civilian resistance in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus

Yesterday, I posted about prospects for nonviolent resistance in Ukraine and in Russia. Perhaps “civilian resistance” is a better heading. That category would include throwing a Molotov cocktail or firing grandpa’s hunting rifle as well as classic nonviolent acts like marches and occupations. My point is not that civilian resistance is better than military defense, or that refraining from violence is–or isn’t–morally superior. I hope for every possible Ukrainian success on the battlefield. But I believe that civilian resistance also has real potential, and indeed, that resistance by Russian civilians offers the best hope in this dire situation.

So I will try to track relevant developments, although with no hope of being comprehensive.

  • This is Rob Lee’s thread of videos showing Ukrainian civilians successfully blocking Russian troops–evidence of courage and of Russian soldiers’ reluctance to kill.
  • This a thread by my Tufts colleague Oxana Shevel arguing that Ukrainian civilians will make the country ungovernable by Russian occupiers.
  • Alexei Navalny’s group is officially calling for civil disobedience against the war. OVD-Info is reporting that 6,494 Russians have been detained in “anti-war actions” since Feb 24.
  • Despite the incredible difficulty of organizing resistance in Belarus, there have been antiwar protests in several Belarusian cities.
  • When Ukrainian government officials express deep sadness about the deaths of Russian soldiers, they reframe the conflict as Putin versus the peoples of both countries. This framing invites Russian civilians to help end the war and creates the basis for reconciliation. It reminds me of the way Lincoln describes Confederate deaths in the Second Inaugural Address. He bears responsibility for these deaths as the leader of the North’s military effort, “upon which all else chiefly depends.” Yet he presents both sides’ losses as a shared sacrifice to end slavery and build a better society. Similarly, in honoring the Union dead at Gettysburg, Lincoln never mentions their bloody military victory (or the Confederates’ loss) but describes the soldiers’ sacrifice almost as if it had been nonviolent. In both cases–Lincoln and Ukraine–I presume the sorrow is genuine, but it is also a brilliant strategy.

I have no way of estimating the chances of success in any of these three countries, but guessing the odds is not our task. We should do everything we can to increase the probability of successful civilian (and military) resistance by contributing money, upholding the best examples, and advocating for support in our own countries and institutions.

On Ukraine, see also: prospects for nonviolent resistance in Ukraine and in Russia; why I stand with Ukraine (from 2015); working on civic education in Ukraine (2017); and Ukraine means borderland (2017)

On civilian resistance, see also: the case for (and against) nonviolence; self-limiting popular politics; Why Civil Resistance Works; the kind of sacrifice required in nonviolence.