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War and Populism

A social contract is an implicit agreement by all members of a society to adhere to certain rules and norms, in exchange for shared benefits. Western populists, emulating Russian President Vladimir Putin, have subverted this fundamentally inclusive contract, creating instead a bargain based on exclusion and tribalism.

MOSCOW – Russia may no longer be the totalitarian society that my great-grandfather Nikita Khrushchev ruled six decades ago, but totalitarianism seemingly remains in its DNA. The Kremlin still invents its own reality, no matter how absurd or impossible, and demands the people’s credulity.

If war was peace in the Oceania of George Orwell’s 1984, President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” is practically a form of peacemaking in the Russia of 2022. The invasion of Ukraine on February 24 certainly was little cause for concern for Russia’s urban middle class, who continued to party like it was 2004 – the heyday of President Vladimir Putin’s oil- and gas-driven economic boom – as Russian tanks rolled across the border.

In fact, the surreal phony peace that Russia went through in the first six months or so after the invasion was hard to stomach. As Ukraine – the homeland of much of my family and a country of extraordinary beauty – was ruthlessly bombed, its capital encircled, and its people driven from their homes either to find refuge abroad or to fight for their country, ordinary Russians simply went about their lives.

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