What’s the future of Russia? These are the real questions his war in Ukraine raises

“But I am against war!”

The young sommelier, who is fluent in French, has several crushes. He engages with these winemakers in expert discussions about their methods of fermentation and – an eternal debate among connoisseurs – whether or not to add small amounts of sulfites to their wines. He ordered a few boxes, paid cash, and explained that he had managed to get them to Moscow.

Only one raised. Burgundy wine maker.

  • I am very glad you like my wine, he said, but I will send it to you when the war is over.

  • I am against war!, replied the young Russian.

  • That’s great, but I’ll still be waiting for the end of the war.

  • But… I am against war, repeated Svetlana, irritated.

The exchange raises deep moral questions and is in itself worthy of a dissertation. Was the winemaker justified in not wanting Muscovites to taste his wine at a time when their country is trying to destroy other countries and their armies are committing countless war crimes? Can Svetlana argue that life goes on in spite of everything, that Russians still have the right to celebrate weddings, birthdays or just drink natural French wine with friends in her restaurant?

Are there still fancy restaurants in Moscow?

And what does “against” war mean if there is no real action? Several thousand Russians were arrested for showing their opposition to the war. Are millions of other people partly responsible for this tragic series of events?

But there is another question, which I think is more important. Knowing what Russia looked like on this day the Burgundian winemaker finally agreed to send his wine to Svetlana. Are there still fancy restaurants in Moscow? What will be the borders of that country? Who will lead it? And in which direction?

Because for Ukraine, actually, despite its enormous current suffering and the promising reconstruction site to be enormous, a relatively promising future has emerged. For those who still doubt it, it has proven its existence as a nation more powerful than ever during its turbulent history (listen or watch Timothy Snyder’s Yale University talk on this). The country’s structure, which suffered from corruption, has survived and has become even healthier since the invasion. Its democracy is flawed but vibrant, with excellent civil society organizations and a quality free press. One way or another, the country will find accommodation with the European Union, member or partner: Russian aggression has the opposite effect than expected: it detaches Ukraine from the former Soviet bloc to anchor it to the West.

Bloody stalemate

Russia is something else. It lost its soul in this colonial war, and the colonial war was lost first.

For Moscow, invading Ukraine in 2022, thirty years after its independence, would be tantamount to Paris trying to take over Algeria in 1992, thirty years after the Evian accords, given that its authority is military-fascist, therefore illegitimate, that the use of language France is threatened by Arabization and the population dreams of rejoining France.

After the 1998 Russian financial crisis and his coming to power, Vladimir Putin sought a path other than Western liberalism. But what he chose was a bloody stalemate.

“There’s not much to do other than accept [nos] friendly proposal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday. If not, the Russian army will take care of this matter.” The proposal in question: demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. Translation: surrender and install a puppet regime. The Kremlin deemed the Ukrainian resistance “crazy” and had only one thing in mind: to move on.

But the end can also be the end.

Putin could survive anything, he said, except a military defeat. That seems unlikely, despite the stabilization of the front in recent weeks, although Russian reinforcements are expected in Donbass and missile fire on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure as Christmas gifts. A Russian victory, complete or partial, seems even more unlikely.

unreasonable argument

And then? In the West, those who support Putin but no longer dare to say publicly argue that there are more evil forces in Russia, including ultra-nationalists in a genocidal mood. And in order to withstand these extremes, perhaps it is better to keep the current ruler of the Kremlin.

His argument is as nonsensical as saying that the United States, having benefited from a monumental mistake committed by the Kremlin on February 24, would encourage it to do so (cause and consequence reversal is a classic). errors of reasoning, sometimes volunteering for “experts” in bad faith).

It makes no sense, because only Putin and he alone coldly created the current situation, eradicating any opposition whose main character is buried, like Boris Nemtsov, or in exile, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or in prison, like Alexei Navalny. If they come out alive, will they have a say in future Russia? Major changes in power structures are a must, but who will be allowed to provide a constructive alternative? In the short term, what are the consequences, in the Caucasus or in Central Asia, in the Middle East or even in Africa, from Russia’s weakening? And will this country, where successive powers are always rewriting history for political purposes, will it be able to stand up to the atrocities committed by its soldiers in Ukraine or Syria, doing its duty to remember?

Europe’s last empire

Timothy Snyder said it well, all the European empires had lost the war and disappeared. Austria is just a confetti compared to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Same for Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. France looks like the French empire in miniature and it has been a long time since the British empire broke up that the sun never set. From the German Reich to Portugal, examples abound. Only Russia, during and after the Soviet bracket, maintained the relationship of a quasi-independent neighbor, claiming new territory. Would it one day be able to imagine itself as something other than an empire, nourished by its colonies and conquests?

That’s a lot of questions, which I don’t pretend to answer. But on the last day of this terrible year, I want to share my belief with you: the real question raised by this war is the future of Russia, not Ukraine.

** Post Script. I am not a specialist in Russia or Ukraine, having made only about fifteen extensions of stay in these two countries for reports and investigations. But I am tied to this region by ties of family and friendship, I am devastated by this war and I have read everything I can this year, history books and novels, articles in the Russian, Ukrainian and international press.

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