My mother turned on the news and suddenly saw the village of Svetlichne where she grew up. Svetlichne is a tiny Ukrainian-speaking hamlet in the Lugansk area that is located right in the middle of the war zone. The village has been changing hands as the Russian troops advance and then are beaten back by the Ukrainian army.
The images from Svetlichne were devastating. The cemetery where my grandparents are buried has been leveled with the ground. My mother saw the faces of her classmates, her neighbors, people she grew up with. An 87-year-old woman was crying and telling Ukrainian soldiers, “Please don’t leave us. These people [the invaders] don’t understand us, they don’t even speak our language. I survived the war [she means WWII], and this is worse. These guys are worse than the Nazis.”
The Ukrainian army manages to hold on to these areas because of the heroic efforts of the volunteers who are arming, feeding, and clothing the soldiers. The people fighting on Putin’s side are the lowest of the low: neo-Nazis, drug addicts, criminals, freaks. They loot, murder, rape, rob, torture, and destroy. They have no goal other than destroying as much as they can.
In the winter of 2013, after 22 years of post-Soviet corruption and stagnation, Ukrainians finally decided to get rid of the oligarchy, defeat corruption, and start constructing a fairer, more hopeful society. But the moment they started doing that, Russians – who have not made such a decision for themselves – invaded and started destroying Ukraine. The Russians did not invade because of anything the US did or anything the NATO did. They are not reacting to any actions of the West. They are reacting to what is happening inside of Russia. Their lives are hopeless and purposeless, and they have found a purpose to their existence in war.
Putin’s regime was losing legitimacy in the eyes of a growing number of Russians all throughout 2011 and 2012. The egregiously falsified elections of those years had finally made the people of Russia protest against the oligarchy that has been ruling and robbing them since 1991 (actually, from much earlier than that because their rulers are the same people that were in power before the collapse of the USSR). Dictators often use war to ratchet up patriotism and create the impression that their rule is legitimate. This is, for instance, what the Argentinean junta was trying to achieve with the Falklands War.
Putin’s strategy worked. His approval ratings within Russia have soared. The war in Ukraine is extremely useful to him politically. He will drag out the hostilities, attacking more and more peaceful cities in Ukraine for as long as he can. The only hope right now is to shorten this “as long as he can.” The better Ukraine manages to resist the invasion, the greater is the probability that the people of Russia will wake up from their stupor and start asking why they need to keep dying in Ukraine to keep Putin and his fellow oligarchs in caviar, yachts, and palaces.
Many people in the US fear that sending weapons to Ukraine will anger Putin and make things even worse. This belief is based on a profound ignorance of the very nature of Putin’s regime. Nothing that Putin does is a reaction to anything done or said in the West. He is trying to achieve his own internal goals. He will or will not invade a NATO country, he will or will not use weapons of mass destruction, he will or will not send troops to take Kiev or invade Estonia based on the internal needs of his regime. The fear of causing an intensification of the conflict with Russia is misplaced since it’s not in the West’s power to control what Putin does. All that can be done is to make the war so costly to the people of Russia that they will start questioning their blind adoration of their leader.
If no weapons come to Ukrainians, the war will drag out, probably for years and years. The fairly low-intensity (from the Russians’ point of view) war in Ukraine allows Putin to get rid of the most lumpenized parts of the population. He is happy to have a place where he can send all of the junkies, neo-Nazis, “angry young men,” and criminals to die while advancing his interests.
The people of Russia already are convinced (because Putin has been telling them so) that there are Americans soldiers fighting against Russians in Ukraine. For Russians, the NATO troops are already actively involved in the war. Not sending weapons to Ukraine will not convince Russians that there are no Americans fighting in Debaltsevo today. That boat has sailed a long, long time ago. The argument of, “So what, we should now go to war with Russia?” is impotent because, from the Russians’ point of view, that war has been going on since last spring.
And it’s a war that we – the people who detest oligarchy, dictatorship, corruption, jingoism, and stupid anti-Western rantings – can win. Or rather, Ukrainians can win it for us, for themselves, for the whole world, if only we give them a tiny bit of help and the smallest sign that they have not been abandoned by the entire world. Even a tiniest gesture of good will from the civilized world will help Ukrainians feel that they are not alone in the fight against barbarity.
P.S. I’ve never asked for re-posts but now I am. Please re-post and get people to read this. Even if you disagree (on the basis of your profound knowledge of Ukraine and Russia, I am sure), you must still consider it important for competing viewpoints to circulate, right?