Dear Russians: An open letter


Dear Russians, 

On this day of remembrance, I want to share some thoughts with you as someone who has always not only respected and admired you as a people and a culture, but also loved you. Russia has been an enormous part of my life since I was 23 years-old. I know you more intimately than most of my peers in the West. You are very dear to me, and very close to my heart.

There is little doubt in my mind, as a Westerner, that NATO's expansion towards the borders of your country, over the past couple of decades, has been unnecessary—given the examples of Sweden and Finland, who are safe, prosperous countries without being members of NATO—and could legitimately be construed as geopolitical provocation; I did not support such expansion. I also acknowledge that there was a case to be made about the basic rights and interests of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine not having been safeguarded enough—perhaps even criminally ignored—by the Ukrainian government. Finally, I do not blame you, as a people, for the downing of an airliner, a few years ago, in which I've personally lost a friend and colleague, alongside his entire family and dozens of other compatriots. Even in my professional live I've attempted to bring you and the West closer together, for it is my firm conviction that we share common values and are members of the same family. I dream of a time when Russia will be a member of the European Union, not as its ruler, but as an equal partner. For, again, there is much, much more that unites us than what divides us.

None of the above, however, justifies invading a sovereign country, systematically bombing their civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure as a deliberate war strategy (namely, depopulation), raping their women as a matter of course, promoting falsehoods about their government's actions and motivations that encourage (war) crimes, and using the lives of Russian soldiers as expendable cannon fodder. Whatever provocations you have suffered at the hands of NATO and the West, you must keep in mind that NATO did not invade you, bombed you, or committed any factual act of aggression towards you. It is not legitimate to answer potential, abstract threats with actual, concrete violence; let alone atrocities. Your government is criminal not only in its intentions, but in its acts on the ground. Unlike your government's paranoia about the West, there is no question about the worst it—i.e. your government—could do; for it has done it already. And no, manipulated as we in the West may also be by our media, we know enough with sufficient certainty about what is going on, because biased as our media is, it is not fully controlled by the state, as yours is.

Let me be frank: your leader is a paranoid psychopath who controls and manipulates you through holding a monopoly of your media and systematically assassinating his critics. To protect his power—and therefore himself, for a dictator's only way to physically survive is to remain in power—your leader uses your lives and the lives of your sons on the battle field as currency. He is not acting out of your interests, but out of his own, as well as his paranoid, pathological geopolitical abstractions. Regrettably, as far as actions on the ground are concerned, you are now the Nazi state you so abhor. And none of this serves you; on the contrary. As I write this, a dear loved one of mine cannot get cancer treatment in Russia because of the criminal mess your government has started.

The West, by the very greedy character of its capitalist system, has no interest in destroying you; it has never had. Cynical as this may sound, the West wants you as a vibrant, prosperous, healthy market for its products. Ironically, it is precisely the shadowy side of the 21st-century West that prevents it from being a committed mortal foe of any country. Even aggressive, expansionist enemies of Western democracies, such as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, have been quickly helped into becoming rich, prosperous countries by their conquerors shortly after being defeated. You must recognize the unambiguous truth of this fact.

You must also recognize another undeniable fact: the Western world has expanded because its new members have chosen to be part of it. No member of the European Union or NATO has been forced to join. Their joining has, invariably, been the result of an open social debate and, directly or indirectly, of a popular vote. And many of the newest NATO members have had very good historical motivations for joining, for they have been victims of Russian expansionism and oppression not so long ago. Think of the Prague Spring, the invasion of Finland in 1939, the oppression of the Baltic states, and so on. Unlike the West, the Russian sphere of influence has grown not because of voluntary support from the countries in it, but because of the use of (the threat of) force by Russia. Your government's friends in Belarus and Kazakstan are themselves dictators who have a leash tied around the necks of their people. There is no equivalence between the West and your expansionist past, despite the self-serving rhetoric of your government.

Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, many in the West have gone out of their way to embrace you, despite your government's history. Germany, for instance, ignoring constant protests by the USA, has believed for thirty years that engaging with you as a friend was the way forward. Many of the citizens of the Western world, myself included, have always played down the threats some believed your government posed to our way of life. But your government has now proven the hawks right and I wrong; it has now made clear that it, indeed, is capable of the unthinkable.

Your government has proven that Russia does pose a very real, physical, present danger to us. It has singlehandedly created the very reality it claims to have wanted to prevent: the invasion of Ukraine has revitalized NATO, given it an obvious reason to exist and expand, given Sweden and Finland reasons to abandon decades of neutrality, Germany reason to dramatically increase their military spending and abandon their pacifist policies, and the whole of Europe reason to gravitate more towards the USA and away from you, after years of the opposite process having taken place. It has also solidified, beyond anything anyone thought possible, the national character of Ukraine as a state, culture and people distinct from you. None of this is happening because of paranoid speculations or geopolitical abstractions; it is happening because of the concrete acts of your government and military in Ukraine. Your government is doing all this, not our leaders; the latter were powerless to do any of this up until the 24th of February of 2022, and would still be powerless to do so now, had your government not embraced barbarity in our shared continent. The speed and success of your government in shooting Russia in the foot is nothing short of fantastic.

It's you who will pay the price for the barbarism and sabre-rattling of the Kremlin; and you already are. I live this reality in my little microcosm: I can't send money to pay for my niece's university education anymore, or to help pay for the cancer treatment of her grandfather. I, as a Western citizen, now take very seriously the threat of nuclear attack your government constantly suggests and implies. I care about my and my loved ones' lives here as much as I care about you. And for this reason, someone like me is now an ardent supporter of sanctions against you, ache as my heart does for the effects these sanctions have on you. For all of your advanced military hardware, your airplanes, your missiles, which are now trained at my backyard (quite literally, for I live just outside a major military air base), depend on Western technology, parts and the money the West spends buying your natural resources. Why would we continue to do this if what your government does with those resources is not only to threaten our lives, but to actually kill us, as is now happening in Ukraine? Nobody here is suicidal, despite our political idealism and occasional naiveness. Regrettably, therefore, the price for our security will be to strangle your economy into an unprecedented era of de-industrialization that will mean—whatever your government is claiming through its disinformation machine—great hardship and pain for almost all of you; and us too. What a tragedy this is. Yet, the responsibility lies squarely with a government that claims to act in your name.

Ultimately, you, too, carry responsibility for what your government does in your name, with the resources you generate as working citizens.

With love and sincerity,

Bernardo Kastrup

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5 comments:

  1. Noble thoughts!

    Since authoritarian regimes can endlessly manipulate their populations, ruthlessly stifle dissent, and extend policy indefinitely into the future (no need to fear election defeat), they have a "fitness to survive". A most unpleasant brute fact.

    So far as Russia is concerned, too many iffy regimes in the World are not siding with the NATO countries, so sanctions will surely have limited effect. And the Russia can continue this conflict indefinitely (I read that they already have 5 years worth of artillery shells). To prevent Ukraine from returning to normality, they can simply keep shelling towns and firing missiles at factories and significant infrastructure. I see no easy end to all this.

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  2. Not 100 percent sure the purpose of the letter unless it's intent is to be therapeutic for yourself. When I worked in Hong Kong one of my chief responsibilities was to train mainland Chinese on the operation, configuration and maintenance of the Rosemont DCS system used in ARCO's facilities at the CL&P Blackpoint Power Station. I attempted to steer clear of Politics. This was 1996 and 1997 just before the handover in August of 97. This was the first time they had experienced any true freedom of thought. China attempted to limit their movements but the Hong Kong government told China to "Bite me". One night in class out of the blue they asked me about the Tianaman Sqaure Masacre. I asked them what they knew about it. Let's just say their understanding of events and the understanding of the Chinese governments control over information was incredible to me. Tuen Muen had a large public library so I told them to go read the archived news papers of that period and not rely on my understanding of events. They didn't even know such a thing was possible. I think what they discovered literally traumatized them on 100 different levels. I have often wondered what they think now and if they feel powerless to change things or if the knowledge emboldened them.

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  3. Let us imagine a miscarriage of justice that is facilitated by a number of people who provide false testimony, bribe key officials, engage in witness tampering, lie, misinterpret the law, appeal to the irrational prejudices of the jury, etc., and suppose that this leads to the execution of an innocent prisoner. This example is not meant to be an accurate metaphor for the Ukrainian situation, but only to clarify a simple principle, which is this: the one who carries out an execution is no more guilty than the ones who, by their actions, assure it will happen.
    The United States, by pushing NATO to the border of Russia in violation of its own promises not to do this, provided Russia every reason to suppose that its plan was to annihilate it . In doing this the US. did not appear to be a friendly state concerned for the economic and social welfare of Russia.
    Yes, what Russia is doing is a serious crime. That needs to be said. But the US is equally guilty. There are no good guys in this quagmire.
    As an American I find myself more concerned with the guilt of my own country than with the guilt of Russia. For the US – given its history of violence, intrigue and deceit since WWII -- to assume the moral high ground in this situation, and in general, is nothing short of nauseating.

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    1. I tend to agree with you not so much on the specific hero or villain but in general. We are all born into a preexisting system where we are then indoctrinated into the values of that system. What I have always been intrigued by is the fact that humanity has great flexibility in determining moral values but absolutely no operating manual on how that is to be done. It is like we are on a lifelong on the job training program. At the tender age of 68 I have come to the conclusion that what one is left with is the responsibility of determining for yourself and only yourself what path you follow and how you follow that path. If you are a hero or a villain can only be controlled by your own decisions based on what those terms mean to you. I am convinced this life is some kind of training experience with no real predetermined outcomes and what matters is how we as individuals, not countries, not political parties, not religions, but as individuals we navigate the moral obstacle course that is life.

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  4. Ed -- Interesting comment. You say " I am convinced this life is some kind of training experience. . . " . I also tend to see it that way. However, I think the individual and the collective constitute a polar unity. Our being is defined equally between our individual existence and our participation in a variety of collectives -- the most important one being humanity. As participants in one of the the collectives (the nation) we feel some responsibility for what it does. Yet this is not a real democracy but a plutocracy. Unless we are billionaires we are powerless. The most we can do is to provide some comfort to the few who are within the range of our influence (which is what I think Kastrup was trying to do with his letter.) As I watch the continuing carnage on so many levels I find it hard to believe in the essential goodness of the two largest collectives -- humanity and creation itself. This puts me on the edge of despair, and prompts me to give some consideration to the Gnostic view. A deranged and sociopathic demiurge would explain a lot.

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