Welcome to Desk Russie’s website and newsletter!
Our ambition is to offer you an informed view of today’s Russian reality through analyses, decipherments and original information often from first hand, but also debates and positions. Too few French-speaking media produce this information and, when they do, space is too often at a premium, or their content is only accessible if you pay a subscription. In particular, it is rare to find out through them what is happening on television and on social networks in Russia. Those who do not regularly follow the information offered by human rights organizations are also unaware of the fate of thousands of Russians who suffer repression, far beyond the case of Alexei Navalny.
“It is necessary to understand Russia”. The expression is very often used by the defenders of the regime led for 21 years by Vladimir Putin to suggest that these actions must be “understood”, i.e. legitimized. This discourse also gives pride of place to the theory of humiliation, to the idea that all the blame lies with NATO and the West, and, above all, that finally the current master of the Kremlin would embody Russia and be its true face. These discourses are anchored in the naturalist and culturalist idea of an “eternal Russia” and the deterministic belief of a historical continuity that would represent a form of “Russian destiny”.
It will be important for us to understand the good uses, but also the misuses, of history. To understand the regime, history is necessary: its practices are deeply rooted in the long history of repression and propaganda. It is important to understand the breaks and continuities. The Kremlin also uses certain narratives that are still present in the imagination of a part of the Russian population to distort historical reality and practice revisionism, of which the cult of Stalin, encouraged by the authorities, is an emblematic example. Through history, we must understand the vulnerability of a part of the population to these mythologies that contribute to undermine the very idea of rule of law. It is with the help of these reconstructed narratives that Putin’s regime tries to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea, or proclaims an alleged natural right to consider alleged zones of influence. Sometimes, too, some Western leaders, unaware of the regime’s propaganda, make use of a long history of Russia, rich in works of art and remarkable figures, in order not to consider the regime in its specificity and to make use of the apolitical myth of this “eternal Russia”.
It is thus to another type of understanding that we resort here: not an understanding-legitimization based on mythology, but an understanding that rests on knowledge and facts and that must attempt, according to the ancient lesson of Hannah Arendt, to grasp the very logic of a system. There is indeed a specificity of the Putinian system that is irreducible to any other. And it is for lack of this analysis that governments have often failed to anticipate its actions.
Our purpose here will be to constantly refute this reductive conception of a Russian determinism and to distinguish between the regime and Russia, the apparatus of repression and the aspirations and daily lives of millions of Russians. It will also aim to give a voice to this other Russia, that of the militants for freedom and the law of course, but also of the writers and artists. It will tend to thwart the traps of the propaganda, including soft, if not sweet, propaganda that is relayed by those who, in France, consider that there is no other choice for Russia than Putin, or even worse, that Russia would be doomed to dictatorship because of an alleged “Russian soul” tied to the acceptance of servitude.
Our concern, as we understand it, will be that of truth. And this truth — already an ancient lesson of the Dreyfus affair—is indissolubly linked to the cause of freedom. Our purpose will be the clarity of the facts, including the presentation of raw documents translated from Russian, but we do not pretend to be neutral. Our ambition is to explain.
While Navalny and thousands of Russians are imprisoned, while since the beginning of Putin’s reign, the regime’s crimes, inside and outside, are counted by tens of thousands, while the regime is still threatening Ukraine, part of which it has invaded and annexed — which is also the case of Georgia, 20 % of whose territory is still de facto annexed — and while the Kremlin is protecting the criminal regime of Lukashenka in Belarus, it seems to us that there is an urgent need to better inform the French-speaking public of the exact nature of the regime.
We hope that you will find in this letter information that will be useful for your understanding of Russia as a whole and its fields of action — in Europe, the Middle East and Africa — and that you will accompany us for a long time.
Enjoy reading, and thank you for your support!