The Real Russia -- and Ukraine

In 2015 in China, an American friend “Showman” (my nickname for him, similar to his real name), a self-styled expert on Russia, was always telling us fellow expats about how Putin had done so much for Russia. He loved Russia and Putin. He spoke broken Russian and almost no Chinese (after 20+ years in Russia and China). At that time I spoke fluent Russian and good Chinese. But he was the acknowledged Russia and China expert by expat friends and foreign visitors.

The only time I ever remember Showman losing composure was when a Finnish engineer, commenting on the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, recounted how his grandfather, a combat veteran of the Russian invasion of Finland, summed up how to deal with Russia. His grandpa’s words sum up perfectly the real Russia and how the West should deal with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

His grandpa killed many Russians in WW II (who were badly armed and forced at gunpoint to charge enemy lines just like now in Ukraine). He suffered greatly from what he did. Yet he told his grandson quite simply how to deal with Russians: “If they ever come again, kill them".

The Real Russia

I first arrived in Russia in 1994. I was shocked at the filth, poverty, and violence. I immediately understood that Soviet Russia had been waging war on itself (and its neighbors) since the Revolution, while playing the victimhood card for generations, claiming their military buildup was out of fear of NATO. When the Soviet “Union” collapsed (1989) their only fear was of each other. They needed NATO and their former Eastern European slave states to save them from themselves.

Soviet Russia was a terrible place created by murderers and criminals. The resulting poverty has always attracted western lackeys looking for attention. Bernie Sanders was in Soviet Russia in 1988, six years before I arrived, babbling about how breadlines were a good thing (the peasants will, WEF-style, have nothing to eat and be happy). Years later a Russian woman whom I dearly loved told me how in 1991 (just three years after Comrade Breadlines’ 1988 Russia tour), when she was 18, she passed out because of malnourishment. It was not easy in 1994 to buy edible food, but in 1991 there was nothing at all to eat. Nothing could be imported from Europe, not because of NATO, but because of a vastly corrupt Russian customs and border system. I survived my first winter in 1994 thanks to Polish food imports (bought in kiosks on the street). Food products made in Russia were disgusting garbage.

Post-Glasnost Russians with authority (such as the militia) always terrorized and robbed those lower in the hierarchy. I was driving to the St. Petersburg airport (Vnukova) in 2000 when we were stopped by three thugs in uniform with machine guns within sight of the airport terminal main entrance. After 10 minutes of intimidation, realizing that I was not afraid of missing a flight and wasn't going to pay a bribe, they let us go. Just another day in poor victimized Russia.

Many Russians (perhaps 30%) in the early 90s idolized America as their last hope, but they slowly realized that Clinton America was not going to help free them from themselves. They chose the only path they knew, violence and aggression, when they chose Putin. They approved of the KGB goon thinking that corruption and cheating, when institutionalized, would somehow make life better. And whenever Putin’s ratings dropped too low (70% before the 2022 invasion), all he had to do was to start killing and plundering Russia’s neighbors. That guaranteed a return to the normal 80-85% approval rating.

Putin also allowed those Russian families with blood on their hands to whitewash their past. In 2002, not far from where we used to go cross-country skiing near St. Petersburg, the Memorial Society discovered an NKVD killing field (Putin’s father was NKVD) with 30,000 victims (Memorial was forced to close in 2021, just before the 2022 invasion). After the discovery, a few elderly locals who lived nearby were brave enough to finally talk about the nighttime shooting in the woods they had heard regularly from 1937-1939.

It’s pathetic how Russians are always viewed as victims, considering that those that did the shooting survived (and had children), and those who were shot did not.  Seventy years of mass murder dramatically changed the makeup of Russia.  But that doesn’t stop armchair Russian experts from using the distant history of Russia, 300 years ago, to explain why the poor little Russians of today are so afraid of the big bad (Western) world out there (where Russian elites store all their wealth). That somehow they have to invade and kill others to protect themselves.

In the 90s my Russian friends mocked Estonia and the little Baltic countries, while claiming that Russia was such a great country because they had so much land, oil and gas. The proud Moscow Horde. On my first trip to Estonia in 1995 I was shocked at just how much better the people lived (and behaved) than in Russia. But while Russian-Estonians whined about being ruled by non-Russians, none of them ever returned to Mother Russia. Estonia was a good place to live because non-hyphenated Estonians occupied most government posts and did not use the past and their very real recent victimhood (Papa Putin’s NKVD during WW II banished 7,000 Estonian women, children and elderly to Siberia) to justify stealing from and terrorizing others (even Russians).

The Real Ukraine

During my first visit to Ukraine (2008), I was very surprised that, although corrupt, the Ukrainians were very different from the Russians. They were Europeans. And it seemed obvious to me that without natural resources, Russians would be poorer than Ukrainians. Yet all my Russian acquaintances in Ukraine, who spoke to me as if I were one of them (I speak very good Russian), only whined about Ukraine, while never even considering going back to Russia (these X-Ukrainians reminded me so much of America’s own X-American eternal victim classes). What they really missed was their higher social status in a criminal society, even if it meant less freedom and more poverty. In 2014, after the Ukrainians freed most of their country from the Russian crime state, I immediately noticed a difference in Ukraine. You could actually walk in Kiev, speak English, and not fear harassment from the police (not possible in Russia).

Ukraine gets along with its neighbors and lives within its borders. But poor little Russia can’t do that, because it fears Ukraine, America and Europe. The real reason is that the failed Russian state does not want prosperous free republics on its borders. It’s that simple.

My friend’s Finnish grandpa did not hate Russians, but he knew what to expect from them (as a group). Russians are not inherently evil, but the country and society that formed and abused them is. They are survivors. If my situation was ever so hopeless that war and plunder were the only way to survive, then I could think of no better brothers-in-arms than the Russians. But if my homeland is a modern peace-loving nation, then Russia is a terrible neighbor.

Those who do not understand (or refuse to accept) what the majority of the Russians are, are destined to pay a heavy price. In 2022, Europe was almost taken over (again) by Russia (the Germans were especially helpful to the Russians). It was a very close call. The few who were prepared, the brave warriors (Zelensky and the Ukrainian military, with help from Poland, the Baltics, Britain, and the USA), saved Europe. A lesson that many in the West will, undoubtedly, soon conveniently forget.

Image: Achille Beltrame

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