On September 21, 2022, the Russian government announced that it was conscripting 300,000 men to go to the front lines in Ukraine. Although the regime claimed it would only conscript army reservists, the draft reportedly has included teachers, students, flight attendants, and even people arrested for protesting the announcement—some being sent to fight without any training.1
This desperate act on the part of Putin’s regime further demonstrates its complete disregard for individual rights—not only those of Ukrainians, as was already obvious, but of Russians as well. The regime has attempted to justify the war in Ukraine by claiming that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people” historically and culturally, and thus they ought to be ruled by the same government.2 This view disregards the lives and rights of the individuals in question in favor of this supposed Russian “identity.” In short, Ukrainians must be subject to the same tyranny as Russian citizens because of this purportedly shared culture—and Russians must be forced to subject Ukrainians to the tyranny that is “good” for all.3
This is naked collectivism: the idea that individuals are merely cogs in a collective, and the collective is more important than the individuals that comprise it.
This idea has infected Russian culture for more than a thousand years, and it is an application of the morality of altruism: the idea that individuals must sacrifice their lives for some “greater” cause, such as God, community, or country. It is an idea at the core of two formative ideologies in Russia’s history: Orthodox Christianity and communism. A few days after the conscription announcement, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called for Russians to “sacrifice in the course of carrying out your military duty.”4 As the Gospel of Mark puts it, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”5 Substitute “state” for “Gospel,” and you have the philosophy behind Russia’s conscription.
Fortunately, about 115,000 Russians have had the sense to disregard this idea. Fleeing to neighboring countries such as Georgia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan, they have been branded “cowards” by their fellow Russians.6 But the truth is the opposite: Putting one’s own life first in a culture antithetical to that idea is a brave act. . . .
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1. Jedidajah Otte, “‘We’re Scared, We Want to Run’: The Russian Men Fleeing Conscription,” The Guardian, September 27, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/27/we-want-to-run-russian-men-fleeing-conscription; Zaina Alibhai, Martin Belam, and Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Russia-Ukraine War: Russian Conscripts Being Sent Straight to Front, Kyiv Says; UK Sanctions Russians Linked to ‘Sham Referendums’—As It Happened,” The Guardian, September 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2022/sep/26/russia-ukraine-war-latest-updates-anti-mobilisation-protests-in-dagestan-us-warns-of-decisive-nuclear-response.
2. Paul Kirby, “Why Has Russia Invaded Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?” BBC News, May 9, 2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56720589.
3. Laurence Topham, Luke Harding, David Levene, Andrew Warwick, and Katie Lamborn, “Why Is Vladimir Putin So Obsessed with Ukraine?,” The Guardian, September 14, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2022/sep/14/why-is-vladimir-putin-so-obsessed-with-ukraine.
4. “Russian Patriarch Kirill Says Dying in Ukraine ‘Washes Away All Sins,’” RadioFreeEurope, September 26, 2022, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-patriarch-kirill-dying-ukraine-sins/32052380.html.
5. Luke A. Veronis, “Deny Yourself to Save Yourself,” Pravmir, September 27, 2020, https://www.pravmir.com/deny-yourself-to-save-yourself/.
6. The Daily Star, https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/world-news/queue-coward-russians-fleeing-conscription-28096223.
7. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently claimed that “Every citizen of Russia knows—even if many do not admit it, they know for sure—that it is Russia that brings evil.” Sky News, https://news.sky.com/story/estonia-warns-russian-residents-they-could-be-banned-from-eu-if-they-answer-draft-12704905.
8. Leela Jacinto, “Russian Media Grapples with Covering Ukrainian Blitz—Without Earning the Kremlin’s Ire,” France 24, September 14, 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20220914-russian-media-grapples-with-covering-ukrainian-blitz-–-without-earning-the-kremlin-s-ire.
9. “Russia Protests: More Than 1,300 Arrested at Anti-War Demonstrations,” The Guardian, September 22, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/22/russia-protests-more-than-1300-arrested-at-anti-war-demonstrations-ukraine; “Poland, Baltics Impose Entry Bans on Most Russians with EU Visas,” RadioFreeEurope, September 19, 2022, https://www.rferl.org/a/poland-baltics-entry-ban-russians-eu-visas/32040504.html.
10. Natia Seskuria, “Why the EU Should Ban Russian Tourists,” Foreign Policy, September 14, 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/09/14/ukraine-war-putin-eu-visa-ban-russian-tourists/.
11. Three Albanian soldiers were recently injured when trying to apprehend suspected Russian agents in a weapons factory, evidencing the need for security measures when admitting Russian citizens. Gazeta Express, August 20, 2022, https://www.gazetaexpress.com/u-perleshen-me-3-ruse-prane-uzines-se-perpunimit-te-armeve-ne-gramsh-dy-ushtaret-shqiptare-perfundojne-tek-trauma/ (in Albanian).
12. Sunita Patel-Carstairs, “Ukraine War: Shooting at Conscription Office and Another Centre Attacked with Molotov Cocktails after Putin’s Mobilisation Order,” Sky News, September 26, 2022, https://news.sky.com/story/ukraine-war-conscripted-russians-start-arriving-at-military-bases-says-uk-ministry-of-defence-12705565.