The undeniably broad domestic support for Russia’s brutal attack against Ukraine has baffled and horrified people around the world. How could so many ordinary Russian people fall for Kremlin’s crude and outlandish anti-Ukrainian propaganda? A long 🧵
Trying to make sense of this has become an obsession for me. My conclusions are undoubtedly informed by my own positionality as a Central Asian. In short, the propaganda works because it taps into something that has been a crucial part of Russian identity long before Putin.
Russian society famously underwent extreme upheavals in the 20th century. Revolutions, World Wars, emergence and collapse of the USSR - the dizzying magnitude of change and disruption is hard to exaggerate. Yet, amidst all the turmoil, one part of the Russian worldview persisted.
The remarkably stable and enduring phenomenon transcending different historical periods and regime types is the self-conception of Russia as a great power that brings good to those around it and Russian people as bearers of superior culture and morality.
Deeply internalized, the idea of its own benevolence has long permeated and shaped Russian society. In this narrative, unlike the old European powers guilty of ruthless colonial conquest, Russia is a selfless bringer of culture, prosperity, and order.
The view of Russia as a big brother bestowing its blessings on the lesser people around it is ubiquitous among Russians of all political persuasions. In this narrative, Russia’s neighbors are perpetually indebted to it. The relationship is always unequal.
The word “gift“ features prominently. The gifts include Russian language, literature, music, and art. But also science and, even, modernity itself. Naturally, in this worldview, Russians are superior and those on the receiving end of Russia’s largesse are expected to be grateful.
Russia’s view of Central Asians is unabashedly and unapologetically racist, of the “we taught you how to piss standing up” variety. Russia’s long-standing view of Ukrainians is more complex but equally pernicious and condescending.
Ominously, according to Russian politicians from Putin on down, in case of #Ukraine and #Kazakhstan, the list of Russian “gifts” includes chunks of territory or even statehood itself. Sovereign nations since 1991, both 🇺🇦 and 🇰🇿 have been described by Putin as artificial states.
A central part of this worldview is a refusal to accept that nations formerly under Moscow’s control could have agency of their own. Attempts by Kyiv, Astana, or Tbilisi to set a course diverging from that of Russia are seen as a result of manipulation by great powers elsewhere.
In this worldview, Ukraine that seeks to decide its own affairs, free of Moscow’s control, is an aberration, a result of gullible/corrupted Ukrainian leaders being manipulated by Washington, London, etc. Because why else would they want to escape Russia’s “sphere of influence”?
The power of this idea in Russia’s public imagination is impossible to overstate. To wit, consider the much touted expectation that invading Russian soldiers would be met with flowers by “liberated” Ukrainians.
To understand Russian public support for the horrible attack against a sovereign nation, Russia’s long history as an unapologetic colonial power and its long-held view of itself and its neighbors must be taken into account.
Putin’s propaganda is so effective because it taps into the imperial idea deeply held by Russians. In fact, the imperial idea has been the trump card in 🇷🇺 politics and society for a long time. It’s not Putin’s war, it’s Russia’s war. It’s not Putin’s Russia, it’s Russia’s Putin.
As long as Russia views itself as a benevolent empire and sees the sovereignty of its former colonial subjects as a “geopolitical catastrophe” that needs fixing, no one is safe. The sooner the world recognizes this, the better.  THE END

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More from @azamatistan

Nov 8
I was fortunate to spend most of October in Kazakhstan. Amazing to witness the influx of Russian men fleeing mobilization. Lots of illuminating conversations with friends and strangers. These conversations linger in my mind, some more than others.  A short 🧵
A long-time regime critic who returned to Kazakhstan in early spring after nearly 30 years in Moscow, disgusted by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  A shy and seemingly disoriented 23 year old, put on a plane to Almaty by his mother, despite his fear of flying.
However, the conversation that stayed with me the most was the one with a 15 year-old whose Kazakh parents (our friends) had lived in St. Petersburg as expats for nearly 7 years until last summer.  The kid attended a well-regarded private school in Russia’s “cultural capital.”
Read 8 tweets
Oct 18
A prominent Russian influencer fleeing mobilization haughtily berates unnamed Kyrgyz people for taking offense at his criticisms of their country and dismisses their calls for respectful behavior befitting a polite guest. 🧵…
Likening #Kyrgyzstan to a restaurant that rejects feedback, he reminds his critics that “the customer is always right.” The snide manner of the message is instructive.
That even liberal Russians routinely critical of #Putin can be this tone deaf represents an important symptom
In modern #Russia, a depressingly large share of people is afflicted by a condition that @BotakozKassymb1 and @EricaMarat aptly named “imperial innocence.”…
Read 10 tweets
Sep 26
The decisions by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland to ban Russian citizens with tourist visas from entering their countries have provoked indignant responses from many prominent “good Russians.” This indignation is telling and deserves a closer look. 🧵
As Putin opponents and Ukraine war critics, they are furious about Russia’s neighbors’ reluctance to open their borders. Their response reveals an important “blind spot” in the way that even the most outspoken and liberal Russians see themselves.
Predictably, they usually insist on referring to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as Putin’s war rather than Russia’s war. This conveniently absolves regular Russians of responsibility for the horrific attack perpetrated against a sovereign nation. But there is more to it.
Read 8 tweets
Sep 24
Kremlin’s barbaric war in #Ukraine️ has been widely condemned by Western politicians. What has received much less attention is the fact that a grossly disproportionate share of servicemen in the Russian army are from non-Slavic ethnicities previously colonized by Russia. 🧵
In modern Russia, they face deeply ingrained racism, discrimination, and limited economic opportunities. Yet, their communities are bearing the brunt of Putin’s “partial mobilization.” It appears to be the result of a deliberate policy.
This is a policy designed to shelter the privileged ethnic Russians in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other large cities from the horrors of the war. In this deeply cynical calculation, lives of Buryats, Tuvans, and other impoverished and subjugated minorities matter less.
Read 6 tweets
Sep 2
A few days ago I wrote about the way in which Russia’s long colonial rule in #Kazakhstan warped my own relationship to the #Kazakh language and culture. The responses to the thread were both eye-opening and thought-provoking. The original🧵:
Growing up in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, I was taught that Russia’s presence in Central Asia was a noble gift of modernity and civilization. Full stop. The word “colonialism” was NEVER used. The strength and staying power of this narrative is hard to exaggerate.
Read 12 tweets
Aug 30
The unabashedly imperialist zeitgeist of Russia’s war against #Ukraine has been deeply unsettling and has spurred much reflection about my own identity and my family’s history. This long🧵 is an attempt to begin to make sense of my relationship to the Kazakh language and culture.
It was inspired in large part by the thought-provoking ideas put forth by @BotakozKassymb1 and @EricaMarat in their excellent piece for @ponarseurasia…
I’m a middle-aged Kazakh man born and raised in Kazakhstan, yet my command of the Kazakh language is tenuous at best and I have but a passing familiarity with Kazakh traditions and culture.
Read 17 tweets

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