Bonus Episode 20 - Voices of Russia

Charlie Baxter

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What's this episode about?

In today's episode, Charlie felt the need to also reach out to his Russian friends in order to create an episode sharing their voices and experience regarding the war in Ukraine. The goal of this episode isn't to shame, blame, or vilify the Russian people, but to instead share their personal views and experiences in order to hopefully give us a deeper insight into how Russians view the war and how it's being sold to them by Putin.

Check out these links for more info related to the war in Ukraine:
- Julia Ioffe interview on PBS Amanpour & Company
- Johnny Haris - The Real Reason Putin is Invading Ukraine
- PBS Frontline links to interviews from Putin's Road to War and The Putin Files: - Masha Gessen
- Julia Ioffe
- Vladimir Kara-Murza

This episode was co-produced with Pete from Aussie English.

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Transcript of Bonus Ep 20 - Pt.1 Transcript

Hello and welcome back to another episode of the British English Podcast. Whilst creating the previous episode called Voices of Ukraine last week, I felt the need to reach out to my Russian friends in order to create an episode sharing their voices and experiences regarding the war in Ukraine. So although I did say that last week, I would be back to the normal schedule of British culture and all of that. I wanted to share the voices of some Russian people today. I wanted to ask them three questions. One, what are you hearing in the news in Russia? Two, What are your thoughts on the war and the thoughts of those around you? And then lastly, number three, how has this war impacted your life? Now, the goal of this episode isn't to shame, blame or vilify Russian people, but to instead share their personal views and experiences in order to hopefully give us deeper insight into how Russians and those with mixed Russian Ukrainian heritage view the war and how it's being sold to them by Putin. So this war is incredibly complex in how it came about. But before we go any further, I do want to firmly put on record that I believe this war is a disgusting and needlessly aggressive move on the behalf of Putin and the Kremlin. And whilst I have heard arguments made that the US, EU and NATO have been perceived by Russia as threatening them over the past decade or more, I don't think that that can ever be used for justification of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 nor the current invasion of Ukraine.

In my opinion. It seems that Putin is trying to rebuild his personal fantasy of what the Soviet Union was in the past by taking sovereign states like Ukraine by force, all at the expense of these countries and their people's property, dignity and lives, whilst also sacrificing the present and future well-being of his own people in Russia in order to justify an indefensible war on the Ukrainian people. He's tightened his grip around information that Russian people receive in the following ways, referring to Putin's war as a war or invasion is now a crime that can be punished with huge fines and up to 15 years jail time. Social media websites like Facebook and Instagram have been banned. Independent news sources have been shut down, and the only information available to Russians is now from state run media outlets on TV. This is all in an attempt to make sure that Russian people only hear Putin's narrative about the, quote unquote, special operation and how it's unfolding so that he can maintain popularity and support whilst trying to rebuild his deluded idea of the Russian empire. Here is Russian born American journalist Julia Ioffe, speaking on PBS's Amanpour and Company recently. The link to the full interview will be in the show notes. Here she lays out the kind of reality Russians are living in currently and the information they're receiving about the war in Ukraine.

American Journalist:
You just interviewed one of the few independent pollsters in Russia who said that about two thirds of the people there support this war. I'm not sure what to believe about what people tell pollsters here or especially in Russia. But, you know, you were born in Russia. You studied in Russia. You speak Russian. Tell me what your sense is about the Russian people, what they feel about this war.

Julia Ioffe:
It's very hard to gauge now more than ever because Russia has become kind of a black box with the shutting down of the last vestiges of Russian independent media. And because now people can be fined or go to jail for up to 15 years for even calling this war a war or deviating from the lines about the war set by the Kremlin. So if it was hard to pull people on Russia before now, it's gotten that much harder, you know, especially if you're pulling older people who were born and lived in the Soviet Union and you have somebody from an official sounding organisation calling and asking you, do you like Vladimir Putin? You know, what are you going to say? The other thing, though, that's important to note is that Russians support the war that they're being told about. But it's not the war that's actually happening. The war they're being told about, again, in this informational vacuum is one that is very limited to the east. It's a liberating these breakaway these Astroturf breakaway republics. They're being told that Russians are being greeted as liberators. They're being told that there are no casualties, that the Russian army is purposely avoiding targeting Ukrainian civilians, that they're being extremely careful and kind to them. They're being told that there are very minimal losses in the Russian army. They're not being told that the Russian army is purposely targeting civilians in this kind of punitive Chechen Syrian style campaign. They're not being told that there is stiff Ukrainian resistance, not just from the military, but from the population that Ukrainians are telling pretty much every Russian soldier they encounter. We didn't want you here. We didn't invite you here. And so I wonder what their impression would be if they knew what was actually going on, which is, of course, the point.

So hopefully Julia has helped set the stage for the rest of this episode where you'll hear from Russians as well as people of both Ukrainian and Russian descent living either in Ukraine, Russia or abroad. Lastly, I want to say I'm under no illusions that as a British person and Westerner, I of course am also exposed to mis and disinformation as well as blatant propaganda in my own country and other Western countries via the media. However, hopefully we can all agree what's currently going on in Russia with complete suppression of free speech and no free media is a completely different Orwellian kettle of fish, which is starting to give, dare I say it, North Korea a run for its money. So here are the voices of Russia. Answering the first question. What are you and your loved ones in Russia hearing in the Russian media?

Russian Speaker 1:
We know the official version that it was just a military operation to protect people in Donbass from genocide. Nothing threatens the civilians. And also we can read something like Kharkiv was totally destroyed by Russian bombs or something else like that. And it's really hard to know what is truth and what is not.

Russian Speaker 2:
In official Russian news said that Russia is saving Russian speaking people from a Ukrainian nationalist who are part of militaristic groups as Azov. So and these groups create a genocide against Russian speaking people who have been living in Donetsk and Lugansk. So this is main idea and they explain that Russia is actually again fighting against Nazism.

Russian Speaker 3:
Donetsk and Lugansk territories wanted to be autonomous after the illegal change of power in Ukraine in 2014. But Ukraine did not agree to recognise their autonomy. Russia did not officially intervene in the conflict but provided humanitarian assistance to the eastern territories of Ukraine. Recently, a huge amount of military equipment from NATO has been supplied to Ukraine. Russia began to worry about its security, not to refuse to sign the agreement that Ukraine would not join NATO and would not move military equipment towards Russian territory. The last straw was that Ukraine threatened to become a nuclear country. In response to this events Russia officially recognised Donetsk and Lugansk republics and signed a mutual assistance agreement that with them. After that Russia launched a military operation to Demilitarise Ukraine.

Russian Speaker 4:
Because I listen to different channels, news channels, not only Russian, such as [at the] present time, you know, Radio Freedom, maybe T-Rain before they had banned. And I hear a lot of different information. But if you mean the Russian channels, yes, of course, they are full of war propaganda. They call it "special military operation", but of course, it's bullshit. It's a war. Of course, I don't support this war. I think it's [a] war between Mr. Putin and Ukraine, not between Russia and Ukraine. I didn't say "my president" because I didn't vote for him.

Russian Speaker 4:
Unfortunately, it is true that the Russian government showed propaganda that poisoned a lot of minds not only of Russian people, but out of people in the rest of the world. It's using different methods. For example: two parts different media channels and social media. They typically manipulate information about Ukrainians, it's nationalists, and terrorists. The Russian propaganda and Putin calls it an "operation" to save Donbass. But that's not true. But what I call it is that it's a total war and Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, that they want to destroy it's democracy that people build. And what I really think is Russia is heading to become a fascist state in my eyes, and even beat Somalia in brutality and dedication to destroy[ing] cities and innocent lives.

Russian Speaker 5:
Well, it's true that the Russian government has been showing propaganda to people ever since Putin came to power. So all independent media channels were nationalised and people essentially have been getting news from just one source of information for 20 plus years. And the government has been living by the famous quote from the Nuremberg trials, from Hermann Goering, that "the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them that they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."

Russian Speaker 5:
So, that's basically what Putin is doing. He's telling Russians that Ukraine is full of fascists and nationalists and that Russia is the country that beat fascism in the Second World War. And it's a very painful part of history, the Second World War, for Russians, where obviously the country had the most human losses from all the allied countries. And essentially every family has someone who died in that war. So the propaganda exploits that pain and tells the people of Russia that there are currently fascists in Ukraine that want to murder the Russian people. So, they're saying things like "the Ukrainian government is developing biological weapons that targets particularly the Russian population." He's saying things like "they have all been paid by the American government.

Russian Speaker 5:
We are brotherhood nations and the Americans bought the Ukrainian government and we need to free and liberate the Ukrainian people." They're also saying, like the casualties and everything that that is happening in Ukraine, the way they are portraying it is that that's the Ukrainian army, that they're... That that causes all the deaths and the casualties, because the Russians came as liberators and they're saying, "just put down your weapons and there will be no casualties. But it's the Ukrainian army that's fighting because they're nationalists and fascists."

Russian Speaker 5:
So, that's basically the way they're twisting the information. And as we speak yesterday on the prime media news and the prime propaganda news, there was a riot. A lady on air on the news jumped at the back of the news with a poster saying, "No war. This is propaganda. Don't believe it.". She will probably be arrested and put in a psychiatry department for that. She's a mother of two. And they will probably show on state media channels and write everywhere that she was a psycho. But she wasn't a psycho. She was a hero. And a lot a lot a lot of Russian people do not support this, do not believe in the propaganda. And it's just... It's a tragedy.

Wow. Okay. So the people of Russia are being told that this quote unquote, special operation that is, in my opinion, an unjust war is a mission to save their country from becoming vulnerable to attack and to save the Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine from the Nazis of the country. Hmm. Okay. Claims that have been shown to be false by experts across the board and which have been fabricated by Putin in order to create a monster to fight and garner support from the Russian population. Fortunately, as the voices in this episode attest, many Russians are onto what Putin is doing and are aware of the propaganda being spewed out to the masses. Thousands of people have already gone out onto the streets in Russia to protest and sadly have been arrested by police and hauled off to police stations and sent to jail. So the bravery of these particular Russians cannot be understated. Now, before we continue, I thought I'd cover a few points of the hypocrisy from Putin in relation to his claims of Nazism and Ukraine.

Firstly, Putin has been shown to have hired the Wagner group who are connected to actual white supremacist Nazis in order to assassinate the Jewish president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose relatives died at the hands of the Nazis in World War Two.

Secondly, the stylised Z symbol that Putin is using is, I would say, clearly reminiscent of the Nazi swastika. Thirdly, Putin is starting to transport captured Ukrainians from the city of Mariupol to camps in Siberia, echoing the horrifying acts of the Nazis in World War Two. And lastly, Putin recently gave a speech where he referred to political opponents within Russia as national traitors. The line taken directly from Hitler's Mein Kampf and also compared them to insects, again, echoing the rhetoric of Nazis towards Jews in World War Two. So Putin's claims of genocide in Ukraine are pretty ironic, given the fact that he is using Nazi tactics in order to wage his war and is arguably subjecting Ukrainians to genocide themselves. Sadly, with news only coming from the state run Russian media. Many Russians believe this propaganda to be true. So some advice I once heard around dealing with misinformation that you might be able to give your friends and family who believe the Russian propaganda or any propaganda about any other topic for that matter. So firstly, they say not to get into heated arguments, but instead use these kind of questions to hopefully lead the person to question their own beliefs in their own time. So firstly, it should be why do you believe that a certain claim is true? Secondly, what evidence do you have for that claim and what is its source? Thirdly, have you evaluated if the source is trustworthy? And the fourth one is, have you considered opposing claims? And the last one is what information would you need to see to have your mind changed? That last one is quite big, isn't it? Because if I believe something and I ask myself, is there anything that can change my mind? And I say, No, there's nothing that can change my mind.

Then I have already admitted to myself that I'm being irrational. I'm attached to an idea for perhaps my own identity, or because I've invested too much emotion into this thought, into this opinion. So those five questions are good. And obviously you can ask yourself these questions to at least challenge yourself to justify believing a certain claim. Just like I have whilst writing this, whilst listening to what I've listened to, I've been asking myself these five questions. All right, let's leave part one there and I'll see you in part two of this episode where I ask the following questions What are your thoughts on the invasion and what are the thoughts of people around you on it?

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