Redouble our efforts to achieve victory in Ukraine

On 14 December 2023 President Vladimir Putin of Russia held a marathon four-hour press conference. Aside from the expected boasting, bluster, lies, and threats, I was surprised to find a very significant insight.

I will quote the relevant passage from that day’s New York Times: “Mr. Putin also sought to counter Western efforts to turn Russia into a global pariah over the war in Ukraine, presenting himself as a champion of socially conservative causes that resonate with many citizens in other parts of the world. ‘In many cities in Europe and the U.S., not to mention other world regions, a lot of people think we are doing everything right,’ he said, citing Russia’s defense of our traditional values.’”[1]

Indeed, the values Putin has in mind attract certain people from around the world. In the Russian president’s view, this is a man’s world. Photographs show him as the new Marlboro man: mounted barechested on his steed, aiming his rifle to tranquilize a dangerous tiger, engaging in martial arts, and diving into the Black Sea to recover relics. Women are assigned particular roles in this world. Russian legislation is very generous with maternity leave, but it also decriminalizes domestic violence. There are few women close to the corridors of Russian power; feminist organizations are marginalized, and overly demonstrative feminists can be sent to a penal colony (witness Pussy Riot). Putin has worked well with other world leaders who have exhibited an even more overt toxic masculinity, such as Bolsonaro, Duterte, and Trump. Among his geopolitical friends is Iran, where women are struggling for basic rights.

And real men aren’t homosexual, are they? A Russian law of 2013 prohibited LGBT people from “propagating” their lifestyle. Half a dozen right-wing American organizations, including C-Fam, endorsed Putin’s initiative. In 2023 Putin signed into law even toughter anti-LGBT legislation as well as a ban on gender transition. Contemporaneously, Republicans in the United State initiated a wave of anti-transgender legislation.

Putin’s Russia is notable for its restriction of freedom of speech. It’s not just gay propaganda that’s explicitly banned, but two days after Russia began its “special military operation” in Ukraine, Putin even prohibited using the words “war” or “invasion” to describe it. Journalists in Russia are well aware that they have to watch what they say. Otherwise they might have to go into exile, as Savik Shuster did (to Ukraine), or – much worse – become a martyr to the truth, as did reporter Anna Politkovskaya. Putin receives no bad press in his own country. It’s an enviable position for a politician. China’s Xi enjoys that position too, as does Iran’s Khamenei and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Trump did not, although he spared no effort in tongue-lashing critical journalists and grooming his own alt-right sycophants. All these players also have in common their preference for authoritarianism over democratic process.

Putin is correct: a lot of people share his values. And that is a serious problem. The people in America who want to block aid to Ukraine share his values, and not just about Ukraine.

When I was younger and belonged to the Diialoh group, we believed that Ukraine was at the very crux of the world situation. We thought that the biggest obstacle to world socialism was the USSR and that the biggest challenge to the existence of the USSR was Ukraine’s aspiration to freedom. It would be interesting to unpack what we got right and what we got wrong, but now is not the time for that particular reflection. Now is the time for all of us to recapture that sense that what happens in Ukraine has a major impact on how the entire world develops subsequently. It will make a difference for every single one of us, no matter where we are or who we are. We have to redouble our efforts to achieve victory in Ukraine.


[1] Valerie Hopkins and Anton Troianivski, “In Annual News Conference, Putin Says His War Aims Have Not Changed.”