It is way more like the 1930s than the 1970s, and the second coming of Donald Trump, should it happen, is bound to unleash a new surge of far-right politics, which may have already started in the recent days, with electoral victories of far-right populists in Argentina and the Netherlands.Towards Universal Values
Yet, finding themselves between the rock of Putin’s blood-stained dictatorship and the hard place of a disoriented, crisis-stricken West that is perpetually shifting to the far right, the Russian liberals hardly have any other choice. Their experience in exile is best described as the loss of innocence, namely an extremely idealized and uninformed image of the West (and even more so of Ukraine).
Sanctions that badly hurt opposition Russians while sparing Putin’s henchmen; the pervasive narrative of collective guilt - troubling given the collective guilt narrative’s role in the history of the 20th century; incessant xenophobic attacks by anti-Russian information warriors on leading oppositional figures, especially Aleksey Navalny; the West turning a blind eye on “securitocratic” state capture, corruption and ultra-nationalism
in modern Ukraine - all of this creates a strong feeling that the hawkish and illiberal part of the Western establishment is more interested in perpetuating the conflict than in helping to usher in democracy in either Russia or Ukraine. Also, the feeling that Putin is for Western hawks what Hamas is for Netanyahu - a convenient frenemy who is helping to derail any democracy-based win-win solution for Russia and Ukraine.
No matter how much some Russian exiles try to identify themselves with the Israelis, their real-life experiences will be inevitably more reminiscent to those of Palestinians, dispersed around the world as they are as a result of Israel’s expansionism over decades. This will hopefully usher in an element of nuance and balance in their judgement.
In fact, it does already. Despite being by far outnumbered by the “civilizers”, a surprising number of Russian academics, journalists and other thinkers, especially younger ones, attempted to oppose the hardline majority view from universalist positions - downplaying neither Israeli tragedy, nor the decades-long suffering of the Palestinian people, while vehemently condemning violent extremism on both sides.
In my opinion, the current wave of exiled Russians will most likely assimilate into their new environments, which includes playing by their rules and accepting their unsavory aspects. There are zero chances in them building a new democratic Russia while the West shows little interest in the project.
But as Ukraine’s defeat in the war begins to loom, the logic of the Russian intellectuals’ sorry existence, as pariahs on both sides of the geopolitical rift, will lead them to question the wisdom of what the American-led West is doing – be it in the Middle East or closer to home. Has Ukraine been thrown under the bus for the benefit of the war industry and hawkish grifters? Have they been thrown under the same bus, alongside Ukraine? How to live with this and what is to be done?
If Russian liberals are to preserve themselves as a community with a shared identity and destiny, as well as a vision of a democratic Russia integrated with the West, the very logic of this inevitable soul-searching will likely prompt them to drift towards embracing universal values in a more non-conformist manner. This, at the end of the day, will prove beneficial to their own country, to Europe and to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, those who have embraced ethnonationalist narratives of their newly adopted homes will gradually drift away from the Russian political chatroom.