I awoke with a start in the darkness of the night and threw my legs out of bed. My heart was pounding, but I had no memory of what nightmare might have awakened me. I pulled my legs back into bed and pulled the covers back up against the cold air. I wondered only briefly why I had been startled as fatigue drove me back to sleep. A few hours later, my wife called me, and I reluctantly got out of bed and went to the bathroom. It was 5:30 and we were going to the gym. When I entered the living room, she said, “Putin has invaded Ukraine”. A nightmare, I thought.
We had been expecting it to happen for some time, and now we were watching the reporters cover developments and concerns for the future. They talked about the speech Putin had given and how he viewed Ukraine’s government as illegitimate, as well as those in several former Soviet states. Putin is even said to have talked about Finland being part of Russia, even though it is a modern, progressive country that is going its own way. My head bristled at the thought that there is anyone who considers other countries to be the rightful property of Russia, and that had illegally become independent. What mind would want to undo the independence of people?
For a long time, there had been voices warning the West about this intention, which had been dormant for a while, and it came especially from Russian exiles. But there were others who warned the West against interfering in Russia’s territories, and President Trump even “liked” Putin and tried to ally with him, wishing for large military parades like those in Russia and China. Both countries were allowed to invest in the West, including in Britain, where a Russian even has a seat in the House of Lords. Germany, through lobbying by former Chancellor Schröder, agreed to gas supplies from Russia that would make it dependent, which was widely criticized in the West. And the reaction to the shooting or poisoning of opposition Russian figures was meagre and indecisive.
A nightmare indeed, especially considering Putin’s views on former soviet countries, that have become NATO members and have the right to protection by the other members. The Friedrich Nauman Stiftung quotes Michel Eltchaninoff as saying that it is hard to say why he has become so aggressive now. “Domestically, the fact is that he promised a “Russia for the people” in the 2018 election campaign: That was his slogan. In the nearly four years since, however, he hasn’t gotten much off the ground. He has amended the constitution to stay in office until 2036; he has reformed the pension system in a highly unpopular way; he has poisoned and arrested his critic and rival Alexei Navalny. But he has failed to galvanize a political movement in his favour. His popularity is visibly eroding.”
So, it seems that the domestic problems of Russia have become the problems for the West and in particular for the Ukraine. Eltchaninoff is quoted as saying that Putin is following Lev Goumilev in the pseudo-scientific idea that every nation has its own life energy, and that the superior nature of Russia as a young, new country filled with cosmic power demands continued expansion. This startles the interviewer but considering the conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific idiocies that are widespread on the internet, we can hardly be surprised. It seems to be a time of wild ideas that have overcome the disillusionment of the twentieth century, and the awareness of where war leads us, and a widespread forgetfulness has started to endanger the cohesion of societies and the fragile “peace” that Europe has enjoyed since the war.
It would be wise to take the warnings seriously that Putin is a dangerous ideologist who, according to Eltchaninoff, promotes the idea of a “sacralization of war”, for whom “In Russia, even death is still beautiful”. A nightmare indeed.