Russia’s war in Ukraine has now reached the three-month mark - a quarter of a year of incomprehensible brutality, covered by a thick layer of propaganda, stubbornly repeating that the hostilities were necessary to fight the neo-Nazis who are supposedly oppressing the Russian people. The Western world, perhaps for the first time faced with a lie of this magnitude, still cannot believe it - how can this be possible in the 21st century? Different countries and continents viewed Russia differently before the war, but what is happening in Ukraine has not helped them all to converge in this view. How much more blood will have to be shed before the world finally sees the true face of Russia?
From rivals to enemies
According to a Pew Research Center poll at the end of March, as many as 70% of Americans considered Russia, an enemy of the US. Before the war in Ukraine, in January, only 41% felt this way. Which side do Americans support now? One does not even need to ask - 72% of those polled expressed their preference for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and only 6% for Vladimir Putin.
Indeed, the confrontation between the US and Russia, or rather the then Soviet Union, was at its most pronounced during the Cold War, with hostilities that were accompanied not only by the space race but also by nuclear arms tests. The older population has probably not yet forgotten how, as schoolchildren in the Soviet Union, they used to practice who would be quickest to put on a gas mask if the Americans launched an atomic bomb, although the real source of danger was much closer - Russia, which performed the liberation of peoples by way of occupation, had also succeeded in freeing most people from critical thinking.
Today, people who lived with gas masks during the Soviet era have a unique opportunity to experience the eclipse of the mind that is accompanying Russia - not only Putin and his inner circle, but also the whole country is spinning in a distorted reality.
The US has a mixed attitude towards Russia: it condemns the Kremlin regime and calls for an end to hostilities as soon as possible, but it cannot understand Russia. When you live in a democratic country, where government officials are elected in a transparent manner, where there is an opposition and where people have freedom of speech, it is difficult to understand how, on the other side of the Earth, all these things do not exist because they are simply not possible. It is not only the values or the cultural background that are different but also the attitude towards fundamental human rights. Putin’s Russia demonstratively disregards any of the norms of the civilised world and uses the breaking of these norms as a weapon against both its own society and other nations.
European countries - pragmatic relations
Even before the war in Ukraine, Europe’s relationship with Russia was based on mutual benefit rather than friendship, with Russian pipelines encircling Europe to meet its energy needs. More than half of the gas used by Germany comes from Russia, so a sudden shut-off of the pipeline tap would be a shock to the entire economy.
Meanwhile, Europeans’ attitudes towards Russia have steadily deteriorated, with a particularly drastic change after 2014. According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of Germans had a positive view of Russia in 2010, while after the events in Ukraine in 2014, the number of those who supported Russia was 19%. A similar situation has happened with France, from 53% positive in 2011 to 26% in 2014.
Researchers note that Europeans who express support for Russia tend to be those who also favour right-wing populist parties. This means that those who are sympathetic to conservatism, monarchism, nationalism, and fascism are also generally supportive of Russia in this direction. It is paradoxical how Russia, which is supposedly fighting against the neo-Nazis today, has itself become a new symbol of Nazism.
It would seem that Germany, which still bears the stigma of the First and Second World Wars, should keep its distance from Russia and its influence, but the Stockholm syndrome is at work here, where the bond that has developed between the hostage and the hostage-taker no longer allows us to discern the differences that exist between them. If you talk to an ordinary German, you will hear that Ukraine could make some “concessions” to Russia, give up the territories Russia wants and declare a ceasefire as soon as possible, just for the sake of everyone’s continued well-being. On what basis such prosperity would be based is another question, which the Germans do not want to touch.
Meanwhile, Italy’s favouritism towards Russia, especially after the humanitarian aid it received in 2020 to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, can only be justified by its entrenched mafia traditions - in their eyes, Putin is like the boss of the world mafia. Indeed, the way the Kremlin regime operates is similar to the structure of the mafia, with the perpetrators of crimes being untouchable and all state institutions subordinated to their interests. Today, the creation of Russia as a state is simply the integration of the mafia into the state. And this has been going on for years. The only thing that prevents Mr Putin from gaining the respect of other countries is that he is seen as a president of a state and not as a mafia boss.
The interesting historical point is that, until then, Russia’s actions in Georgia, Chechnya, Abkhazia, and other regions were viewed with caution by Europeans, “nobody knows what it was really like there”, the war in Ukraine has shaken this leitmotif to its roots. Now the Western world, looking at the past through the prism of Ukraine, is beginning to see that the scenario staged by Russia is repeating itself - the same unjustifiable killing of civilians, the carpet bombing, the attempts to intimidate and impose its rule on the territories it has seized.
As far as other European countries are concerned, their attitude towards Russia depends very much on their relationship with the Soviet Union. Here we have a large Eastern European flank, which has suffered directly from the “liberation” organised by the Russians, and which is therefore in a position to assess Russia more realistically and much more harshly.
Lessons from the former USSR countries
The countries that were part of the Soviet Union are more inclined to have a negative view of Russia for reasons that do not need to be explained. It was only after Russia went to war in Ukraine that most of the Western world realised that the “Russians are attacking” narrative, which the Baltic States had repeated for a long time, was not a joke after all.
If there were those in Lithuania who thought that it was better “under the Russians”, they must have been quickly “cured” when Russia started the war in Ukraine. The war has galvanised Russian oppositionists, and now local figures are openly analysing how complex, difficult and yet how different their country is from the Western model of world civilisation. Russians still do not know who they are or what they are doing.
Meanwhile, we know because, during the Soviet period, we were quietly told, in whispers, the dark side of Russian history - the deportations, the nationalisation, the broken lives and destinies of whole generations. Today, these stories, much louder and more widely disseminated, are needed not only by us but also by the rest of the world, which still does not believe in Russia’s brutality. After all, common sense cannot be explained simply by asking the question “why”; the answer does not exist or is blatantly false. The bitter experience we have can be useful to the West if it is willing to listen at last.
For the time being, unfortunately, the main argument remains blood - and the more of it there is, the more attitudes towards Russia will change. Let us remember how the images of Bucha shocked the whole world, and then other news from the war front did not have the same effect. But does the world really need blood to wake up? If so, how much more will it take?