Behind the mask: Russians are not responsible for their state’s crimes

By Zach Strohecker, Apr. 12, 2022

The invasion of Ukraine started in Kyiv over a month ago today. Peace talks are slow, and no resolution seems on the horizon. While it’s very clear to see the Ukrainians suffering under the aggression of Vladimir Putin, a second, unspoken crop of victims has sprung as a direct result of the West’s response to these war crimes.

Amid skyrocketing gas prices, if you think Western governments’ sanctions on Russia have made our economy tough, you live in a fairytale compared to the average Russian citizen. According to the BBC, inflation on all essential goods in Russia have skyrocketed since the sanctions. The price of milk has nearly doubled in two weeks as of Feb. 20. The panic-buying of goods Russians believe to soon be unobtainable is reminiscent of the Soviet Union collapse’s fallout. The cost of war rages on both sides, and while the Ukrainians are currently paying with their lives, innocent Russian citizens may soon follow.

It is easy, but mistaken, to justify the consequences as deserved because Russia could stop the aggression and the people would not suffer. It is very clear Putin isn’t backing down, and no matter where their sympathies lie, they are being held captive to this conflict.

Other than government intervention, private Western organizations have taken measures to stand against Russia’s actions. Russians are being excluded from all kinds of events to the point of silliness. According to NPR, Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev’s Canadian tour was canceled because he wouldn’t openly condemn Putin’s actions directly. He stated he was against violence and wished for peace. When confronted about making a direct denouncement, which some organizations require, Malofeev said, “I feel very uncomfortable about this and also think that it can affect my family in Russia.”

The stakes are higher than just art performances. Ordinary Russians are being threatened and crippled by some of these actions, particularly from tech companies. According to Reuters, PayPal has frozen all Russian accounts. Amazon released a statement saying it suspended retail shopping and entertainment services to Belarus and Russia.  Perhaps, they need PayPal, Amazon or other services now blocked to run their small businesses. There are many more examples available, found on a list compiled by Forbes.

Justin Oo | The Poly Post

Russians are not accountable for the crimes of the state. They do not have to publicly denounce Putin to be “one of the good ones.” That opinion is the luxury of someone who has never tasted real tyranny, never feared for their life to speak out against their government.

What do these actions achieve? On the Western end, companies receive clout for their awareness on international issues, yet this doesn’t impede the lives of Putin or his oligarchs who have no problem shifting money around through international schemes. It does massively impact Russian citizens who live lives not dissimilar to you and me. From what I can see, this is an attack targeting victims, not the perpetrators.

The argument may be made that if the whole of Russia is made to suffer, then Putin will yield. I do not believe that to be likely. Putin isn’t yielding to the possibility of being kicked out of the global economic order altogether. Russians are now hostages, and the actions of companies like PayPal and Amazon are absurd. It’s like trying to convince terrorists to surrender by threatening to shoot the hostages ourselves.

Americans are the last people who should talk about holding citizens responsible for their country’s international aggression. Western companies that pile on the despair Russians face should be ashamed, and the public should hold them to that shame.


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