The internet has brought the war into every home. Thanks to live broadcasts, you are now a witness to and participant in the street battles in Kiev, the rallies in Crimea, and the arrests in Moscow.
As I write these words, a red-headed 18-year-old girl unfurls her banner -- "No to war" -- on Manezh Square near the Kremlin. A policeman walks up to her with a megaphone: "Disperse! Your action is unsanctioned." She shouts back: "This war of yours is unsanctioned!"
The criminals in power have pulled off an unforgivable and base trick. They have set Russians and Ukrainians against one another, and made language not a means of understanding but a weapon of hate.
We truly are brother nations. My mother is Ukrainian, and my father is Russian. There are millions of such mixed families in both Ukraine and Russia. Where are you going to draw the line between one and the other? How are you going to cut the ties that bind?
How are we going to divide up Gogol? Is he a Russian or a Ukrainian classic? We share him. We share our pride in him.
How are we going to divide up our shared shame and our shared grief -- our appalling history? The annihilation of the peasantry in Russia and the Holodomor in Ukraine? There were Russians and Ukrainians among the victims and executioners. We have common enemies: ourselves.
Our terrible common past has a death grip on both nations and is not letting us move into the future.
The Maidan protests were stunning for the daring and courage of the people who came out on the square "for our freedom and yours." Most striking of all was the solidarity. I was gripped by admiration and envy. Here the Ukrainians were able to rise up and resist; they were not about to be brought to their knees.
The Putin TV anchors used their propaganda news in every possible way to create an image of Maidan's defender as the Ukrainian bumpkin from the joke: crafty, greedy, stupid, and prepared to sell himself to the devil or the west; it didn't matter which, just so he'd have his lard. A country with state television of that calibre should die of shame.
This kind of condescending attitude toward Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language has been accepted in Russia from time immemorial. The "younger brother" was loved for his cheerfulness, humour, and self-deprecation, but he remained the younger brother, and that meant he had to obey his older brother, learn from him, and try to be like him. The last few months have changed the course of history and revealed entirely different Ukrainians to Russians. The "younger brother" has turned out to be more mature than the older. Ukrainians were able to tell their embezzling government, "Gang, get out!" But we weren't. Naturally, I'm envious.
Take a symbol as simple as the national anthem. They have an anthem that unites generations; we don't even have an anthem. At the Olympics they performed the Stalin "anthem" -- an anthem that unites generations of dictators and slaves -- for the whole world.
The democratic revolution in Ukraine began with a fight over symbols; a wave of "Lenin takedowns" ran through the country's squares. But in Russia and the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine, the Lenins remained standing both on the squares and in people's minds. Every nation is a hostage to its symbols. In Russia, the city of St Petersburg is still in Leningradskaya Oblast (Province), and the high-speed Sapsan train takes you to the city of Dzerzhinsk, which still bears the name of the country's chief executioner. These kinds of signs surround people; this is their life.
Ukrainians began to destroy the symbols of our humiliating shared past, but the Russians in Ukraine, unfortunately, have risen to those symbols' defence.
Maidan Square, the Square of Independence -- independence from Russia -- was transformed into a Euromaidan. People were brought out on the streets not by their hatred for Russia but by their hatred for their own rulers, who had been raping the country and its populace -- regardless of language -- to their hearts' content. Kievans came out to rid themselves of a criminal state. This impulse does not lead to revolution. This is a movement not toward violence but towards a civilised order, towards "Europe".
For Ukrainians, "Europe" is not the actual European Union with its many problems but the myth of a life governed by the rule of law, not gangster rules. Europe is a synonym for the hope of a life in a civilised Ukraine.
The knockout punch to Yanukovych's regime had nothing to do with the peace protests. The only language gangsters understand is the language of force. The nationalist movement donned peaceful democratic protest like a boxing glove. The new state's first law, unfortunately, was a law disaffirming Russian as a national language and dividing the Ukrainian west from the country's Russian-speaking east even more deeply. For the former, the heroes are the "heavenly hundred" [protestors who died in the street violence]; for the latter, the Berkut [secret police].
The population in eastern Ukraine and Crimea can be understood as well. People have been frightened by "Ukrainisation." Imagine a similar situation in Switzerland: the German-speaking majority in the parliament in Bern passing a law forbidding the French language in the Romandie region.
The Olympics' number one "winner" instantly took advantage of ordinary people's confusion in this difficult time. "The homeland must defend its children!" No matter what its ideology -- orthodoxy, communism, orthodoxy again -- the regime has always manipulated the people through patriotism. The trick has come off without a hitch before and continues to do so. These last few weeks, TV propaganda has thoroughly prepared Russians to "defend the homeland" in Crimea and eastern Ukraine from Ukrainian fascist-occupiers.
War -- whether hot or cold -- is any regime's means of existence. Enemies are any dictatorship's bread and butter. Victories prolong an empire's existence; defeats bring on its collapse. Stalin's triumph only strengthened the gulag state; the Afghan disaster hastened the Soviet Union's demise.
Should I wish my fatherland victory or defeat? A seemingly strange question for someone who loves his homeland turns out not to be strange at all if for centuries this homeland has not let its own people or strangers live. In the nation's consciousness there is no clear idea of where the fatherland ends and the regime begins, to such an extent has everything knitted together. Patriotism is the holy Russian cow chewing its cud of human rights and respect for the individual.
My schoolfriend died in Afghanistan. He too was told he was defending his homeland. We would go to see his parents. Each time his mother would begin to cry. "What homeland? What homeland?" What could we say?
I remember when the war began in Chechnya, a Russian soldier, just a boy, said on one news report, "I'm here defending my homeland."
Now they want both Russian and Ukrainian boys to "defend their homeland" from each other.
A quarter-century has passed since the end of the Afghan adventure. The consequence of that war was the collapse of the Soviet empire. Right now we are seeing that same suicidal scenario being repeated. Clearly, there is a law of a regime's natural death: a dictatorship lives by its lie about its enemies and dies because it starts believing its own lie.
The ordinary people in Ukraine and in the Crimea who are waving the Russian tricolor and shouting "Russia!" with tears in their eyes are to be pitied. As has happened so many times in history, they are being misused and misled. Their path to Russia is the road to a police state.
The result of this adventure has been a new "cold war," the suppression of any and all civil and social protests in Russia, and the imposition of a chauvinist psychosis. Russia can look forward to international isolation, the people's impoverishment, and repression. In 2008 the regime quarrelled with Georgia, thereby destroying centuries of neighbourly relations between our peoples.
These relations between our countries were spoiled for a long time to come. Now the same thing is happening with Ukraine.
The biggest losers are the inhabitants of Crimea. Their fervour over their historic "liberation" from the Ukrainian "fascists" will pass quickly as sober reality sets in. After Abkhazia's "liberation", its once flourishing Black Sea resorts were totally deserted. The same scenario now awaits "liberated" Crimea. The vast resort will turn into a grey hole no one from Ukraine or Russia will visit.
The inhabitants of the peninsula, which survives primarily off summer tourism, can expect ruin. By raising the tricolor, people lost what they had. Added to this is the problem of the Crimean Tatars, who remember full well the mass deportation to Siberia and want nothing to do with Russia. In the east of Ukraine, where Russians are mixed in with Ukrainians, true inter-ethnic war is not far off; the situation there is as confused as Bosnia in the 1990s. How is a "nationalist" different from a "victim of nationalism?"
Unending, smouldering conflict on the border is a regime dream that is coming true before our eyes. Undeclared war with Ukraine finally gives it cause to crush independent civil society in Russia and establish a lethal police order. Militarism, the hunt for domestic enemies, the struggle against "traitors," and the mass propaganda of patriotism -- all this is already our present.
Scoundrels and fools have speculated for too long on love for the fatherland. And now, once again, we've all been taken hostage -- both Ukrainians and Russians. Once again we are going to suffer together -- two fraternal nations. And we are going to have to fight for our future together.
That girl on Manezh Square was arrested. The policemen snatched her banner, overpowered her, and led her away.
After Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia, the poet Aleksandr Galich wrote, "Citizens! The fatherland is in danger! Our tanks are on foreign soil!" That redheaded girl is a patriot of her country.
Those who arrested her, who voted unanimously in parliament for war, and who are giving and carrying out criminal orders -- with all their clubs and tanks -- are the traitors.
• This article was first published by Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It was translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz