Russia’s most recent “strategies” – attempts at bombing civilian populations into submission via rush-hour drone attacks and targeting the power grid to freeze the Ukrainian population as winter approaches – have led, once again, to new rounds of international fury.
Leaders of neighboring countries and European Union (EU) officials now openly call Russia’s invasion a genocide; and the Baltic states have set up an official commission for war crimes that seeks to end, at the very least, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government in the Hague. Multiple nations have now officially designated Russia a terrorist state, with more likely to follow suit.
International outrage at Russia’s crimes has spiked over and over in these last eight months. This recently included the discovery of yet more mass graves; and now, a new United Nations (UN)report that has concretely documented the ubiquity of civilian rape against women, men, children, and the elderly.
Tensions between Western protestors and Russian embassy staff in capitals around the world are also, by now, well-documented.
In the spring. and just several weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a local Irish lorry driver and ordinary citizen called Desmond Wisley, rammed his communion supplies vehicle into the gates of Russia’s embassy in Dublin. As it turned out, Wisley’s choice was a precursor for what was to come; his words might even be seen as having somewhat set the tone for the rest of 2022.
To cries of “bravo” and “good man” from local protesters, Wisley stepped out of his lorry and said of the Russian ambassador, simply: “I want the bastard and his colleagues to leave this country, this free country, and go back. This is my contribution and I’m glad I’ve done it.” As the police explained that they “unfortunately” had to arrest him, Wisley went away calmly, saying, “I’ve done my bit, lads.”
Spates of bloody art installations, red paint vandalism, and attacks on diplomats have since continued apace, and been part of the decision to close Russian embassies in numerous cities. In October, Warsaw voted to name the street in front of its shuttered Russian embassy “The Avenue of Victims of Russian Aggression”.
Also last month, in New York City a large crowd marched past the old Vanderbilt mansion on the Upper East Side that serves as the Russian consulate, now permanently damaged from a dramatic paint vandalism attack – its formerly beautiful wedding-cakefaçade now a kind of sickly pink after numerous attempts at power-washing.
And while crowds and individuals have been at times unlawful in showing their disgust with Russia’s war crimes, vandalizing and throwing Molotov cocktails at Russian embassies across multiple continents, misbehavior and hostilities have gone both ways. In Washington DC, a video went viral last month of a pro-Russian woman disrupting a crowd of peaceful Ukrainian protesters holding a vigil for the most recent bombings at the Russian embassy – spitting on local police and being arrested. This came after a summer in which the embassy’s own staff were caught on video stomping on and uprooting sunflowers, as well as on cards left by children in support of Ukraine.
In Montréal, a 90-year-old protester was recently assaulted by Russian consulate security, his small stereo playing pro-Ukrainian songs knocked away and threatened with destruction. And of course, in Ottawa, this summer, it was Russian embassy staff themselves who triggered an international incident – getting caught red-handed vandalizing a memorial to murdered Ukrainian children, and spray-painting “Z” symbols on city sidewalks.
But even in the face of constant marches, music, mischief, and vandalism, most Russian embassy staff have continued to stick it out it in Western capitals all these months. In fact, aside from Boris Bondarev, who quit Geneva’s Russian mission to the UN in April with a scathing 6500-word critique of his country’s fascist imperialist project, there have not been more high–profile diplomatic resignations. As activists and regular people have sent diplomatic Russians the clear message about no longer being wanted in their capitals, Russian embassies continued to sit tight– until now.
Lavrov’s intervention as the aggressor plays victim
In October, with relations fraying to an all-time low, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov responded to the months of enmity and mutual provocation around diplomatic missions. In an internal speech, he came out for the first time as saying that Russia will likely soon close its Western embassies and bring its diplomats home.
Lavrov asserted that since the West has “shut off from us,” there is no longer diplomatic work to do; and there is “neither point nor desire to maintain the previous presence in Western states.” No doubt in reaction to the many instances of vandalism and angry protest now in their ninth month across numerous capitals, he called this global breakup even more inevitable as, in his words, Russian diplomats in the West “work there in conditions that can hardly be called human… constantly facing threats of physical assault.”
Such an aggrieved victim culture, in which Russians do not recognize themselves as the aggressors and feel unfairly abused and maligned around the world, runs deep. Recently, when the world press was yet again full of news of their army’s mass rapes, mass graves, and mass murder, a man emerged from the Russian embassy in Ottawa to complain to a protester that thegroup’s musical playlist (featuring pro-Ukrainian songs like “Bayraktar”) was “too violent.”
And yet Lavrov’s comments also rather intriguingly point at psychology, and paradox, in the Russian position. In his “end of diplomacy” speech, he explained that Russia would leave the West because, in his own words, “you can’t force love.”
But, of course, as anyone who watches the translated versions of Russia’s nightly propaganda shows featuring Vladimir Solovyov, Margarita Simonyan, and their guests trying to outdo one another in bravado, self-pity, and violent imperialist racist rhetoric, a central tenet of the “special military operation” has all along been just that – Russia trying to force love and a little brother relationship that does not exist upon Ukraine. “They will come back to us,” they insist. “Our Slavic brothers will fight side by side with us once again,” said one recent guest, imagining a future in which the “unpleasantness” has passed like water under the bridge.
So, in these relationship analogies of love and breakup, marriage and divorce, Lavrov decries the West with a bitter “who needs you?” and declaring that “when it’s over, it’s over.”
But this entire year has been nothing if not a senseless, deluded Russian exercise in family annihilation – the metaphorical actions of the abusive husband towards the wife who has broken free: if I can’t have you, no one else can. Indeed, as early as March, several incisive feminist writers had already drawn the analogy between the psychology of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and misogynistic violence and spousal murder – all while situating it in a deeply macho and patriarchal culture in which domestic violence is legal.
As 2022 comes to an end, it would be most beneficial for Russia to finally and truly apply Lavrov’s spot-on words on love: not just to the embassies of Europe and North America, but to itself.
It’s true that Western capitals and activists have spent months making it clear that Russian presence is increasingly unwelcome in their cities. But listening to the people of Ukraine finds the message much louder and more resolute. Some 98 percent of polled Ukrainians believe their country will win; in fact, many say they already have. Lifelong Russian speakers across the country have switched to Ukrainian as points of national pride and identity: another absolute cementing of this “divorce”. And in recent days, soldiers liberated Kherson region so quickly that analysts could hardly keep up with the map changes.
Both Ukrainians and the global community have been giving this same message to Russia, loud and clear, since Feb. 24. You can’tforce love.
And certainly, another truism is one that Lavrov should be urging his compatriots to heed at this point: when it’s over, it’s over.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter