Do the lives of Russians anywhere matter to such a monstrous political entity as the Russian empire? The answer is simple – they don’t, Aleksandar Đokić writes.
When the Kakhovka dam burst, either due to intentional Russian sabotage or intentional Russian negligence, most people were genuinely shocked.
Even those more aware of the context of the Kremlin's war couldn’t imagine a country sabotaging a dam which would then endanger the lives of its own soldiers on the frontline, not to mention the loss of lives in occupied territories and great infrastructural and ecological damage.
Yet, there is such a type of country, and it's called an empire.
Even in places that have suffered from toxic nationalism, this is hard to comprehend because nationalism puts the nation first and not the state.
Regardless of how illiberal or autocratic individual regimes might get, the state apparatus cannot sacrifice the nation for its own purposes.
But empires can and do — especially ruthless ones.
The empire's purpose is to dehumanise its people
The core of the matter is that there’s a fundamental difference between a subject and a citizen.
A subject doesn’t have any rights except those given to him by the state, the same rights that the state can freely take on its own accord.
In turn, it's the citizens who form a typical democratic nation-state. The state is there to fulfil their needs and protect their rights, and these rights are inalienable, their source metaphysical.
If a person never experienced life in an empire, hasn't studied it extensively, or immersed themselves in this hierarchical matrix, any political explanation of the system will always sound like an exaggeration.
In the Russian empire — regardless of its current borders, as it’s not the size of the border which makes the empire, but the relations between the state and its subjects — the idea of an individual doesn’t have any meaning to the administration, the ruling elite, the bureaucrats, the police officers, or the army ranks.
The individual exists only as a philosophical entity among the dissident civil society or as a literary character in works of art.
The job of the apparatus and its cogs is to be heartless
For instance, while average people may sometimes show compassion to the individual, the apparatus and its cogs never do and never will. They will simply brush any similar notion to the side.
For example: on 7 June, a jury of his peers declared Vitaly Koltsov innocent to the charges of attempted murder of the members of the anti-riot OMON police in an incident in which hee threw two Molotov cocktails at a police van, parked at Moscow’s Revolution Square.
No OMON members were injured. The jury found him guilty only of destroying state property.
On 13 June, the state prosecutor ignored the jury’s verdict and ask for Koltsov to be sentenced to 19,5 years in prison instead.
The prosecutor stated that even though the jury found the defendant not guilty of the attempted murder, they did find him responsible for throwing the Molotovs, which is defined as a life-threatening act.
Russian citizens demonstrated courage, candidness and compassion — all fine individual traits — but the state simply ignored them.
Their will was made irrelevant, as proven during court proceedings, and the case was closed.
In Putin's Russia, there are no citizens, just subjects
This is how Russia has operated from the times of Ivan the Terrible, when the backs of princes and their princedoms were broken, ushering in an era of never-ending despotism.
Imagine living under such a political system, generation after generation, century after century, knowing that your own existence means nothing to lords, Bolshevik commissars, and finally, Vladimir Putin’s cronies.
Instead of a political culture of protests and demonstrations, a petition culture has risen instead. Citizens protest; subjects petition their lords for mercy.
Protests are political in nature, even if they can manifest themselves on various levels of polity. Petitions are always socio-economical, coming to the fore when subjects starve or suffer from mass disease or due to a natural calamity such as floods.
Then the subjects gather and plead to their disinterested or often morally and otherwise corrupt lords to come to their aid.
This is how citizens of the Belgorod region, namely the town of Shebekino, acted when they found out that the war has a flipside, too: not only can Russia strike Ukraine, but Ukraine can also strike inside Russia.
The incursion that no one in Moscow cared about
Citizens of Shebekino petitioned their governor for evacuation after being left for a protracted period of time to fend for themselves.
First, their governor claimed that there was no danger, and then he blamed the MoD for not protecting them — never the good emperor embodied in Putin.
In the end, he started to evacuate them but forced them to pay 3,000 rubles (around €33) per evacuated child.
There wasn’t a single protest in a town of 40 thousand. There was no war fervor either.
There were only pleas for help, pleas from subjects of the cruel empire to the powers that be.
Towns can fall as long as the Kremlin is still standing
When the Ukrainians started the campaign to stretch Moscow's forces left back to defend the border areas by organising forays inside Russian territory, they did so as a nation-state, which has to care for its citizens and for its nation.
When Putin and his associates decided to simply leave Shebekino to Ukraine, they acted as rulers of an empire, not as elected public administrators of a democratic republic.
An empire may burn its entire outer provinces if it means keeping its seat of power, from where it channels its political prerogatives, intact. In this case, what happens to Shebekino is irrelevant as long as the Kremlin stands tall.
Russia also wages war as an empire. According to an expert report on Russian military tactics after practically a year and a half of war, written by the Royal United Services Institute, the Russian army has modified its infantry tactics by dividing its troops into “specialised" and "disposable” units.
In other words, the Russian empire is knowingly throwing its own people, people of its own nation, into a meatgrinder, a virtual abyss.
Cannonfodder and flesh for the meat grinder
From many boilerplate reasons that Moscow has launched in the information sphere to justify its war of conquest, the protection of Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians is often cited as one of the main reasons for its 2022 invasion.
But the flimsiness of this excuse became apparent all too soon.
How can an empire, which doesn't care for its own citizens, engage in altruistic wars in order to save the lives of others?
If Russians are premeditatedly sacrificed as cannon fodder on a tactical level, if hundreds of thousands and more Russians are pushed out of the state and into emigration, if Russian citizens living in the border areas are left to save their own lives from incursions, then why would the lives of Russians from Ukraine matter to such a monstrous political entity as the Russian empire?
The answer is simple – they don’t. The emperor only values his throne and will do anything to protect it, while all others are mere resources to be exploited.
Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. He was formerly a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.
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