Eye of the Beholder

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Russian-American historian Yuri Felshtinsky recently told Times Radio that Russian elites are in a “state of panic” over Russia’s massive losses in the war against Ukraine. In order to maintain their control over the country, however, Felshtinsky said, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his domestic allies have worked hard to make sure residents of Moscow, the country’s capital and its most important city by far, have yet to suffer any privations due to the war.

Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants continue to operate like normal in the city, reported Agence France-Presse. And the losses here are minimal – soldiers conscripted to fight in the war tend to come from Russia’s poorer regions, or other countries. On May 9, when Russia held celebrations commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, wounded soldiers did not march in the parade on Red Square.

YouTube channels like Window to Moscow appear to corroborate this state of affairs, though they are not news organizations whose accuracy can be verified. On the other hand, Bloomberg notes that the data belies this image, making it seem as if these YouTube channels doth protest too much, as they present idyllic images of a magnificent city so as to fool audiences into thinking nothing is wrong in Russia.

Russian officials have certainly launched other efforts – and laws – to make sure their interpretation of reality and history eclipses any critical views of their rule. “The situation now in Russia is similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four,” librarian Alexandra Karaseva said in an interview with the BBC, referring to George Orwell’s classic 1948 novel about a dystopian dictatorship. “Total control by the government, the state and the security structures.”

Putin, for instance, has purged the country’s universities of liberal-minded critics who might cast shade on his invasion of Ukraine, suppression of human rights and civil liberties, and corrupt government and economic system that benefits his friends while impoverishing his constituents. Instead, reported the Washington Post, he has mandated that higher education institutions promote patriotism, reject Western influences, and punish faculty and students who might speak out against his rule.

However, while life in Moscow and elsewhere away from the front is outwardly pleasant, an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty – as well as shuttered stores and compulsory optimism about Russia’s future – exists in the capital, contended Le Monde.

Maybe ordinary Russians understand how the war in Ukraine has resulted in devastating losses that will likely harm their country for generations to come, wrote World Politics Review, even if they manage to defeat, occupy, and annex Ukraine.

Or maybe they feel the panic that Felshtinsky described.

Still, as Russian data analyst Alexandra, 32, awaiting her dessert at a trendy restaurant in Moscow before going bar-hopping, said, “Even during the Second World War, women continued to put on makeup and buy lipstick,” adding, “This shows that we should continue living … We go out and have a good time.”

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