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My Mother-in-Law Believes Putin on the War in Ukraine

Who says you can't fool some of the people all of the time? Or is that all of the people all of the time?

BTW, nobody dumps on mother in laws like Jackie Gleason...he's the GOAT.

My Mother-in-Law Believes Putin on the War in Ukraine

She thinks the invasion is justified. They said so on Russian state TV.

By Paul Podolsky

May 26, 2022 6:23 pm ET

“America is out to destroy us,” said Maria, my 92-year-old mother-in-law. She was in her Moscow kitchen. I was in Connecticut.

Maria survived Stalin, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the loss of two children and an alcoholic, abusive husband. I love her, but she is a tragic example of how vulnerable human beings can be to propaganda.

I moved to Russia as a new college graduate in 1991. I was eager to master the language, become a foreign correspondent and better understand our Cold War enemy. What was intended to be a six-month jaunt turned into marriage and children. It also tied me to Maria.

We speak frequently because my wife loathes Vladimir Putin. She can’t have a conversation with her mother without it shifting into open conflict. Maria treats me with a degree of restraint Russians sometimes afford foreigners. I ask about the weather. Most days Maria is glued to Russian state TV, her exclusive source of information.

“Kids are dying,” I said. “Russian kids, younger than your grandson.”

“That’s war,” she said, flatly.

“If 50,000 die, will your opinion change?”

Vesti, Russia’s flagship news program, is full of bizarre claims. Maria isn’t educated and the news is slick. The deeper Russia is submerged in lies, the more Maria lashes out at those who speak the truth—even family. Maria’s older sister, Zhenya, lives in Ukraine.

“Maria, they are shooting us,” Zhenya recently told Maria. This is particularly shocking given that Zhenya’s deceased husband was a career Soviet military officer.

“They should,” Maria replied.

Propaganda outweighs actual experience, like Stalinism or what Maria herself saw and felt when she visited the U.S. She came when I was in graduate school in the mid-1990s. I took her shopping at a Star Market in suburban Boston. Her eyes widened at shelves laden with fresh vegetables and fruit during winter. While our graduate school student life was lean by American standards, it was over-the-top luxury by Soviet standards.

“They lied to us,” she said, angrily.

“Who?” I asked.

“They,” she said, nodding her head.

“The Kremlin?”

She nodded. On Soviet TV, the U.S. was portrayed as a wasteland of AIDS, homelessness and civil unrest, similar to how it is portrayed today.

Now that moment of self-reflection is forgotten. The sanctions confirm to her what she is being told, which is that the “special military operation” in Ukraine isn’t about a sovereign state defending itself against unprovoked aggression, but instead that Ukraine is a puppet being directed by the evil U.S. If Zhenya, my wife and I can’t convince Maria she is being fed lies then I suspect nothing can.

“We will win,” she said to me, “definitely.”

The only thing that will shift this thinking is defeat, unambiguous total defeat. Mr. Putin doesn’t exist in a vacuum, he reflects a broad swath of people like Maria.

Mr. Podolsky is author of “Raising a Thief” and the Things I Didn’t Learn in School newsletter.

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