Elizaveta Peskova, 24, daughter of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, posted ‘No to war’ on Instagram, while Boris Yeltsin’s granddaughter Maria Yumasheva, 19, also posted in favor of the ‘Ukraine. Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of Putin’s political mentor, former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak and now TV presenter and politician, also called for peace. “Nobody, including me, until the end believed that there would be a real conflict with Ukraine,” Sobchak wrote on Instagram. “What’s next, how will today’s endless day at least end?” It is impossible to calculate. The only thing known for certain is that people are dying. A few days later, Sobchak left with her daughter for Turkey.
This weekend, as the prospect of a short and victorious war for Putin receded and the Russian Defense Ministry was forced to admit that hundreds of Russian soldiers were dying in Ukraine, authorities stepped up pressure on dissent. Radio Echo Moskvy, long tolerated by the Kremlin as the last bastion of free speech, has been shut down, as has Novaya Gazeta, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Meduza, a Riga-based news platform, was forced to remove all war-related news from its site, which was restricted for most of its Russian users anyway, and internet-based Dozhd TV has was also raided by the police and closed. .
More terrifyingly, the Russian Duma introduced a new law that provided for a 15-year prison sentence for spreading false information about the war. Or, to give the law its full, Kafkaesque title: “On the dissemination in public forums of patently false information about Russia’s military deployments in defense of its citizens and in furtherance of international peace and security. “. The new law clearly includes social media as a “public forum” – immediately criminalizing anyone who dares to post anything “false” about the war, defined by the Duma as “contrary to public statements by the Defense Ministry”.
The law marks an escalation towards “pure Stalinism”, according to a TV editor who works for Kremlin-controlled media. “But we are at war now. Isn’t a bit of Stalinism what we need? Stalin drove us to Berlin, remember?
The sad truth is that this vicious joke actually speaks for the majority of Russians. A recent poll by the public center VTsIOM showed that 68% of Russians approved of the war, with only 26% opposed. That’s because the metropolitan middle class in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a handful of other major Russian cities live in a very different homeland than their less affluent neighbors in the sprawling working-class suburbs of those same cities, not to mention the vast rural hinterland.
While the young, cosmopolitan crowd now gets their news online, 70% of Russians rely on Kremlin-produced television for their news — which, uncoincidentally, matches the figures supporting Putin exactly.
All week, Russian TV aired marathon political talk shows lasting up to six hours, filled with angry talking heads denouncing NATO, the West, “fascists” and “provocateurs”. “Ukrainians. Meanwhile, Vesti’s nightly news did not show any combat footage at all for the first five days of the invasion, preferring to quote politicians talking about the progress of the “limited military operation” in Ukraine, and, in a surreal throwback to Soviet times, showing what appeared to be pre-recorded footage of Putin visiting a tech factory.
Meanwhile, Kremlin propagandists rushed to rally Russians to ignore the collapse in the value of their currency. The main surreal message? Russia must stand firm in its struggle to “denazify” Ukraine and against the “fascist” regime of Western partisans in kyiv.
“I know some of you find it difficult,” said Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian TV host, as he complained about how the sanctions against him threatened his Italian villa on Lake Como. “We will overcome everything, we will endure everything. We will rebuild our own economy from scratch, an independent banking, manufacturing and industrial system. We will rely on ourselves.
As unlikely as it may seem to Westerners, the story of this message – as well as the one that speaks of a Ukrainian “genocide” against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine – has won over many Russians.