"To humiliate someone is to exploit your power over them, making them feel
worthless and dependent on you. It is clear, then, that the Russian military
seems intent on humiliating Ukrainians, taking away their right to independence
and their right to make their own decisions. This war is an act of imperialism,
a colonial war meant to destroy another nation’s right to exist and to
subjugate it. But it is not empire building in the sense of a coldly considered
plan for territorial gain and economic resources; it is the next act of
Vladimir Putin’s empire of humiliation.
Russia’s president would have the world believe that his country is guided by
unifying ideas of cultural pride and conservative values, exceptionalism and
splendid isolation. But in reality, Mr. Putin’s Russia has no coherent
ideology, it’s just a mess of contradictions: It is Soviet nostalgia and a
cultural arrogance that glorifies the Russian empire; it is a Russian ethnic
and Christian Orthodox superiority that sits uncomfortably with what is
supposed to be pride in being a patchwork of ethnicities and faiths.
Russia is a bastion of conservative values that has some of the world’s highest
rates of divorce, and its soundtrack is a Kremlin TV that amplifies any
compliment or conciliatory gesture from the West — clips of Tucker Carlson, the
Fox News host, appear frequently. Kremlin propaganda claims Russia revels in
isolationism, but it is also addicted to seeking approval from abroad.
And Mr. Putin’s success as president of Russia has rested for some time on his
ability to mete out daily humiliations to Russians and then act as if he feels
their rage as they do, as if he alone knows where to direct it — toward the
West, toward Ukraine, anywhere except toward the Kremlin.
But when Mr. Putin himself tries to explain why Russia is in Ukraine, he swings
between what seem like very different excuses. In a speech in June Mr. Putin
compared himself to Peter the Great, on a mission to expand Russian lands.
Another time he claimed “we had no choice” but to act in Ukraine, a message
that was repeated endlessly on television.
So which is it? It is neither and both. Mr. Putin likes to perform both sides
of the humiliation drama: from the seething resentment of the put-upon Russian
everyman to cosplaying Peter the Great. This allows him to appeal to Russians’
deep-seated sense of humiliation, which the Kremlin itself inflicts on people,
and then compensate for it. It’s a performance that taps into the cycle of
humiliation and aggression that defines the experience of life in Russia, and
now Ukraine is the stage."
Via Joerg Fliege and Susan ****
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics