Putin is threatening a war with Ukraine, but it is unclear if the Russians are ready to shed their blood for Donbass?

  • After the annexation of Crimea, support for Putin jumped above 80%, but it is not clear whether and to what extent the Russians support the Kremlin’s current actions in and around Ukraine
  • Almost 40 percent. Russians consider war probable or certain, but almost the same number, 38 percent, consider it unlikely, and another 15 percent. completely rules it out
  • Such research results suggest that most Russians are psychologically unprepared for a war with Ukraine
  • Most Russians do not want Donbass to become part of Russia, preferring independence to the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, according to the Levada Center
  • According to a Levada poll, half of Russians believe that the USA and NATO countries are the initiators of the increase in tension in eastern Ukraine, 16 percent. blames Ukraine, and only 4 percent. Russia

Original article on POLITICO.com website

In the center of Moscow, just outside the Kremlin walls, the Russians still celebrate their long winter vacation. Covered with basalt cubes, Red Square has become the site of a festive festival swarming with partygoers.

There is an ice rink and carnival rides. Queues for mulled wine and sweet donuts wind around the crowd. Young children spin around in colorful cups, hear nostalgic Soviet songs from the loudspeakers, proving a longing for the past that the youngest will never experience.

Thousands of miles away, Russian officials sit these days in tense and important talks with the United States and its NATO allies, as Moscow demands security guarantees and the West questions the expansion of its armed forces near the Ukrainian border. However, here in Red Square, the prospect of war seems distant and unlikely.

– Drink your milkshakes and hug each other. Hug you, I said! – shouts Kristina Kostowa, 38, mother of two, trying to take an Instagram-worthy photo of her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, who has already lost the lid of her milkshake.

– What normal person would want a war? – Kostova replied when I asked about her thoughts on Ukraine. – We love Ukrainians. As for our political differences, perhaps they will affect us, but we do not want to be part of this conflict, she said.

“There will be no war,” her husband Mikhail added, then struck a typically Russian note of fatalism: “And if it is, we have no influence on it anyway.”

Anti-Ukrainian propaganda

I went to Red Square on the last weekend of New Year’s holidays to try to assess how much ordinary Russians are prepared for another conflict in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been gathering troops for months, and Russian state television is preparing the ground for war. State-sponsored political programs warn that Ukraine is becoming more nationalist, spurred by the West, and Russophobic among some Ukrainians.

Russian television broadcast material about Ukrainians demolishing Soviet monuments. It is part of another wave of monument demolition in Ukraine, in which the inhabitants of Lviv dismantled a monument commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Army, a victory considered sacred in Russia.

– Everything that is in some way connected with the Soviet period in Russia is subject to public profanation or destruction in Ukraine – said the host of one of the programs on television.

Then, on the eve of the longest holiday of the year in Russia – the New Year, which in combination with the Orthodox Christmas gives an almost two-week break in early January – Putin issued a set of demands that the West interpreted as an ultimatum.

Third Invasion?

If Putin fulfills his threats, it will be the third major incursion by Russian soldiers into Ukraine (although it has not always been confirmed by the Kremlin).

The first was in February 2014, when Putin sent troops to occupy Crimea, a picturesque peninsula most Russians know for its warm rocky beaches and summer camps.

The second great outbreak of hostilities came later that year as ethnic Russian separatists in the mining region of Donbass took control and proclaimed independent republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The rebels supported by Russia defeated Ukrainian troops.

After the annexation of Crimea, support for Putin jumped above 80%. However, it is not clear so far whether and to what extent ordinary Russians support Putin’s current actions in and around Ukraine; tens of thousands of Russian combat troops have been deployed in three regions on the Ukrainian-Russian border.

According to a poll published last month by the independent Levada Center, almost 40 percent. Russians consider the war probable or certain. Almost the same, 38 percent, consider a war between two countries unlikely, and another 15 percent rule it out entirely. This means that most Russians are psychologically unprepared for war.

This is one of the reasons why the escalation of the conflict with Ukraine may be difficult to sell for many Russians.

“There aren’t too many families in an urbanized and modernized society willing to send their boys to a real war,” Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank told me.

A dream about the lost Crimea

Crimea has always held a special place in Russian memory, dating back to 1783, when the peninsula that overlooks the Black Sea was first annexed by the Russian Empire. In her childhood, Kostova, like many of her generation, spent the summer in holiday camps on the Crimean coast, a popular vacation spot that has been experiencing its renaissance since 2014.

– Now you can not even go there, because everything is full to the brim – said Kostowa.

On Red Square, I start a conversation with my 84-year-old grandmother, who, according to Russian custom, gives me her name and patronymic – Galina Nikolaevna. She took a rare trip with her granddaughter and her husband to eat hot dogs and drink hot tea under Christmas lights, under the red walls of the Kremlin.

Galina Nikolaevna, who spent most of her life in the Soviet Union, rarely goes outside her backyard, most often stays at home and watches TV. But when I ask her what she thinks about Crimea, she fondly recalls many trips to the peninsula during her summer vacation, when she was young.

“When Crimea was re-annexed to Russia, I was happy,” she says. But she adds that she was sobered up by the costs of the conflict: – Only later did I realize how much people suffered because of what had happened. And people are not to blame.

Her 30-year-old granddaughter Anna quits. – I disagree, Grandma. People are to blame. My parents, who survived the collapse of the Soviet Union, always told me never to express my political views in public, because that would not change anything. And I think that’s why we have what we have now, she said.

Anna says she does not know what she thinks about the annexation of Crimea, as she is not sure what to make of the referendum held by Russian leaders, saying they supported the annexation of Crimea.

– I believe in duality. There are always two sides to any story, especially in politics. Who can say what really happened? – she said.

Anna’s husband, Maksim, 28, told me that he was born in the Crimea to a Russian mother and a Greek father. However, his family left the peninsula when he was 6 years old. He and his wife Anna, whose father is Ukrainian, now live in Moscow.

Maksim says men of his generation and younger have become soft and not interested in fighting, despite the compulsory military service that most Russians over 18 have to complete.

“If I am drafted now, I will probably die in the first wave of attacks, then who will they send?” TikTokers? Maksim said with a dismissive smile.

Support for the annexation of Crimea

In 1954, the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, moved the Crimean Peninsula from one Soviet jurisdiction to another – from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

As both republics were part of one country, the relocation seemed harmless. However, after the collapse of the USSR, many Russians regretted the fact that Crimea was now part of another state; they got used to thinking of Crimea as an inseparable part of Russia, one of the few warm places in winter territory.

So when Putin took and annexed Crimea, most applauded it.

The Kremlin denies the violation of international law by the annexation of Crimea and points to the 2014 referendum which, according to Russian leaders, showed Crimea’s overwhelming support for joining Russia. The results have been widely questioned in the West.

– Crimea has returned to its historical homeland. Whether it was appropriate or not, it is not up to us to decide – said Kostova.

The West does not recognize the annexation of Crimea and accused Russia of violating international law and the agreements signed by Russia protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine. In the aftermath of the annexation, Russia lost its place in the G8, and the West imposed far-reaching sanctions on it.

– Crimea was seized without firing a shot. It was not a war, but for most Russians it was a triumphant, peaceful and easy restoration of justice, said Kolesnikov.

On the other hand, Donbass – a post-industrial region dependent on collapsing coal mines from the Soviet times – does not occupy a special place in Russian consciousness.

The war years made the attitude towards Donbas, and more broadly towards Ukraine, rather less romantic. Internally, the Russians are increasingly tired of the years of pulsating clashes on the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Why they don’t care about Donbas

To understand the difference, I contacted Russia’s leading poll expert, Denis Volkov, president of the Levada Center.

According to the Center’s data, most Russians do not want Donbass to become part of Russia, preferring independence to the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine. But they also generally support Putin’s line on common identity and heritage with Ukraine.

However, whether young Russians would be willing to fight for independence or annexation of Donbas is another question.

For years, Putin has been rebuilding the way Russians understand their history, and one of the elements of this process is the denial that Ukrainians have their own history and culture that is independent of modern Russia. In his version, Ukraine is indistinguishable from Russia, and Ukrainian movements towards independence are fueled by the West to attack Russia.

This message seems to hear. According to a Levada poll last month, Russians tend to have a positive attitude towards the Ukrainian people and a negative attitude towards the Ukrainian government.

– People often say that Ukraine is simply trapped between the leadership of Russia and the leadership of the West. The Ukrainian leadership is being denied independence by both the Russian leadership and Russian public opinion, Volkov told me.

This may help explain why Putin has focused his attention on NATO in this round of complaints. According to a poll conducted by Volkov, half of Russians believe that the United States and other NATO countries are the initiators of increased tension in eastern Ukraine, while 16 per cent. blames Ukraine, and only 4 percent. Russia.

In other words, the only thing that can convince Russians of this potential war is the belief that NATO, not Russia, is the aggressor.

“The logic is that if NATO draws us into the war, we must respond in the same way to protect the Russian-speaking population of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic,” said Volkov, referring to the unrecognized East Ukrainian states, proclaimed by pro-Russian separatists.

So far, according to Volkov, the Russians blame NATO and the US for the conflict with their former compatriots from the USSR. But Volkov says that it remains to be seen whether they will follow Putin over the Donbass, as they did in the case of Crimea.

“I don’t think there will be a unification around the flag like it did after the Crimea,” said Volkov. – People are tired of the conflict in Ukraine and tired of international tensions.

Editing: Michał Broniatowski

About Banner Leon

Videogames entered his life in the late '80s, at the time of the first meeting with Super Mario Bros, and even today they make it a permanent part, after almost 30 years. Pros and defects: he manages to finish Super Mario Bros in less than 5 minutes but he has never finished Final Fight with a credit ... he's still trying.

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