Social media is awash with scenes of heavily armed Russians being pushed back by unarmed, protesting Ukrainians. To make sense of why, says Politico’s Zoya Sheftalovich in a Twitter thread, you have to understand the mentality of the Russian soldiers. In the run up to the invasion, Kremlin media channels were blasting the message “wall-to-wall” that Vladimir Putin’s troops would be welcomed by ordinary Ukrainians, just as the Soviets were when they “liberated European nations from the Nazis”. The Soviet troops who fought the Nazis are “absolutely deified” in Russia – many of the “young, unhardened” Russian conscripts sincerely expected to be treated similarly in Ukraine. Instead, they were met with Molotov cocktails and berated as оккупанты – “occupiers”.
“This is super confusing for the soldiers.” They believed they were coming to “liberate oppressed Ukrainians from their Nazi overlords”. Now they’re being asked to attack the very people they came to defend. The Kremlin’s other propaganda message was that Ukraine posed an “existential threat to Russia” as a proxy for the US and NATO. That argument is more powerful and may make it easier for fighter pilots to drop cluster bombs on Kharkiv. But so far, this war is being fought face to face. And it’s tough to believe that a Ukrainian granny, who looks just like your babushka back home, is a Nato stooge.