The Fall of Moscow – POLITICO

Vijai Maheshwari is as of this week a writer and businessman based in Moscow. He tweets @Vijaimaheshwari.

When I was an aspiring writer in the humiliating Moscow of the 1990s, I remember greatly admiring the Russians for what many writers before me had described as their seemingly limitless capacity to endure. . To my fledgling mind, their vodka-spiked, poetic melancholy seemed far more soulful than the upbeat American smiles. But Moscow has changed a lot since then. It has become more like America, as a new middle class enjoys the city’s recent transformation into a smart and sophisticated European metropolis.

Or so it seems just a few weeks ago, when Russia began its brutal invasion of Ukraine – and everything changed in an instant. Overnight, the city went from gay to gray. The smiles were gone, replaced by people walking around in shock, their pain and fear so much that it consisted of utter despair.

There is wisdom in that despair. Police brutally detained hundreds of protesters across the country at anti-war rallies filled with morale. The government has also blocked Facebook and Twitter to insulate Russians from the truth about the war. The brutal attack is a signal that the regime will stop at nothing to achieve its goals; Its tactics remind that Russians are indeed living in police status, unlike their more liberal Ukrainian neighbors.

The Russians and Ukrainians have a history that goes back hundreds of years. Most Russians are of Ukrainian descent and vice versa, and the two nations were, until very recently, intrinsically intertwined. It is indeed a tragedy for some Russians that Ukraine has chosen to accept the West, but the divorce causes regret and disappointment – not anger. Instead, liberal Muslims admire Ukraine for its courage to break free of its Soviet past.

But the Russians don’t control the story in their own country. Vladimir Putin does. And he refuses to accept disappointment and regret, always choosing to escalate instead. He could not think of a people so close to Russia that they turned their backs on their Slavic brethren. The idea of ​​NATO membership and US missiles in Ukraine is a “red line” in his paranoid worldview. And so he chose a brutal war to reassert raw power over Ukraine, just as the Czars did centuries ago.

Putin did not consult the Russians before launching his invasion. Most of them were oblivious to his war games, eagerly awaiting a frivolous spring after a long pandemic winter. A look back at the fun, flirtation of February 23 – a day of remembrance for the Defenders of the Fatherland, Russia’s version of Memorial Day – our celebrations in a jazz-style bar Prohibition in central Moscow now feels like the day before the carefree world we knew it was over.

The next day, the Muslims awoke to news of an unimaginable war, with rockets raining down on a brother country. The city feels grief and panic. There are people crying in the subway and in bars. Everyone looked as if they had been beaten.

“I have friends and relatives in Ukraine. I watch their videos on Facebook, their sleeping in bomb shelters and their cries for help, and I don’t understand how my country does this,” cried one ex-girlfriend.

They may not want this war, but they know that they are all to blame in the eyes of the world. They are all complicit in Putin’s dirty war, and there’s nothing they can do about it. The Ukrainians and the whole world will blame them for Putin’s aggression, and they will only have to take the pain and suffer for it.

But many Russians share the fear of infecting Ukrainians. They fear the intimidation and naked aggression of their president, and what it foreshadows their future. One close friend wrote: “We are all sad and scared, and wonder what our psycho President will do next.

Since the invasion, the crackdown on freedom of speech and media has increased, with the last remaining Russian independent stores, Echo Moscow and TV Rain, now closed. Russians are being fired for posting anti-war posts on social media. The Kremlin has just announced that those who speak out against the war will be forced to join the fight. And with sanctions already strangling the Russian economy, long lines of snakes swirl around ATMs, as Russians brace themselves for dark times ahead. Liberal intellectuals are panicking, many rushing to leave the country, on whatever flights are still available after the West shuts down its airspace. Tickets to neighboring Armenia went up to $1,000.

With everything in mind, you would think that many Russians would have taken to the streets to protest this brutal fraternity – many did at first and many still can – but now, Putin has brought them to his knees. spare. Flashy bars and Michelin-starred restaurants are now empty and Moscow is almost as quiet as it was during COVID-19. The city is still lit up at night like it was Christmas time, but now Russians stay home and drink wine as the Russian ruble turns to rubble.

Dostoevsky famously said that “Pain and suffering are always inevitable to a broad mind and a deep heart.” And the Russians seem to be heeding his words, many of them baffled by that famous stamina to weather the war and the economic hardships that will follow.

Indeed, suffering has a nobleness, and it gives rise to a soul that was not there before. People played chess again and immersed themselves in Russian poetry; they hold alcoholic dinners in their stuffy kitchen instead of going out. Friends often recited couplets from poets like Anna Akhmatova or Alexander Pushkin, both of whom had experienced great suffering in their lives.

Now that the war has entered its third week and the West has closed its doors to Russia, I feel some people paradoxically yearn, for the simplicity of their famous Soviet past, for a while. before globalization and status quo, when all people were united by their common anguish, and vodka and hot dogs were enough to bring everyone together.

The smiling millennial generation in Russia is famous for its healthier lifestyle, but I fear that this terrible crisis will wipe out their dreams of a better future, causing them to lose faith as young people. Their father has returned to his homeland after a barbaric war in Afghanistan.

We hope that Russia’s cancellation of the contract with the West will spur them to revolt against the regime, but more likely will spur them to seek refuge in the melancholy of their ancestors, who experienced through more terrible times. A friend said the war was a picnic, compared with World War II, Afghanistan and the horrors of Stalin’s purges and pitfalls in the 1930s.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Moscow is being rocked by anti-war protests and demands for a new regime. I hope the Russians become democratic and treat their neighbors with respect. But I feel that they will instead take on all this pain and fear and find some deep meaning in the trials it has imposed on their souls.

Putin is our monster, they will decide, but we can learn to live with his demons. That is how Russia has suffered as a dictator for centuries, and I worry that may not change in another generation. The Fall of Moscow - POLITICO

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