The Ukraine-Russia Culture War
One day, Russia may indeed become a genuine democracy where imperialist aggression is unthinkable. For now, the reality is different: Putin is an organic product of Russian society, and providing a stage in New York or Cannes for the culture that has shaped that society is not going to change facts on the ground.
BERKELEY/KYIV – When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, few believed resistance would last longer than a few days. In both Russia and the West, Russian troops were expected to sweep into Kyiv, parade uniforms in hand, install a proxy government, and effectively end Ukrainian statehood.
But whereas Western leaders believed that Ukraine was no match for Russia militarily, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidence in a swift victory rested on a more fundamental assumption: Ukrainians would have little will to resist, because they had never actually existed. In Putin’s eyes, Ukraine’s history and identity were so bound up with Russia that its people would have no reason to risk their lives and property for the sake of sovereignty.
The war is rooted in this imperial miscalculation. The strength of Ukraine’s resistance has depended less on the military assistance provided by NATO members than on the Ukrainian people’s insistence on their own agency and destiny. Ukrainians understand that the fight is for their national survival, and that cultural decolonization is essential to it.
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