Why Russia Is Happy at War


Vladimir Putin's imperial project rests upon a long-standing tradition of authoritative leadership and lack of respect for the rights of individuals that has spanned numerous centuries.

Russia - Figure 1
Photo The Atlantic

Russia's Independence Day is celebrated on June 12. Initially, the commemoration was not well-received when it was introduced by President Boris Yeltsin in 1992, with many questioning who Russia had declared independence from. However, in the early 2000s, President Vladimir Putin raised the importance of the day to a significant national celebration that involves lots of waving flags. In recent years, the celebrations have expanded beyond military victories to also include support for the invasion of Ukraine. Activities such as charity auctions and motor rallies are organized to support the troops, while flash mobs promote national unity with a hashtag of #WeAreRussiaWeAreTogether.

Ignoring any information that may not be impartial, it seems that Russia is more united than expected. Even though the war had a significant impact on their population, with as many as half a million deaths according to UK Defence Intelligence, and despite facing isolation from Western countries, Russian society has remained intact. In fact, it appears to be functioning better than prior to the war and has achieved a level of social cohesion that was once difficult to achieve. The explanation for this apparent contradiction of thriving during chaos, is that Russian society has a different goal compared to Western countries. Instead of working for the benefit of their citizens, they are focused on serving their country's interests.

Russia has been under strict rule since the 15th century after emerging from Mongol control. The government has never had a proper separation of powers and has been under totalitarian rule for 70 years in the 20th century, resulting in limited avenues for political debate or dissent. The judiciary system has only approved orders from the rulers without second thoughts. During the writer's childhood, the ideology of individual rights not being significant was a common message taught in schools, stating that the Russian pronoun for "I" is "the last letter of the alphabet," symbolizing its insignificance.

The Russian state's authority over its people has enabled Putin to effortlessly rally society for war. Even prior to the invasion, 25% of Russians believed that the state had the right to prioritize its interests over individuals' rights. Today, over two years since the violence began, the public's approval rating for the war in Ukraine is at a staggering 75% on average. Therefore, who can resist the power of the Russian dictator?

During times of peace, conformity, favoritism, insufficient legal enforcement, and dishonesty aren't stimulating for enhancing the economy. However, when there is a war, Russia immediately starts running smoothly. The same things that hold back Russia during peace - the unbending authoritarianism, the centralized and top-down system of government, the oppressive machinery, and the planned economy - turn into advantages during war. That's because the government can promptly and callously mobilize society and industry for the war effort, overcoming the technological backwardness and societal fragmentation that the country typically has.

The reason for the existence of the state is derived from war: safeguarding Russians from adversaries. Simply put, Russia has been designed to engage in war.

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Russia is showing signs of increased activity. In 2023, its economy expanded by 3.6%, propelled by the government's expenditures on the military, and growth is projected to continue to increase in 2024. Money is no longer leaving the country, which has allowed Putin to move forward with massive infrastructure projects. Despite concerns raised by foreign observers, Russian citizens still have access to their favorite products, which have now been rebranded with domestic names. This is possible because the Russian government has obtained ownership of Western companies that left the country after the invasion, or through insider buying. Russia has found ways to circumvent economic sanctions and access strategic components and technologies, including those required for its weapons. This has created profitable opportunities for entrepreneurs in Russia.

The nation is currently experiencing an abundance of wealth, with people's salaries increasing all around. Joining the army to fight in Ukraine pays at least eight times more than the country's average wage. If someone is injured in battle, or if someone dies, their family will receive a large amount of money that can be used to purchase items they could not afford before, such as nice apartments, cars, and other things. Many news sources in Russia share stories like that of Alexei Voronin, who lost part of his foot in battle but doesn't regret his decision to fight in Ukraine. In fact, he feels that he has everything he needs now. His mother also agrees that her son is fortunate to have only lost part of his foot, as others who joined the same cause have lost their lives.

The situation at the front has gotten better since last year. People are still signing up to fight in Ukraine without Putin needing to order more people to mobilize. The chances of survival for soldiers are now higher than before. This is because the Russian military has better weapons and supplies. They are doing well at making artillery shells and drones, thanks to the help of people working in the munitions industry around the clock. This is even better than what Ukraine and the Western countries can do. The graffiti on the Russian missiles and bombs that hit Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities say "For our boys and We will win!"

This level of self-assurance is not merely Russia's exaggerated patriotism. Moscow has reorganized its leaders and enhanced its logistics, ultimately making progress in Ukraine by quelling the counter-strike from the previous year. Additionally, Russian communication units have figured out how to disrupt the signals of Western satellite systems while also neutralizing advanced weaponry.

At present, Russia has extended the battleground to benefit itself. It has executed victorious acts of sabotage in Europe and boosted its dominance in Africa by taking over the Wagner military unit and making it an official part of its military. As a self-declared advocate in the worldwide fight against American power, Russia has effectively recruited unsupportive governments and local commanders across the world, such as Iran and North Korea, as well as geopolitically neutral countries like China, India, Hungary, and Brazil. In terms of diplomacy, Russia is not alienated in any way.

Putin's popularity remains high due to Kremlin propaganda that paints him as a wartime leader worth defending Russia against NATO and the West. The number of his supporters has grown considerably. Unfortunately, there's no room for any alternative viewpoints or narratives, especially since other dissidents, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, have been exiled, imprisoned, or murdered. As a result, young Russians don't protest the war that's killing their friends and family, knowing that approximately 11 million Russians had a relative in Ukraine when the invasion started. Instead, they attend concerts by patriotic singers, chant "Russia!" and admire captured NATO tanks. Many people genuinely seem to have fervor towards Putin, with more than half of them believing that their country is progressing towards the right direction.

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Many countries have movements that promote national unity against perceived external threats, and Russia is no exception. However, what sets Russia apart is that its autocratic leaders always frame their aggression as defense, and the Russian people tend to support it. Throughout history, Russian leaders have used the justification of protecting Mother Russia to seize neighboring territories, including Crimea, the Baltics, Finland, Poland, and the Caucasus. Even the Bolsheviks used the defense of the Revolution as their reason for bringing back independent provinces into the Communist fold.

The Kremlin has constructed a narrative of defense-through-offense that has been supported by two significant invasions: Napoleon's invasion in the early 1800s and the Nazi invasion in the 1940s. These demonstrations of national resistance resulted in the loss of millions of lives, but the official ideology claims that it was precisely this sacrifice that made Russia great. Putin has carried on with this tradition through new leadership, waging imperialist wars in Chechnya, Georgia, and now Ukraine. His propaganda machine has been exploiting the genuine trauma caused by the Nazi invasion to propagate the notion that all evil in Russia comes from the West. They claim that the West is envious of Russia's resources and greatness and that it is the obligation of every Russian to rise up and fight against it.

Living in Russia can feel like living in a fortress, especially for those who have experienced life during the Soviet Union. Growing up, even our games at summer camp included pretending to find and disarm saboteurs who we believed wanted to harm us. We sang songs during parades and in school that emphasized our desire for peace, but also highlighted our readiness for defense and protection. While the feeling of paranoia eased a bit during the reform period of the late 1980s and after the Soviet Union dissolved in the 1990s, it never went away completely. This is because Russia continued to produce a significant amount of artillery shells each year, which indicates that the country's military capacity persisted, even during the supposedly democratic post-Cold War years.

Putin's conflict in Ukraine is having a major impact on both Russia and its people. The country's leader is devoting a significant portion of the nation's finances to fuel his own war agenda. To date, the Russian government's financial input into this matter equates to a third of their annual budget. This means that other vital areas, such as education, health care, and social welfare, are being neglected. While the impact on the Russian economy is evident, the cost in terms of human life is even greater. Half a million young men have lost their lives, either in combat or as disabled veterans. Meanwhile, civilians living within Russia are subject to strict censorship, travel restrictions, and limited freedoms. Despite this, the general population has not held the Russian government to account for the country's ongoing struggles. Unfortunately, this level of suffering is considered an inevitable part of life within Russia.

Everyone is preparing for war. Old tanks from the Soviet era are being taken from storage and sent to fight on the front line, bread factories are being transformed into drone production facilities, and even young kids in kindergarten are being taught how to make camouflage nets to help with the war effort. The motto being reinforced is “Everything for the victory”, and those who have lost their businesses or properties due to the war are coping by investing their profits from government military contracts into lavish new palaces in Dubai. The search for saboteurs has also become a serious matter and is no longer just an activity at summer camp. Everyone is getting ready to board the armored train and do what they can to help in the time of war.

The dangerous partnership between a militant government and a submissive populace is a troubling situation for the global community. This signifies that Putin has effectively rallied Russia to fulfill his aspirations of control, and Russia can continue to pursue their aggressive expansionism without end, especially as the West is hesitant to react for fear of triggering further escalation. However, Putin has already taken things one step further, using a combination of tactics including subversion, mental manipulation, and involvement in African conflicts to provoke conflict.

It is crucial that the Western world acknowledges this danger and takes action. In this regard, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the history of Russia.

As Napoleon and Hitler can attest, waging war on Russian land can have catastrophic consequences. However, defeat in a war outside of Russian borders can prove fatal for those in power in Moscow. Throughout history, Russian autocracies have only collapsed when faced with the humiliation of military disaster. The fall of the Romanov dynasty following their failures in the Crimean War and Russo-Japanese War serves as a prime example. Similarly, the downfall of the Soviet Union was partly attributed to the humbling of the powerful Red Army in Afghanistan. Recent history has shown that Putin was able to survive the rebellion of Yevgeny Prigozhin during the height of Russia's campaign in Ukraine. Russia's military has since regained its footing, and Putin's rule has stabilized. However, if Ukraine continues to gain traction, Putin's narrative as the defender of Russia could crumble, and regime change may once again become a possibility.

From now on, the safety of the world will consistently be endangered by Russia, who refers to themselves as "the nation of victors". On the other hand, for the Russian people, the freedom they are expected to commemorate on June 12 is merely a commitment to support a government that views them as expendable resources for its imperialist goals.

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