Ilya Yashin, one of Boris Nemtsov’s closest associates in the opposition, has promised to publish the murdered politician’s final report by mid-April. This report was to be devoted to the involvement of Russian military in the Ukrainian conflict and to prove something that is obvious to any school child in Ukraine but still remains unclear to Russians — that there is no civil conflict in the Donbas, only a straightforward occupation of a part of the territory by an arrogant aggressor.
Will this report change public opinion in Russia? I really doubt it, and not because I don’t believe in its persuasiveness. Nemtsov’s reports have always been very convincing. And not only because he never pursued sensational information. He always worked scrupulously with facts that could be obtained from open sources — with numbers, documents, testimonies. And he demonstrated that Russian corruption has no secrets. It simply requires the ability to see it. But most of his compatriots did not wish to see it. And they will not wish to see the presence of Russian military in the steppes of Ukraine.
The problem is not that Putin is a liar. The problem is that he is the president of a country of liars. The average Russian finds it convenient to pretend that he does not believe in the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine. Not because he really believes that they are not there, but because he finds that all means are acceptable in the struggle with the enemy. The Soviet people have always been brought up with this lie. The Bolsheviks created communist movements under fictitious names in Western countries. When they sent advisors from Moscow to help communists in China or the republicans in Spain they adopted fictitious Chinese or Spanish names. When the Soviet Union decided to occupy Finland, it created in Terijoki (renamed Zelenogorsk after Soviet occupation and annexation — Ed.) a puppet communist government and “came to the aid of the Finish people.” In the Soviet Union everyone understood that their country was at war with Finland and were proud of their soldiers-invaders. It is worth noting that this lie has never been condemned, that Russia, unlike Nazi Germany, has never undergone the process of de-Stalinization and that its current inhabitants are the direct descendants of their parents and grandparents — all brought up on lies.
This is why Russians pretend they believe there is a civil war in the Donbas. If you talk openly with one of the believers he will tell you the truth about his convictions: that Donbas is Russia. And so is Ukraine. That it is necessary to free Russian lands from fascists and Americans. And what if the president himself does not admit to this “liberation”? Well he is right not to, since Russia does not need new sanctions and problems. We will continue to send “volunteers” and the international community will pretend not to notice.
How ironic that two opposing groups of politicians are ready to tell the truth about the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine: Russian liberals who, like Nemtsov, do not wish for their country to become a global pariah and be forever estranged from Ukraine and the West. And radical Russian chauvinists who do not understand why “great Russia” should be ashamed of its soldiers who are liberating “Russian land.” Both groups confirm that yes, there are Russian troops in Ukraine. And society does not hear either one group or the other. However, it does hear President Putin and continues to gleefully lie along with him.
Because living a lie is comfortable, safe, and, most of all, it does not impose any responsibility in case of defeat. If Russia withdraws from the Donbas, Russian citizens will claim it had never been there. And they will repent nothing — how can you repent something that never happened? They will simply wait for their next despicable war, the next opportunity to know nothing and see nothing.