Robert Važan

Advice to Russian developers

If you are a Russian developer or other IT worker, this article is for you. You are probably weighing your options in the aftermath of Russian invasion in Ukraine. Of all the options you have, the worst one is to just sit there and do nothing. Let me show you my angle and persuade you to take action to help yourself and others.

Let me first summarize the brutal situation. Putin, the self-proclaimed czar and Stalin fanboy, has finally gone nuts and attacked the West. Yes, the West, not Ukraine. The war is widely viewed as our war for freedom across the West and especially in eastern Europe. There will be no shortage of support for Ukraine. Conversely, there will be no end to contempt and spite towards Russia and, what's particularly concerning to you, towards Russians.

Kremlin troll does not care, especially not about you. Russia is no longer an oil kleptocracy. The political system Putin has built in Russia is most accurately described as fascism (or rashism). Go ahead, read Wikipedia's article on fascism and count similarities. Dictatorship, unbounded state power, propaganda, censorship, anti-liberalism, nationalism, imperialism, revanchism, supremacism, contempt for individuality, calls for national rejuvenation, glorification of nation's history, policy of cultural and economic isolation. And now expansionist war. Today's Russia is a thoroughly fascist state. Russian Zee is the new swastika. Putin has been nicknamed Putler. The few remaining open fans of Russia in the West are fascists and neo-Nazis. This is why the threat of sanctions did not work. Kleptocracy would have backed off. Fascist state will march ahead.

Russian fascism shows in the war. No, it's not like in WWII. It's worse. Russians are turning entire towns into concentration camps where civilians are trapped, starved, living in medieval conditions, and coerced into slave labor. Significant portion of people trapped in occupied territory is subjected to brutal violence, torture, rape, deportation, or execution. War crimes are counted in the thousands. Mass graves are everywhere. Propaganda is paving way for genocide.

Some people like to differentiate between Russians and Russian government, but let's not kid ourselves. Most Russians know what's going on and they support it. Willingly or not, you support it with your taxes and by being part of the economy. Being Russian citizen in 2022 inevitably means being part of fascist movement and having blood on your hands.

As a developer, you are probably part of the anti-war minority. If you are reading this, you know better than to spread Russian propaganda on GitHub or to try to hack Western targets. But you are thinking you cannot do anything about the war, right? And why is that, exactly? Because Russian law and police state prevent you from doing anything? Don't get me laughing. You can just travel abroad where Russian law does not apply and you can do whatever you want. You can stop funding the war with your taxes and start funding democracy and non-profits of your choice. You can see and tell the truth. You can protest and sign petitions. You can pick your phone and tell people on the other side of the border what you really think. You can aid Ukrainian refugees. You can even fund or join Ukrainian defense. Yes, many Russians fight for Ukraine, although developers usually have better ways to help. All that with impunity. Russian law is toothless everywhere except in Russia. Sure, returning to Russia might turn out to be dangerous, but why would you return?

New Iron Curtain is emerging. West cuts ties as part of sanctions. Russian government idiotically sanctions itself. Companies are divesting to save their PR or to cut losses. Russian government blocks websites left and right (which is why some links in this article will not work). Merely telling the truth is a crime. Russian planes are grounded. Ships cannot enter Western ports. Activists are blocking transport of goods on borders. Gas and oil flow is dwindling and it will eventually halt. Cascading effects scare away even "ethically challenged" businesses. Russian government responds by tightening border and trade controls. You are already prohibited from taking foreign currency with you when you leave the country. How long before you cannot leave at all? People are already being drafted. Once you are drafted, escape becomes bloody dangerous.

So here's my advice: Leave. Leave now and don't look back.

If you stay, you are screwed, economically and culturally. You will become part of the bloody war machine. Your work will fund the oppressive state. Forget about counteracting it with activism. You will be coerced to parrot state propaganda and coopted in oppression of other citizens. Your children will be brainwashed beyond recognition. They will join the state in its crimes. They will reject you and perhaps even testify against you. Yes, reporting relatives to police for political crimes is already a thing in Russia.

All that while your ability to generate income diminishes. How are you going to do your work without Western cloud services and developer ecosystem? Russia has effectively legalized IP piracy, but you cannot pirate support, cloud services, and hardware. West will likely retaliate by declaring open season on Russian IP. Good luck selling licenses to the Chinese. Even if you can technically sell, trade restrictions and boycotts of Russian software will cripple your business. Recession in Russia will limit domestic spending on software.

You might be thinking you do not matter. That's what they tell you to keep you docile. In reality, as an IT worker, you are a walking treasure. You are likely way above average in intelligence and education. Emigration means you carry your brain, a valuable natural resource and sizable capital investment, to the other side of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Russians are already doing the same. If this process continues, it can severely cripple Russian military and halt the war, perhaps even reverse it. Even if you don't work for the military, you will create a vacancy that will pull in someone who would have otherwise worked for the military. General developer scarcity will slow down development of sophisticated weapons and increase their cost. It will also draw government attention to domestic issues, sidelining military.

Maybe you are thinking you could wait this out. Maybe Putin will fall after all? A democratic revolution in Russia, perhaps? Don't hold your breath. Russia is a consolidated autocracy. Repressive apparatus of the state is loyal and resourceful. Most people believe the propaganda. But most importantly, Putin has committed the entire Russian nation to this war. Even if Putin falls, there will be no easy way for Russia to get out of this. Making amends with Ukraine and the West will be expensive and unpopular. This is what the word commitment means. Why endure oppression and poverty under Putin and then contribute to war reparations when you can just leave now and prosper in the West?

So how do you actually go about it? If you are alone, just go. Leave everything behind. If you have kids, get your spouse to agree on shared plan for the future. Then pack and leave. Don't worry about relatives and friends who are left behind. They chose their destiny. You choose yours. Yes, crossing the border is complicated and you will be most likely forced to leave some of your money and assets behind, but that's one more reason to leave now as it will only get harder later. Others have already taken this path, so read their stories to be prepared, but don't get paralysis by analysis, because time is of essence. If you can get work visas, use them. There are countries where you can travel without visas. Political asylum is also an option if you can demonstrate persecution, but AFAIK you cannot currently request it just because you are Russian.

Some people opt to join protests inside Russia. This is laudable but dangerous, because you might be prohibited from leaving Russia for a year or longer as part of your sentence. Leaving is more important than protesting. I don't recommend sabotage either. Firstly, you are unlikely to be in position to damage anything important. Secondly, botched sabotage can get you jailed or killed. If you are into it anyway, there are instructions on the Internet on how to subtly sabotage organizations, software, IT systems, and hardware while maintaining plausible deniability. It is usually not worth the extra time you spend in Russia though. Getting out quickly is more important and much safer for you.

If your destination is Europe, steer clear of half-assed "no to war" statements, which are often made by Russians who think peace is a matter of Ukrainian surrender. These Russians conveniently forget that the war is genocidal, so occupation is worse than fighting. Europeans are growing allergic to such two-faced language. Be openly, ferociously, and unambiguously anti-Putin and you will be accepted. Get a job. That should be easy for developers. Then start working your way through citizenship application process.