Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rightfully provoked mass outrage across the West. The European Union, along with NATO, has acted decisively in bombarding Russia with sanctions as well as excluding Russia from the global financial system. As a result, the Russian economy is spiraling into turmoil, with the Russian Ruble being worth less than one cent as the effects of the West’s banning of Russian banks from the SWIFT financial system take full effect. The Ukrainian military has received aid from the United States and its NATO allies, and the Ukrainian people have shown immense courage in their resistance to the Russian invasion.
These actions are justified in the context of deterring an expansionist autocratic regime, whose leader seems relentless in his vision of a neo-Soviet Russian Empire with a Czarist twist by reestablishing a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe comparable to what Putin most likely considers the good old days of the USSR, with him as Russia’s sole strongman. But in our effort to condemn and punish Vladimir Putin, we ought to not condemn an entire nation of people and their culture due to its actions.
Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, an alleged supporter of Vladimir Putin, was fired from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra last Tuesday, due to his refusal to condemn Vladimir Putin for the invasion of Ukraine, according to the Washington Post.
Despite being an outspoken critic of the Kremlin’s invasion, Russian chess player Alexander Grischuk has been banned from an upcoming tournament by Norway due to the invasion. Russian and Belarussan athletes have been banned from competing in the Winter Paralympics. EA Sports announced that they will be removing the Russian national team and clubs from their video game, Fifa 22. As many as 10 U.S. states have joined in the largely symbolic gesture in banning Russian vodka from liquor stores in response to the invasion.
The virtue signaling by giant companies in the United States and abroad regarding Ukraine is comparable to those same companies changing their social media profile pictures to a Black Lives Matter fist during the George Floyd riots, or a rainbow variation of their logo during “Pride Month.” None of these actions genuinely alleviated the nation’s strife throughout the catalyzation of these movements (and the destruction they caused), but the propaganda continued regardless.
Just like the Black Lives Matter ordeal of 2020, teenage girls are posting Change.org petitions to save Ukraine and adding “More Resources” Google Doc links in their Instagram profile bios. People are changing their profile pictures to yellow and blue designs, and popular hashtags designed to “show solidarity,” such as #StandWithUkraine, are continuously posted, liked, tweeted, and retweeted.
All of these things give people a (false) sense of moral righteousness. Activism, or working to “make the world a better place,” however virtuous such notions once were, have been worn down by today’s popular culture into a mere fad that gets people excited for relatively short amounts of time.
Just like BLM and Anti-Asian Hate, the profile pictures will be changed back to normal, the Google Doc and Change.org links removed, and self-proclaimed activist zoomers will search for their next “movement” to latch onto—their next claim to moral superiority.
All of these acts of protest shouldn’t (and will not) worry the Kremlin. The United States is still importing Russian oil and gas in the wake of the Biden administration’s reckless energy policies. In August of 2021, Russia became the United States’ second highest oil exporter. The Keystone XL Pipeline was canceled shortly after Donald Trump left office not because it will net any serious environmental benefit, but because the current president was persuaded by feckless climate ideologues that he could be the next FDR should he sign any executive order that is put on his desk.
Europe’s situation is more profound. For example, Germany, despite attempting to flex its muscles by rearming its military in the face of Russian aggression, was actually neutered by Vladimir Putin a long time ago. Russian pipeline gas accounts for 32% of Germany’s natural gas supply, according to Reuters. In addition, 34% of Germany’s crude oil supply also came from Russia, not to mention the 53% of the nation’s hard coal supply received from German power generators and steelmakers also coming from Russia in 2021.
As a whole, Russia accounts for nearly 40% of Europe’s natural gas imports, and it’s not clear as to how NATO would fare against a military deterrence from Russian aggression should Putin decide to close the pipelines.
While the powers that be may appear to be dedicating themselves to deterring Russian aggression against Ukraine, we would do well to remember that those same powers afforded Vladimir Putin an unimaginable amount of leverage. That leverage isn’t going to be counteracted or reversed by banning Russian vodka from liquor stores or prohibiting Russian conductors from leading orchestras.
The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine is condemnable by almost every metric, but in downing a shot of vodka with my friends on a night of celebration, I’m not necessarily going to be concerned with whether it’s Grey Goose or Pelugar. The Rite of Spring and Pictures at an Exhibition will always have a special place on my Spotify playlists, and Russian athletes aren’t making the Kremlin’s political decisions.
Ruining the livelihoods of Russians despite their general detachment from the political situation reeks of a similar stench of the angry mob antics previously displayed by BLM’s demonization of all police officers, or the January 6th Capitol riots being used to demonize every American who voted for Donald Trump.
If you’re going to blame anyone, blame Vladimir Putin and his autocratic regime. And if we’re going to deter Putin, then perhaps it would be time for President Biden to reconsider his position on the production of natural gas and oil in the United States, as opposed to placing a cultural embargo on the Russian people as part of some faddish virtue signaling. Whatever the outcome, the average Russian citizen is not to blame.