The Russian Professor: "You must understand that this is a world war"

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Russia’s actions today are the result of something that has been going on for centuries, believes Sergei Medvedev, a political scientist, journalist and author who for many years was a professor at the prominent Moscow Business School and a liberal voice in Russia’s shrinking media landscape. He compares it to an avalanche: The snow had been falling for a long time, the drifts were heavy at the top and it only took one foolhardy skier for the disaster to be a fact. “Vladimir Putin’s role is that he just went out and did it.” Preparations for the war have been going on for about 15 years, Medvedev believes. Maybe 20. He points to how Putin began early on to strengthen his power and establish a grip on the system. Already in 2007, the Russian president complained about the lack of “security guarantees” from the West, which was his motive for the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It was his first declaration of war, according to Medvedev. “But make no mistake: It is not the war over Ukraine. It is a war against the West. Putin and many in Russian society see this as an existential struggle between Russia and the West that has been going on for centuries. Now it is time for the decision.” People in the outside world has long lived in the delusion that Russia is a country like any other, according to Medvedev. But it has never been truly democratic. The oppression and the war are, as he sees it, a logical consequence of Russia’s history, rule and traditions. “Now Russia is in a classic fascist stage, although not like the fascism of the 20th century. It is a more postmodern fascism, built on media and television images and the psychological comfort of a people who want a comfortable version of the truth,” says Sergei Medvedev. The Russian academic compares the Russian state to the biblical sea monster Leviathan. It was the 17th-century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes who first used Leviathan to describe an all-powerful state – a huge beast – to which people willingly submit.”People in Russian society feel part of a common body, united by a common destiny , in contrast to the West. There is a cult of war that has been historically embedded in Russia, but has grown. A cult of death, like the fascists in the 20th century. And a memorial cult where people are constantly mourning the lost empire,” says Medvedev. He describes the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus as the most powerful the world has seen. “There is no mass enthusiasm, but no mass resistance either. People are so apathetic and demobilized and afraid of the state. They feel like victims of it, but also like part of it.” You also need understand that Russians believe in fate, says Sergei Medvedev. They tend to accept the status quo. Like in the traffic on Russian roads, where many take big risks and few wear seat belts, he says. Or when the authorities knock with a summons to war.” They are fatalistic and at some point prepared to accept death. You don’t take responsibility for your life and your behavior, which can be particularly difficult to understand in a Protestant country like Sweden.” Regarding the question of guilt for the Ukraine war, Medvedev is divided. “The people definitely have a responsibility, but I’m not sure when it will come to debt. It bears responsibility for all the atrocities that took place way back in the 20th century, which has become a normal way of operating for the Russian state and the Russian army, which has never been held accountable for it,” he says. He means everything from war crimes during World War II, Soviet tanks in Budapest and Prague, the war in Afghanistan where at least a million Afghans were killed. The Chechen war, where whole villages were destroyed. And later the total bombing of Syrian Aleppo. Everyone has to ask themselves what role they had in this, he believes. “But I’m not sure that our society has the ability to do that. For the Germans it took at least two generations. It required a total defeat, foreign occupation, the division into two states and a process of re-education that went on for decades.” The Russian academic knows no greater optimism. The great conflict could continue for another ten years, as he sees it. Vladimir Putin is not in a hurry, but plans long-term. And even if the president were to disappear, Russia would not change.” A tragic feeling I have is that a Russian defeat in Ukraine will not be decisive. It can even worsen the situation,” says Medvedev, and gives a picture of a damaged and vengeful country with nuclear weapons that is withdrawing and biding its time. Today, the world stands in the middle of the raging avalanche, he points out. The upheavals are of the same magnitude as those that took place in the 1930s, when the outside world had not yet realized the extent of what was going on in Nazi Germany, Sergei Medvedev believes. the better. There are no other options but to outright defeat Russia. It is not possible to sit on the sidelines.”

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