* and by Russian left, I mean the mostly urban intelligentsia, which is the group most politically proximate to us on issues like social liberalism, religious tolerance, and broadly-construed civic rights. There are also points of difference (especially in political alignment and economics, where the landscape of the Russia is so much different than ours), but this is the group that would gibe the best with the users here, and because their voices aren't often heard, I thought it'd be useful to provide some of what they're saying, with minimal commentary.
(This is also, sadly, a small minority in Russian discourse. For that reason, the following excerpts are obviously selective, non-representative, and biased, and in the interests of offering full disclosure: I know some of these people in person.)
((This isn't intended to supplant any kind of critique coming from the American left, where perspectives are necessarily going to be different, but to offer some context for my own comments on the site, informed as they are by this particular segment of Russian society. Consider this an addition to the larger conversations we're having.))
Our country has been plunged into a dangerous and reckless gamble under the slogan "Defend Russians in Crimea, as well as all Ukrainians from the new illegitimate fascist regime in Ukraine!" The de facto annexation of Crimea has already occurred. We have flagrantly violated international law and destroyed the principles of European security and stability. Russia is rapidly slipping into a new Cold War with the West, the grave consequences of which cannot be predicted.The NG article follows that up with another letter, supported by twice as many signatories (natch), supporting Putin's policies in Ukraine. (Andrei Piontkovsky gives a withering assessment of that letter here.)
The uncontrolled flow of lies and misinformation is flowing throughout Russian state media, they've deployed a deafening propaganda campaign against anyone who tries to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the authorities' actions, or to argue their disastrous consequences for the country and the people. They've indiscriminately defamed all the dissenters, calling them a "fifth column", and "fascists." And those dissenters are no small group. It's enough to read through the uncensored media or numerous debates in social networks to see political scientists, economists, people who are professionally engaged in foreign policy, and just ordinary people endowed with any kind of social sensitivity, warning that Russia is inviting on itself a real catastrophe - economic, political, humanitarian.
As for the signatories to the anti-war letter, they were labeled "scum" by Eurasianist nutcase Alexandr Dugin and "national traitors" by Putin himself. Keep in mind this plays out against the dissolution of Russia's biggest media conglomerate and ascension of a career propagandist (the much-loathed Dmitri Kiselev) to head its new iteration. The last few months have seen a heck of an assault on independent journalism in Russia.
Among the other anti-war signatories, legendary author and public intellectual Dmitri Bykov, reporting from Kharkov: "It won't end with Crimea":
Previously, the Kremlin's ideological staff spoke cautiously even about Crimea - now they openly broadcast the need to protect (cleanse) Ukraine in general. [...] I flew from Kharkov in full confidence that no one will succeed in embroiling Russia with Ukraine: they listen to us, understand us, want to continue to remain in the common cultural space with us, even as they move along different paths. Today, that confidence looks much shakier: Moscow definitely needs us to hate each other. Kiev is not interested at all: the offense needs hysterics, not the defense.From the well-known art critic Grigory Revzin, writing for Ekho Moskvy:
The fact is that we, Russia, are at war with Ukraine. Not with the civilized world, not with America, not with fascists, but with Ukraine. We bit off a chunk of her territory, and not America's. We're at war with her because she rebelled against a liar and a thief, and made him get the hell out. We're at war for her because Putin offered her $15 billion, and she spat in his face. We're at war with her because she wanted to be part of Europe. One may pretend that all thinking Ukrainians are banderites, fascists, anti-Semites and russophobes, but it's nonsense, and we all know that this is nonsense.Author, veteran, and journalist Arkady Babchenko, former colleague of Anna Politkovskaya (who was murdered in 2006):
"National traitors"...Finally, a heartfelt plea from poet and lifelong antiwar activist Lev Rubinstein:
You know who he's talking about?
About you and me.
That's me, a veteran of two wars instigated by my own country, but according to the President of our country, I'm now a national traitor.
It's all those who went to the [anti-war] march. All those who, in dereliction of duty, are still working in the independent media. Or who used to and haven't shut up yet. It's everyone who doesn't want war. Who doesn't want to see a stream of coffins with their children inside. Everyone who's for free elections and liberty. Everyone against corruption and theft. Everyone who, simply enough, is for freedom.
My dear Ukrainian friends!+++
All our thoughts are with you. All our hopes and fears are with you. All our despair and anger are with you.
The moment came when it was impossible to remain silent, yet we don't know what to say.
We'll probably end up saying some pretty pathetic words: try to forgive us. Us, i.e. those, alas, few sane Russians who are not poisoned by toxic imperial gases. These are not the kinds of gases you get from "Gazprom". These gases, unfortunately, are much more deeply embedded.
Try to forgive us for having neither the strength nor the will to stop our madmen who are ready to bring upon our country, my country, a shame so unthinkable, it will wash away the efforts of several generations.
Try to forgive us. And even if you cannot, nothing can be done: I know that we deserve your scorn.
From experts in the region writing in English, I highly recommend the articles being published over at NYU's Jordan Center, which strike just the right note of informed nuance:
First and foremost, the outstanding "Dangerous Liaisons: Ukraine and Western Slavists"
by Rossen Djagalov, discussing the role of fascists in the movement both as a reality and as a rhetorical bludgeon. Seriously, this is one of the best of all things I've read on the issue:
Finally, lest this text be taken as a call for Weberian objectivity and academic neutrality: the moment is urgent and sides need to be taken. I, too, have taken sides although “side” may not be the most accurate description of the internally split and marginal Ukrainian left, which has been unable to form a pole independent of the main antagonists of the day. Mistakes will definitely be made as scholars engage reality; the only way not to make them and remain perfect is not to say or do anything. Especially now, however, in the aftermath of the Russian intervention, when that must be denounced, the demands for political hygiene and scholarly honesty are ever greater.Mikhail Iampolsky on the "hallucinatory" basis of Russia's Ukraine policy:
Russian diplomacy and legislation stem from non-existent facts, deny the obvious, and are the stuff of fantasy (which, of course, does not get in the way of their cynical deal-making). The circus surrounding the Russian troops in Crimea and the Crimean authorities is particularly telling. Putin is convinced: all you need to do is strip the epaulettes and badges from Russian soldiers and they’ll be as invisible, like something out of Harry Potter. The world is asked to see what does not exist (pogroms, murders—around a thousand killed) and not see what does exist, just like in a child’s game: “Now you see me—now you don’t!”Eliot Borenstein on avoiding the trap of simplistic media narratives:
Of course diplomacy often involves distorted facts. But a foreign policy based entirely on fantasy is truly exceptional. Russia is supposedly building camps for non-existent Ukrainian refugees, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. But it’s a simple matter to prove that there are no refugees: refugee camps have to be inspected by UN or Red Cross workers. How can there be a realistic set of policies based entirely on lies? Even the anchors of Russia Today have gone AWOL, refusing to utter the nonsense that’s being pushed on them.
[L]et’s play a game. Are the following phenomena examples of stupidity, cynicism, or both?+++
* The reduction of the problem to a story of Good Guys and Bad Guys: Freedom-loving Ukrainians vs. the latest Stalin in the Kremlin. Or neo-fascist revolutionaries in Kiev vs liberators from Russia.
* Commentators in the US shocked that a superpower is invading a country in its sphere of influence (like Grenada? Panama? half of Latin America?)
* Pro-Russian dismissal of American criticism due to the history mentioned above
* Khrushchev giving Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the first place. What do you get for the republic that has everything? It was either Crimea or a pair of cufflinks.
* Former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov justifying Russia’s actions because Khrushchev’s gift to Ukraine was a violation of the Soviet Constitution. Yes, the Soviet Constitution was violated—I’m as shocked as you are.
Finally, two fact-checking sites are doing yeoman's work sorting through the fog of information, both mis- and dis-. Both have English mirrors: FakeControl and StopFake. The former works primarily as a neutral media watchdog; the latter grew directly out of the Maidan movement, so take with the amount of salt you deem appropriate. Always good to double-check information against them when possible.