It is time to treat Russia as a child who is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for its actions. Russia needs to grow up and to stop blaming others for its actions and inactions.”
Countries must come to terms with their national identity, history, and position in global affairs. This is remarkably like children as they develop into responsible adults and come to terms with their place in social hierarchies. Russia is an excellent example of a country that is stuck at some early childhood developmental stage. Russia’s statements and actions regarding the Ukrainian war reflect many aspects of playground politics and childhood development.
In the playground, young children will blame other people for their actions. This is blame-shifting as children try to offload responsibility for their actions. Thus, children will try to avoid trouble by declaring – “it was not me”, “it was someone else” or “someone forced me to do it”. This is partly about trying to preserve their self-image. A parent must try to ensure that a child comes to appreciate that they must take responsibility for their actions and inactions. This is part of the process of growing up.
Russia is like a small child who will not take responsibility for its actions. Every day there are numerous examples of Russian blame-shifting. Thus, Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, is an expert in blame-shifting. On Monday 6 June 2022, Lavrov had to cancel a planned visit to Serbia given the airspace ban imposed on Russia by the EU. Lavrov blamed the cancelled visit on “Brussels puppeteers” rather than acknowledging that the real cause was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is an excellent example of trying to shift the blame – “it was not us and Russia is not responsible”.
President Vladimir Putin, and other Russian officials, are blaming Western sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the invasion for the exacerbating global food crisis. This is another excellent example of blame-shifting.
On Monday 6 June, during a meeting of the United Nation’s Security Council, Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s current Permanent Representative to the United Nations, walked out in response to a speech made by Charles Michel, European Council President, in which Michel noted that the EU had imposed no sanctions on the agricultural sector and that the “Kremlin is using food supplies as a stealth missile against developing countries”. Nebenzya’s action of walking out of this meeting is a classic example of playground politics based on trying to avoid acknowledging responsibility.
Before walking out of this meeting, Nebenzya accused Western and Ukrainian officials of falsely accusing Russian forces of atrocities and that it was Ukrainian troops who were responsible for committing rapes and all other forms of atrocities in Ukraine. On 4 June, the Sviatohirsk Lavra monastery in the Donetsk region was destroyed by fire. Russia’s immediate response was that “Ukrainian nationalists set fire to the wooden monastery” and that Russia was not responsible. Again, this is all about playground blame-shifting based on trying to slither away from taking responsibility.
Blame shifting is part of another childhood response based on adopting a victim mentality. This tactic is like blame-shifting and is used by children to justify their behaviour. Thus, often a child who is being held accountable for their behaviour tries to position themselves as the victim. Russian politicians and officials consider that Russia is always the victim and never the aggressor or abuser. This represents a form of cognitive distortion, or a form of thinking error, in which the child really believes that they are not responsible and that they are the victim. Of course, for Russia blame-shifting, combined with a victim mentality, is wrapped up in the political game of disinformation that includes the weaponization of social media. Nevertheless, blame-shifting is about avoiding responsibility for irresponsible actions.
With children, it is extremely difficult to persuade a child to take responsibility for their actions. One of the problems is that a victim-blaming mentality represents a distortion of reality that enables a child to avoid acknowledging responsibility. It is always someone else’s fault.
It is time to treat Russia as a child who is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for its actions. Russia needs to grow up and stop blaming others for its actions and inactions. For the Russian Ukrainian war, there are at least four victims – the Ukrainian people, those who will experience food and energy poverty as a direct consequence of the war, Russians, including conscripts and their families, and the planet. It is important to remember that the Russian Ukrainian war is both a humanitarian and climate crime. It is time for Russia to take responsibility for these crimes rather than continue to engage in blame-shifting and acknowledge that it is not the victim but the aggressor.
Written by: John R. Bryson – Professor of Enterprise and Economic Geography, Birmingham Business School
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