March of Peace from 2014 in Moscow, slogan 'Occupation of the Crimea is a shame of Russia' March of Peace from 2014 in Moscow, slogan 'Occupation of the Crimea is a shame of Russia'. Photo: Bogomolov.PL - WikiCommons / cropped from original / shared under CC BY-SA 3.0 license linked below

Putin’s war in Ukraine should not be blamed on ordinary Russians-dead or alive, argues Sean Ledwith

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an appalling act of imperialist aggression and deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The resistance of the Ukrainian people has been heroic over the last three weeks and has rightly prompted huge waves of solidarity and empathy across the world. Less welcome, however, has been a surge of Russophobic acts and sentiments aimed at innocent Russians outside the conflict zone, particularly those visiting or living in the West.


Some of the most high-profile examples of this latest iteration of racism have been aimed at living Russian cultural producers but there have also been witless moves to shut down the work of long-dead Russian musicians and writers who can’t possibly be responsible for the crimes of Putin. Geniuses such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky contributed to the cultural heritage of the whole of humanity, not just Russia, and banning their work amounts to grotesque philistinism and xenophobia. This spike of Russophobia includes:

  • Netflix announcing that it is suspending the production of a new version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. This is particularly absurd as Tolstoy, like many of Russia’s greatest writers, was an outspoken critic of the Tsarist regime and was a principled advocate of pacifism.
  • A university in Milan cancelled a course on the writings of Feodor Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and other classic novels. Like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky was an enemy of the Russian state in the nineteenth century and was even put in front of a firing squad by the Tsarist police
  • The British government has taken the pro-Moscow news channel Russia Today off the airwaves. Apparently, a war to defend Western values of freedom and diversity does not include allowing us to watch non-Western sources of information
  • Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra cancelled a performance of the 19th-century Russian composer Tchaikovsky’s works, arguing it was inappropriate at this time.
  • The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra fired its Russian chief conductor Valery Gergiev for not condemning Putin’s invasion.
  • Montreal cancelled a concert tour by the Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev, even though he publicly condemned the invasion.
  • Tory MP and serial warmonger Tom Tugendhat called for all UK-based Russians to be thrown out of the country: ‘We can expel Russian citizens – all of them.’
  • Another Tory MP, Roger Gale, likewise wants to round up and deport them all, even the good and honest and decent Russians in this country…send a very harsh message through the Russian people to Putin.
  • In the US, Congressmen Eric Swalwell and Ruben Gallego have made a similar call for a Russophobic purge of the student population there: the former says: Frankly, I think closing their embassy in the United States, kicking every Russian student out of the United States ⁠— those should all be on the table.

Been here before

This is not the first outbreak of Russophobia in the West. In the 19th century, the architects of the British Empire consciously demonised Russia as the two power blocs battled for the right to plunder territories such as India, Afghanistan, and Crimea. At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s, the US state used the attack dog of McCarthyism to promote paranoia about Russian expansion and to quash the homegrown left. More recently, we have seen the similar phenomenon of Islamophobia deployed by Western powers in the post-9/11 era to justify imperialist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The demonisation of an entire people is a tried and tested method of ruling classes over the ages to whip up racism and justify militaristic aggression. The global working class has nothing to gain from the egregious caricaturing of its members in different parts of the world. Let’s not forget Russia is the only country in world history where the workers have taken power for a substantial period.

Russian resistance

These hostile attitudes to the Russian people at this moment are particularly brainless as many of them have displayed remarkable courage to take to the streets of Moscow, St Petersburg, and other major cities to protest at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In a country where defiance of the state often brings lengthy prison sentences, these anti-war demonstrations are an inspiring reassertion of the spirit of resistance in that country.

This week, we saw Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian television journalist, heroically run on set during a live broadcast and hold an anti-war banner behind the head of the newsreader. This is an act that could potentially incur a 15-year prison sentence. Whenever the Russian attack on Ukraine is brought to an end it will be due in small part to brave people in Putin’s own country who openly proclaim he does not act in their name.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters