Andrey Babitsky: How I Became a Russian Person, From an Anti-Russian One

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The journalist Andrey Babitsky about his story of rebirth from a liberal into a patriot, and finding internal harmony.


I’m constantly asked to explain what happened, how it happened that I changed my views, being in the period “before” a desperate critic of Russia and its authorities, and “after” becoming an uncompromising defender of the Russian world, Russian values, and the Russian state of affairs.

This interest is understandable, as there is always the desire to understand the rationale of the seemingly impossible metamorphosis, but I would like to say in this regard that I don’t quite merit the reputation of an ardent liberal. It is rather that portrait that was drawn by the Russian media and politicians during that period when they perceived me as the enemy of present Russian State aspiring in all ways to undermine its foundations.

This image wasn’t absolutely correct, and if to speak frankly, then I would call it an absolute forgery. Yes, it is true, I had many issues with the Russian authorities, in particular, with President Putin, who I considered to be the continuer of the affairs of his predecessor, I had a lot, but, actually, my position couldn’t be anti-Russian in principle. As a thinking person, I was formed in the Soviet period in a patriotic, Christian environment, and the values instilled by it remained invariable during the entirety of later life, although at some stages it dulled a little, conceding to the anger and irritation caused by the existing state of affairs in Russia.

Yes, at some point I started to hold a liberal view, believing that freedom and the rights of the people is the foundation on which public and state life in Russia must be based. This naive and romantic approach indeed drove my hand, which wrote lines about the violation of these rights by the Russian authorities and the suppression of various freedoms.

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Nevertheless, my assessment of events in Russia was gradually changing. For example, I with surprise found out that Vladimir Putin, whose election for his first term was in many respects a reflection of the enormous public discontent with reforms, the plunder of the country, and the arbitrariness of officials, began to act, so to say, extremely accurately, without following strictly in the wake of the extremely non-democratic spirit of its own electorate. By choosing a former employee of the KGB as the governor of the country, the people consciously pursued change, refusing the chaos that the former authorities considered as achieved civil liberties, and expecting to find instead of it order, controllability, and rigid cleansing of the oligarchy, which became limitless and applied full power over the country.

Putin didn’t choose the path that the logic of events itself dictated to him, he didn’t start to implement the order for mass repressions, which the people were not only ready to forgive him for, but they actually expected them, cherishing the hope that, at last, Russia after long years of hard times will be governed with a firm hand. In the imagination of society, the new President had to shut up the press by dispersing to hell the liberal pool of journalists, to bring to responsibility the oligarchs who plundered the country and who took Russian political assets under their control during Yeltsin’s last term, to begin mass arrests of officials who sold out Russia in parts and in whole, and to bring to heel the national suburbs, which were paddling in the direction of maximum sovereignization.

In reality, Putin managed to solve all problems defined by these expectations, but not by sending echelons of victims of political repression to places of confinement, but by fine-molded actions, very gradually, maintaining balance in order to not overturn in a serious political crisis.

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Mikheil Saakashvili was also forced to solve similar issues when he became the head of Georgia. The Georgian leader chose an absolutely different method — he relied on political police, on the governance of the State by means of repressions and fear. And it is this surprising difference between the two leaders, one of who was called a beacon of democracy, and another — a bloody tyrant, that indeed showed me all falseness of the western view of the events in Russia.

I saw that political freedoms, including the notorious freedom of speech, are immeasurably more in my country, than in the same Georgia and, perhaps, in the majority of the Republics in the post-Soviet space, where, according to the parameters of the democratic structure, Russia offers if not a hundred, then a significant amount of positives more in comparison to all – from the point of view of the West – young and budding Post-Soviet democracies.

The understanding of all of this came gradually, there were no sudden epiphanies, the accumulation of critical details happened somehow by itself, so that at some point it became suddenly extremely clear — that in this area the assessments by the western community of the Russian realities are crafty and incorrect in-advance. But the turning point nevertheless happened. Not in my point of view: at the moment when Maidan started to blaze, I was already a consistent critic of the liberal approach.

The collision appeared to be connected with the need to make a choice — I had to either keep working at “Radio Svoboda”, or live in harmony with my own conscience. To combine that with another wouldn’t work, because figuratively speaking the West, of course, and my employers also unambiguously supported the coup in Ukraine, and condemned the annexation of Crimea too. Events in Donbass were unambiguously evaluated by them as the aggression of Russia against Ukraine.

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While for me it was obvious that it is pro-Nazi forces that came to power in Kiev, that the will of the people living in Crimea and Donbass, who opposed nationalism and the putsch, is an absolutely democratic act that has to be adopted as the free choice of the citizens, having full authority to protect their existence from the influence of blind and radical elements of the nationalist revolution.

But no, the liberal choir — both in Russia, and beyond its borders — demanded, without reckoning with the interests of specific people, to follow the norms of international law that was repeatedly violated by the same West, which insisted on respecting the abstract principle of the integrity of Ukraine.

And it is here that the rupture took place. The events that further followed were inevitable. I stated that I consider Vladimir Putin’s actions for the protection of the population of Crimea justified and necessary, for which I paid for with my position of the editor-in-chief of one of the branches of “Radio Svoboda”. Then I went to Donbass and sent footage to “Radio Svoboda” of the exhumation of the bodies of the people executed by fighters of the Nazi “Aidar” battalion. The gentle souls of my chiefs weren’t able to cope with it, and I was fired.

Here is, in fact, the brief story of my rebirth without retouching it and without attempts to justify myself for the past. There was many wrong things in my past, but this is already another story. I’ve lived in Donetsk for almost three years, and have found the most important thing — internal harmony.

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