Putin has been rattling his saber, making threats and calling for mobilization. Just last week the news and social media were full of stories and images of torture, killings and mass graves.
In the face of mobilization, there are protests on the streets across some cities in Russia while many more men are trying to flee the country.
And while all this is happening in Russia, there are also protests on the streets of Iran.
At first glance, it appears the Iranians are far braver than the Russians. It has been noted, for instance, that Iranian protesters aggressively protect each other in their struggles against government enforcers, while many Russian protestors hang back to protect themselves.
Of course, there’s nothing brave about men who flee the country instead of taking to the streets.
But even with all that said, I think the comparison between the current situation in Russia and Iran is flawed. In fact, I think it is better to compare the Iranian situation to the situation in Ukraine, and to consider the Russian situation as a completely different beast.
First, the Ukrainians and the Iranians are both fighting the same “enemy”; an oppressive government. It’s true that the Iranians are fighting their own government and the Ukrainians are not; but let’s not forget that if Putin had his way the Russian government would be tpresideding over the Ukrainian people as well.
For the Russian protestors, it is a very different set of circumstances. Even though they are clearly oppressed, their protests today are not against oppression. They are against mobilization. They are fighting against a specific circumstance; they are not fighting for freedom and against tyranny, as the Ukrainians and Iranians are.
Even if you think back to the protests in Russia immediately after the invasion, you realize those protesters were not fighting for freedom against tyranny either. Rather, they were fighting against the specific circumstance of the invasion. This is why such protests often don’t last and don’t bring about meaningful change.
It’s no secret that I am a Russian who has devoted himself to bringing about an end to Putin and Putinism, and bringing democracy to my Russian motherland. But I know democracy will never be possible in Russia unless the Russian people are willing to risk their lives and fight the way we see the Ukrainians fight.
Ironically, Russians must fight tirelessly against the same enemy the Ukrainians are fighting against.
But what is it going to take to get my fellow Russians to fight against their government for freedom the way the Ukrainians are fighting for theirs?
The obvious but unhelpful answer is: the future.
It’s a redundant answer because while it sounds and feels good, it’s been the same answer forever in Russia, and it has never actually brought about any change.
But today, some very important things have changed in Russia:
1. Thousands and thousands of soldiers have gone to Ukraine. They were told they were liberators, but they found out they were invaders.
Lesson: I can’t trust my government; my government lies to me.
2. These soldiers expected to be greeted with flowers. But instead, they were greeted with bursts of automatic gunfire and deadly shots from Javelins and Stingers.
Lesson: My government neither cares about me nor protects me, it’s protecting itself.
3. These soldiers were told Ukrainians live like animals. Then they saw with their own eyes how much better life is in Ukraine than it is in Russia.
Lesson: I’ve been tricked. Everything I have been told about my country and my way of life is false.
4. These soldiers see beautiful cities and parks and homes in Ukraine; their own cities and parks and homes are embarrassingly poor in comparison.
Lesson: My government must be keeping all the wealth for itself.
5. These soldiers will eventually return to Russia (a country with strict gun control laws, for obvious autocratic reasons) with both weapons and training, and they will be armed with the knowledge that life in Russia is neither better nor more righteous, as has been fraudulently pounded into their heads by the Putin-controlled media.
Lesson: I don’t want to live like a Russian. I want to live like a Ukrainian.
And another lesson: Ukrainians have a country they are proud of. A country they know is worth fighting for. A country and a life with a bright shiny future, even in the middle of an invasion. I want to have a country I am proud of. I want to have a country worth fighting for. I want a country and a life with a bright shiny future.
If you’re that Russian soldier, you can now envision the possibility of the kind of future that you and I live for in the West, instead of the bleak future that Putinism promises. You and I know our futures are worth fighting for. Now these Russian soldiers know what that future might look like, too. And they’re going to take that new-found vision of the future back to their homes and families and friends. They will share what they saw in Ukraine and that vision of the future with others. They will infect others with that vision of the future. And they will have weapons and training and experience fighting; only now they can fight for themselves, for their families, for their friends. For their freedom.
The Ukrainians are often telling us during this war that they are fighting Russia for every free country in the West. I wholeheartedly agree with this. But I think what is overlooked is that the Ukrainians are also, ironically, fighting this war against Russia for the Russian people, too. Or to say it another way, the Ukrainian people and the Russian people share a common enemy.
After all, a future in which Russia remains an enemy of the West, an existential threat for much of the rest of the world, is a terrible future for everyone. For Ukrainians and other Eastern European nations, as well as for Russians who remain at home. Russia as a democratic nation and trusted partner with shared values benefits both Russians and most of the rest of the world.
Yes, it is up to us as Russians to stand up to Putin and Putinism and to fight for our freedom and democracy. Our victory will be the world’s victory, just as Ukraine’s victory against Putin will be the world’s victory.
The beginning of a revolution in Russia is already happening. Every day in the news you can see evidence of this if you know what to look for; it’s just a matter of understanding how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
It is the New Russian Revolution with two very clear goals:
- Russians will take back their future by removing Putin and his government.
- They will install a new interim government for two years that will bring democracy to Russia via free elections, a new constitution, and new laws that are of the people, by the people, and for the people.
I and many other Russians have been preparing for this moment for many years. And now, the moment has arrived.
Ilya Ponomarev is a is a leader of the Russian democratic oppostion. A former member of the Russian Duma, he was the only deputy to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which then forced him to go into exile.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.
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