A Deep Dive into Russophobia: Promoting Punishment Without Prejudice

Zainab Rentia, News Editor

A decline in sales. Cities devastated. Hateful messages. Innocent civilians murdered. Distraught athletes. Homes obliterated. These are all the factors one must consider when making the difficult moral calculations on how to treat Russians during the Russia Ukraine conflict.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivering his State of the Commonwealth address, where he urged businesses to sever ties with Russia. Photo courtesy of Governor Youngkin’s Instagram account (@glennyoungkin).

As Putin continues his invasion of Ukraine, officials around the world are condemning these attacks through mass cultural boycotts, banning Russian participation in events, and cutting ties with Russian establishments.
The Paralympic Games, FIFA World Cup, and the popular songwriting competition Eurovision have all banned Russian participants. Meanwhile, in the United States, stores have halted the sale of Russian products such as its vodka, and businesses such as Starbucks and Coca-Cola have closed their doors to the public in Russian branches. Even the International Cat Federation is not allowing any cat owned by a Russian resident to take part in its international competitions and will exclude Russian felines from its pedigree books. Not even local Russians are exempt from such actions. Governor Youngkin recently released a statement announcing he was terminating Virginia’s relationship with Russian entities.

These decisions have prompted the question: how do we draw the line between upholding democracy and discrimination?

Many Americans, in their campaign to hold Putin responsible for his crimes, have misidentified the guilty party in this conflict. They have equated being Russian with culpability and iniquity. However, Russians are not the villains in this crisis. In fact, many, especially the younger generation, are one of its fiercest critics, putting their own safety at risk to condemn Putin for his actions. Thousands of Russians have been arrested for protesting while even more have signed countless petitions and letters expressing their wish to end the military operations conducted against Ukraine, one of which has gained over a million signatures. This is especially praiseworthy considering Putin harshly punishes dissidents, sometimes even resorting to murder.

Therefore, only Putin and those who support him should be shunned. Condemning a ruthless tyrant who lays waste to cities and murders innocent people is our moral duty. Blaming the people who have no control over the maniac they have the misfortune of calling their president, however, is not.

Graphic by Vy Nguyen.

Furthermore, punishing the people leads to the dangerous rise of Russophobia. Expelling Russian students from universities as a Congressman has demanded is not righteous but reprehensible, and promotes segregation. There are already many reports of a rise in discriminatory attacks, both physical and verbal, and refusals of service to people of Russian descent in America. The manager of the local Russian House Restaurant spoke to me about the hateful messages he has been receiving and the decline in sales at his restaurant.

“I’ve been getting really nasty calls… and it’s very upsetting,” he said.

This is similar to the Islamophobia that rose after 9/11. With many labeling them as the enemy, Muslims became inextricably linked to extremist behavior that incited discriminatory attacks against them. By associating Muslims with terrorism, it led to a 500 percent increase in hate crimes from 2000 to 2009. This toxic culture still persists today, and serves as a cautionary tale that we must learn from and apply to the current crisis to avoid a similar fate for Russians.

Although it is wrong to punish the people, Putin must be censured. A necessary step in doing so is banning Russian participation in international events such as sports competitions as the Paralympic and FIFA World Cup officials have done. Although it may seem harsh, by competing on behalf of Russia they ultimately serve as representatives of their country. Athletes allow Putin to maintain his image, serving as a civilized cover for his barbaric actions. Therefore, we cannot view games as separate from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Viewers should not be able to flip channels and shake our heads at the image of Russians devastating cities on one and cheer as they make a basket in another. We must express our disapproval through all media.

This ostracization ensures the world knows America does not support Putin’s dastardly attack and is instead siding with Ukraine. Letting them continue to play for Russian glory would suggest unconcern, or even approval of Putin’s actions. Isolating Russia also encourages more protest against Putin by the Russian people whose tolerance for this war would lessen as this cultural, like the economic, boycott continues.

In times of injustice, it is important to uphold democracy and integrity by punishing the perpetrators of the atrocities, not promote prejudice and hate.