Ordinary Russians did not want this war, but Putin is trying to make us all complicit | Dmitry Glukhovsky

Putin tells lie after lie to justify the horror he has unleashed, and to convince Russians this war is being waged for their survival

Why did the Kremlin tell us to call this war a special operation? Because no one in Russia wanted war. Everyone was afraid of war. War is real people leaving their homes and returning in zinc coffins. It’s smoking ruins where flourishing cities once stood. It’s ever-present fear. It’s poverty, starvation, collective insanity.

This war was not wanted by the ordinary people who are going to pay for it. Nor by the businesses that will collapse as a result, nor the so-called elites who will be cut off from the world and deprived of their usual feeding troughs. Since the war began, normal life ended for everyone in Russia, and life under martial law began.

Vladimir Putin personally declared the war in Ukraine. For an hour, across every TV channel, he tried to explain why war was essential – because Ukraine is a non-state that in principle does not deserve to exist. The invasion was founded on Putin’s personal hatred. He wanted the glory that he hoped a war would crown him with. He was counting on a Blitzkrieg: on the day the war began, TV stations ecstatically promised Kyiv’s capture by noon.

But Putin was not prepared to take responsibility for this alone. And so, before the invasion began, he assembled the Russian security council – everyone who might later be able to say “I didn’t know” – and presented them with the facts. He smeared everyone who might have attempted to separately broker agreements that would avoid this descent into war. It isn’t me, Putin told the world. It’s us – everyone who is truly at Russia’s helm. The west has no one to negotiate with here. So if a case is one day heard in The Hague about the war in Ukraine, its defendants will be an entire group. Each person in this group surely keeps this prospect in mind.

They, too, were frightened by this responsibility. It’s all there in the February video of the security council session gathered at the Kremlin. Apparently, they hadn’t even been told in advance of Putin’s plans to invade Ukraine.

And in order to alleviate their fear, Putin then decided to smear responsibility for the war across his entire regime. The state Duma deputies and Federation Council members were also called in and presented with the facts. And resting on the theatrical consensus of the security council, the deputies and senators had to publicly support Putin. Russian MPs have been drilled to vote unanimously for whatever atrocious bill Putin may send them for approval.

Even so, they only gave their consent to use the Russian army in Donetsk and Luhansk. But our tanks did not go to Donetsk. They went to Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Kherson. A week later it became clear that instead of a Blitzkrieg against mythical Nazi battalions, the country was facing a major war against the entire Ukrainian army and the country’s people. The Russian armed forces, for some bizarre reason branded with the Roman letter Z, got stuck in the mud. Our death toll has climbed into the hundreds. Our artillery started firing blindly, destroying Ukrainian housing blocks. When Russian forces bombed a maternity and children’s hospital, it became clear that we might be talking about war crimes.

Putin’s regime is now attempting to make its crimes into those of the entire Russian people. To make us complicit. To brand the forehead of every Russian with the letter Z. Putin needs to do this in order to shift responsibility away from his regime and towards ordinary people; to convince the west that Russia is not destroying peace in Europe simply because of the whims of a group of madmen, but because of the will of all of Russia. He needs to convince Russian people that this war is being waged in the name of their survival.

The regime is staging propaganda events to drum up popular support. It has organised administrative auto races under the Z flag through 80 Russian regions. Terminally ill children from a Kazan hospice have been arranged in a Z pattern against white snow and photographed from above. New explanations have been offered for the bloodshed: Ukraine had chemical or bacteriological weapons; it wanted to build an atom bomb; it wanted to attack first. At any price, by whatever lie, Putin must prove this slaughter makes sense, that the people and not just the Kremlin needed this war.

But Russians must remember that by supporting the Z we are supporting the bombing and shelling of peaceful Ukrainian cities. We are supporting the destruction of hundreds of schools and driving millions of people from their homes. We are supporting the sundering of fraternal ties between families and our two countries for ever. We are supporting Russia’s profound isolation, its inevitable weakening and its transformation into a colony for China’s raw materials. Those who believe this propaganda must remember that the rest of the world now sees Russians as invaders. Before too long, they will see us as war criminals. And this will become a part of our history for ever. We are all being smeared – smeared with the blood of peaceful Ukrainians and our conscripts, who were sent into hell “for training exercises”.

This is not our war, and we must remember that. We must talk about that. We cannot let them speak for us.

  • Dmitry Glukhovsky is a Russian author and journalist. This article was translated by Catherine Mullier and Eugenia Ellanskaya


Dmitry Glukhovsky

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