MOSCOW – The West struggles to understand Russia. This hasn’t just happened since the beginning of the war (or the “special military operation” as the Federation insists on calling it), but a long time ago. This was stated by the Italian historian Pietro Figuera in his article that appeared in the first issue of the geopolitical magazine “Domino”.
Support for Putin (and therefore the war) – We start from one premise: the invasion of Ukraine is approved by a very high percentage of Russians, judging by the recent approval ratings of President Vladimir Putin. 83% of the population appreciates the work of the head of the Kremlin, according to the conclusions of the Levada Center at the end of March, with a difference of 14% compared to January. The survey, carried out by Russia’s most independent (and therefore reliable) research center, indicates that support is at least equal to that shown in 2014, at the time of the annexation of Crimea. Despite all the reservations about taking precise indications from a survey (even more carried out in a suspicious country like Russia and in such a particular situation), Figuera observes that “transversal support for the war, on the part of the Russians, is not enslavement to neither “regime information” nor blind loyalty to the country, for better or for worse, rather it would be “a widely shared adherence to an alternative Western version of history.”
The western view (wrong) – We started from a wrong premise, says Figuera. “Accustomed to parliamentary dialectics, to a pluralism that sometimes even breaks down”, we Westerners struggle “to give credence to a socio-political system that seems to function as a single bloc. This system will certainly not be understood by the slow Anglo-Saxons, who usually represent peoples fighting tyrants in a zero-sum game”, in which gains and losses are perfectly balanced (as game theory teaches). Not understanding this, at least in the early stages of the conflict we painted a portrait of a Putin who (probably) does not exist: that of “a president-dictator, possibly mad, the lone protagonist of a war of which all his subjects would be victims”. .
the desire for revenge – To arrive at an at least partial understanding of this war, according to Figuera, we must consider these decades of “Putinism” and we must make an effort to consider the facts, feelings and frustrations of a people that ceased to be an empire (albeit in the fragility that the Soviet Union was not always able to disguise it) to an entity that did not accept that it was defeated with the fall of the Berlin Wall. A “banal but harbinger of disaster for years to come” misunderstanding.
“Out of the reach of our understanding” – Among the things we don’t understand, continues the founder of Osservatorio Russia, there is this: “Russia has been preparing for a long time”, if not for war, “for the worst”. Therefore, “being economically and virtually isolated, having to cut ties with Europe to join the inevitable new Chinese ally”, with all the risks that a link with Beijing can entail (but that is another story). According to Figuera, the West has underestimated a fundamental aspect of the Russian character: “a country that has suffered more than twenty million deaths in a grueling war of self-defense, at the height of a century already marked by immeasurable tragedies (another world war , three revolutions, forced collectivization, famines and purges) is beyond the reach of our understanding».
Sanctions and the economy as a means – Hence the emergence of a Russia that “is not frightened by the prospect of a new isolation. Also for the characteristic spirit of adaptation that distinguishes the population». The question therefore arises: are Western sanctions useless? They are not, adds Figuera, on the contrary at the moment “they are perhaps the only weapon we have at our disposal if we do not want to end up in a very different type of battlefield”. The fact remains that, according to the expert, “we don’t understand that finance, at least in the sense that we traditionally understand it, is a completely secondary variable in the Kremlin equations.” For Moscow “the economy is not an end, but a means. Moreover, not even infallible, given the not quite irresistible strength of the ruble and the Moscow financial center ». The accumulation of reserves in the face of dark times (duly arrived) aims to “spare no expense in defending interests considered vital”.
Fear not, therefore despise – Putin, therefore, will go his own way “not out of mere stubbornness, but in order not to show himself vulnerable to our economic weapons”. And to prove that he is something different (better, from his point of view) to any European competitor. The Russian president probably despises the European sense of democracy, but at the same time, “the Kremlin despises Europe precisely because it does not fear it – it cannot fear it, militarily speaking. And he does not despise the United States (apart from the facade statements) precisely because he can fear them». By invading Ukraine, the message sent to Washington is: we are a superpower again. While the envoy to Brussels is: «We are not like you. Or at least not anymore. We do not recognize ourselves in their values – proclaimed every other day, see the different reception reserved for Ukrainians and Syrians, or the democratic double standard shown to allies and rivals. We don’t care about your business and we’re also happy if you have to pay more for energy now.’
understand to prevent – Figuera’s advice is simple, but precious: “Before talking to Russia again, it is worth noting these and other misunderstandings about our relationship with her”. It will be useful for the West and for Moscow itself. “Understanding the interlocutor does not mean following him. In fact, it can also serve to fight it better, if necessary. Not understanding it, however, gets you nowhere.”