Russian government cracking down on anti-war protests within its borders

The invasion by Russia of Ukraine has already shocked many people across the world, and some are taking it into their own hands to protest the invasion on social media, even Russians themselves. Not even a day after the invasion began on February 24, 2022, thousands of Russians had already begun to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for one of Moscow’s most aggressive military actions since the Afghanistan invasion in 1979. Likewise, protestors from Kazakhstan have also condemned the invasion by gathering in large groups and chanting phrases such as “No War” and “Putin is a d***head.”

Anti-war protesters in Almaty, Kazakhstan, gathering in front of a statue of Lenin while holding Ukrainian flags (Photo provided by Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters)

The Russian government, however, has not taken too kindly to all of this opposition. According to the human rights project OVD-Info, there have been more than 7,500 anti-war protest arrests, with at least 4,366 people having been put in detention in 53 different cities. The government has also been tough on independent and global news outlets by passing a law that made the spreading of “false” information about the war a criminal offense, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. “The screws are being fully tightened, essentially we are witnessing military censorship,” stated Maria Kuznetsova, OVD-Info’s spokesperson. 

 Putin has deemed the invasion a “special military operation,” saying that the purpose of it was to protect Russian-speaking communities in Ukraine from possible persecution. However, many Russian civilians were quick to dismiss the claim as false. “Because of Putin, Russia now means war for many people,” stated opposition leader Alexi Navalny, “That is not right: it was Putin and not Russia that attacked Ukraine.”

As the attacks on Ukraine continued to rain down, hundreds of Russian citizens were writing online open letters and petitions against the war. Human rights advocate, Lev Ponamovyov, created a particular petition which had received over 150,000 signatures in just a few hours, and a total of 330,000 by the end of that same day. Among the names were many prominent Russian scientists, journalists, and even municipal council officials from Moscow and other cities. A few Russian celebrities and public figures have also spoken out in their own ways about the war. For example, Yelena Kovalskaya, director of a state-funded theater in Moscow proclaimed on Facebook that she would be quitting her job because “it’s impossible to work for a killer and get paid by him.”

The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has also called for Russia to declare a ceasefire and sign a peace agreement as soon as possible. An hour-long phone call was actually held between him and Putin to which he stated that Turkey is willing to do anything to help reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict. “President Erdoğan renewed his call of: ‘Let’s pave the way for peace together,’” stated Erdoğan’s office after the phone call. “Erdoğan emphasized the importance of taking urgent steps to achieve a ceasefire, open humanitarian corridors, and sign a peace agreement.”

Yet despite the unpopularity of the war, it’s been reported by a few notable Russian pollsters such as FOM and VTsIOM that Putin’s popularity has actually increased, with his rating going from 64% to around 70-71% in the week after the first attacks. “I want to ask Ukrainians for forgiveness,” said opposition activist Tatyana Usmanova, “We didn’t vote for those who unleashed the war.” 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/4300-people-arrested-anti-war-protests-across-russia-decounce-vladimir-putin-war-ukraine

https://www.npr.org/2022/02/25/1083001481/hundreds-arrested-as-shocked-russians-protest-ukraine-attack

https://www.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-putin-news-03-13-22/h_e54f631d8cc6fb7cc1c4e97085c68152

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