Wissot: Would the last person leaving Moscow please turn out the lights | VailDaily.com

Wissot: Would the last person leaving Moscow please turn out the lights

96-year old Borys Romanchenko survived the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald, Peenemünde, Dora and Bergen-Belsen during World War II. His capacity for survival came to an abrupt end last week when he was killed by a Russian missile in his Kharkiv apartment.

The Ukrainian foreign minister captured the tragic irony of Romanchenko’s life when he wrote: “Survived Hitler, murdered by Putin.”

It is too late to ask Romanchenko, but I’m guessing he would have preferred living in a Ukraine ruled by a Jewish “Nazi” president than dying during Putin’s campaign to de-nazify his country .

Vladimir Putin made a massive miscalculation when he invaded Ukraine. He overestimated the competency of his own military, underestimated the resilience of the Ukrainian resistance, and was surprised by the cohesive retaliatory response of the U.S. and it European allies.

He did pull off one remarkable feat. He managed to force the evacuation of millions of people from Ukraine and at the same time convince tens of thousands of citizens from his own country to rush for the exits and leave Russia permanently.

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The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is of epic proportions. As of two weeks ago, 2.5 million people fled to neighboring countries. It is estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that number could rise to 4 million soon. The European Union has an even bleaker outlook projecting that the total count could reach 5-7 million.

The numbers leaving Russia are far more modest and the reasons far less serious than the ones causing the Ukrainian evacuation. The people departing are mostly middle class, educated and represent the country’s professional elites.They come from Moscow and St. Petersburg, not the rural provinces. A disdain for Putin unites them. Their ranks include academics, artists, journalists and dissidents. Many were arrested in the past for protesting against the Kremlin.

Putin in a rambling, incoherent speech on state-run media (the only television outlet allowed to broadcast in Russia now) reacted with vitriolic outrage for those who had chosen to leave the country. He said, “The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like an insect on the pavement.”

A Kremlin spokesman spoke of their departure as a means to “cleansing the country.” The use of the term “cleansing” is eerily reminiscent of the words used by Hitler when he spoke about ridding Germany of Jewish vermin. As one Moscow-based political analyst put it, “Putin in an Orwellian way has divided the citizens of Russia into clean and unclean.”

The people who have exiled themselves from their homeland are conflicted about their decision. For many of them, it was not something they wanted to do but felt they had to do.

Marsha Gessen is a Russian-born journalist for the New Yorker. She ran afoul of the Kremlin for her criticism of Putin’s regime and had to leave Moscow eight years ago because of “government threats against her family.”

When the invasion began, she flew back to Moscow in order to report on why many of her friends from the past are leaving the country. She summed up what they told her this way: “People have fled Russia because they fear political persecution, conscription, and isolation; because they dread being locked in an unfamiliar new country that eerily resembles the old Soviet Union; and because staying in a country that is waging a war that is immoral, feels like being inside a plane that’s dropping bombs on people. They have left because the Russia they have built and inhabited is disappearing — and the more people who leave, the faster it disappears.”

The exiling of Russia’s best and brightest reduces the forces willing to resist Putin. Those who have departed never watched or believed the propaganda about the invasion that Putin was spoon feeding the country on state-sanctioned media. The 58 percent of Russians who support the war get their information exclusively from there.

They represent the equivalent of Trump’s MAGA base, where believing is seeing replaces seeing is believing. The boobs in the Russian boondocks are as susceptible to claptrap nonsense as are the rubes in America’s rural backwaters. Russia One provides the same kind of disinformation to its viewers as does Fox News.

More than a month into this immoral war, where does this leave Putin and us? Putin’s ability to control the information pipeline about the war to the Russians who believe him is powerful but not foolproof. Consider this conversation between a woman of Russian descent living in the war-torn city of Mariupol with her brother in Moscow. After her brother tells her over the phone that he believes the purpose of the Russian invasion is to free the Ukrainian people from oppression she answers him by saying: “Misha, our Mom is dying without water, without heat, she has nothing. And you are telling me that Russia is trying to make Ukraine free? They made our mother free from electricity, from heating, from food, from water. And they will probably make us free of her life as well.”

The jury is out on how this catastrophic crisis ends. It’s clear that Russia’s crazy czar whose memoirs will closely resemble Gogol’s short story “Diary of a Mad Man” bit off more than he could chew. The question now is are the forces lined up against him powerful enough to get him to swallow and choke on his own arrogance?

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