Russians are hardly unified behind Putin and are speaking out and accepting the risks of doing so.
In the aftermath of Putin’s announcement and subsequent invasion of Ukraine on February 24, many Russians across the country sprung to action, coordinating a series of protests. These were concentrated in the large cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and Nizhny Novgorod. The footage and images that emerged from these events suggest that they were well-attended, with several thousands turning up in Moscow and several hundreds in other cities. Thus far, 44 Russian cities held active protests in opposition to war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, it was not long before these protests were met by state forces. The National Guard was deployed in Moscow and arrests — of both protesters and journalists — were made by security forces across the country.
The latest reports from OVD-Info confirm that 1,749 protestors have been arrested — with 959 of those arrests in Moscow — across 54 cities in Russia today.
Strict laws in Russia require the registration of any public protest as part of the growing package of restrictions aimed against civil society in recent years. Under provisions of a 2014 law, protests not registered with the state agency are deemed illegal and participants may be subject to fines, detention, or jail time.
Today’s protests were no exception and were met harshly, reminiscent of the 2019 Moscow protests that brought about a wave of arrests and sentences.
The main grievance and slogan of the protests today was “Нет Войне” or “No To War.” This phrase was first seen earlier in the week through one-off shows of opposition in Russia, particularly in Moscow. It showed up as graffiti on the walls of a few Moscow metro stations, and earlier this week single-person picketers stood solo with these words painted on their jackets or on homemade signs. Today’s protests magnified these words and publicly demonstrated that there is resistance to today’s military action from within Russia itself.
— Irina Rudakova (@RaspadokVDoline) February 24, 2022
Furthermore, many public figures in Russia have spoken out against these arrests and the invasion itself, including prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov who circulated a petition on Telegram that received 150,000 signatures. More than 100 Russian journalists have also signed a joint statement condemning the invasion. One hundred and fifty journalists and scientists also signed a petition in opposition to the military action. Recent Nobel Peace Prize winner and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov also publicly spoke out against the invasion, noting a feeling of grief and shame.
This is not the first time protests have been organized in Russia opposing interference in Ukraine. In 2014 and 2015, protests led by Boris Nemtsov were staged along Moscow’s Ring Road overtly opposing Putin’s actions in Ukraine. In the midst of those protests, Nemtsov himself was murdered outside the Kremlin walls. While protests of this sort have not emerged in Moscow since, today’s protests ought to be considered, within this context, a continuation of a sentiment that has been present within Russia for years.
Whether or not these sentiments will alter the outcome or direction of Russian action in Ukraine, they are at least an indication that the domestic political support of Putin’s actions in the Ukraine is not rock solid.