Mystifying Russian Soul. Russian Writer A. Kuprin on a Truly Russian Face (1908)

… A wide, glossy, red face with prominent cheekbones,
red hair curling from under a peaked cap,
sparse beard, knavish look, a penny piety, fervent
patriotism and contempt for everything non-Russian…

A. Kuprin. Image from Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Russian writer A. Kuprin wrote a short essay "A little bit of Finland" in 1908 about his trip to this country, where he unwittingly showed a big difference between Russian and Finnish mentalities at that moment of time.
Here are two interesting excerpts from the essay:

- “Finland is truly democratic. It is democratic not because the Social-Democrats won the elections, but because its children constitute one whole, healthy, working nation. It is not like in Russia, where there are several classes, the highest one wears the most refined color of European polish, and the lowest one leads the life of a caveman. And it seems that this national spirit - I would say, common national spirit - is the pledge of a strong, solid economic future of Finland.»

- “Thank God, relations between Finns and those Russians who visit their homeland are now improving little by little. My friends and I without any recommendation have met everywhere - in Helsingfors, Vyborg, on Imatra and other places (in Finland – I.C.) - the most cordial, kind and alert welcome. It happened that we found ourselves in a store where the owners understood neither Russian, nor German, nor French. We, for our part, did not speak Finnish or Swedish. And every time a selfless and kind interpreter was kindly invited from some neighboring store. However, it wasn't that long ago that Finns were pretending to be deaf, and dumb, and blind while hearing Russian speech....

I remember about five years ago I had to come to Imatra for a day with the writers Bunin and Fedorov. We were returning late at night. About eleven o'clock the train stopped at Antrea station, and we went out for refreshments. The long table was laden with hot dishes and cold appetizers. There was fresh salmon, fried trout, cold roast beef, some kind of game, small, very tasty meatballs, and the like. Everything was unusually clean, appetizing, and beautifully served. And there were small plates in heaps at the edges of the table, piles of knives and forks, and baskets of bread.

Everyone came up, chose what he liked, ate as much as he liked, then went to the buffet and voluntarily paid one mark (thirty-seven kopecks) for dinner. No supervision, no distrust. Our Russian hearts, so deeply accustomed to the passport, police station, the imposed care of the chief janitor, to universal fraud and suspicion, were utterly overwhelmed by this wide mutual trust. But when we returned to the carriage, a charming picture in the true Russian genre awaited us.

The thing is, we had two masonry contractors traveling with us. Everyone knows this type of well-to-do farmer from Meshchovsky district of Kaluga province (Russian hinterland — I.C.): a wide, glossy, red face with prominent cheekbones, red hair curling from under a peaked cap, sparse beard, knavish look, a penny piety, fervent patriotism and contempt for everything non-Russian - in short, a familiar true Russian face. You should have listened to the way they mocked the poor Finns:

“What a bunch of fools! They're such fools, damn them! I ate three rubles and seven hryvnias (more than paid – I.C.) worth of the food from them, the scoundrels! Bastards! They are not beaten enough, the sons of bitches! In a word – Chukhonians! (Russian contemptuous name for Finns – I.C.)”

And the other continued, choking with laughter:
“And I... broke the glass on purpose, and then spat into the fish.
- Serves them right, bastards! This anathema got out of hand! We must keep them in line!”

And it is all the more pleasant to confirm that people in this nice, wide, half-free country are already beginning to realize that not all the Russians are contractors from Meshchovsky district of Kaluga province.

Yes, not all the Russians were like such contractors in 1908, but Mr. Kuprin himself called them «a familiar true Russian face», so there were many of them at least.
Such kind of people is called “bydlo” now in Russian and Ukrainian. I believe that the word initially came from Polish “bydło” which meant 1) “cattle” and 2) “brute” (singular) or “the rabble” (plural).

There are still many “brutes” in Russia 2024 because the mentality of the nation didn’t change.

Three groups of the Russians.

From my point of view, all Russians can be divided into 3 groups now: the elite (minority), the people who share the elite’s world view (majority) and an unknown quantity of people who do not.
There are 3 types of national mentality accordingly.

I think that there is no sense to talk about the third group. These people (I can estimate their quantity at around 4-5 million) basically are now outside Russia and may have any mentality. The main thing about them is they see the world mostly as it is and not like Mr. Putin does, that’s why they are out of Russia. They do not belong there with their world view and shouldn’t be there – it is dangerous for them.

So what is it - the mystifying Russian soul?

I have already written a little on this topic here, but I can add some details.

Russian elites represent the nation’s world view.
«The mysterious Russian soul» of Russian elites is the “aggressive brute” mentality.
The archetype can be racketeer or habitual criminal who is “honest” and “decent” only towards thyself and alike, who considers himself superior to all other people, treats them as cash cows and despises them for being weaker or simply different. Racketeer is always ready to lie to achieve his selfish goals, he respects only physical strength and constantly demands extra attention. Such people always seek close relationships to squeeze more money and constantly complain that they are not enough understood/ respected. They are usually good actors and are skilled at manipulating facts, people and eliciting pity.
If you refuse to obey, cooperate, sympathize with them or just have a different point of view on anything - they will spread dirty rumors about you and do any kind of nasty things to make you change your mind and prove that you are just like them, trying to bring you down to their level. Habitual criminals/ racketeers don't want to rise to a higher moral level, they want to lower everyone to their own level, considering it a very special one. They always live not with a help of others, but at the expense of other people and therefore hate even each other, let alone alien nations.

The «mystifying Russian soul» of majority of Russian people is just “brute” mentality in the sense “cattle” or “the rabble”. It is the mentality of people who obediently submit to someone else's will and spend their lives in hard, exhausting work. Now they are entrusted with a very important work – to die in Ukraine for Mr. Putin’s (and Russia’s) greatness.

These are the basic description of the “mysterious Russian soul”. Most Russians are just like that.
Why do I think so?
Because they voted for the Bolsheviks/Communists for over 70 years. Because they have been voting for Mr. Putin and his henchmen for more than 20 years.
«Tell me whom you vote for and I'll tell you who you are.»

Mr. Putin as an example of Russian elite’s mentality, which has only been objectively assessed by the International Criminal Court so far.

Now imagine that a person with the «brute» mentality is given a little (or a lot) of power. Then he begins to create a cult of his personality in any position - from a minor government official to the president of the country. And he gets more and more rich, powerful and aggressive. And he does not disdain any means to achieve his goals - bribery, intimidation, blackmail and physical violence, including killing and sometimes wars.

A very good example here is the first person among all Russians - the main “enfant terrible” of our times, Mr. Putin, which was found somewhere and appointed to be the successor by the first Russian President B. Yeltsin in 1999.

During Mr. Putin's initial presidential tenure (2000-2004), the Russian economy grew on average by seven percent per year, driven by prudent economic reforms and a fivefold increase in the global price of oil and gas. Russia repaid its borrowing of $3.3billion from the IMF three years early in 2005. The number of people living below poverty line really declined from 30% in 2000 to 14% in 2008. In 2007 the World Bank declared that the Russian economy achieved "unprecedented macroeconomic stability." Until October 2007, Russia maintained impressive fiscal discipline with budget surpluses every year from 2000.

So, Russia stood firmly on its feet and became richer after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Apparently, Mr. Putin has also become rich and comfortable as a head of the large nuclear state. And then he got carried away, as, apparently, almost any true Russian would have gotten carried away.

At the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, Mr. Putin expressed Russia's dissatisfaction with the USA's dominant position in the world and complained that NATO was continuing its expansion to the East, despite alleged promises of the contrary. Mr. Putin has repeatedly called the collapse of the USSR «the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century» and in 2007, at the peak of Russia's economic recovery, he apparently saw his historical mission in restoring the empire. And he began to restore the USSR (or the Russian Empire?) using military and economic methods in spite of the UN, the collective West and against the will of the nations of the former USSR.

In August 2008, Russian troops already participated in Russo-Georgian War on the side of South Ossetia and Abkhazia against Georgia which ended with the emergence of these two self-proclaimed republics on Georgian territory.

A similar scenario was played out by Mr. Putin in Ukraine in 2014. First, the Crimean peninsula was captured and annexed, and then Russian troops supported for 10 years self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic in Ukrainian region Donbass.

In 2015, Mr. Putin authorized Russian military intervention in Syrian civil war, following a formal request by the Syrian government for military help.

And in February 2024, Mr. Putin launched a full-scale war against Ukraine under the false pretexts and seized another part of its southeastern territory.

In addition, Mr. Putin is justifiably suspected of many crimes in Russia and abroad: bombings of residential buildings, murders of journalists, businessmen, former KGB officers, political opponents, persecutions of the scientists, interference in elections in many countries, etc.

Wikipedia states: «Under Putin’s rule, the Russian political system has been transformed into an authoritarian dictatorship. His rule has been marked by endemic corruption and widespread human rights violations, including the imprisonment and suppression of political opponents, intimidation and censorship of independent media in Russia, and a lack of free and fair elections

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court has objectively assessed Mr. Putin’s activity as President of Russia by issuing an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin for his criminal responsibility for mass abduction of Ukrainian children during the war.

There is no need to try to understand Putin's Russia. It's international racketeer and enemy.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Putin's world view as a former KGB (now FSS or FSB in Russian) officer is very similar to the world view of a habitual criminal, since both characters are engaged in the same business — they extort the means of their subsistence from other people by force and deceit. The difference between those two is: the KGB officer is a little better educated, takes no risks and gets government awards for his extortions, while a habitual criminal can go to prison for the same things.
In Russia, FSS-FSB employees are called «bandits in uniform».

It is very difficult and unpleasant to deal with such people, because you will have to give them money, waste your time, nerves, help them in every possible way, and the more you give the more you owe. Spoiled children, grumpy spouses, D. Trump and stupid governments behave in a similar way, only they use deception more than violence.

The situation is even worse if you for some reason (due to your upbringing, kindness, illusions) decide that you really owe something or simply try to understand this person. Does he have the right for that? Yes, of course, if you need such democracy in this situation. This is exactly what has been happening with the collective West for a long time - normal people in normal countries are trying to “understand” Putin’s gangster Russia instead of declaring it as a sponsor of terrorism and expelling it from everywhere, including the UN.
Similarly, Europe has been trying to understand Mr. Trump since 2016.

The fact is that there is simply nothing to understand - everything is extremely clear. It’s just you and racketeers and they should be treated as enemies. The enemy wants to force you to do what he needs and you, unfortunately, cannot get away just with words. You need to use determination, will, strength and call things by their proper names.

The essence of the racketeers’ arguments is “you are at fault that I am famished...” They just need a reason to make you feel your “guilt”, and not the truth. If you persist in your rejection of the alien point of view imposed on you, they can use physical coercion, but only if they think you are weaker.

Racketeers only react to a physical strength, so “expressing concerns”, as well as any legitimate arguments, has no effect on Mr. Putin. He has his own vision of justice, history (the tolerant West calls this an “alternative point of view”), etc., and every time it’s disgusting to watch respected historians or lawyers trying to explain to him his errors. Guns and tanks are needed here, not talks and academic titles.

States are like people, each has its own mentality. But, just like people, there are countries with a similar mentality.

Mr. Putin doesn’t care under what pretext people will do what he wants. He was carried away a little further than an ordinary KGB officer due to abundance of opportunities for the president of a large country with nuclear weapons, so his racketeering has reached the international level and was the cause of various problems and concerns in many countries for a while, and, in particular, the brutal war in Ukraine.

I think that the Western big and strong, but peace-loving bull Ferdinand sooner or later will have to fight with Putin’s Russia or to surrender to Mr. Putin (it would be great if he died before, right?). This is how life differs from a cartoon.
There is also a variant - the US (like Russia, EU or NATO) may not live till a direct clash and will collapse due to many internal problems, but let’s leave that for the future. And for now...

The collective West has invented a fairy tale for itself: “We are all different, but we have the same principles and problems of existence,” i.e., we all have something in common. No.
For a deeper understanding of the difference, try to mentally unite North and South Korea into one state, for example. This is impossible, despite common language, geography and history — they have different mentalities. But Russia and North Korea see the world similarly, thus they understand each other very well and vote harmoniously at the United Nations.

The Western democratic liberal mentality encourages different countries to solve their internal and external problems mostly according to the international law, with the help of each other and taking into account each other's interests. This is basically relationship between the colleagues.
The Russian imperial gangster mentality pushes the Russian elite to survive at the expense of their people, and Putin's Russia as a whole solves its problems at the expense of other nations through economic blackmail, bribery, deception and violence, while talking about respect for the UN Charter. These are relationships of enemies that have long been cultivated in the domestic and foreign policy of the USSR-Russia.

Sir Winston Churchill understood well the “mystifying Russian soul”.

Sir Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of the Great Britain, has clearly seen the difference in the mentalities of Russia and the collective West. He seems to be the only person in the West who understood well “the mystifying Russian soul”. Mr. Churchill pointed out in his famous Fulton speech named «The Sinews of Peace» in 1946:

«I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. …

From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. …

If the Western Democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them. If however they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.

P.S. I would advise everyone who wants to understand the “mysterious Russian soul” (and especially the leaders of various democratic countries) to re-read Mr. Churchill’s Fulton speech in full. He correctly predicted the behavior of the USSR-Russia for 80 years ahead.

Since 1946, nothing has changed for the Russians, their imperial gangster mentality remained the same. The mentality of any nation is changing very slowly and extraordinary circumstances are needed for the changes. Such a sobering extraordinary event for Putin's Russia could be a military defeat of Russian army in Ukraine. However, “the Western Democracies became divided and falter in their duty”, missing the unique opportunity to defeat “a mystifying Russian soul” of Mr. Putin by the hands of Ukrainians.
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