Russian Culture in the Gulag
The West’s cancellation of Russian cultural events and exchanges as a form of collective punishment for the Ukraine war was always a dubious strategy, likely to backfire. But no outsider could possibly do as much harm to Russian culture – and Russia’s future – as the Kremlin is now doing.
NEW YORK – A year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the launch of a “special military operation” in Ukraine, supposedly aimed at protecting the people of the eastern Donbas region and ensuring the country’s “demilitarization and de-Nazification.” With that, he also launched an assault on his own country’s rich culture, which is now spurned by the world.
Of course, one cannot equate Russians’ loss of careers, plans for the future, and international contacts with the losses borne by Ukrainians subjected to Russian tanks and bombs. Nonetheless, the war’s impact on Russian culture, and Putin’s own crackdown on artists and performers, raises fundamental questions about the future of one of the world’s biggest powers.
Since the war began, I have warned that “canceling” Russian cultural events and exchanges as a form of collective punishment could backfire, both by limiting access to information about Putin’s intentions and by seeming to confirm his narrative that the West seeks to destroy Russia. But no outsider could possibly do as much harm to Russians as their own government is doing.