Open Letter From a Cuban Priest to Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Church of the Savior in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow. (EFE/EPA/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Trinidad, Cuba, 2 April 2022 — The person who is writing to you is a Cuban Catholic priest, pastor of the parish of Paula, in the city of Trinidad. Since February 24 I have been waiting for the news that arrives from Ukraine and I do not stop praying for that long-suffering people, and for their own country, for Russia, and for the presidents of both countries and their governments. I continually ask for the cessation of hostilities, for the return of peace to that region and to the world. I feel my heart oppressed by the scenes of destruction that I see (on the internet, because the press in my country hardly reflects what is happening in Ukraine) and by the stories of the innocent victims of this genocidal and unjust war that you have started in an unilateral manner.

Since the war began, an Aesop fable that I learned in Latin when I was a child has come to mind. You Russians and we Cubans share a common heritage that is rooted in the Christian faith and Hellenistic-Roman culture, which gave rise to Western Christian civilization and Eastern Christian civilization, of which Russia is a part, as are other Slavic peoples. There is a common substrate that feeds us spiritually.

Aesop’s fable told of a wolf drinking water on the riverbank, near a sheep. The wolf began to accuse the sheep for making the water he was drinking dirty. The sheep respectfully replied: “Mr. Wolf, I’m downstream, and you’re upstream. I can’t dirty your water.” But the wolf began to insult the sheep, who dared to reply: “Sheep, you have challenged me and I cannot forgive you for that.” The sheep tried to explain that she did not want to offend the wolf. It was no use. The end of the story is that the wolf ate the sheep.

When I listen to your speeches and see the events of the last few weeks, Aesop’s fable comes to mind. And you, Mr. President, are for me the wolf that has provoked all this, to eat the sheep. The script was written in advance.

You justified your attack on Ukraine based on the idea of ​​a future armed intervention that was being hatched in Ukraine with the support of NATO. But the only one who was prepared for war, with vastly superior armies and weapons, was you. And the one who repeatedly intervened in the internal politics of Ukraine was you. In truth, it is not hidden from me that the European Union, or rather the United Nations, made a fatal mistake, and that was to allow Russia in 2014, against all rights and for no reason, with manu militari to annex Crimea and, due to the handling of a disloyal and rapacious policy, you intervened in the internal affairs of Ukraine, encouraging separatism in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, a treacherous plan concocted by you, at the cost of international justice and the peace of a nation, in addition to the death, in the last eight years, of 14,000 human beings.

Mr. President, when I try to analyze your statements and compare them with your behavior, I see nothing but incoherence, duplicity and ill will. An old Castilian proverb says “the lie has short legs.” Time and time again you have ended up doing what you previously said you were not going to do. You have lied without shame, accusing others of the crimes you were planning to commit.  You accused Ukraine of arming itself for the war but it was you who raised and equipped an army and launched it against a country much smaller and poorer than Russia.

You accused NATO and Europe of threatening Russia and having bad intentions against your country, and they could not have shown more resistance and restraint against your invasion and war against Ukraine. It was you, more recently, who ordered Russian nuclear weapons put on alert. The other countries have shown much greater will for peace and no desire to begin the tortuous and unpredictable path of war.

In the 20th century, humanity faced a situation similar to the current one: when a man named Adolf Hitler, invested with a conscience of messianic superiority, launched his country and his people into a terrible and disastrous war. Hitler accused the whole world of wanting to harm his country and began to claim the territories of other nations as his own: thus he annexed Austria (the Anschluss, in March 1938) and the Sudetenland (in September 1938). Later, he occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia (in March 1939). On September 1, 1939, the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of World War II.

In you, as in Hitler, I find a similar contempt for international law, the same contempt for human life, the use of lies as a weapon against the opponent. But also, the resource of the brutal and unfair attack to defend the threatened security of your country. But as before in Germany, this has been the best way to plunge your country into chaos and universal rejection, and you are responsible for this spiral of nonsense that will drag Russia into the abyss. Chechnya (1999), Georgia (2008), Crimea and Donbas (2014) are the different stations of a diabolical Way of the Cross.

But don’t forget, President, that the hubris (excessive arrogance) of blind power and pride sows destruction and death. Never forget that God confounds the proud. “He brings down the powerful from their thrones and exalts the humble with good things and sends the rich away empty, as the Blessed Virgin Mary said in the Magnificat.

God is on the side of the poor, of the meek of heart, of the peaceful, of those who suffer for defending justice, because they are hungry and thirsty for it. You started this ill-fated war thinking of an early victory. You did not even imagine the courage of the Ukrainian people. You thought that the countries of Europe would never show solidarity with the Ukrainian people, softened by their comfort and prosperity and afraid of putting their money at risk. You were wrong, Mr Putin.

And what a surprise, Mr. Putin, you got with the Kiev clown, with Mister Bean from Ukraine, with that President Zelensky whom you accused of being a Nazi even though he is Jewish and lost part of his family in the Holocaust. Who is the Nazi in this story, Mr Putin? That man you disparaged has become one of the most listened to, respected and revered politicians in the world. His wisdom, bravery and courage are an inspiration to men of goodwill all over the world. How great is God! “The Lord raises the helpless from the dust and lifts the poor from the trash.”

They say that some of your advisers are under arrest, accused of not having warned you of what could happen (and in fact it is happening). Mr. Putin, hasn’t more than twenty years at the top of the dome of power taught you that subordinates tell their führers what they want to hear? The spiral of delirium is born from not wanting to hear anything other than what we like, and isolates the leader, first from his people and then from reality.

Didn’t you know, Mr. Putin, that in the early 1930s Stalin was responsible for the death of between seven and ten million Ukrainians, in his eagerness to collectivize the agriculture of that republic? Hitler had not yet opened the first concentration camp and the Russian communists had already massacred that country and banned the Ukrainian language, in truth, a double genocide difficult for a people to forget.

I imagine that there is no Ukrainian family that has not lost a relative in that dirty war, where the weapons were in the hands of the Red Army faced the famished bodies of the starving Ukrainians. That explains the fierce resistance that this people is making to the Russian invasion. In the KGB they didn’t teach you history, Mr Putin? How could you think and make your soldiers think that the Ukrainian people were going to receive them with roses in their hands? My God, Mr. Putin!

According to the news, you are a man of belief, there is even talk of your friendly relationship with Patriarch Kirill. How can you justify from your faith the holocaust of an entire people and the massive violation of human rights? I cannot forget the example of the bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose, when he prevented the emperor Theodosius from entering the cathedral to participate in divine worship because he had massacred the inhabitants of Corinth, destroying the city with them inside. Stop the violence, President Putin. Every day that passes, the blood shed by the Ukrainian people and Russian soldiers weighs heavily on you. Enough of war!

Despite the disinformation and ignorance in which the Russian people live due to the submission of the media to the established power, there are thousands of people who have dared to protest, there are journalists in their country who have allowed themselves to dissent. They have endangered their freedom and their survival: these are the ones you should listen to. Not to the small group of those who have led you and Russia to this impasse. But if you do not listen to the voice of conscience, if you are not capable of turning back, in the end you will have achieved universal vilification for yourself and for Russia, to end up becoming the junior partner of the Chinese empire or being relegated to the role that North Korea’s ruler for life sadly plays today: a neighborhood bully, yes, with pockets full of nuclear weapons and with a people struggling in misery afflicted by endemic hunger. Someone one might fear, but no decent person will ever respect.

And believe me, Mr Putin, the most intelligent Russians, the best prepared, those who got used to savoring the independence that comes from communicating and traveling without restrictions and breathing the air of freedom; they will not want to return to the totalitarian gag that you are already imposing on the country. Mr. Putin, those Russians, when they realize that they cannot vote with their hands, they will vote with their feet: they will leave “their” Russia, which will no longer be theirs. I know what I’m talking about

I assure you that I am praying for you and your people, whom I admire, because despite long years of religious persecution in Soviet times, you kept your faith in Christ and your deep piety to the Mother of God. That is “Holy Russia,” which has produced great saints, profound mystics, magnificent writers, famous musicians and respected scientists who today form part of the common heritage of all humanity. Therein lies the true greatness of a country, Mr. Putin, in its spirituality: not in political power or military force, especially when these are used to harm others.

Mr. Putin, may God have mercy on you, on us and on the whole world!


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