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Ukraine as Dostoevsky Novel

Hatred for Russia is surging. A University in Italy even cancelled a course on Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s famous writers of the nineteenth century. Looked at differently however, Ukraine is actually turning turning into a Dostoevsky novel. Here the characters are nations, so they are already larger than life. And they are as passionate, as uncontrollable and as doomed as the people of the Brothers Karamazov.

We have Zelensky, personifying the Ukraine who is undone by desire. He whines to be something he is not: European. Wanting to be European, that is, worldly and sophisticated, is a supposed Russian character trait which European nations and Russian novelists have mocked for centuries. Peter the Great made all his boyars cut off their beards to appear more civilized. An old expression “Scratch a Russian, you’ll find a Tatar” exposes the racism behind it.

Zelensky wants to be European, a member of NATO, so badly, he’s willing to sacrifice his country. And he has.

Then we have the European nations, a coterie of NATO members who fear, admire and follow the United States. They are sycophants. They lack moral conviction. Because they fear their leader and also, like jackals following a lion, they will get something out of it, they will commit deeds they know to be wrong.

There is the United States, powerful and calculating, with its strategy for world domination formulated in the 90s, the malevolent and infamous PNAC, the Plan for a New American Century. In Ukraine, as in Afghanistan in 1978, with the Mujahideen, the plan is to arm others to instigate or intensify conflict, and lure and provoke Russia into invasion and ruin. In Ukraine, as it had in Afghanistan, it encouraged violence, flooded in arms, built bases and conducted exercises, to compel a fear-driven invasion from Russia.

Back at home, the monster war budget gets a growth spurt, hatred is fueled, and propaganda, with great skill, tricks the people into believing the Orwellian creed of War is Peace.

The US’s and NATO’s sin, in the religious eye of Dostoevsky the most dreadful, is the failure to love or to have understanding and compassion. These values are encompassed in what the Bible calls the greatest virtue of all: charity.

Russia is personified by Putin, a character created by the harsh and chaotic conditions of the Russian history of his life. He is tormented, provoked and threatened, and finally and dramatically loses control and commits the fatal sin, the terrible act of murder, murder of those he loves.

And he commits, in the context of international law, the mother of all war crimes, which only the US and NATO are allowed to commit: launching an aggressive war.

In Dostoevsky novels there are frequently peasants, or serfs, in the background. That’s us, and the rest of the people in the world. We get squeezed for more taxes, or sanctioned or bombed. We are ignorant and have no control over events. We serfs dimly recognize that we are doomed, and we weep.

Dostoevsky novels are usually tragedies, and this one will not end well either. The wounds are too deep and the sins are too mortal. To end it, we can not simply promise to keep NATO out of Ukraine, and recommit to the armaments treaties we broke, as we could have, two weeks ago. before the invasion. This war will burn up megatons of fossil fuel, warm and pollute the planet, ruin yet another part of earths’ surface, turn millions more into impoverished and rootless wanderers, and create even more more chaos. People say Putin has gone mad, but NATO and the US went insane long ago.

(Ellen Taylor can be reached at


  1. jonah raskin March 18, 2022

    Brilliant. Thanks for Ukraine and Dostoevsky!!

  2. chuck dunbar March 18, 2022

    “And after that the punishment began.”

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    The Brothers Karamazov

  3. Steve Heilig March 18, 2022

    Yes, brilliant, but to me reads a bit too close to an excuse for Putin’s invasion, with war crimes piling up, “Nazi” excuses/lies, media and protest suppression, etc etc etc. “We” didn’t force any of that. Russia will need to purge itself of this version of vast corrupt Stalinism. And they just might.

  4. Fred Gardner March 24, 2022

    At last! Somebody. with something to say about the sad and sorry situation!

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