“Why are You Pro-Putin?”

“Why are you pro Putin?” This was how a woman responded to me on Twitter when I provided some historical context to the current war between Russia and Ukraine, though nothing I had said implied what I thought about Putin either way. It’s a common tactic in media and social media. When someone tries to present a contextual history of the conflict that is inconvenient to the overly simplistic Marvel comic book depiction that is constantly pounded home by most establishment media in the US, they and what they say are equated with being pro-Putin or a Russian propagandist.

It’s a convenient way to avoid engaging with the substance of the argument being made. Indeed, it often is a way to avoid facts the person employing this device doesn’t like. And that represents a disturbing trend highlighted by this conflict – the increasing tendency for people to decide whether to acknowledge facts based on whether they like them or not. Even more disturbing is that this anti-intellectual line of thinking is often being practiced by people who consider themselves to be liberals.

When I was growing up liberals would never have accused a sociologist who studies crime and tries to understand its dynamics of being pro-criminal.  A scientist who studied cancer would not have been considered a cancer apologist. Quite the contrary, liberals would have hailed the sociologist and scientist as carrying on in the best tradition of the Enlightenment principles of open debate and fearless, in-depth exploration of a topic to gain a constructive understanding of it. But if someone tries to apply these same principles in 2022 to geopolitics and a war that has the potential for grave escalations, it’s beyond the pale.

A recent commenter on one of my articles posted to Medium, in which I relayed the thoughts of several people in Russia I’m in contact with about the war and sanctions, asked me why I didn’t say what I thought about Putin and the Russian government. She clearly couldn’t accept the merits of hearing what Russians had to say unless the person who’d reported it had made an anti-Putin statement first. Because I hadn’t done that, my reporting was “sus” as the saying goes these days.  Apparently, Americans are so used to “reporting” that reinforces one viewpoint that they can’t fathom someone reporting what people in another country think that doesn’t jibe with their preconceived ideas. There must be something nefarious going on. As another commenter on the article warned, I might be getting paid by Russia.  After all, a writer who lives in a one room studio and doesn’t own a car must have a Putin-affiliated Russian oligarch benefactor. It’s the only explanation.

What Does “Pro-Putin” Actually Mean?

I’ve stated several times on social media, in a podcast interview in early March, and in my last feature-length article that I oppose Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I had even made it clear in the Twitter exchange with the lady mentioned above right before she accused me of being pro-Putin. How I could oppose one of the most consequential decisions Putin has ever made and still be pro-Putin is a bit of a mystery to me.  But I’ve seen this thinking even used against solid Putin critics when they don’t engage in the requisite vilification of the Russian president and preface every statement with “I hate Putin.”

I’ve even seen famous Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner characterized as pro-Putin. I know for a fact, based on words directly out of Pozner’s mouth, that he “doesn’t like the guy” (referring to Putin) and has publicly criticized the Russian president numerous times over the years. But if you try to explain why Putin’s attitude toward the West changed over the years or you don’t use over-the-top rhetoric about Putin being Hitler, Stalin and Jeffrey Dahmer all rolled into one, then you’re simply pro-Putin.

It’s hard to understand how this childish level of discourse helps anything. I’m guessing that it makes people feel good on an emotional level to disregard what anyone has to say that might cause the slightest bit of cognitive dissonance. But, as an analyst of Russia, I don’t see my job as providing people with emotional comfort. I see my job as providing factual analysis about Russia to the best of my ability. In this vein, I’m not pro-Putin or anti-Putin, but have tried to study and assess the Russian president based on the best information I could find, including the historical, social and geopolitical context of his governance.  I’ve also tried to convey how Russians view him and why.

I’m fallible so there will be – and have been – times when I’m wrong. This is why people should read a wide variety of sources and hear different views and then draw their own conclusions. But this widespread attitude of only wanting to hear what makes one feel good or secure blocks that endeavor by shutting down anything beyond one simplistic and decontextualized viewpoint from the debate.

The bottom line is that if one is interested in figuring out how to end this terrible conflict without a dangerous escalation, then one needs to understand how we got here.  That means understanding the complex contextual background of it and that includes discussing the less-than-innocent role of our own government. Anything else strikes me as empty sloganeering and virtue signaling.

9 thoughts on ““Why are You Pro-Putin?””

  1. You must be pro-Putin. You are not ritually denouncing him as a power-mad, evil, satanist who eats babies for breakfast. /s

    I am seeing much the same reaction here in Canada that you are seeing in the USA. It looks like the Anglo world has been demonizing the USSR and then Russia since about 1 minute after the German surrender in 1945. A lot of US people and, I think, Canadians have not even grasped that there are a few minor differences between the USSR and the Russian Federation.

    Have you seen the report that the University of Florida has renamed a study room honoring economist and philosopher Karl Marx following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. U of Florida renames reading room.

    A Prussian-born socialist who spent much of his adult life in Britain. Oh it just struck me: “Prussia”, “Russia”, an easy mistake to make. The level of ignorance is shocking.

    Putin, himself, has been demonized since it became apparent he was his own man and not a somewhat more sober version of Boris Yeltsin.

    I have to say though I had not expected to se the incredible xenophobia that we are seeing. Banning Russian cats from international competition is something even a comedian would have thought was too bizarre to use in a stand-up routine.

  2. In the light of the terrible suffering of the people of Donbass from almost daily shelling i saw month on/month out from photos and short films and that everything else had failed to bring this to an end it is hard to see what other choices Putin had as negotiations with Zelensky are clearly not going to make headway nor can the NATO puppet be trusted .Putin has made every attempt to keep civilian casualties as low as possible and has brought in food and medecines for the many displaced people and promises have been made to rehouse/rebuild.Nato under US pressure has long been aiming to weaken Russia and for Russia to become militarily to involved as it legally has under Article 51 and for a perceived consequential regime change,encroaching every year nearer Russia from every direction it can. If Ukraine is quieted and stablised and new elections called, new problems are immediately on the horizon with the US ramping up the dangers of nuclear war and especially accidental nuclear war by introducing hypersonic nuclear missiles across E Europe which can hit Moscow in 5-7 mins.For Russia doing nothing was never an option as it wont be if these installations continue.That Russians know that the Ukraine is existential for their safety is why Putin is so popular there with his main criticisms being he hasnt been tough enough.Putin had no choice but to seek hopefully to end a war or the escalation would have come from a huge attack on Donbass by Ukrainian forces especially Nazi battalions.

  3. Thank you for this. It’s impossible to reach any kind of a goal in a negotiation unless you are able to acknowledge that the other person has their own perspective, and their own concerns. Try and do this in the current climate and you will be labelled “pro-Putin”.

    It’s impossible to understand any situation unless you know what led up to it. Suggest this in the context of the war in Ukraine and you will be accused of “whataboutism”.

    The mainstream media are doing a bang-up job of ignoring the possibility of an imminent nuclear war, and the populace seems for the most part ignorant or content with this. Meanwhile NATO embarks on its “Namejs 2022” war games in tiny Latvia, on Russia’s border. Troops from 15 NATO countries, including the US, UK and Canada will participate.

    Attention must be paid! Thank you for paying so much attention.

    1. “It’s impossible to reach any kind of a goal in a negotiation unless you are able to acknowledge that the other person”

      that’s exactly the point

  4. With us or against us, dear. It’s either black or white. Shoot first, questions later. No time for shades of gray.

    Classic wartime mentality

  5. Dear Natalie,
    I believe what we are seeing are the consequences of a misguided understanding of how live and reality evolves.
    The „Marxist“-movement after the 2nd WW painted an overly simplistic black & white view of reality, inside and outside of academia. Out of this evolved over time the „social justice“ movement (Frankfurter Schule), which has the same characteristics of an simplistic Black-White (BW) worldview.
    If one looks to today‘s main conflicts, they are all driven by a BW view of reality (Covid, Climate, Russia, Science). Since reality is very complex, conflicts are predictable.
    Even our scientific and economic decline in the western world goes back to this BW thinking. To maintain and develop technology based the understanding of the complex interaction for example in manufacturing semiconductors (my professional background) on needs professionals who are trained to think in complex terms, but our educational system doesn’t provide such practionors anymore.
    Why did the US lost its technological leadership? See all the problems with F35, new submarine development (delayed), new aircraft carrier still not fully operational, space rocket motors purchased in Russia etc.
    I could go on but I guess you get the picture. The problem is I don’t see a solution other than decline and collapse. As the Theorie of complexity discovered via experiments, there are reenforcing pattern all over in evolution. What we see in the western world are reenforcing pattern.

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