Putin’s War and the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
On the day after Nemtsov’s murder, the photograph of him lying gunned down on the bridge ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, right above a story explaining that the US is limiting the spy-satellite intelligence it provides Ukraine to avoid provoking Russia, and that the Obama administration also remains deeply divided over granting lethal aid a year after it was requested by Kyiv.
The contrast between the horror in Moscow and the dysfunction in Washington is revealing and also very disconcerting. The image from the bridge radiates globally because Russia under Putin is a danger not only to Ukraine but to Europe, the US, and the entire international order. The refusal to provide meaningful aid to Ukraine, a country that is fighting for its freedom and territorial integrity against this danger, will only invite more Russian aggression, and it will not end with Ukraine. This is a lesson that has had to be learned too many times in history, and we need to learn it again—quickly—before much more harm is done.
Boris Nemtsov, 1959–2015
Whoever pulled the trigger—the collective trigger was pulled by all those, from television propagandists to Vladimir Putin himself, who over the last several years, and especially after the beginning of the war with Ukraine, sponsored a campaign of hatred, intimidation, and aggression against those they labeled “national traitors” and “the fifth column”—Russian democrats and all those who opposed Putin and his policies. Just days ago, pro-Kremlin organizations staged a hate-filled rally in downtown Moscow, openly calling for “cleansing” Russia from “the fifth column.” The placards they carried had the picture of Boris Nemtsov.
State television channels that hounded and slandered Nemtsov until the very last day of his life—the latest episode purporting to show his “links with the West” was scheduled to be broadcast on NTV on March 1st—have immediately changed their tune, claiming that the opposition leader was “insignificant” and “no threat” to Putin. “An average citizen,” Putin’s official spokesman quipped.
Despite claims that USSR embraced Internationalism, in reality nationality and ethnicity always mattered. It didn’t matter that many Kalmyks, Tatars or Chechens had fought in the Red Army too, in the words of Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Stalin “certainly carried all the traditional Georgian prejudices against the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus whom he was to deport.” And that’s not only true for the peoples of the Caucasus. Throughout his reign as ruler of the USSR, Stalin absorbed Russian nationalism and by doing so absorbed all the traditional hatreds and prejudices against other peoples that went along with it.
The deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples was part of Stalin’s great deportation plan of ethnic minorities in the USSR:
· 900,000 Soviet Germans, 89,000 Finns deported in 1941 & 1942
· 69,267 Karachais deported to Central Asia 19 Nov 1943
· 91,919 Kalmyks deported to Siberia 28–29 Dec 1943
· 478,479 Chechen and Ingush peoples deported to Siberia on 23 Feb 1944
· 37,107 Balkars deported to Kazakstan on 8–9 Mar 1944
· 180,014 Crimean Tatars deported to Uzbekistan on 18–20 Mar 1944
· 91,095 Meshketian Turks deported from Soviet Georgia later in 1944
These crimes against humanity form yet another stain against the former USSR and its predecessor, the Tsarist Russian Empire, both of whom today’s Russian leader Vladimir Putin expressly admires. Against this background, it is unsurprising, then, that Putin has continued the legacy of repressive measures regarding any attempt at commemorating these historic events.
The Absurd World of Russian Public Opinion
The overwhelming majority of Russians believe that the West attacked Russia in Ukraine and not that Russia seized part of Ukraine's territory and is now actively helping separatists in eastern Ukraine with regular army soldiers, volunteers and heavy weapons.
Russian soldier fighting in Ukraine is proud of Putin for deceiving the world
A common misperception in the West is a somewhat naïve expectation that Russian people would rebel, if they only knew that Putin is covertly sending soldiers to fight and die in another sovereign country. The fact is, many of them already know. Blinded by shameless Russian propaganda, they don’t mind the fact that their government is obfuscating the facts and lying to the world. To the contrary, they’re proud of their fibbing President. In their imagination, inflamed by Russian mainstream media, the end justifies the means. They don’t mind it when lies are spouted from the Kremlin, because many Russians see themselves at war with the West. “The information war” is therefore part of this one-sided grandstanding, where anything goes. Believing Putin’s lie about “NATO legions” in Ukraine, many Russians are content to believe that their military battalions are waging battle against these imaginary Western opponents. What they fail to realize is that while Putin is lying to the world, he is also lying to the Russians.
Russian mainstream media and the country’s leading propagandists (designated as so-called “guardians” of the establishment) callously disseminate images of dead and injured children in the Middle East, passing them off as casualties of the Ukrainian military. They show off images of Russia’s brutalities in Chechnya, representing them as Ukraine’s alleged slaughter of its own civilians. They ludicrously exclaim that Ukrainian armed forces are “crucifying children and forcing their mothers to watch.” Quite simply, Russia lies to everyone. These falsehoods affect the country’s citizens in the most profound way: by convincing them to give up their very lives for the sake of defeating their alleged arch-nemesis. Instead of the phantom “NATO legions,” they savagely attack Ukrainian military and civilians on Ukrainian soil. As Slavoj Žižek once said, “[T]he horror of Communism, Stalinism, is not that bad people do bad things — they always do. It's that good people do horrible things, thinking they are doing something great."
This is a long interview with a badly injured Russian soldier, A Buryat from Ulaan Ude in the Far East. He describes his recruitment, training, the steps taken to hide the fact there are regular Russian soldiers in Ukraine and the battle in which he was injured.
We found Radio Sputnik. And there was a debate, if there were soldiers here in Ukraine. And all the guests were like, “No-no-no!” And here’s our company, like, yeah, right. Well, who would admit it openly? Our government does realize it has to help, but officially sending the troops in would rile up Europe and NATO. However, you do realize NATO is also in it, sure, they are sending them weapons.
This is a detailed military analysis of the above interview and the link is a good source of day to day reporting on the war in Ukraine.
The soldier sustained severe burns after ammunition went off inside his tank, causing a fire. He was evacuated in an APC and was taken first to Gorlovka, and from there to Donetsk, where he is now in a burns unit in the region's central hospital. He hopes to return to Russia soon.
Batomunkuev makes no secret of his identity. He is a soldier in the 5th independent tank brigade (based in Ulan-Ude). He was conscripted on November 25, 2013 and signed a three-year military service contract (enabling him to be deployed outside his region) on June 2014.
Before leaving for Rostov, back in Ulan-Ude, the unit had painted over their tanks, covering numbers and unit markings. All insignia patches were removed when they arrived at their camp. Passports were left at their home base.
On leaving the camp, they were told to hand over mobile phones and documentation. It appears the Russian military is attempting to clamp down on potentially revealing photos and reports appearing on social media, or for bodies to be found with identifiable documents.