“The situation we observe today on the Ukrainian battlefield provides an answer to the question of why the Russian leadership has purposefully cultivated violent and criminal subcultures.” – Petr Pojman, PhD, criminologist, former OSCE observer, T4U founder, www.team4ukraine.eu
Attempts to find compromises, the Minsk agreements, the OSCE negotiations, the Normandy format and other negotiations with the moderate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not succeed. The unprovoked Russian attack on 24 February 2022 definitively buried all hopes for a peaceful solution. Today, the path to peace is the same as the path to military victory, which must mean pushing the aggressor out of Ukrainian territories.
If there are positive changes in the internal politics of the Russian Federation, the de-occupation of Donbas and Crimea could in the long run be resolved in a diplomatic way, which could be similar to the withdrawal of Warsaw Pact troops from Czechoslovakia.
However, we have increasingly begun to see deviant, irrational features in Russian politics, and especially in the behaviour of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. And the number of people with a propensity for violent and inappropriate behaviour has reached a critical threshold in the ranks of the Russian security forces.
As a result, on February 24, 2022, one of the worst decisions in the history of Russia was made. This decision will very likely lead to a change in the current regime. Certainly, this is also the goal that the entire civilized world should strive for, including those parts of Russian society that would like to be readmitted to the human race in the future. Given that a prerequisite for a successful transformation is the discrediting of Russian imperial nationalism, geopolitical changes in the entire territory of the Russian Federation can also be assumed. The disintegration of the federation should not be prevented. However, that is the subject of another paper. Let us return to deviations.
Deviant behaviour and socially depressed societies
During the monitoring in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” I often communicated with representatives of the local security forces. We often observed individuals with deviant tendencies in these structures. All of this was also linked to substance abuse, such as alcohol and drugs. Several OSCE patrols were threatened by drunken gunmen. In another instance, a member of a local militia in plain clothes threatened male monitors with rape. Today, victims of torture in Ukraine often describe that Russian soldiers sometimes appear to be under the influence of heavy narcotics.
During the second half of 2021, we saw massive leaks about conditions in Russian prisons. Video footage of torture and sexual violence among prisoners was purposely created by the administration. These recordings were passed on by the FSIN (Russian Federal Prison Service) for further use. (https://gulagu-net.ru/Torture_in_Russia)
Violence has become a common form of communication for a large part of Russian society. Criminal and prison “romance” is popularized in mass culture, and more and more often we find its reflection in everyday life. At a press conference in early February 2022, Putin inadvertently quoted, in the context of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements, a stanza from a song describing the rape of a dead woman: “Whether you like it or not, endure it, my beauty.”[i]
In doing so, he very accurately described his relationship with Ukraine and perhaps inadvertently revealed his main motive for hatred. As a serial killer, depressed by life’s failures, he is only able to achieve his satisfaction through violence. He feels inferior, he has nothing to offer, he takes revenge on the whole society. At the same time, he is fully responsible for his behaviour.
Putin is not mentally ill, he is fully responsible for his behaviour. The motives for his behaviour must be sought in the environment in which he grew up, the values that were valued in that environment and the “culture” that shaped that environment. These motives cannot be understood through the concepts of logic, compromise and mutually beneficial cooperation. The only logic recognized in this environment is the logic of force, the logic of deceit, the logic of threats and fear. This conclusion has been confirmed more than once in our negotiations with “DNR” representatives. In the Russian occupation administration, representatives of organized crime groups or even lower-level criminal elements often play a significant role.
Putin himself was shaped in a similar environment. A very important role in the formation of his personality and social contacts was played by his judo coach Leonid Ionovich Usvyatsov[ii] he was a mobster also known as Lenya the Athlete[iii]. Usvyatsov spent 20 years in prison and was killed in 1994 in a conflict between criminal gangs.
Putin is described as a not very successful young man, growing up in poverty and violence. His main motivation for joining the KGB is said to have been the opportunity to decide the fate of others. Putin’s life experience is thus fundamentally different from that of politicians in the West. Even an ordinary citizen from Europe or the USA cannot imagine the motivations of people from that background. It is all the more difficult for high-ranking politicians, who often come from wealthy, well-to-do families and are graduates of elite schools. There, however, they could not have learned to read the minds of deviant brutes. These experiences need to be collected in the harsh school of life, on the streets of Russian cities.
The actions of the Russian leadership were well predicted by my friends originally from Crimea and Donetsk. They knew the level of cynicism and violence. Others believed in logic and hoped for reason.
Putin’s psychological profile is the result of deviant processes that degenerate the entire Russian society and significantly affect Russian regions and social classes whose representatives are often encountered in the ranks of the Russian army. The youth in many Russian regions are affected not only by unimaginable poverty, but many children are abused from a young age. I have been in contact with fellow criminologists from Buryatia, and they have been drawing attention to the literally catastrophic state of affairs in this area since at least 2009. The level of violence that we are experiencing in this region in particular is unbelievable. And the cases that my colleagues have described to me are more like horror science fiction than actual cases of police practice.
In Russia, entire criminal subcultures have long been cultivated, and for some social groups crime is seen as the only quick way to success. Violence has become a common form of communication. This approach is very clearly manifested, for example, in the youth movement AUE (Arrestantskiy uklad edin/Arrestantskoe urkaganskoe edinstvo) which is the ideology of youth gangs. It can be translated into English as “The Prisoners’ Codex is Unified“ or “Prisoner Thug Unity“. Children growing up in this “culture” and socially depressed environment are often victims, only to become perpetrators later as teenagers. And continue the cycle of violence.
Similarly, the youth is shaped through political and militaristic organizations such as the “Nashi” („Ours“) movement or the Molodaj gvardia – Yunarmija („Young Guard – YouthArmy“). And these movements were also founded in the occupied territories. In Donetsk, it was members of the YouthArmy who were so often seen.[iv]
In addition to the formalized “elite” associations, we observe entire social strata and depressed regions where there is no hope of improving living conditions. Buryatia is just one such region. In Ukraine we also meet Tuvans and representatives of other Siberian and Caucasian peoples in the ranks of the Russian army.
These people are massively influenced by Kremlin propaganda. Some believe in the supremacy of Russian imperial nationalism, others in a NATO threat against Russia. Most, however, are fighting for money and the opportunity to plunder. They believe that this is the only way they can quickly get what they might never have gotten without crime. Most of them live on the verge of poverty. If in the EU or the Czech Republic we talk about socially excluded localities, in the Russian Federation we observe entire areas, cities and classes of this sort.
From these classes and communities, members are recruited into organised crime groups or private military companies, which in turn promote the interests of the main actors under the control of the Russian security or military forces. For a long time, the interests of corrupt officials have been the main focus, and the goal has been profit.
However, by 2013 at the latest, we saw these structures engaging in operations that are financially loss-making, and the Russian leadership is also using them in ideologically motivated violence in hybrid warfare and in what is now an open war against Ukraine and the entire free world.
This shift is due to the further degeneration of the Russian political class. It is no longer just about corruption and profit, but about world domination, an inability to empathise and a refusal to discuss freely, even within the Kremlin leadership. This has led to Putin’s isolation from the real world, and to his fatal decision.
The number of persons formed in the above described deviant environment is very high, and such individuals have reached ruling positions in the Russian army. This is by design, not by random selection! The situation we observe today provides an answer to the question of why the Russian leadership purposefully cultivated violent subcultures.
These groups of marginal and violent men are part of Russian tactics and strategy, which is based on high numbers of attacking soldiers and high levels of violence against civilians. And not just violence in street fights, but also artillery and airstrikes on civilian objects, including kindergartens and hospitals. Even elite troops, including the highly qualified ones such as pilots are affected by this violent subculture. This violence has only one goal – to break society, which will then demand peace at any price. And this is another mistake of the Russian leadership. Each attack only provokes more hatred and determination to fight, even in those regions and communities that still harbored some pro-Russian sentiments before February 2022.
Contemporary Russian Fascism and the Prospects for Ending the War
According to the criminologist and founder of the St. Petersburg Centre for Deviantology, Professor Yakov Gilinsky, with whom I have consulted several times, even long before the war, the groups described above were the “reserve of the high command” in the fight against the “color revolutions” that threaten Russia. And the Russian regime is threatened by any expression of freedom, because at this point it is already a fascist regime, i.e. based on the leader principle, radical nationalism, militarism, the cult of power and domination. Everything in Russia is subordinated to the imperial interests, which are understood by a large part of society as a collective benefit that is superior to individual human destiny. The Russian fascist regime is a “victim” regime (this is a manifestation of the complexes of its leaders) and this justifies any action against its enemies, it rejects liberalism and the influence of foreigners (foreign agents). Professor Gilinsky has been pointing out for many years that the regime in the Russian Federation fulfills all the textbook characteristics of a fascist regime.[v]
In retrospect, it really looks like Putin thought that the fall of Ukraine would be a matter of days, and the population would welcome the Russian forces. However, only a man cut off from the real world could have come to such a conclusion. It must have been clear to anyone who has walked through Ukrainian towns and villages at least once that not only would these people not welcome the Russian army, but that they had been preparing for its possible attack for the last few years. Overconfidence is also one of the characteristics of fascist leaders.
The Russian soldiers who participated in the attack were convinced that they were coming, practically on friendly territory, and after breaking the resistance of a few militant radicals, the local population would host them. They were also convinced of this by their commanders.
But what they experienced during the first days of the attack spoke rather to the contrary. Hundreds of thousands of people, including old men and women, were involved in the defense of the country. Even children helped to set up defensive posts, which were built in all the villages. People often used their own cars and equipment, hunting and sporting rifles, etc.
The soldiers of the Russian Army realized sometime around the 5th day that the original idea was completely wrong. From this time on, we also started to see attacks on civilian objects and violence against civilians. This was avoided by the Russians in the first days of the attack. Now, however, they have begun to retaliate. This, too, fits logically into the pattern of the behaviour of complex deviants. We have heard about torture from witnesses and have seen the use of cluster munitions ourselves. Artillery and even aerial attacks on residential houses are quite common.
The Russian military has been humiliated, humiliated in a country that Russia has traditionally described as a failure, ridiculous, weak. The army of that country put up a fight, and in the very first phase of the war made considerable gains. The Russian soldiers, humiliated in their civilian life, and further humiliated in a Russian army full of bullies and thieves, were humiliated again, but this time by the Ukrainians, who, in the words of their commanders, were to welcome them as liberators.
All this has an effect on the psyche of individuals whose psychological profile has already been so damaged from a previous life. These people then see in the occupied territories an affluence that is beyond their ideas of wealth. In places formerly occupied by the Russian army, witnesses described to us that Russian soldiers considered Nutella for breakfast to be a great prosperity, often did not know how a kettle worked, did not know how to use a gas stove, and considered a plasma television to be a painting, even electricity in the house was something new to some.
These soldiers then gained absolute power over the members of the nation whose army had humiliated them. A power they never had in their lives. The result is apocalyptic violence. But even in the Russian army, according to witnesses, there were soldiers who avoided unnecessary violence or even helped civilians. But this does not change the overall picture much.
The Russian government still manages to attract those interested in serving in the army, and they are mostly willing to commit war crimes. For some, it is even the main motivation. Especially after the failure of the original Russian “special operation” plan, interest in serving is declining. And, for example, the Free Buryatia Foundation registers daily complaints for legal assistance for the termination of service from those serving in the Russian army.[vi]
A serial killer will keep killing until he’s arrested. The fascist regime of the Russian Federation also cannot be stopped except by defeating it. Any negotiations with Russia for peace, surrender and reparations must be linked to Ukrainian military successes. Regime change in Russia can perhaps only be envisaged at the moment of an apparent military defeat in Ukraine. All resources and forces should now be invested precisely in pushing the Russian occupation forces out of the entire territory of Ukraine.
This uncompromising attitude towards the Russian Federation is very often understood only by those who have themselves been its victims. But it is better to learn from the fate of others and avoid the repression and torture that comes with every Russian occupation. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is an immediate threat to the EU, and by helping Ukraine we are helping ourselves first and foremost. Those politicians who are calling for compromises with Russia should realise that they are not only sanctioning the occupation of territories, but that the several million people who are in those territories will be condemned to long-term suffering. The evidence of how the Russians behave in conquered territories is clear and confirms our previous historical experience. Deportations, rapes, filtration camps. This is confirmed by the refugees I have spoken to. I have quite specific information and often photographs from them.
As always, compromise with the aggressor will bring defeat and shame. The Russian regime has repeatedly confirmed that it always sees compromise as a sign of weakness, and this encourages it to further aggression. This is one of the few things that can be relied upon with certainty in relation to Russia .
The degeneration of the Russian regime and of Putin’s psychological profile is accelerating. In 2014, Putin was not psychologically prepared for open war, and the chances of success were incomparably greater then. In 2022, Putin was ready to give the order for open conventional war. At the next stage, he may be ready for an unconventional one – a nuclear attack. That is why we must stop him now.
Depressed communities, localities, and violent, deviant subcultures should be monitored even after the defeat of Russia. Their transformation should be the goal of the international community.
[iii]) https://argumentua.com/stati/leonid-usvyatsov-nastoyashchii-uchitel-putina, 23.12.2015
[v]) Yakov Gilinsky, Ordinary Russian Fascism, http://www.index.org.ru/journal/24/gil24.html, 24/2006