Russians' Moral Responsibility In Wartime
A former US ambassador recently said something to the effect that “there are no neutral Russians anymore,” meaning you either support or oppose Putin, it’s not allowed to just be alive and try to stay out of it. This reminds me of other absolutist dichotomous thinking of our times, and for example we’ve seen Russians living in the West lose their jobs for failure to denounce Putin. What do Shadi and Damir think is the obligation of the individual in the face of this crisis? Should Russians living abroad be obliged to denounce Putin at the risk of their jobs, or does this just demand meaningless virtue signaling? Are Americans ethically obliged to stop doing business with western companies that still operate there, or does that accomplish nothing other than harming the US workers of those companies? My question isn’t whether the individual is allowed to do such things, but what is required morally from individuals at this time?
— Matthew Benham
Damir: I’m not that wound up about this on the level of the individual. I turn this question around in my head: I’m not as fond as Shadi is of making huge distinctions between “regime” and “people”. For all intents and purposes, Trump represented America for four years, no matter how much we didn’t like it. In a democracy and a free society, people can and do protest leaders they do not like, and can and do change out the leaders at the next election. That we have done so, however, does not somehow show that the American people somehow transcended Trump and Trumpism, that they are “better” than that “evil” man. All it means is our society is able to contest leadership more easily than a more authoritarian system. Trump is still a wholly authentic American phenomenon.
Same goes for Putin in Russia. Yes, he’s set up a particularly repressive, thieving regime. The people can’t remove him even if they wanted to. And these things matter. But it’s simply not very helpful to assume that he is somehow “alien” to Russia, that his views are abhorrent to the Russian people. They’re not. Putin is a wholly authentic Russian phenomenon, and the imperialist policy he’s pursuing in Ukraine is too.