The Russian People Are Not the Russian Government, Activists Remind Us

Nearly two decades after Bush administration began a nationwide crackdown on the U.S. movement against the invasion of Iraq, antiwar activists in Russia are experiencing a wave of brutal repression as President Vladimir Putin’s regime wages an extremely deadly war on Ukraine.

This is a crucial moment for the Russian antiwar movement. According to a Russian activist, some activists are fleeing Russia to avoid persecution and to protest the war under international protection. There are also “plenty of examples” of others staying in Russia and developing creative ways to resist despite the threat of arrest.

“Plus, actually many don’t mind getting arrested,” the activist said over an encrypted chat this week. Many Russian antiwar activists have stressed that they feel strongly about putting their lives on the line in a time when Ukrainians are so suffering at the hands Russian government.

Human rights groups maintain that key organizers are facing serious criminal charges. Several protesters have been injured after being detained or arrested. VideosPolice wielding batons against demonstrators and using “excessive force” have emerged from recent antiwar protests in Russia, accordingHuman Rights Watch. Nearly 14,000 peopleSince February 24, Russia has seen a number of antiwar activities and Russians have been detained or arrested.

According to reports, Alexi Navalny (the Russian opposition leader) has been released by the Putin regime. calledFor mass antiwar protests across Russia on Sunday that could bring thousands to the streets.

Human Rights Watch reports that 5,000 people were detained during actions in 69 cities on March 6 alone, and several women allegedly endured violent interrogations by police at Moscow’s Brateyevo police station that could amount to torture under international law. Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh 26-years-old and Marina Morozova 22-years-old, recorded their interrogations discreetly and provided the audio to journalists. independent media outlets.

The question of whether the Russian antiwar movement will grow into a serious challenge to Putin — or be stifled by police and the propaganda pushed by state-run media — could be answered in the coming weeks as Russian forces continueAttacks by aerial bombardment of civilian areas in Ukraine and the siege of key cities in Ukraine. Negotiations to end the conflict are underway not making progress, and with everyday Russians suffering under economic sanctions and fallen soldiers coming home in body bags, the truth is slowly seeping out despite the government’s efforts to control news outlets and social media.

Interviews with antiwar activists from the United States revealed that they no more discuss the war with Russian friends or counterparts over the telephone. A new Russian law imposes a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for statements “discrediting” the military or cutting against the official narrative of Russian’s mission in Ukraine, which the Kremlin and state media often describes as a “special military operation” rather than an “invasion” or a “war.”

Activists fear the anti-dissent laws will be applied retroactively. This could allow authorities to target activists based on statements and online posts before the crackdown, and even call for extradition of activists who fled the country.

Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy is an antiwar and pro-nuclear proliferation group made up of women from both Russia and America. It was published recently. petitionAppelling for an immediate ceasefire. The group withheld signatures from Russian members unlike in previous appeals due to fear of arrest according to Ann Wright. Wright is a well-known antiwar activist who resigned in protest of the invasion in Iraq in 2003.

“There are a few that are still speaking to the international media … but it’s very, very dangerous for them,” Wright said in an interview.

A recent international pollAccording to LexisNexis only 27% disapproved of the war, while less than half of Russians voted for it. Another 26 percent had no opinion, possibly reflecting the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent and independent media outlets, which has left many Russians with access to only the state’s narrative on the news.

Younger, tech-savvy Russians use Virtual Private Networks or VPNs that encrypt online data and web surfing for privacy to bypass the country’s censorshipYou can access international news on the war through social media sites such Facebook and Twitter. However, the U.S. has increased sanctions. making VPNs difficult or impossibleUse. Activists say most students and young people in major metropolitan areas such as Moscow and St. Petersburg oppose the war, while members of older generations swallow the Kremlin’s misleading narratives on state-run TV.

“The Russian people are going to suffer big time in terms of all of the sanctions on them,” Wright said. “The people are isolated; nobody is giving them visas to leave the country.”

Paula Garb, a longtime activist who lived in the Soviet Union for 20 years and worked as a peacemaker during conflicts in Georgia and other areas of the post-Soviet bloc, said she remembers living in an “information bubble” created by state television broadcasts when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Garb stated that the repression against activists and independent news media seems to be worse now, similar to the Soviet Union after World War II.

“It does seem as though maybe there is 50 or 60 percent of the whole country which may not be happy about the conflict, but are just accepting the Russian government’s narrative,” Garb said in an interview. “Thousands of people are willing to be activists, but it may not be enough — yet.”

Garb and Wright said observers across the world were taken by surprise by Putin’s brutal assault on Ukraine. Many thought that Russian troops would defend the two prorussian rebel provinces in the Donbas, but the full-scale attempt to overthrow the Ukrainian government that has already claimed thousands of lives seemed remote just a few weeks back. As Russian military action escalated into an all out invasion, antiwar organizers had to quickly respond. 2.5 million civiliansOut of the country

“Russians say ‘don’t hate us for what our leaders have done,’” said Wright, who has visited the country twice in the past five years. “We were hoping in the U.S. that the world wouldn’t hate American citizens for what both Bush administrations did to Iraq.”

Wright stated that the U.S. antiwar movements were also ignored by the media when the U.S. entered war with Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush. Thousands of activists were also arrested by the police over the course a number of years.

“It’s not like our government here was pleased with the antiwar sentiment,” Wright said.

Activists caution against drawing any direct parallels between conflict in Ukraine and U.S.-led conflicts in the Middle East. As with many of these conflicts, however, the future of war on Ukraine is uncertain.

Putin has not achieved the swift victory that he may have hoped for. The conflict in Ukraine is already a humanitarian catastrophe and could become a quagmire that will last months, if certainly years.

Wright said multiple international antiwar coalitions continue to organize and support Russian activists, but they still need all the support — and media attention in and outside Russia — that they can get.

“We have to keep looking for those who are brave enough to speak out,” Wright said. “They are going to be heroes at the end of all this, if they are still alive.”