Vijai Maheshwari, in the World edition of the Spectator, finds ordinary Russians in Moscow full of belligerence and resentment and concludes that Westerners had better get out of Russia before it’s too late.
Most Russian men consider Ukrainian women to be more beautiful, feminine, and kind than Russian women. Ukraine’s embrace of America and hatred of Russia thus strikes them as supremely tragic, because in many respects warmer and romantic Ukraine represents the best of Russia. Putin has always channelled Russia’s dark subconscious, and his obsession with Ukraine springs from a shared yearning for a lost paradise.
Ukraine is his Helen of Troy, seduced by the cunning Americans; the military build-up on his country’s border in February was his Trojan Horse. He had been certain that he would overrun the weaker Ukrainians with his surprise attack and subdue them with the shock and awe of his sophisticated missiles, but things haven’t gone to plan. He might not even be able to capture the Donbass, given his failure to take over Mariupol after weeks of brutal shelling. His economy is tanking, and he might have to eventually settle for an unpopular peace deal.
But now that the beast inside Russians has been unleashed, it can’t be corked back again. Most Russians floundered under capitalism. The average salary outside Moscow was just a few hundred dollars a month. They could handle the poverty but missed the glory of being a superpower that dominated the world. Russia’s great poet Anna Akhmatova summed up their thinking this way: “If I can’t have love, if I can’t have peace, give me a bitter glory.”
Since the onset of war, Russians have given up on capitalism and are now braying for empire again. And as Western brands scramble for the exits and time runs backwards, many will welcome a return to the past. They will not stop now despite the mounting costs. They have been primed for victory and Putin must deliver.
Moscow’s Westernized women are horrified but helpless to stop their grandfathers from turning back time. By the time I left Moscow for Dubai, and eventually New York, sixteen days after the invasion, Russia already smelled like the Soviet Union of yore.
Moscow was eerily silent, like New York during the pandemic, and felt again like the city I remembered from the early 1990s, its restaurants and public spaces deserted as its people stayed home and pondered the future darkly. The cinemas had stopped showing Hollywood films, the city’s gleaming modern art museums had paused exhibitions, the Westerners had mostly fled, and the only foreigners were from “friendly” countries like China or India. It was back to “vodka and selyodka” (vodka and picked herring), and I knew by then that a majority preferred this reality to a Russia enthralled by Western consumerism. Even the jokes now had the self-deprecating irony of those from the late Soviet era.
“Do you know why we’re now going to be the healthiest nation on earth?” joked my taxi driver on the way to the airport. “That’s because we don’t eat American fast food anymore.”
I called my landlord in Moscow from New York two weeks later to inform him that I wouldn’t be renewing the lease on my pricey flat in central Moscow. He wasn’t pleased that I’d left Moscow on such short notice but answered without missing a beat.
“You’ll come back to Russia. Life is better here.”
His confidence sent a chill through me, and I realized that neither Ukraine nor the West will live in peace so long as Russia remains proud and defiant. It’s clear that sanctions won’t change Russia’s mind; they’ll just encourage a backlash against the West. The recent meme of Russian glamor girls cutting up their expensive Gucci bags in protest over the luxury brand’s “Russophobia” is a symptom of this angry pushback against the West and its desire to cancel Russia.