Putin’s Repression Is Driving Many Antiwar Russians Abroad

We will examine the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine on the Russian people. Many Russian dissidents opposing the invasion choose to flee abroad, after they are subject to brutal crackdowns at home. Russian historian and writer Ilya Budraitskis left Moscow after the conflict in Ukraine started. He recently launched the media outlet Posle. Meanwhile, Putin’s Russia looks like an extremely “conformist” society, where “some 200 kilometers from your home you have a full-scale war with the army of your country that started this war, and you pretend not to follow the news, not to disturb your normal way of life with this terrifying information,” says Budraitskis.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

As we continue to look at the war in Ukraine, now in its sixth month, we’re joined now by Ilya Budraitskis. He is a Russian historian and political writer, and the author of the award-winning book. Dissidents among Dissidents: Politics, Ideology and the Left in Post-Soviet Russia. Three weeks prior to the invasion, Ilya was in Moscow when we first spoke to him. He’s since left Russia amidst President Vladmir Putin’s crackdown on Russian civil society.

Ilya Budraitskis: Can you talk about why you left? What do you think will bring an end to this war? What do you think the Russians feel now?

ILYA BUDRAITSKIS: So, hello. Thank you so much for having me.

I fled Russia in the week following the start of war. And, in fact, this week was — it was a terrible week. It was the week when, in the most important cities, small and not so large, but still important, antiwar demonstrations were brutally crushed by the police. It was the week all independent media that existed in the country were banned. And it was the moment of the high — of the lack of any predictability. Yes, there were expectations that general mobilization of the army would be possible, and that the borders would close.

In fact, the government launched a massive wave of repressions within two months of the war to crush any resistance or antiwar sentiments in Russian society. The situation is strange for now because most Russians were afraid. They know that any expression of disapproval with the war or the regime will put them at great risk. And in the same time, they pretend that the situation somehow come back to normal, because there was not such a huge decrease of the Russian economy, as it was predicted in the beginning — in the beginning of the war, and also because it is just very kind of conformist way of life that is very general for the modern societies, but taken extreme forms in Putin’s Russia, where, you know, in some few hundred kilometers from your home you have a full-scale war with the army of your country that started this war, and you pretend not to follow the news, not to disturb your normal way of life with this terrifying information.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ilya, could you explain — I mean, you’ve said in a recent interview that, effectively, now there is no possibility of an opposition in Russia, because its structures have been destroyed. You could expand on this, and then answer the question about sanctions, what have been the effects of these sanctions on Russia. You’ve just said that the economy has not been as weakened as anticipated.

ILYA BUDRAITSKIS: Yeah. So, to the first question, in fact, the recent two years were used by Putin to prepare the society for this situation of silence, of conformism, of depoliticization, of a lack of any resistance, because, if you remember, in the beginning of 2020, the amendments to the Russian Constitution were implemented, and according to these amendments, Putin got a right to stay in power for some — you know, for some decade or even more. And, in fact, that was important, decisive moment that was kind of the hidden coup d’état, which in fact was realized from the top of the Russian state. The main structure of non-parliamentary opposition, the movement led by Alexei Navalny was then completely destroyed in 2021. Alexei Navalny was personally jailed. Many of his supporters were either arrested or forced from the country. This shows that the key elements of the dictatorship were there even before the war began.

The latest report by IMF, International Monetary Fund, the expectation of the fall of the Russian economy to the beginning — to the end of this year would be some 6%, which is less than it was predicted in the beginning of the war. The Russian economy will experience a lot of losses. Many workplaces are likely to disappear. Inflation and other factors will cause many people to lose their incomes. However, the main components of the stability of Russia’s economy are still there. That’s the export of gas and oil. And we know that the gas prices now are — you know, jumped, and they’re as high as never before in the recent decades. Russia’s political stability will not be affected by the sanctions in this sense.

I believe that the human cost, or the loss of life, of the Russian soldiers in this war could be a more significant reason for protests in Russian society.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Finally, Ilya, we now see that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Africa meeting heads, trying to prove that Russia is not completely isolated globally. Now, you’ve drawn a distinction between the Soviet Union of the Cold War period and Russia today, saying, quote, “During the Cold War it could at least be said that the Soviet bloc, for all its obvious faults, was a bearer of ideas of social liberation and anti-colonial struggle. Today, we can see the choice between the reactionary and the progressive. NATO bloc and the even more reactionary potential Russia-China bloc.” So, could you talk about that specifically with respect to this visit of Lavrov in which he is invoking this old Soviet tendency or reputation for supporting anti-colonial struggles in the countries where he is now, where he’s been visiting?

ILYA BUDRAITSKIS: Yeah, you’re very true that — you’re very right that Putin, Lavrov and the Russian regime, in general, are trying to promote this kind of anti-colonial rhetorics for now. Putin said that there is a “golden million” who rule the Earth and provide unjust, unequal relationships between the West’s developing countries and the West. This was before Putin gave his speech. The goal of Russia’s military operation against Ukraine is to reverse this dominance of West. So, you have totally the same message behind Lavrov’s visit to the African states.

But the main problem is what kind of alternative Russia is trying to propose by all this — all these relations. So, definitely, Russia itself not looks as the kind of role model, some alternative model to the Western — to the Western domination. Russia’s attempt to gain African countries is very cynical. This is because it is a pure commercial and liberal approach. So, they are just proposing some — I don’t know — discounts for oil or some discounts for the weapons coming from Russia and things like this. Nothing is known about the economic growth. There is no real social or political alternative to the current system.

AMY GOODMAN:We want to thank Ilya Budraitskis for being with us. Russian historian and political writer, author Dissidents among Dissidents: Politics, Ideology and the Left in Post-Soviet Russia. We’re not saying where he is. After Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, he fled Russia.