Much of the world is in horror over the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as the critiques behind such a move are piling onto the Kremlin.
Through sanctions, condemnations and even the removal of Russia from a video game, the country is facing the full force of ramifications.
But through such critiques and consequences, is the world blending the ambitions of a few to a nation of people?
This is especially as we find out that not everyone in Russia has the same ambitions as the Kremlin.
Is history repeating itself?
War is an unfortunate reoccurrence, and we can name a few wars on top of our heads. Through such human tragedy, there is an element that doesn’t spring to our minds: the repercussions to those that match the background of the aggressors of a particular conflict. Take World War Two as an example. 600,000 undocumented Italian immigrants in the United States were deemed “enemy aliens” because of the actions of a fascist called Benito Mussolini. These citizens were detained, relocated, stripped of their property, or placed under curfew because of their nationality during this time.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and 9/11 shocks the world. Yet again, the background of the aggressors faced hordes of backlash. From 2000 to 2001, hate crimes against Muslims rose 1617%, according to the FBI, which marked the highest number of Islamophobic hate crimes in the United States. 20 and a few years later, there is still this hateful sentiment towards Muslims across the west, some of which is used as a political tool by the far-right. Then, we had the Israel-Palestine conflict and a flare-up in May 2021. British Jews recorded a stagging 2,255 antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom in that year, the highest tally in Europe. 871 of those incidents happened in May and June, which coincided with the flare-up.
And with the current news cycle flying around about this Ukraine-Russia conflict, there is a risk that history may be repeating itself. The Czech Republic, Latvia, and Japan have already stopped issuing visas to Russian citizens, with Belgium’s Minister of Immigration Sammy Mahdi indicating that “at the moment, Russians are not welcome here.” American lawmaker Eric Swalwell suggested on CNN that closing the Russian Embassy and kicking Russian students out of the United States “should be on the table.” Because of these actions and comments, we are at risk of intermingling the Kremlin and ordinary Russians, particularly when it is not clear if Russians support the invasion of Ukraine.
Do Russians support Putin?
Professor Nikita Savin from HSE University in Moscow has said that about 70% of Russians approve of sending troops to Ukraine, according to some polls in the country.
Yet, she continued to say that “there are a lot of reasons why we should not trust these results.”
One could include the “social desirability” effect, whereby people want to fit in with the majority opinion. Another reason why there is an uneasiness to trust such results is due to the many anti-war protests in Russia. Over 1000 people were detained in a recent anti-war protest, indicating that the polling results might not match what is going on in the streets of Russia. Not only that, but some Russians are feeling unfairly punished for the actions of Putin. But the most substantial reason is reports of people fearing punishment if they indicate anti-war views in the country through polling or other means. In a Guardian callout asking for Russian views of the situation, those that contacted the outlet expressed concern. Natalia, a 52-year-old teacher in St Petersburg, believe that Russians live in “fear of imprisonment, which nowadays, has become a sad reality.”
We must separate the Kremlin and Russians
Russians are already feeling the international sanctions as their lives have been disrupted. Financial services like Apple Pay and Google Pay have been cut off for these citizens, the rouble has collapsed, and mass queues have been seen outside of ATMs in Russia. But what we must hope is that these financial consequences don’t evolve into something a lot darker, which has already been seen before. As history has pointed out, sentiments that started off towards governments have transferred to ordinary citizens, seen by spikes in hate crimes.
According to The Office for National Statistics, there are estimates of around 73,000 Russians here in the United Kingdom living as residents.
Many of them are worried that this anti-kremlin sentiment will transfer to them, despite wanting to live their lives in peace.
Let’s hope people have learnt their history and don’t repeat the past mistakes that we have seen when catastrophe strikes.
Whilst our thoughts are with the Ukrainians, there may come a time when we will need to include ordinary Russians in these thoughts as well.