We hear more and more every day about the callous attacks by the Russian military on innocent Ukrainian civilians. It is these people who are without doubt the greatest victims of ‘Putinism’ – a vicious, autocratic political ideology that seeks both complete physical and intellectual domination over those who threaten to disrupt it. While our thoughts and prayers must of course be centred upon them, their country, and petitioning for an outright end to the conflict, I believe it’s vitally important we also consider and pray for the millions of ordinary Russian civilians who continue to be internally suppressed.
Since Putin maneuvered himself into power in 2000, his regime has sought to drip-feed Russian society a manipulative social, cultural, and economic order aimed at subverting the conscience of what may have otherwise become a free and democratic nation. This hasn’t been attempted without resistance. In 2012, for example, as part of the ‘Snow Revolutions’, the ‘March of the Millions’ saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets of central Moscow and elsewhere, and was even authorised to take place by the City Administration. But a turning point came in January 2021, when mass protests took place across the country in support of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, after he was immediately detained by state authorities upon his return from Germany where he had been receiving treatment following his poisoning the previous year. Protestors were met with significant police crackdowns, thousands were detained and interrogated – eventually leading to all organisations linked to Navalny being deemed “extremist” and thus, liquidated, by Moscow’s central courts.
Tragically, the parallels between Putin’s Russia and 1930s Nazi Germany, as just one example, are becoming more apparent every day. Hitler, as Putin is now, fuelled his power and domination through fear; fear if they spoke out against him, his regime, and its objectives, their lives and livelihoods could be under serious threat. And it is through fear that many German people then – and many Russian people now – are forced to face the most excruciating moral dilemmas. We must therefore be wary of reports we receive from Russia such as the recent poll by ‘The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion’ (VTsIOM) which claims 74% of its population fully support the “special military operation in Ukraine”; the organisation is state-owned and operated.
Many historic examples of such regimes will tell us even the tiniest amount of remaining hope is vital to those who may otherwise give up completely. So, it is encouraging to hear some campaigns and organisations do remain in Russia, fighting against all odds to resist Putinism. The #YouAreNotAlone campaign, for example, distributes small green ribbons tied to public infrastructures such as street lamps and telegraph poles, communicating the most simple yet potentially soul-saving message that there are still people like them in Russia who do not consent to what is happening in their name.
I write all this, of course, as a third party. We can never really know the true reality of what is happening in a country so far away and increasingly disconnected from the global media. But what I can be fully confident in, is the fact no matter where we are born, where we live, work, or study – no matter how influenced or controlled through political and social suppression the Russian people may currently feel – we, as privileged members of a liberal democracy, must never disregard their ultimate human value. Putin has lost this right, the military personnel who carry out the horrific human atrocities in cities such as Mariupol have lost this right. The vast majority of ordinary Russian citizens, however, have not, and we must utilise our grace, compassion, and understanding of such matters as a moral weapon against their oppressors.