I have been trying to say for a long time that the war against Ukraine is also a war for the future of Russia. The atrocities of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Ukraine had naturally blocked the topic of Russia’s future in many minds, and it was difficult to find a ground for such a conversation, not only in Lithuania.
First of all, because few people believed and still believe that Russia can be different, this attitude in Lithuania and around our region leads to the conclusion that this country should be forgotten and isolated and that it is generally inappropriate to talk about Russia’s future while Ukrainian blood is shed.
The conclusion is different in the West. There, too, the thinking is that the regime in Russia is not going to change, that it will be the same even without Putin, and that we need to think of a way to get back to some kind of cooperation after the war.
Hence the West’s caution in supporting Ukraine with arms – the same disbelief and the same fear that Russia is powerful and strong, that there will be a need for negotiations to end the war, and that there is no political will to invite Ukraine to join NATO.
Will one day of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion change these attitudes?
First of all, for the avoidance of doubt, it is obvious to me that Mr Prigozhin is as much a war criminal as Putin. He is neither worse nor better. He is a thug.
However, he has done an unexpectedly important job. I did not believe he could overthrow Putin even when he went to Moscow.
However, only at first glance, it may seem that it all came to nothing. First of all, it did not.
Secondly, Prigozhin’s rebellion punctured the huge balloon that frightened the whole world. The air is not going to go away any time soon. In fairness, it was the Ukrainians who first showed that this monster that frightens the world is not to be feared.
They showed it in Kyiv last year, but not everyone believed it yet. The Russians are even more so.
This stab has started to deflate Russia itself, and the balloon is deflating further. It turned out that the Russians have no great affection for Mr Putin at all.
I confess that I, too, was surprised by the images from Rostov-on-Don, where the atmosphere was not one of fear but of friendship. It seems that the Kremlin’s propaganda hacks had to do a lot of searching for the older adult who resents Prigozhin. And elsewhere in Russia, there was no fright or any other emotion. By the way, it would be interesting to know what Mr Prigozhin’s friends in Africa, or Mr Putin’s friends in China, are thinking in the wake of the recent events.
However, those Russian sentiments also revealed to me the great tragedy of that country. There, people are being shown the same thing. That is a saying that comes to mind from the Soviet era.
They are ‘equally shown’ by the tragedy of the Ukrainians, they are ‘equally shown’ by the state of their own state, they are ‘equally shown’ who to take a selfie with – the leader of the mercenaries who is killing Russians themselves, Prigozhin, or the war criminal Putin. I think Volodymyr Zelensky would do it too…
By the way, let us be objective.
When Viktor Uspaskich used to throw ice cream at festivals, a similar crowd used to gather in Lithuania. Are you saying that he is not Prigozhin? No, but in the Lithuanian context, he is a man in Putin’s orbit.
So what is my conclusion about the future of Russia?
We need to continue to work on the Western Front and try to convince our allies that it is necessary not only to help Ukraine even more, not to consider any more negotiations but to go on bravely to victory. The victory also means the fall of the Putin regime, the total fall. There is no need to fear that. The revolt has shown that the Russians themselves are not at all afraid of that collapse. That was the case with the USSR, which was collapsing on its own and collapsing fast.
Mr Putin has tried to recreate this imperial corpse, but even in Russia itself, it is not very important or interesting. An occupied country – that is what Russia revealed to me that day and occupations and empires have their endings.
How are we going to help the empire to collapse? There is much to do and to do here – for our own good.
Because only this can bring credible peace not only to Ukraine but to Europe as a whole.