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Below is mostly my opinion on how things in Russia are (hindsight is that I never truly lived in Russia, just was born there and left when 8 to Cyprus and then eventually Netherlands. Most of my opinion is thus formed on my visits to Russia, what I learn online and the things I talk about with Russians still in Russia and abroad).

Another note is that I find talking about 'politics' especially global politics to be quite hard to do rationally. It's hard to make analysis without hard data and intuition for how things work will only get you so far to the truth. I try to operate any analysis on factual data as much as possible. What I think with regards to Russia is done through lens of never truly living in Russia, only being born there so should be read as such too.

Russian culture and history is eventful, imperial, full of tragedies and unlearned lessons.

From being pillaged by Mongol Empire in 13-14th century. To centralizing power and expanding and protecting its borders through its history.

Then overthrowing the Tsar, fighting a civil war and creating USSR. Which in practice never achieved the vision of equality for all but was used as a very oppressive regime to consolidate power and kill many millions of own citizens.

WW2 killed ~ 27,000,000 Russians alone. The devastating impact of the war together with USSR's victory was used aggressively by USSR to maintain power.

After WW2, cold war started which meant that collaboration between the West and Russia was essentially at standstill. There were essentially no importable Western culture and vice versa. It's valuable to understand this together with the times like Perestroika and the effects it had on how modern Russia works and behaves.

You can argue Russia never truly had a democracy in its entire history. Putin for example was chosen to be the president in 2000 as he was deemed as very loyal and someone who would not turn on Yeltsin who at the end of his official time in office had < 5 % support by the people.

Once Putin was in power, consolidation of power started happening immediately. TV specifically was controlled fully. It reached the point where it's clear to most everyone in Russia that changing government through voting is waste of time, especially after Putin came back to power after Medvedev. In practice, Putin was in power even through these 4 years, which many in Russia think of fondly as it was a time of 'resetting' the relationship with the West. It's also the time when Navalny started gaining popularity massively with videos like Don't call him "Dimon" who many say unrecoverably destroyed Medvedev politically.

The constitution was changed to allow Putin to elect again. Constitution in general started to become useless as a legal document as it was becoming clear that there is no such thing as Russian citizen right especially when it comes to having a voice against the political status quo. At this point in Russia, government does not hide away this fact and does farce public 'executions' of people by putting them behind bars for many years for simply having a voice.

After dissolution of Soviet Union, some regions, namely Chechnya wanted to split from Russia. Putin when coming to power, used military force to stop this from happening. Even though it was costly, it was argued it was done to preserve the totality of Russia. If Chechnya was allowed to split, many regions most likely would attempt to split too.

In 2008, Georgia lost some territory to Russia through use of force too.

My understanding of why in 2014, Russia occupied Crimea after Maidan Revolution is well described here.

It states that Putin thinking that what happened in Maidan was not the will of the people but US government sponsored coup and thus it might mean that Russia might lose what it deems as strategically important Sevastopol Naval Base after the long lease from Ukraine will be over amongst losing out on having Ukraine as both a buffer zone and as a way to transport gas to Europe at better prices. It took a drastic decision to move military into Crimea and do globally not vetted referendum as political cover.

Since 2014, conflict between Russia and Ukraine never died down but only worsened. With some infighting in Donbass from 2014 all the way to 2022. Minsk agreements were supposed to avoid future conflicts but were ineffective. By some accounts, the Paris conference where Zelensky and Putin last met were not a great success for Putin's image as the question of Donbass/Crimea he thought would be resolved there, was not.

Also to note, water access from Ukraine to Crimea was cut and expensive Crimean Bridge was built to try and alleviate some of the problems from not having land access to Crimea from Russia.

During 2014, first ever sanctions on Russia were implemented too. Many say that the lack of severity of the sanctions only emboldened Russia as from that time, Russia put focus in trying to become independent of the West in all things it can. Some things like food import from EU were completely stopped for example. Also whilst lower, there were still investments made into Russia and EU especially did not stop trading with Russia but only doubled down on import of energy resources, especially gas.

In Putin's mind, it seemed that, first Russian army was strong and due to his time in isolation during Covid, he came to think that a military solution to the problem of Ukraine's claim on Crimea amongst other issues like Crimean cut water situation and more is possible. And thus started preparing for war. Russian government started paying money to some Ukranian politicians for spying services and potential joining to Russia's side in case of active invasion. He also thought Europe was too heavily dependent on Russian energy to really do anything in form of sanctions. And the massive investments into modernizing the Russian army were thought to actually have worked and not be wasted to corruption.

The war is still ongoing and it's clear that the effects of it are tragic for both sides. All preparations made by Russia were on that it would be a 3 day war which failed completely after it was clear that Kyiv is not to be taken.

So many wasted soldier and civilian lives for nothing. It's hard to rollback a decision like this as too many lives were hurt. Too many atrocities happened in Bucha and all across Ukraine which Russia still denies. It's unclear how this gets resolved in a way that minimizes further suffering.

The worst thing that comes from this war, aside from the irreparable damage to people of Ukraine is the extent of generalized hatred that now happens towards Russians. For simply being born in the country that does these horrible things. Many don't realize just how hard it is to have an opposing voice and I genuinely do believe that many in Russia don't want any war nor even care about any politics as it doesn't affect their lives. They are just trying to get by in whatever conditions they are living in.

The only thing I personally can do to try make the situation better and perhaps avoid having this happen in the future is to create better tools for education and empowerment of people. Perhaps making tools to help people organize and share thoughts free from government oppression. The real problem though is just the insane amount of money the government spends on police. Russia is a big country where most people earn their living directly or indirectly from the government budget. This needs to be stopped or you get this quote generalized to the whole of the country, especially police:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

Having said the above, it's also undeniable that Russia has many beautiful places and friendly people. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are top tier cities with great services, transportation and food. I would love to see Russia reach a state where all the country's focus will be on internal (local) politics instead of trying to project influence via military or otherwise on other countries. There is so much in Russia that is simply broken that it's a joke that a war is even happening given the state of how many Russians live.

I also think that for all the warts that Navalny has, it seems to me that he would make a great president if he lives. He said already that Crimea belongs to Ukraine and the focus of new Russia should be solely to build the institutions that were broken over many years in Russia. Law, education. Students in Russia should know about Bucha and what really happened in Ukraine. Instead of what happens currently where if a child draws a friendly to Ukraine drawing sends their family to jail.

It is sad though that it's quite hard to change the political situation in Russia now that it got so bad where it doesn't really matter just how much dislike there is of government and the current situation. Nothing will change as too many people in Russia are poor and it's too easy to find moral justification for anything you do when you're in this distressed state. That's what I think at least. I do value the sacrifices that so many people do make as they try to show their position actively in form of protests.

I like reading CredibleDefense daily to get a glimpse of what's happening in the world. Their daily discussions are great.

I also like analysis of Anders Nielsen, Michael Kofman, Perun & William Spaniel. Ukraine/Russia report sub although with some bias tries to give news from both sides of the war.

Julia Ioffe & Max Seddon do nice summaries too. Like Meduza publication too. Коллектив has nice video channel that shows life in Russia.

I also have a mostly Russian Twitter List I fancy and use daily.