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Russians’ Collective Responsibility for Putin’s War

Over the course of 22 years, as Russian President Vladimir Putin consolidated an absolutist regime and launched military interventions in former Soviet territories, ordinary citizens overwhelmingly supported his leadership. That makes them politically responsible for the war in Ukraine.

NEW YORK – Is it appropriate for the United States and other countries to impose hardships on Russian citizens because of war crimes committed by their country’s forces in Ukraine?

Most Russians do not bear criminal guilt for what has occurred in Ukraine since February 24. Only those who directly participate in attacks on civilians and civilian property and infrastructure, or command those engaged in such attacks, deserve to face criminal punishment. But the great majority of Russians have made this war possible by allowing President Vladimir Putin to consolidate absolute power over the past 22 years. For that reason, they share political responsibility for the horrors now taking place in Ukraine.

Sanctions against Russia are merited, even though many ordinary Russians who are most affected by them probably would prefer that the war never happened. Putin and his inner circle are unlikely to suffer from any losses to their material well-being.