What question to ask

About 10 years ago, at a film festival in Canada, I met an indie film maker from Moscow. A decent clean cut guy, a few years younger than me. We saw his film at the festival and we were impressed. I had not had much contact with this artist until recently. He pinged me when the war broke out. We got in touch over WhatsApp and he shared with me some important Russian perspectives.

I asked Mikhail the film maker if it was true that most people in Russia supported the invasion of Ukraine. I knew where Mikhail stood – he is an opened-minded good Jewish boy. He hates what is going on. And he said to me, “Ronnie, you are asking the wrong question.”

Mikhail said that Russia is a dictatorship and that just about all of society lives in permanent fear. He was suggesting that in such a system if Putin says the sky is pink, then that is what people believe. So if Putin changes the brainwashing and says “We love Ukraine” then everyone loves Ukraine. So the majority of Russians hate Ukraine because Putin hates Ukraine.

My take on things is that before the 2014 revolution in Ukraine and before Russia annexed Crimea, Russians and Ukrainians were getting along. They would holiday in each other’s countries, do business together, marry, play sports, listen to each other’s music, and so on. Most Ukrainians and most Russians have family in each other’s country. I would say that everyone was friendly. But after Putin started the war in 2014 the Ukrainians stopped trusting anything Russian. All airline flights to Russia were stopped. Russian Internet sites were blocked, TV stations were made unreachable, tourism stopped, etc. The Ukrainians were not interested in anything to do with Russia from then on, and they looked to the West more than ever. And up until the nightmare war that started just over a month ago, since 2014, Ukraine was doing good. Economic growth was healthy and the future was looking bright.

Back to the Moscow man. My film maker friend said that a more relevant question to ask Russians is, “Do you support the freedom and peace that Russia brings to Ukraine?” I guess none of us can comprehend the level of propaganda that is taking place there. They are seriously brainwashed by the evil Mr. Putin. I went on to ask Mikhail about Putin and the nuclear button. His answer was sobering. He said, “There is a bad news: he is a fanatic. And there is good news: he’s a coward.” I also don’t believe Putin will be pushing the button. The big issue is, in my view, is that the West is weak, and Putin knows this. President Biden needs to grow some balls, and quickly.

The last thing we chatted about was to do with the sanctions. Mikhail said the sanctions are a joke for now. He explained that the biggest impact from them will be with Russian middle class and creative people. He went onto say that it effects those who do not support Putin and embrace democratic ideas. “The rich Russian oligarchs and state servants like police and corrupted judges will not feel the sanctions“, Mikhail added, “And poor people who always were poor – neither will feel these sanctions.”

So, with Putin’s mass of terrified sheep nothing much will change. Mikhail ended our conversation with, “In any case sanctions will not stop this war.”