For many decades, everyone had been asking if Germans in 1939 really didn’t understand what was going on. We’ve wondered how an entire nation, all of those regular people, decided to go along with total insanity. It occurred to me that today, we’re in a position to answer this question.

My friend Alisa, a sociologist whose name has been changed, and I started walking around Moscow and asking random people how they felt about the war in Ukraine. We thought that what was going on was so insane, everyone must have questions about it. Half of the people we asked refused to talk to us. The other half were usually open to fairly in-depth conversations. Later, I talked to people in the Kaluga and Kostroma regions. We conducted over 50 interviews in total. They are not intended to be representative. We just wanted to get some sense of what was going through people’s heads. To enter into the darkness and feel around for something human.

An extensive investigation by Amnesty International has concluded that Russian military forces committed a war crime when they struck the Mariupol drama theatre in Ukraine in March, killing at least [a] dozen people and likely many more.

In a new report, ‘Children’: The Attack on the Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine, the organization documents how the Russian military likely deliberately targeted the theatre despite knowing hundreds of civilians were sheltering there on 16 March, making the attack a clear war crime.

For over a decade, Russian society has been bombarded with hardcore, revanchist propaganda. The West did not take note.

For the moment, both Russia and the West appear to believe that their counterpart is doomed and that time is on their side. Putin dreams about the West suffering from political upheaval, whereas the West dreams about Putin being removed, overthrown, or dropping dead from one of many diseases he is regularly rumored to be suffering. No one is right. At the end of the day, a deal between Russia and Ukraine is only possible as an extension of an agreement between Russia and the West or as a result of the collapse of Putin’s regime. And that gives you an idea of how long the war could last: years, at best.

As in any country, the exact picture depends on the media you consume. For Russians with the desire and a bit of tech-savvy, unofficial information is still accessible. But those who follow the official news, as The Economist did on May 11th, see a world solely of the Kremlin’s making. Here is a day in the life of a follower of The Putin Show.

“In just one month, TikTok went from being considered a serious threat to Putin’s national support for the war to becoming another possible conduit for state propaganda,” said Giulia Giorgi, a researcher at Tracking Exposed, which has been studying the platform’s policies and actions in Russia since the invasion began in February. “Our findings show clearly how TikTok’s actions influenced that trajectory.”

Part of the problem is that the current leaders of Western countries have never dealt with thugs. Their experience and education relate to interactions between statesmen. The principle of these people’s behaviour is that both sides concede to each other in the interests of their electorate or subjects. War is evil to them, and the use of force is a last resort.

This is not the case with Vladimir Putin. He was raised in the KGB, an organisation that relied on force and disregard for the law.

If you live in a fake world long enough, it can start to feel real. Dictators and despots begin to believe their own lies, repeated back at them and propagated by state-controlled media. That might help explain why Putin's recent speeches have stood out as unhinged rants. It's certainly possible that his mind has succumbed to his own propaganda, creating a warped worldview in which the invasion of Ukraine was, as Trump put it, an incredibly "savvy" move.

Blaming America first became all too easy. After September 11, U.S. power was as overwhelming as it was uncontested. That it was squandered on two endless wars made it convenient to focus on America's sins, while underplaying Russia's and China's growing ambitions.

Today, the most brutal members of Autocracy Inc. don't much care if their countries are criticized, or by whom. The leaders of Myanmar don't really have any ideology beyond nationalism, self-enrichment, and the desire to remain in power. The leaders of Iran confidently discount the views of Western infidels. The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela dismiss the statements of foreigners on the grounds that they are "imperialists." The leaders of China have spent a decade disputing the human-rights language long used by international institutions, successfully convincing many people around the world that these "Western" concepts don't apply to them. Russia has gone beyond merely ignoring foreign criticism to outright mocking it.

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