In the beginning, it was easy to think that the crime of aggression against Ukraine and the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian soldiers were not the responsibility of the Russian people.
Nearly eight months later it is no longer possible to hold that view.
Particularly since the Partial Mobilization on September 21, it is no longer possible to believe the Russian people have been unaware of the war crimes Russian armed forces have been committing.
One thinks back. They must have also been aware of the war crimes committed in Chechnya, and the war crimes committed in Syria. One recalls the massacre of the Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1940.
The new commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine is famous as the general who leveled Aleppo.
The Russians knew.
They have always known. And either approved or looked the other way.
The shame that comes from knowing of these atrocities, of these war crimes and crimes against humanity, and of having gone along, is a shame that will be associated with the Russian people for a thousand years.
They will be remembered as the huns and Attila the Hun are remembered, and as Genghis Khan is remembered, as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis are remembered.
The shame of the Russians is a particular shame, a 21st century shame.
For they had experienced the atrocities of the Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. They had ratified the United Nations Charter in 1945. They had sat as judges at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. They had ratified the Geneva Conventions on the Laws of War in 1949. They had even ratified the main international conventions on human rights.
The Russian people knew that Putin was apparently behind the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in 2015, apparently behind the murder of Russians abroad, and apparently behind the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020. They knew there was something strange about all of the prominent people falling from their windows to their deaths in 2022.
And they voted for Putin or looked the other way, as he seemed to bring prosperity and order to Russia after the chaos of Yeltsin’s later years.
Just as the Germans knew about the Nazis and the Jews.
While courageous Russians opposed the government and the war in Ukraine, many did not.
Those who knew, and went along, have brought a shame to the Russian people that will not be forgotten for a thousand years.
How many years will it be before ordinary Russians, those who didn’t oppose the war and the war crimes of their government, will be genuinely welcome in any free country in the world?
Germany and Japan have shown us there is no such thing as collective guilt, and that the sins of the fathers may be atoned for.
Germany, perhaps more than Japan, has shown us the path of atonement, of recognition of the sins committed, of education and facing the past, and ultimately of the possibility of redemption.
How many years will it be before Russians enter down this path?
Russians may as a people be rehabilitated within a hundred years.
But the shame of the Russian people, over the war crimes their sons and leaders have committed and are committing today in Ukraine, will last for a thousand years.
The Trenchant Observer
On the question of Russian guilt, see,
1) “The Question of Individual Responsibility for the Actions of One’s Nation,” The Trenchant Observer, January 6, 2018.
2) “Ukraine War, February 27, 2022: The spiritual dimension–Albert Camus, “Letters to a German friend” 1943-44; Dispatches and analyses,” The Trenchant Observer, February 27, 2022.
3) “Ukraine War, March 27, 2022: Peace is not around the corner; Russian demands and Ukrainian determination; “(Letter) To my Russian friends”; Albert Camus, ‘Letters to a German friend (1943-44),'” The Trenchant Observer, March 27, 2022.