Hi, it's Sunday and you are listening to our podcast «Trends of order and chaos». This is episode 44. Here are the main events of the past week: the week of the war.
The Worst-Case Scenario
The beginning of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine came as a complete surprise even to supporters of the recognition of the so-called “people’s republics” who had been calling for the introduction of Russian troops into their borders.
The Russian authorities did not carry out any intelligible propaganda preparation for initiating hostilities throughout Ukraine, since all this time, they have only been talking about “protecting Russian citizens in the Donbas.” Various analysts considered a full invasion unlikely: a worst-case scenario.
Therefore, when they woke up on the morning of February 24, many Russians were stunned and confused, including those loyal to the authorities. Instead of a mass “patriotic” frenzy comparable to the early days of 2014 [when Russia seized the Crimean peninsula and helped instigate the civil wear in Donbas], fear of the future became the prevailing mood in Russia. The worst forecasts were already being made, including the beginning of a third world war—in other words, a nuclear war.
Losing the Information War
The first reports of Russian losses and prisoners did not come from the Russian Defense Ministry, but from Ukrainian sources, social networks, and, later, from individual Ukrainian mayors. At the moment [this was published early on March 6], the Ministry of Defense has acknowledged almost 500 people dead and more than 1500 wounded, which is many times different from the figures publicized by the Ukrainian side.
No, of course, full-time Russian propagandists began to carry the usual nonsense about Ukraine having been “captured by Bandera” [Stepan Bandera was a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist who worked with the Nazis]. A few days after the beginning of the so-called “special operation,” a symbol in the form of the letter Z and the hashtag “We do not leave our own” appeared in Russian media. Teachers receive orders to conduct propaganda lessons. In the Kuban, they are trying to oblige schoolchildren to wear St. George ribbons until May 9 “to express solidarity with our troops.” On March 5, the news spread about the action of supporting Russian troops by patients of the children’s hospice in Kazan. On the same day, Putin assured us that Russians can calmly protest about what is happening in Ukraine—it is only there, in Ukraine, that protesters are shot. (And who, exactly, is it that shoots them?)
But by the time the “special operation” began to advance in the Russian-speaking world, there were already more than enough messages and videos from Ukrainian cities and villages to make it clear what was happening. A large number of people living in Russia have relatives, acquaintances, and other connections in Ukraine, with whom they have been trying to keep in touch since the beginning of events.
It is clear that the official messages of the Ukrainian side are inevitably, among other things, military propaganda. But while Russian propaganda considered it enough to repeat the words “denazification” and “demilitarization,” in the eyes of residents of many countries and even many Russians, the messages from Ukraine looked much more convincing; they “sold” better in the information market.
War in the Russian Information Space
The response of the Russian authorities to losing the information war was convulsive repression. A number of official Ukrainian resources and media have been blocked, including the “Look for Your Own” website created by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense about Russian prisoners of war. Next, the Kremlin decided to conduct a “special operation” against Russian independent sources of information. The law on “spreading fakes about the Russian army” including administrative and criminal penalties up to millions of rubles in fines and imprisonment of up to 15 years passed all three readings in the State Duma in a single day on March 4, receiving the approval of the Federation Council and the president’s signature.
The extra-judicial blocking of independent media and resources had begun even earlier; this is already a firmly established practice in Russia. For daring to call the “special operation” a war and talking about the prisoners and the dead, there were reprisals not only towards such major opposition media as the Dozhd TV channel and the Ekho Moskvy radio station, but also striking those who did not have any special reputation as opposition media, including taiga.info, The Village, Tomsk channel TV2. On the night of March 4, this list expanded to include the Russian service of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Liberty, Meduza, and the world’s largest social networks, Facebook and Twitter.
After the adoption of the law on “military censorship,” it became clear that the “special operation” against independent media, at least at first, was more successful than the “special operation” in Ukraine. One by one, the media management began to announce the suspension of activities, the closures of outlets, the liquidation of resources, the closing and emigration of offices. Out of the largest opposition media, only Novaya Gazeta has so far announced that they continue to work under “military censorship,” removing some of the materials. A number of independent resources, bloggers, and ordinary users of social networks who are not registered as mass media began to clean up their materials and delete their profiles.
A certain number of journalists, activists, bloggers and simply non-pro-government Russians have already left Russia or are going to do so in the near future.
Law enforcement has not yet begun to enforce the new “military” legislation. So far, those detained at daily anti-war actions, the number of which throughout Russia is approaching 10,000, are mainly applied to the “traditional rallies” articles 20.2 and 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. [In the twelve hours after this was published, Russian police arrested at least 4419 protesters in 56 cities.] Criminal articles with vague wording, under which any journalist, activist, blogger, or commentator on the Internet and even a random person can be imprisoned for a long time, have existed in Russian law for many years, but so far, relative to the total number of potential targets, the prosecution has been of a targeted character.
Whether this situation will change, and how exactly the “law on military censorship” will be applied, will become clear after March 6, when mass actions are scheduled in different cities. In the meantime, the authorities have found yet another delusional justification for persecuting activists: on March 5, searches and detentions were carried out in St. Petersburg at about 50 addresses of human rights activists, activists, and municipal deputies in connection with a criminal case under an article about bomb threats.
”Putin’s Majority” and the Dream of Stability
Personal communication, polls, and social networks show that a certain number of Russians, having recovered from the initial shock, supported Putin’s war against Ukraine. It is too early to judge the exact percentage of support, especially considering the practice of conducting official polls, cheating via online bots, and the audience of each specific venue where electronic voting is held. But, to our deepest regret, there is some kind of support for the war now.
It seems to us that the many years of loyalty of some Russians to the Kremlin authorities is explained by their dream of stability, predictable lives, and relative prosperity after Perestroika and the “dashing 1990s.” And it is difficult for many “Putinists” to admit that, as a consequence of Putin’s adventure, they are going to lose all this. Therefore, until these loyalists personally feel the catastrophic consequences of the Ukrainian “special operation,” they will console themselves with propaganda tales about the fact that “everything will end” soon and the authorities will handle the sanctions.
The Kremlin also needs to end the war as soon as possible. And preferably with as small as possible a contingent of the army as possible. If martial law and general conscription are introduced in Russia, they will lose the support of a significant part of the couch patriots, who have now begun to put the symbol of the “special operation” on their avatars in social networks.
But while preparing to invade Ukraine, the Kremlin clearly misjudged both the situation in that country and its inhabitants, who “for some reason” do not greet Russian tanks with flowers, but fiercely resist them. Therefore, it will only be possible to quickly end the hostilities with the withdrawal of troops, but by no means with a victory.
Imperialism and USSR 2.0
Situational loyalists have been divided in their attitudes to the “special operation,” including all sorts of Stalinists and other leftists who had a positive attitude towards the USSR. One part of them supported the “denazification” of Ukraine, hoping that after the victory of the Russian troops it will be possible to start building the “prerequisites for socialism” in the “union of fraternal peoples.” Unlike the overwhelming majority of Russians, they are even ready to “tighten their belts” for the sake of such a great mission.
Another part of the pro-Soviet left understands that the Kremlin’s adventure will do nothing to advance the “preconditions for socialism” or the “union of fraternal peoples.” They rightly call the invasion an imperialist war and blame all these events on the collapse of the USSR.
It is clear that both the Soviet Union itself and its collapse gave rise to many problems. But the naïve and often subconscious desire of a part of the post-Soviet people to “return the USSR” have turned out to be exclusively useful for justifying Russian imperialist expansion and the bloody massacres associated with it—and a significant increase in right-wing and far-right sentiment in all of the countries affected by the conflict. It is no coincidence, by the way, that the most unconditional support for the supposed “denazification” of Ukraine appeared among Russian neo-Nazis from the organizations “Sputnik and Pogrom,” “Black Hundred,” “Men’s State,” and so on.
The International Position
In addition to all of the above, the Kremlin also miscalculated its imperialist “weight category.” Consequently, the reaction of different countries around the world to its actions has not been comparable with the reaction to the same NATO military actions in former Yugoslavia and Iraq, which were also accompanied by mass protests on a global scale. Now, after actively participating in escalating the situation around the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Western leaders can convincingly portray indignation at the actions of the “crazy dictator,” earning ratings in their countries and successfully expanding imperialist influence in Eastern Europe. As a bonus, against the backdrop of a new world villain, the topic of massive human rights violations under the pretext of fighting COVID-19 and mass protests against the restrictions have faded into the background.
Judging by the fact that significant reserves of the Central Bank are still outside of Russia and many industries cannot work without foreign supplies, Putin clearly did not expect sanctions on such a scale. Even the holy of holies of the Russian commodity economy—the export of oil and gas—is under threat.
Probably, the Russian authorities counted on the support of China. However, at least for the moment, the Chinese ruling class clearly does not consider the Kremlin such a valuable ally as to stand up for them in the international arena: we hear “calls for dialogue” between Russia and NATO, but according to the resolution on Russian aggression in the UN Security Council, China abstained, and Chinese state-owned banks are in no hurry to settle accounts with Russian ones, fearing that they might experience sanctions themselves. The blockade by the “collective West” will lead Russia more quickly to the fact that the countries that agree to deal with it will be able to dictate almost any conditions to it.
This explains the lack of unconditional support for the Ukrainian “special operation” among the Russian ruling class and their servants. The oligarchs Mikhail Fridman, Oleg Deripaska, Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Tinkov, and the board of directors of Lukoil have already spoken in favor of a “peaceful solution to the conflict.” Some Duma deputies are trying to justify themselves in the spirit of “voting for the recognition of the people’s republics, I wanted Donetsk not to be bombed, not for Kyiv to be bombed.” Propagandists from Russia Today quit. And the list of rebels will expand.
In short, the Russian authorities miscalculated, overestimating the “pro-Russian sentiments” of Ukrainians, the “patriotism” of Russians, and their own importance in the international arena. All together, it is one big snowball of fatal miscalculation—for which many human lives are already being lost.
But the more people understand all this, the more chances we anarchists will have. We do not link the struggle against capitalism and imperialism with the restoration of the “Soviet” system. Join us or fight on your own.
For our freedom and yours!
That's it for today! We remind that in the «Trends of order and chaos», members of Autonomous Action analyze current events from anarchist points of view. Stay tuned on Youtube, SoundCloud and other platforms, visit our website avtonom.org!
Episode №44 is prepared by К.