Putin apologists like Roger Waters need to condemn Russia
Earlier last month, I was sitting in a bomb shelter in Kyiv with dozens of civilians as we were pounded by missiles. Putin intended his bombs to do more than punish. He wanted them to destroy the power grids and heating facilities that keep Ukraine warm during the nation’s brutal winters.
I direct a war crimes unit in Ukraine called The Reckoning Project. Our job is to gather human testimonies during wartime which we then verify, archive and build into cases for future war crimes tribunals. It matters to be on the right side of history — never more so than when it comes to the war in Ukraine.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the choice is exceptionally clear because the situation is exceptionally clear: Vladimir Putin is targeting civilians. He has attacked women and children trapped in train stations; apartment buildings filled with families; shopping malls, hospitals, schools.
For once, most countries (and people) around the world have taken a strong and united stance against Putin. But in both politics and pop culture, dissenters abound.
Loudest among them is former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who — along with crafting some of rock’s most brilliant music — has backed not one, but two, murderous dictators: Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Back in 2019, Waters was vilified for attacking the Western-backed White Helmets brigades who rescued civilians throughout Syria who were hit by Assad’s forces. This year, in August, he called Joe Biden a “war criminal” for “fueling the fire in the Ukraine.” One month later, he posted an open letter on Facebook to Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, blaming her husband for stoking tensions in his country by caving to the “forces of extreme nationalism that had lurked, malevolent, in the shadows, [and] have, since then, ruled the Ukraine.” And just last month, he admitted to Rolling Stone that he’s on “a Ukrainian kill list.”
Then there’s rabid anti-Western theorist Noam Chomsky. In August, he was quoted at a book festival in Edinburgh as saying we should give Russia “the benefit of the doubt” because “the fact of the matter is, we do not know, within a precision, what Putin’s goals were” for invading Ukraine. His generosity towards Russia, while abhorrent, is classic Marxism. Anything involving NATO, the US or the European Union is automatically reminiscent of Western attempts at regime change, no matter how far from the truth.
Of course, Putin’s allies in China, Syria and Iran still publicly back his murderous crusade. But the Russian president’s political support goes far beyond these usual suspects.
On the left, there’s former Bolivian President Evo Morales — a populist progressive who still holds sway in Latin America — who, in March, made clear that he is on Putin’s side and called for “international mobilization” of troops against Nato. Much of Africa, where there is a tradition of backing Russia dating back to the Soviet era, also continues to embrace the Russian strongman. In March, South Africa abstained from a UN vote to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Eritrea straight-up voted against the denouncement.
Back in March, Donald Trump praised Putin’s decision to put 200,000 soldiers on the Russian border with Ukraine as “great negotiation” skills, while Hungary’s authoritarian leader Victor Orban has been widely criticized for affecting a “neutral” stance since the Russian invasion.
All sides are guilty of crimes during wartime — but Putin’s crimes in Ukraine far outweigh the other side. And to back Vladimir Putin and his gruesome playbook in any way is an enormous mistake. Particularly as the threat of nuclear strikes seems to increase on a daily basis.
As I sat in a Kyiv air raid shelter waiting for more missiles to fall, I wished I could gather all of Putin’s supporters there along with me — even if just for an hour. I’d like to see if their conspiracy theories, loathing of humanitarian intervention and hatred of all things Western would hold up under fire (I doubt it would). Most of all, I want to stress to them the possibility of a nuclear winter, which would forever alter world peace and security.
This is certainly not music to anyone’s ears — and a tune I wish folks like Roger Waters would start playing.
Janine di Giovanni is the Executive Director of The Reckoning Project: Ukraine Testifies. She has more than 30 years’ experience working in war zones, and has written nine books. She is a Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins SNF Agora Institute.