Russian fury erupts as Putin bombs Ukraine – POLITICO
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MOSCOW — On Tuesday, Communist parliamentarian Mikhail Matveyev voted in favor of a proposal paving the way for a Russian “peacekeeping” mission in eastern Ukraine.
Only four days later, he turned around and said “No” – no to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“The war must be stopped immediately. When I voted for the recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, I voted for peace, not for war, ”he wrote on social media on Saturday, a reference to the still thin pretext which Russian President Vladimir Putin used to launch an all-out war against his neighbour.
Matveyev had voted to recognize the independence of the breakaway regions, he claimed, just to protect the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. “For Russia to act as a shield so that it does not bomb Donbass,” he said, “not for Kyiv to be bombed.”
Yet, that is exactly what happened.
In today’s Russia, the State Duma exists less to hold the Kremlin to account and more to act as a conduit for decisions made from above while maintaining a semblance of democracy for the outside world.
For a member of the Duma to publicly backtrack and criticize an important decision in this way is highly unusual – especially when that decision comes directly from Vladimir Putin‘s office.
But Matveyev’s post hasn’t been the only surprise in recent days.
Even as the Kremlin has flaunted the supposed political consensus around its “special military operation” to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine, Russian civil society is showing the flaws. Since last week, spontaneous protests have taken place in dozens of cities across Russia — from the north, to the Urals, to Siberia — attended by thousands of outraged Russians.
While this is only a fraction of Russia’s 140 million people, the turnout is nonetheless significant given the context — “after a year in which protests against the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny have been crushed by violence, and the opposition was either imprisoned or forced out of the country, completely demoralizing any opposition,” said political analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov.
The repression had pushed Russia’s psychological threshold to protest ever higher, to an almost impossible height.
That is, until Russia goes to war with Ukraine.
“The revulsion I feel is so strong, I feel like a war has been declared against me personally,” said Alexander, a 34-year-old Muscovite who, like many Russians, has Ukrainian roots and has signed a petition against the war.
“What is happening now is like my worst childhood nightmare,” added a 35-year-old academic who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely and who attended an anti-war protest in St Petersburg on February 24. , Putin announced in a morning address that he saw “no other choice” but to enter Ukraine.
She remembers the words of a song from her youth about the German bombardment of Kiev in 1941: “Kiev was bombed, we were told it was the start of the war.
“We always thought that something like this could never happen again,” she said. “But now, when I look up at the blue sky, all I can think about is that the impossible has happened.”
A similar sense of anger, shame and disbelief seems to have lit a fuse in Russia’s generally passive society.
Dozens of celebrities from all walks of life have spoken out. Russian tennis player Andrei Rublyov wrote ‘No war please’ on a camera lens after winning a match in Dubai. Rapper Oxxxymiron canceled several sold-out shows, calling the war a “disaster and a crime” in a video and saying now was not the time for entertainment.
And comedian Ivan Urgant, Russian Stephen Colbert, posted a black square on Instagram on Thursday, captioned “Fear and pain. NO TO WAR,” sparking a flurry of speculation, his show had been canceled by state broadcaster Channel One as it has not aired since.
They are among dozens of other influential or respected public figures who have made their anti-war stance clear, including people hitherto seen as apolitical or even in the pro-Kremlin camp.
On Sunday, one of Russia’s richest billionaires, Mikhail Fridman, called for an “end to the bloodshed”, the Financial Times reported, citing a letter he wrote to his staff.
“My country is committing a horrible crime in Ukraine which can have no justification,” Sergei Utkin, the respected director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Relations, wrote on Twitter.
“We all bear some responsibility,” he added. “There’s no good way out of this.”
Even Liza Peskova, the daughter of Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov – who, like many descendants of Russia’s elite, lives in Europe – shared an image of the “No to War” hashtag on her Instagram Stories on Friday. (The post was quickly deleted.)
There have also been dozens of anti-war petitions and open letters, often organized by professionals – teachers, scientists, architects, cultural figures, computer scientists, to name a few.
Another general anti-war petition was heading for 1 million signatures on Sunday.
“Official Russian rhetoric claims this is done in self-defense,” the letter said. “But history cannot be fooled.”
The letter even nodded to the rise of the Nazis, referring to a fire that Adolf Hitler had used as a false justification to lock up his political opponents: “The Reichstag arson has been revealed, and today no exposure is necessary – everything is obvious from the start. ”
The political sphere was a notable exception. While some local parliamentarians have denounced the war, at the national level most lawmakers are still either repeating the Kremlin line or remaining silent.
The only member of the Duma out of 400 to vote against the initial proposal to recognize the breakaway regions, communist Oleg Smolin, is said to have acted in error due to his visual impairment. He ended up voting for on a second ballot. Smolin later wrote a mea culpa, however, saying he had made a “bad forecast” by not predicting that Russia would go to war in Ukraine and called for peace.
As the Russian campaign in Ukraine drags on and the initial shock turns increasingly angry, the authorities try to prevent a snowball effect.
Some 2,000 people were arrested during anti-war protests, according to the police monitoring website OVD-Info.
The 35-year-old academic who spoke to POLITICO about the war song was among them. On Monday, she joined hundreds of others at a protest in St. Petersburg, where turnout was highest. She was quickly arrested and taken to the police station.
“There were 15 of us,” she said. “They took our phones and held us in an enclosed space for 13 hours. It was too small for all of us to sit at once so many had to stand. She was questioned by the police who also took her fingerprints and photos.
When she finally returned home almost 24 hours later, a judge had fined her 10,000 rubles – just over €100 – for taking part in a large gathering which authorities say had violated the COVID restrictions.
In Russia, where around 120,000 new coronavirus cases are recorded every day, there are hardly any restrictions in public life. Nonetheless, the pandemic has been used as a useful pretext to ban anti-Kremlin protests and prosecute those who speak out.
On Sunday, Russian prosecutors warned that “every instance of financial or other aid to a foreign state and activity aimed at Russia’s national security” could be considered treason and punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Besides arrest, there are other ways to silence Russians, echoing the Soviet-era system of formal and informal pressure.
On Saturday, Yekaterina Dolinina, the director of the Moskino film organization, said she was told to resign after putting her name under an anti-war petition signed by more than 4,000 cultural figures.
And a prominent journalist from the economic newspaper Kommersant, Elena Chernenko, was expelled from the diplomatic press after collecting more than 300 signatures under a short statement on Telegram saying: “War has never been and will never be a method of resolution conflicts and there is no excuse for that.
Russian independent media are high on the list, but many names also belong to local journalists and even some state media employees.
Chernenko said she was banned “for lack of professionalism.”
Booming propaganda machine
His expulsion shows how sensitive the Russian authorities are to the information sphere. The Russian propaganda machine has worked overtime to present a view of events that states that Russia’s incursion into Ukraine is limited to the east of the country and does not affect civilians. Any questioning or alternative to this story is cancelled.
On Saturday, Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor threatened to shut down 10 independent media outlets for failing to follow a new rule banning the use of the word “war” to describe Russia’s war in Ukraine. Twitter and Facebook were also partially blocked.
“Without a doubt, there is a level of insecurity [among the authorities] that without such measures they will not succeed,” said Gallyamov, the analyst. “Simply deceiving people hasn’t worked, so they must be forbidden to think for themselves with the help of the administrative apparatus.”
Different polls suggest that more than half of the Russian population blames the West for the escalation, and a similar share supports the use of force to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, even if membership of the Ukraine is only a distant prospect. In a CNN poll, 36% of respondents said they supported the use of military force to “bring Russia and Ukraine together”.
“Russian society is divided on this issue,” Gallyamov said. He said the next few days would be instrumental.
“The reflection will be: If we win, we have to be right,” he said. “But if we fail to win, every day of the war costs Putin a few percent of his bill. One more week of this carnage, and we can say that the conditions for a serious questioning of its legitimacy will be met.
Meanwhile, unable to completely deny anti-war sentiment, the Kremlin has done its best to dismiss it as marginal.
“The president hears everyone’s opinion and is aware of the proportion of those who have an alternative point of view and those who see this necessary operation with understanding,” Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said on Friday.
And for those who don’t understand?
“We have to do better to explain to them,” Peskov said, “it’s absolutely clear.”