What happened to the Russian anti  war movements?  mail mail

What happened to the Russian anti war movements? mail mail

Between late February and early March, in the early days of the invasion of Ukraine, many Russians had expressed their dissent against the war and President Vladimir Putin’s regime with large and participatory protests in dozens of Russian cities, including Moscow and San Petersburg, the two most populous. The protests had been tightly repressed by the police, and in the weeks that followed the Russian regime gradually tightened its repression of dissent with new, even tougher, freedom of speech rules.

The protests of the first weeks in Russia have practically disappeared today. Some forms of opposition remain, but they are pervasive, sporadic, and much less visible. Also, over the months, many anti-war Russians have fled the country or appear to have gradually adjusted to living under the conditions of the regime, which now exercises tight control over information and propaganda.

When Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine at the end of February, protests in Russian cities had taken place almost immediately: on the same evening of February 24, in the squares of several cities – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov and others – thousands of people had protested. The Russians continued to demonstrate in the days that followed and up until the beginning of March.

The repression was decisive and immediate: the first day of protests, Al Jazeera wrote, ended with 19,000 arrests. Images circulated everywhere of Russian police officers arresting and taking away demonstrators, sometimes simply for showing a poster protesting Putin and the invasion of Ukraine. According to the independent Russian website OVD-Info, which deals with human rights violations, in the following days and up to March 7, almost 5,000 people were arrested in 69 cities.

What happened to the Russian anti war movements The mail

Today, control over protests in Russia is very tight, and those who manifest or openly oppose government policies know they are risking a great deal.

The few independent Russian media outlets have had to close, continue their activities outside the country or suspend them, as in the case of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s main independent newspaper, for which Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist killed in 2006, probably wrote because of his work.

A rule passed by the Russian government shortly after the invasion began, allowing newspapers to be shut down and relocated, provides for up to 15 years in prison for anyone who spreads what the Russian regime calls “fake news,” i.e in fact, anything inconsistent with state propaganda. The rule complemented other measures the regime had gradually introduced in recent years, including a tough 2019 law punishing almost any form of dissent against the government.

Therefore, today in Russia it has become very difficult to express one’s dissent, even if only by putting up a sign in the street, without suffering serious consequences.

– Also read: The Russian media, which shut down because they don’t tell the war the way the government would like it to

All of this doesn’t mean that no one protests in Russia anymore: a spokeswoman for the Feminist Resistance Against War movement, born last February, told Al Jazeera that those who protest do so in secret, often at night, perhaps by publishing anti-war leaflets to distribute. and “trying to sabotage the regime from within”.

Kirill Medvedev is a Moscow-based Russian activist and musician who has been indicted twice for protesting the war. He said the protests have not ended, but that they have changed: in recent months, for example, fires have been set in Russian army recruiting offices. At least 14 have been set on fire since the war began.

There are also small anti-war movements founded by members of some ethnic minorities in Russia. It is well known that a disproportionate number of Russian soldiers present in Ukraine belong to these minorities, who often come from poor and disadvantaged social backgrounds.

The Free Buryatia Foundation is an organization established last March to represent the Buryats, an ethnic minority in Siberia. Based in the United States, it regularly distributes anti-war materials, provides legal assistance to Russian conscripts trying to avoid conscription, and conducts investigations into Russian casualties in Ukraine.

There are also individual protests. The Associated Press reported some of them: that of a teacher from Perm, a city in the foothills of the Ural mountains, who put up anti-war signs on her front door. Or that of Sergei Besov, a visual artist from Moscow who started a project called Partisan Press (he’s on Instagram) to print anti-war signs. The posters, with simple but appealing graphics, had become very popular early in the invasion. Some had even appeared at one of the protests in Moscow’s Red Square at the start of the invasion.

A few days later, police showed up at Besov’s office without finding him, and two of his associates had been charged over the poster printing. Now Besov says he stopped printing signs with explicit messages like “No to war” and replaced them with milder phrases like “Fear is no excuse for inaction.”

– Also read: The Russians are fleeing Russia

However, these are rather sporadic and often clandestine experiences. In cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, writes Al Jazeera, “life goes on as usual: among other things, bars and music festivals are full of people.” It can be said that Russians are, to a certain extent, getting used to the restrictions decided by the Russian government, as well as the sanctions imposed by Western governments: at least they do not seem to be affecting the population around, as some hoped, at the moment to provoke real mass protest against Putin.

According to some commentators, it is hard to imagine that large-scale anti-war demonstrations could resume or new movements emerge: “For large-scale anti-Putin protests to begin in the near future, some dramatic upheaval should take place.” [come] a heavy defeat in Ukraine, a mass withdrawal of the Russian army, or disastrous effects on the Russian economy due to sanctions,” Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko told Al Jazeera.

– Also read: Can we speak of Russia’s “collective responsibility”?