It doesn’t require a detailed understanding of just war theory to know that Putin is committing a moral atrocity in Ukraine. But given that he has nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them, can he be stopped?
Major economic sanctions are already being imposed, airspace is being closed to Russian aircraft, and boycotts of Russian goods are beginning. These measures, regrettably, will hurt all Russians, including those who oppose the war. But is there any other way to stop Putin from achieving his aims?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has bravely remained in Kyiv, rallying all Ukrainians to fight the advancing Russians. Zelinsky is a hero, as are those who have responded to his call. Yet, despite the significant costs Ukrainians have inflicted on Russia’s forces, a Russian military victory still appears likely.
Perhaps recognizing this, Zelensky has called on the Russian people to stop the war. Many Russians are trying to do just that. After the invasion was announced, there were protests in 55 cities across Russia. An independent monitoring organization says that 5,000 people have been arrested for participating in protests without prior permission, but many more are continuing to protest. At the time of writing, more than one million courageous Russians have put their names to a “Stop the War” petition on change.org.
Despite drastic increases in the penalties for protesting, some have continued to do so. They too are heroes.
What is also needed, now, is for Russian soldiers in Ukraine to stop fighting an unjust war. They should know that they are part of a war of aggression. Intentionally killing people without sufficient cause is murder, and that is what Russian soldiers will be doing if they obey orders to target Ukrainians with lethal weapons. Obeying orders is no excuse, just as it was no excuse for soldiers under Hitler’s command.
From now on, as long as Putin remains Russia’s leader, the country must be seen as an international pariah. Only then will the pressure inside Russia mount sufficiently for Putin’s leadership to become untenable.
What had happened had its reasons and could be anticipated, but took many of us by surprise, and was completely unexpected in its scale. Today evil has its own face, its own name. It is Putin and his criminal gang. But it is also all of us, those who are connected to Russia by birth, by language, by work. It is we who failed to recognize and prevent evil in time.
As old as philosophy itself, the problem of the relationship between philosophy and power turned out to be not purely academic. Recently, we discussed the case of Heidegger and other intellectuals of the Third Reich, and we compared it to the situation in the Soviet Union. But today, in the country that is the successor of the USSR, this problem is again more than urgent.
The ideological control, a kind of Gleichschaltung, to which the authorities have subjugated the entire society for the last 20 years, has completely affected philosophy as well. Instead of patiently building a democratic civil society, hundreds of (allegedly) philosophers have begun composing countless texts about the Great, Unique, Exceptional, Best-in-the-world Russian Idea, which is supposedly the bearer of the new Civilization Matrix and the model to follow. But in essence, these "philosophers" were in the service of resentment, xenophobia, and nationalistic arrogance, which fuelled the Kremlin's insane Nazi-like fantasies. Today, these fantasies kill.
Our guilt is endless. Our only consolation is that the corrupt, kleptocratic, brutal regime will collapse under the weight of its gross hubris and disregard for reality in favor of crazy fantasies. From this putsch against humanity and reason, the human race will emerge strengthened and enlightened. Russian society has a long road ahead of it, practically from scratch, to comprehend its moral fall. Philosophy has a modest but important role to play in this inevitable and difficult task.