In yet another worrying sign for those who fear Vladimir Putin’s tightening of control over Russia, the Kremlin said on Thursday that the country must undergo “self-purification” to rid itself of anti-war “traitors” in Russia. Ukraine.
“In these difficult times, many people have shown what they are. Traitors,” said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, elaborating on the speech on the eve of the president, who had accused the West of planting a “fifth column” to generate ” civil conflict” in his country and spoke about the need to “self purify the country”.
“The Russian people will always distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors, and just spit them out like a mosquito that accidentally got into their mouth,” the president said. Peskov even repeated the term: for him, Russia needs “self purification to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors”.
The comments come in the wake of a series of protests against the war in Ukraine, such as the editor of a state television news program that showed a live poster against the conflict and numerous intellectuals and artists who left their posts in government-linked entities.
Even the prima ballerina of the most famous Russian ballet, that of the Bolchoi Theater in Moscow, left her position in protest at the invasion of the neighboring country, initiated by Putin exactly three weeks ago. “I never thought I would be ashamed of my country,” said Olga Smirnova, a granddaughter of Ukrainians who moved to the Netherlands. In the Putinist narrative, this is all a result of the West imposing sanctions out of a war it forced on Russia.
To avoid comparisons with the most brutal period of the Soviet Union’s existence, the government of dictator Josef Stalin (1927-53), Peskov said that the process is already under way in a “natural” way. “They just disappear from our lives. Some people are leaving their jobs, others their jobs, others the country. That’s how purification happens,” he said.
“I found the line absolutely terrifying, it sounds like Gulag stuff,” says Svetlana, a journalist who works for independent websites and is considering leaving Russia to meet her boyfriend, political scientist Mikhail, who has gone to Riga (Latvia) to stay with relatives. . Both ask not to disclose their surnames.
Gulag (Russian acronym for Head of Camp Administration) was the system of concentration camps for opponents of the communist regime, established on the tsarist model by the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin, in 1923. Until 1961, 18 million people passed through they mostly in the 1930s to 1950s under Stalin.
Knowing the cause, Communist Party leader Guennadi Ziuganov said that “we need to defeat the fifth column that is ready to stab us in the back”. The association is the largest of the consented opposition to Putin, but it does not advance the signal and aligns itself with the Kremlin at times like the current one.
The case of the editor Marina Ovsiannikova, who worked at the state TV Canal Um and made her protest with a live poster on Monday (14), is exemplary. She was fined in a lightning administrative trial on Tuesday (15), but says she remains at risk – France has already offered her asylum.
That’s because the Russian prosecutor’s office said it was still considering prosecuting her criminally, under the terms of the law passed shortly after the start of the war that provides for up to 15 years in prison for anyone who spreads what the Kremlin considers fake news about the “special military operation”. , the official name of the conflict for Putin.
Svetlana was one of those who thought the law was an intimidation precisely to scare away the anti-war middle class, which has crowded hotels and real estate agencies in Istanbul, Tbilisi, Riga and other capitals in nearby countries.
“Now I think it could be something worse,” he said, in line with fears that Putin’s autocratic regime, which has always had libertarian escape valves for the elite and middle class, will close itself off once and for all in a dictatorship. —especially if you have a military victory to sell in Ukraine.
She communicates through the Telegram network, the most used by Russians. She said she received a warning from her bank that the international credit card she uses, which allows her to access foreign websites by paying for a VPN service (networks that use servers in other countries, bypassing local censorship), will expire until Sunday (20) .
“Without realizing it, Visa and Mastercard [que saíram da operação russa] are helping Putin,” political scientist Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Center in Moscow wrote on Twitter.
Also on Wednesday, the Russian court extended by two months the arrest of Brittney Griner, the American basketball star who plays in Russia and was detained at a Moscow airport, on charges of bringing hashish oil in her suitcase – which can give 10 years in jail. Her lawyer says the athlete is being persecuted just for being an American.
This does not mean, however, that there is a majority movement against the war in Russia. The available polls, all state-run and therefore suspect, put support at around 60%. Much is due to the fact that older people are mostly informed by state media, mainly open TV.
Obviously, the situation changes among the wealthiest and youngest, who now see the idea of a westernized Russia crumbling with Putin’s war. There are around 15,000 people who have been detained and then released for protesting the conflict since February 24, according to the NGO OVD-Info. It’s a lot of people, but a declining number and that doesn’t configure the revolution that western TVs like to paint.
The key to any change lies in the country’s elite, which has so far remained loyal to the Kremlin chief, despite signs here and there of dissent. In addition to statements made by oligarchs abroad, on Thursday at least five executive jets were spotted on air monitoring sites leaving Moscow for Dubai, where wealthy Russians have many investments.
There are also rumors that some figures in Putin’s inner circle have fallen out of favor and have been detained, but there is no sort of independent confirmation. Whether that will be enough to spur a palace movement against Putin is unfathomable at this point.
Also on Thursday, the head of the country’s main gas company, the state-owned gas company Gazprom, called on its 500,000 employees to defend Putin. “Today as never before, it is important that we remain committed to the common cause, to support our president,” Alexei Miller wrote in a letter to employees.
Miller has been an ally of Putin since the current president worked for the liberal mayor of St Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak in the early 1990s. He criticized Western sanctions on Russia in the text, which does not mention the war by name and is dated the 5th.
Gazprom is the biggest shareholder in Nord Stream projects, the Russia-Germany pipeline duo whose second branch is frozen in Berlin’s retaliation for the war.