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In 1939 Winston Churchill described Russia as:

a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

I'm curious to try to understand Russian invasion of Ukraine from the perspective of the Russians living inside of Russia. So many questions I have. There is a lot to unpack here, so I'll just list most of the top questions that come to mind and let's see if anyone can help unravel the mystery.

Why does Russia tolerate a dictatorship? They seem to embrace many Western ideas. All except the most important one: freedom. What gives?

Does Russia not view the history of dictatorships with the same revulsion that most of the West does? Do they teach history differently in Russia? Or do the people there just not care? What's going on inside their heads?

Do they really support Putin? Or are they just afraid to speak their minds when polled? I recently read Putin polls at like 80% favorable. Which would be understandable if everyone were just afraid to say negative things. But that same poll had other government officials anywhere from 50% to 17% to 11%. But I guess that could be explained similarly if any of those officials opposed Putin. But, frankly, I don't think there is anyone in the government who opposes Putin. Hence, the dictatorial nature of his rule.

Can anyone help explain all this?

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    Basically, you assert "Russia is a dictatorship" as if it was obvious. So I wondered what your definition of dictatorship is, and what criteria make you think Russia is one. People usually don't mention stuff that is obvious to them, so it makes sense you didn't talk about these criteria in the question. You provided some answers, and I provided some counter-examples to make you think about your criteria: if a "democratic" country checks the same criteria you use to decide it's a dictatorship, then... problem. But you mistook them for logical fallacies ;)
    – bobflux
    Jun 12 at 10:20
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    Good questions. However it's better to unpack them into separate questions. Please ask one question here per topic/question that you have. That makes it much easier to answer them.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 12 at 12:54
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    "I'm curious to try to understand Russian invasion of Ukraine from the perspective of the Russians living inside of Russia." History books could be helpful. Taking a look at the history of the territory where fightings now take place will explain a lot.
    – convert
    Jun 12 at 13:34
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    And, Putin was very adroit in eliminating oppo while preserving a thin veneer of democracy. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/32287/…
    – Fizz
    Jun 12 at 16:57
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    Perhaps Russians simply do not pose this questions and/or find justifications for what their country is doing. For comparison: do many Americans feel guilty about nearly a half million dead in Iraq or Afghanistan? Do many Americans think that their system fails short of democracy, because Congressmen and Senators stay in their chairs for decades? I am not equating Russia and the US, but pondering this questions may give a good perspective on how Russians might see this situation - it has a lot more with general human psychology than with Russian mentality/enigma/mindset/etc. Jun 13 at 8:47

1 Answer 1

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I believe that Russia is an authoritarian state (a word with slightly different connotations than dictatorship) which currently has the support of the majority of the population. I believe that honest opinion polls are not possible in Russia, but also that President Putin still has a majority. He forges elections to make his majority seem even greater than it is. There are several reasons for this:

  • For Russia, the dissolution of the Communist system was more traumatic than for other members. Russia saw itself as the leader of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Where other countries could interpret the end of the Cold War as national liberation, for Russia it was the loss of an empire.
  • The Soviet Union used to be a superpower. Russia is a mid-sized economy dependent on raw materials exports. It does not get the respect it thinks it deserves. Remember the Obama quip about a regional power.
  • Many of the post-Communist nations between Russia and the West have been welcomed into the EU, which helped to buffer economic hardships during the transition. Yet when one looks at Poland, Hungary, or Bulgaria, it is clear that there were problems. For Russia, the transition was even harder. For many Russians, freedom and capitalism translate into oligarchs free to plunder them.
  • During the Czarist empire and then during the Soviet Union, Russians in the outlying areas were part of the dominant ethnic group. In the post-Soviet era, they became a minority which feels persecuted.
  • The Crimea is a notable example. It used to be Russian, there was an administrative border adjustment in the USSR, and suddenly it was Ukrainian.
  • There is strong nostalgia for Soviet times, including their defeat of Germany in WWII under the rule of Stalin. Note how Putin's media has redefined fascist or nazi to mean anyone who is against them, tapping into this national mythology of the "greatest hour."

This means the people of Russia welcome a leader who stokes their grievances and promises to renew their pride. And at some point, a leader who speaks about this has to try and deliver.


Note that I'm not trying to justify the Russian invasion. I just explain why there was no revolution in Russia yet.

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    One aspect that you are missing is the military threat: For the last decades, NATO forces have ever been moving closer to the Russian borders, often while breaking promises not to do so. It is immaterial if NATO claims they have no offensive purposes. If you were living in St. Petersburg and knew that F35 fighter jets were only half an hour away, and tank battalions could move to your street within a day, wouldn't you welcome a politician doing something about it?
    – ccprog
    Jun 12 at 13:26
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    @ccprog, the military threat would be sufficient ABM to safeguard the US mainland from a second strike. Unless the Russian strategic forces are in a worse shape than they admit, that won't be an issue for many years. Regarding those promises, there are people (on both sides) telling it different ways. When most of those were supposed to have been made, the countries we're talking about were still part of the Soviet Union. Would you consider it believable if talks between the US and China today had appendices about Texas never joining the Belt and Road initiative?
    – o.m.
    Jun 12 at 15:13
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    @o.m. My comment was in no way meant as an analysis of the strategic situation. I simply remember the rethoric force the rallying cry "the Russian is standing at the Elbe river" developed in cold war Germany, and can understand the impact a comparable "the American is standing at the Narva river" (or at the Donets, if Ukraine was to join NATO) can have.
    – ccprog
    Jun 12 at 17:02
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    @o.m. you seem to discount conventional warfare. It's possible to imagine a military invasion (such as into Russian Karelia or Don river region) performed by a (prospective NATO-member) Finland or Ukraine which would be impractical to counter with nuclear strike. Especially if Russia becomes weak at the moment or entangled in other ongoing war.
    – alamar
    Jun 12 at 21:26
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    @alamar, yes, I do. An invasion which cannot be countered by tactical strikes against enemy armies can be countered by strategic strikes on enemy capitals.
    – o.m.
    Jun 13 at 4:26

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