08/05/2023, 22.30
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The drone war, zed-realism, and the end of the 'Third Rome'

by Stefano Caprio

Putin's operation has not shifted the territorial balance but has touched the heart of the (former) empire. Radio-controlled aircraft are becoming a decisive factor in the War of the Two Worlds. In Moscow and the rest of Russia, people have lost the defensive barrier that protected their mental landscape, while, for Putin, "everything is going according to plan." The apocalypse for Christian Orthodoxy is after Russia, nothing.

In this crazy summer of fires and tornadoes, floods and droughts, the war between Russia and Ukraine is taking more and more contradictory twists and turns.

The apocalyptic scenario of climate change sees humanity as the main culprit, whether catastrophes are caused by neglect, indifference, pollution, or above all, bombed-out cities and lives killed for no real reason.

Putin’s “special military operation" turned out to be unusually "special", given its total lack of rationale, shocking the world, over some lands disputed for centuries and never really laid out  on any maps, except for the magic and sacred triangular Crimean Peninsula, an outpost on the Black Sea between Asia and Europe.

The first phase, when the Russians reached the outskirts of Kyiv, had an eerie similarity with Hitler’s invasions in the first years of the Second World War; now, after more than a year, the battlefield has become almost static amid mud and trenches, a throwback to the First World War when empires collapsed.

Since last autumn, after the Ukrainians took back Kherson on the Dnieper estuary, an "iron curtain" has fallen again, a wall of water after the collapse of the Kakhovka dam.

The Russians continue to ceaselessly attack Ukrainian cities, from the capital Kyiv to Lviv in the west, as well as multiethnic Odesa that saw Jews from the Polish-Russian Pale sail to rebuild Israel in the wake of 1945 and the Holocaust.

Amid all the big and small tragedies that evoke the past, and require thoughtful vetting on the recurring motifs of wars, a hitherto new and ultramodern element is playing a crucial and frenzied role, shaking bodies and souls: drones.

Pilotless aircraft are nothing new. During the siege of Venice in 1849, the Austrians floated unmanned balloons over the city carrying bombs with a fuse; during the Great War, planes with radio transmitters were used for artillery spotting to find targets.

Today,  drones express more than any other tool the "digitisation of the soul" that characterises the life of contemporary societies, totally dependent on computers and remote communications, without the physical presence of any human being.

Varying in shape and size, from nano spy devices to alien space stations, drones are the closest thing man has created to what were once called "evil spirits."

Dark objects devoid of any feeling penetrate the heart of cities, houses, families, destroying people to make room for a world of artificial intelligence, anonymous and devoid of hope.

Of course, in addition to military drones, there are drones for civilian and even humanitarian use, which can solve many problems related to distance and communications.

Yet the war of the worlds is increasingly shaped by the terror spread by the idea that drones might escape human control and sweep over human affairs.

After the emblematic flights over the Kremlin in early May, in defiance of the imperial parades on Red Square, the use of flying automata has expanded and intensified, as the most striking expression of Ukraine’s "counteroffensive", which has produced very little in territorial gains, but has been very effective in occupying other aspects of space and mind.

Ukraine is manufacturing drones in increasing quantities, like smartphones filled with people's lives.  Of course, production will never be enough to reach every corner of the vastness that is Russia, nor even Moscow’s many districts, a sprawling yet densely populated city, where everything converges.

If they cannot make the actual frontline budge, the evil devices can undermine the mental wall around the people of Moscow and all Russia. Until recently, for the vast majority of them, the Special Military Operation (Специа́льная вое́нная опера́ция, СВО: SVO) was a distant reality, where brave soldiers" (Asians and Caucasians) fight “Ukronazi” aliens,  kind of science fiction series to follow with declining passion over time.

Now, however, the monster of war has reared its frightening head in the capital, blowing out the windows of Moscow City’s skyscrapers, the pride of Russia's newfound economic greatness after the post-Soviet humiliation.

One of the drones was shot down and fell right in the middle of the futuristic Novaya Moskva Square. Nothing was destroyed but it achieved the real purpose of Ukraine’s counteroffensive: to show the Russians that the war is not exclusively "Ukrainian", on a distant border or periphery, but is right in the heart of the empire, touching the life of people and peoples.

With great accuracy, assault drones repeatedly hit the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Information Technology, along with other government buildings of strategic military and technical-communicational value for Russia’s society and polity.

Vladimir Putin has tried to ignore these blows in the heart of Russia, repeating that "everything is going according to plan". Even if TV channels avoid showing drone-related damages, everyone in the capital can see them.

Perhaps this was the plan, the reason for the "special" war, described initially as a "defence against a Western invasion", not an action for the Donbass, but for Russia’s own centre.

The Ukrainians have spared St. Petersburg for now, so no one can draw any parallel with the Nazi siege of Leningrad, but the attacks on Moscow conjure up not only Germany’s World War II invasion, but also the Tatar horde, Polish aggressions, Napoleon’s army, all wrapped up as one, all the tragedies of Russia’s history, eternally exposed to foreign enemies.

If Ukrainians try to stand up for themselves, show off their national identity, putting themselves on a par with Russia, against Putin’s and his court who simply want to swallow them up and erase them from history, Russians’ resolve might stiffen to defend their “sacred land” entrusted to them by God for the salvation of the whole world.

The Russians do not really want to conquer Ukraine, as the war has shown. When they reached Kyiv, they pulled back, without adding anything significant to the territories they already controlled for years, if not centuries.

The Russians only want "Victory", as a sign of divine blessing of their own essence; Russia's historical victories have only been defensive, never real conquest.

Such a victory would be added to the "Trinity" of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, another iconic image used to truly define a special theological operation.

With Putin's war, Russia has shown that it can cleanse the shame of being on the margins of world history, politics, and economy, forcing other countries, friend or foe, to show fear and respect it, something that matters to Russians. If we lose in the West, we will look to the East.

Ordinary Russians have bought into this psychological and "spiritual" attitude; they tell themselves that they did not this war, but if the leader decided to go this way, they must support him, even the patriarch has blessed him.

And now that our home is attacked, let us seek out the traitors who stabbed us in the back. Anyone spying for Ukraine and Russia, anyone who "discredits the Armed Forces", any general who seeks only his own glory and interest are increasing the likelihood that a new Stalin might rise.

In Lenin and Stalin’s Soviet Union, revolution, wars, and victories were celebrated in the name of an ideology, with aspirations projected into the future, something that Russia totally lacks today.

The ideological cover of Russky Mir's Victory is the apocalyptic version of Orthodoxy, which prophesies that the  “Third Rome” will be the last since a fourth is not possible, hence after Russia, the deluge, the end of the world.

Putin's Russia experiences victory not so much in conquest, but in glorious defeat, in sacrifices in the name of something that no one can really define.

Historian and journalist Artem Efimov calls it “Zed-realism", a subculture that apes Socialist Realism, a reality redefined by communist ideology; the letter Zed, the swastika of Russia’s War, is the last letter of the alphabet, after which there is naught.


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