‘Russians are fleeing their country in droves’. That’s how Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, partners in life and journalism, sum up in seven words one of the many tragedies of Russia, from which they too have fled — further than most, to Britain.
Had they stayed, Soldatov at least would be in jail, charged with spreading ‘fake news’ — or, as he puts it, ‘contradicting the state narrative’. An arrest warrant was issued against him in April, and in May, he was put on an international wanted list. A trial — in absentia — is expected in October.
Soldatov and Borogan are part of an exodus larger than any since the Bolshevik Revolution. … Since the beginning of the war, former Soviet states with more or less welcoming governments have been flooded: 25,000 to Georgia in the first two weeks of the Russian invasion on 24 February, 6000 a day to Armenia and by the end of March, 60,000 to Kazakhstan.
These refugees, Soldatov and Borogan wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs, had for the most part ‘three things in common: they have a high level of education, are from the bigger cities and have a liberal outlook…for those left behind, the hollowing out of civil society means they may be stuck with a country that is culturally impoverished, paranoid and hard line.’ …
Russia, whenever and however the war ends, will be riven, its politics wholly unpredictable, clamped into a dictatorship, a danger not just to its neighbours but to the world.
As the regime’s despotism increased, and the few oppositionist news centres … were closed, Russia’s main liberal commentators have felt the intensity of the Kremlin’s hatred of their independence and intellectual capacity.
Reverting to historical type, the Russian leadership has not been brought to account for centuries:
Maxim Trudolyubov, with two decades of combative journalism behind him, is the most sombre and deterministic of all, writing of his fellow Russians — ‘we live in a closet stuffed with skeletons’. He means that the tortured and torturing past of the country had never been adequately confronted; old ruling class habits didn’t die hard, they didn’t die at all, and thus the manner and pitilessness of the use of power continued — ‘the past is now being reproduced in Ukraine.
The Russian state’s historical crimes have never been put on trial and the perpetrators have never faced a day in court. (The war) has been made possible by the impunity of the Russian leadership.’ Elsewhere, he wrote of Putin that ‘it seemed that he seriously believed he had psychological and moral superiority over contemporary Ukraine — over the entire free world… He poisoned himself with his own lies.’ …
‘We wanted’, Soldatov told me, ‘to paint a proper picture of the security services’. Where other commentators typically take a broad sweep over society, politics and the economy, they focus on what they believe is, if not the beating heart, then the snarling guardian of the Russian people — on duty, in some form, since Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century …
When Soldatov and Borogan set out to understand better the 21st century versions of organisations which had been at the centre of Russian power, both under the Tsars and the Communist Party, for centuries, they had to have some nerve, even in times when dissent in the media was grudgingly tolerated. They had to make a kind of working assumption, common to all opposition figures and organisations, that they were living in a country which had the capacity to be ‘normal’, with robust representative institutions, diverse and active media, and a civil society.
Better not dispute the Russian deep state’s narrative, or they torture and execute you. Been that way for centuries, and look how backward Russia is as a result. Now another generation of their best and brightest is fleeing.