in Russia. War criminals, thieves, murders, torturers and rapists, people who benefit from their actions, or who simply support it, believing that this is the only way of glory for their motherland.
Meanwhile when I read some comments, especially coming from the Western so-called experts on Russia (we call them “westplainers” in our part of Europe, because they are trying to explain Russia to us, who live next door to it for centuries), there is that belief, that Russia is soon to lose, with better or worse outcome for Ukraine, then Putin will somehow cease to be Russia’s leader and the problem will disappear. I saw today some idiot from one of American universities on Twitter (I will mercifully not disclose his name) writing a very long tweet about how wonderful Russia is to soon become under its new president Alexei Navalny. Well: NO.
Navalny was talking Crimea many times, and while he evades openly supporting Russian invasion on Ukraine in 2014, he was pretty adamant that Crimea today is Russian, and there is no way Russia is going to withdraw from there. AND HE IS THE GOOD GUY THERE, SEEN IN THE WEST AS A HERO AND THE BEACON OF DEMOCRACY!
But let’s imagine the war is over, the Putin’s regime collapses and someone like Gari Kasparov becomes president of Russia. Do you really think, that Russia’s problems will disappear overnight? Those millions of people, war criminals and their supporters, will still be there; will be there, and they will be angry, they will see the humiliation of their country as the greatest disaster that could happen to them. You think Hungarians are pissed over the treaty of Trianon, that took away two thirds of their lands? Do you think Germans got mad after they were humiliated when they lost World War One? This will be like that, but ten times more. Millions of people with the grudge, convinced that their country was harmed by the conspiracy of Western countries. 1920s Nazi Germany, but on steroids. And with nukes.
Meanwhile the world of business can’t wait to be able to make money in Russia again. Politicians, probably Germans especially, can’t wait to be able to “normalise relations with their Russian partners”. But we tried it already. For 30 years we tried to bring Russia to our ways with cultural, economic, scientific or even military (remember those military exercises of NATO, Poland and Russia back in the 1990s under “Partnership for Peace” program) exchange. We can see how it worked out for us. And now it will only get worse.
Russia is a sick country. And it had to be quarantined. And if it is to be cured, we need to take drastic measures. Yes, innocent Russians will suffer – that’s true. I am sorry for them (although not as sorry as I am for people of Bucha). But we tried to cure Russian’s malaise with medicaments – we prescribed democracy, free market, western culture and media, cooperation, pumping our Western money into it via gas pipelines. To no avail. Then we tried precision surgery, like Magnitsky act and other carefully-tailored sanctions. That only resulted in the cancer that consumes Russia becoming malignant. It’s time for chemotherapy. Yes, chemo destroys innocent cells as well – just as Russia’s total isolation will harm innocent Russians. But sometimes chemo is the only chance for survival.
But we still need to target individuals. But enough with that unreal dream of seeing Putin at the Hague. We need to target everyone who facilitates Russian crimes. Civilians and military leaders. Propagandists. Oligarchs. But also more “ordinary” people who work towards strengthening Russian regime – if you facilitate Russia’s regime, you should be sanctioned by the West. Are you an engineer working on modification of Kalashnikov rifles or new model of landmines? Forgot about coming skiing to Zakopane. Are you a teacher spreading military propaganda to kindergarten pupils? No holidays in Bulgaria for you. And, first and foremost, EVERY SINGLE RUSSIAN SOLDIER who set foot on the Ukrainian soils should have an international arrest warrant put on his head. And every single of them – and their families, perhaps except for children, as there is still a chance for them – should find themselves on the sanction list.
I am pretty sure that Ukrainian and Western intelligence have the list of Russian personnel in Ukraine already. That list should be made public, available for everyone to download, so every small internet shop, bank or hotel could download it and put it into their customer database with a note “we don’t serve those people here”. They should be rotting in Russia for the rest of their lives, going for their holidays to Sochi, enjoying their road trips on the Kolyma Highway and going for city breaks to Norylsk. And they have to think about why that happened to them every time they watch at the old rusting washing machine they brought on their Kamaz from Ukraine, or when frying eggs on that frying pan they stole from a Ukrainian granny after smashing her in the head with it.
Those are two options for us: placing Russia under quarantine and do not allow it back to the realm of the civilised country until it works through its issue and finally understands that world doesn’t need to be saved from the Nazis by them. Every single Roman and Olga need to come to realisation, that THEY ARE THE BADDIES.
The other option is another cold war – Russia (and perhaps China) against the West.
Either way, it will take time. I spoke with several Russians recently. You can even hear some of the interviews in my podcast – the English translation of my conversation with Katia Apanova can be heard towards the end of this chapter.
Those are wonderful people and my friends. I am really sorry for what they have to go through nowadays. But what has struck me is that not a single of them is an optimist. None of them has any hope that Russia will change anytime soon. They tell me it will take generations for their motherland to find its morality again and get back to the humanity.
This is where we are. Gari Kasparov was warning us for years, that WINTER IS COMING. He even wrote a book with that title. Listen to him – like to his TED lecture here because he knows what he’s saying. Who is better than a Russian to explain Russia to us? And who, but the chess master, will be able to see several stages ahead?
This is where we are. WINTER IS HERE. And there is no time to plan which flower bed we are going to plant our daisies in next spring. We need to check stock in our pantry, secure our doors and windows and prepare for long, winter nights, hoping that the wolves won’t come to eat us.