How do you react to the announcement of the mobilization of 300,000 reservists by Vladimir Putin?
It is clear, with this decision, that there has never been so much question about the future of the regime. Until now, there was certainly the policy carried out on the Ukrainian front but, internally, nothing was new. In the eyes of the Russian population, the current conflict was one long stormy river. There have already been military operations carried out by Russia in its vicinity. There, it is the first mobilization of independent Russia. The previous one dated back to the Second World War. It is obvious that this mobilization will come up against enormous difficulties. For twenty years with Putin, there was a contract between the Kremlin and the Russians, on the basis of “I let you live your life quietly and you let me do what is good for the country and you publicly support my decisions “. The Russian power thus hardly touched the family unit or the daily life of the people.
Didn’t he, precisely, select these reservists on criteria that limit protest?
We first touch those who have done military service. Students can also be mobilized, who instead of service have followed the teachings of a military chair. This is a pure formality because none of them has ever had a weapon in their hands! But they are legally reserve officers, once they have graduated. This concerns rather young, rather modest men who will not know how to react to this situation. This will obviously limit the reaction of Muscovites and Saint Petersburgers, who are more inclined to go out on the streets. But I think, despite everything, that this will give rise to novel avoidance strategies. Because a soldier who has finished his army and returned home does not necessarily have a very good feeling about his military service. It is, in general, not a nice experience for an ordinary Russian.
The Russian army is completely careless. We can already put big question marks on the modernization of weapons and equipment. In terms of human management, it has the same faults as those described for thirty years, that is to say a very unprofessional army, with officers who order to sweep the court but who do not train. The officers who know how to do something are all at the front. If, at the end of his military service, we say to the soldier: “You go back there and you can be killed”, we understand that it will not be easy.
Between the peoples of Ukraine and Russia, can we speak of a historical misunderstanding?
The misunderstanding certainly does not date from today, but these differences should not lead to a war. Contrary to what is offered by the official narrative, the two societies were already not identical under the Soviet Union. They moved away, despite Moscow’s desire to unite the peoples under the same brotherhood. All Soviet discourse, including Putin’s, is based on the idea of the Soviet “great people”. There is indeed a common base between all the countries of the former USSR, particularly in lifestyles, cultural practices or education. The Russians, like the Ukrainians, once felt they were citizens of the Soviet Union. But Moscow was the center and Ukraine was treated as a periphery. The Ukrainians had a country language, a hillbilly language. And Ukraine has been, historically, mistreated, time and time again. Despite this, the sympathy between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples was very great, until the annexation of Crimea. Crimea is a divide, the current conflict is a seesaw. Until these events, Ukrainians were “anti-Kremlin” but not “anti-Russian”. From the Crimea, families were torn apart. Today is a total break.
With Putin’s threats, can this war change its nature?
I strongly fear him! Russia is clearly in an attitude of escalation. Putin knows he is losing and that his only way to win is to increase what he puts on the table, to make the West back down. His personal journey also makes him feel invested with a mission, which can push him to the extreme.
“Never brothers. Ukraine and Russia: a post-Soviet tragedy” (Seuil), 217 pages, €19.
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