Who’s at War?

“To get people out of their misery, out of this genocide, that is the main reason, the motive and purpose of the military operation that we began in Donbas and Ukraine.”

—Vladimir Putin

Hancock Lumber has a long-standing customer from Pakistan. Each year we ship his company dozens of containers loaded with eastern white pine. Occasionally, the owner of the company, Mr. Ali, visits us in Maine. I recall sitting with Mr. Ali over dinner one night at the Sunday River ski resort as geopolitics came to the forefront of our conversation.

“Our people love America, and we love Americans,” Mr. Ali said. “It’s your government we don’t like.”

That distinction between the people of a country and the government of that same country had never occurred to me in quite that way before.

Over ten years later, in 2017, I traveled to Ukraine while doing research for my second book, The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey into the Business of Shared Leadership.

Upon arrival at the airport outside of Kyiv, we were met by our driver. Yuri was dressed in a black suit. His hair was also black, but graying, his hands weathered and worn but still strong.

“Bad times between Russia and Ukraine, bad times,” Yuri said, shaking his head as we drove across the Dnieper River. On the far bank, the historic yet modern city of Kyiv, home to 3.5 million people, was coming into view.

“Bad times indeed,” Yuri continued. “But it is not the Russian and Ukrainian people who have caused the problems. Bad times caused by the oligarchs, led by Putin. There is no real war between the Ukrainian people and the Russian people. For long time the Ukrainian people and Russian people have lived side by side, like brothers.”

Yuri paused for a moment to navigate a lane change. The traffic intensified as we drove toward the city center.

“Putin is not president of Russia,” Yuri added. “Putin is oligarch from Russia.”

His slightly broken English only enhanced his ability to communicate clearly, as his statements were short and to the point, using only the critical words.

One reads in the paper today that Russia and Ukraine are at war, but this is misleading. President Putin and his inner political circle have made a war, invaded a country, and needlessly ended tens of thousands of lives. Those in Russian uniforms have been ordered to fight. Those in Ukrainian uniforms are defending their homeland.

But this is not the Russian and Ukrainian people at war. If that were the case, the fighting would be hand-to-hand, block-to-block, across most every city and village in Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainians and Russians live side by side. The people are not the instigators of this war, and that distinction is important.

The Russian people and their culture are amazing. The Ukrainian people and their culture are also amazing. This is a war caused by a few but experienced by many.

Wherever power is consolidated, danger lurks.

People rarely wage war; leaders do.

“The more we can be in a relationship with those who might seem strange to us, the more we can feel like we’re neighbors and all members of the human family.”

—Mr. Rogers