My publication of this email from a Russian academic explaining why there aren’t mass protests in Russia against the war in Ukraine has been amazingly well-received. But some people drew parallels between what is happening in Russia and the problem of misinformation in the US (and elsewhere). Let me assure you, treating the two as equivalent not only misses the mark by a million miles but also plays directly into Putin’s hand. Russia’s government would love for you to think that their news media and information control are no worse than that of the US. Moral equivalence is a powerful tool that has been used by repressive regimes for a long time. Don’t fall for it.

The brainwashing of a sizeable chunk of the Russian population did not happen by itself or overnight. The government has worked on it systematically for years. The mainstream Russian news media is controlled by the government. Independent media are repressed by the government. Speaking out against a government position in any way, shape or form, can get you beaten, arrested, fired from your job, or jailed. Not by disgruntled other people or a random act of a rogue cop, but by the government. If you’re important enough, it can get you killed. These “cans” are not hypotheticals, they happen routinely. Aiding Ukraine (or another country the government deems to threaten Russia’s security) in any way opens you up to being jailed for up to 20 years for treason. Many informed Russians are understandably afraid of speaking out, much less protesting. (And just to clarify, there ARE protests in Russia, just not anywhere near the scale one might expect after your country invades another country. And they are quickly broken up.)

To drive this point home, I’d like to share another letter, this time by a Russian who lives permanently in the US (and is a dual citizen). This person too wanted to remain anonymous BECAUSE OF FEAR OF WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO HIS/HER FAMILY IN RUSSIA. I have heard similar sentiments from several Russian people living in the US over the past week. That is how far the threat of reprisal reaches. The root problem is government control of information and of people by law and force, not the fact that many people in Russia believe misinformation. The person’s letter ends with a link to an interview with a Russian sociologist who was hospitalized after protesting and being beaten. Please read it as well.

Letter from a Russian in the US

“There is always more than two sides to each story.

I am originally from Russia (please don’t hate me just for that). My heart is broken and goes out to the people of Ukraine, and those who have friends and family in Ukraine.

There is quite a bit of coverage on what’s going on in Ukraine, rightfully so, but very little about what’s happening in Russia. Please, know: Russian government is not the same as Russian people. It hurts me deeply when I hear sentiment along the lines of “It serves them right for letting this happen.” To understand why Russian people didn’t simply “let this happen” you’d have to learn the last 100 years of Russian history. Let me summarize two key relevant points for you: 1) ordinary people didn’t get to choose their government for over a century, and 2), they didn’t have news sources other than those approved by the government for a long time. To highlight, Russians would not knowingly support invading Ukraine given the true facts. People are lied to on national television with pre-filmed “news” showing liberation of people of Donetsk whose lives were in danger from neo-nazis. Yet many people have spoken out against the invasion and requested the government to withdraw, including scientists, journalists, poets, singers, actors, influencers.

True, the suffering of Russian people doesn’t seem that relevant next to the war in Ukraine. However, this is not a competition, and importantly, it has the same root cause. The suffering for people losing their jobs (or hope for any economic opportunity), freedom (quite literally – calling this crisis “war” is labeled as treason and punishable with prison time), and health (people are being threatened and threats are not empty) – is real. Meanwhile, there is no way to send financial support to anyone in Russia anymore. This war is devastating for Russians as a people and Russia as a country. Sadly, this crisis is not about to end any time soon for ordinary Russian people.

One way to help is to spread the word that this oppression of Russian people is happening. Here is a link to those who would like to get another side of this story:

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