Accusations of genocide, price protests and a sinking ship
A warship sinks, accusations of atrocities, war crimes and genocide mount, and despite relentless repression, determined Russians find ways to protest President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
Here are some of the key developments in Russia over the past week and some of the takeaways for the future.
“A Dark Place”
During Putin’s years of rule, with the Kremlin pressing ever harder against dissent, Russians determined to push back have found creative ways to protest — and not a few poignant slogans that seem to capture the mood.
At a protest outside the Ministry of Defense perhaps 15 years ago, a woman held a sign saying, “There’s been worse [in Russia]but none so revolting.
The current era seems to be giving these times a run for their money.
In the year after the return of the opponent from the Kremlin Alexandre Navalny in January 2021, following treatment in Germany for a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he blamed on Putin, the state has turned the screw which had already been tightened, broadening and deepening the crackdown on political opposition, independent media, civil society and all forms of dissent.
Then came the invasion of ukraine – a full-scale offensive against an independent country that had been under intense pressure from Moscow since 2014, when Russia seized the Crimean peninsula and fomented separatism in the east and south, sparking a war that had killed more than 13,000 fighters and civilians in the region known as Donbas before Putin launched the new assault on February 24.
Few weeks later, allegations and evidence of war crimes are emerging – many of them in towns near kyiv where retreating Russian forces have left a trail of death, destruction – the sickening stuff of countless horror story survivors.
On April 4, US President Joe Biden called Putin a “war criminal” and said evidence should be collected for use in a war crimes trial. On April 12, he accused Russia of committing “genocide”, saying Putin was trying to “erase the very idea of being Ukrainian”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also declared Russia’s war to be genocidal.
These charges are based on alleged actions of Russian forces in Ukraine and Putin’s repeated statements about Ukrainians and their country, which he has often said doesn’t right to exist as a sovereign state.
Crimes and miscalculations
Clearly, the alleged atrocities that underlie Biden and others’ use of these terms compound the human suffering Putin caused by unleashing the unprovoked invasion. They also appear to have also changed the course of the war and affected its potential outcome, as well as the roles of Washington and the West.
“The torture and mass killings perpetrated by Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka and other Ukrainian towns add a new level of horror to a terrible war”, but they also “change the strategic context in three ways” , Nigel Gould-Davies, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in an article from April 12.
They will “root Ukrainian hostility towards Russia”, they will “lead the Russian public into a dark place” and they will “show that, as long as Russia occupies Ukrainian territory, the end of the fighting does not mean the end of the violence “. writes Gould-Davies.
“The prospect of even a temporary halt to the already slim war is now remote. Russia is in many ways more isolated than it was during the Cold War,” he wrote, adding, “Unless the major Western states elect leaders with very different political priorities , it seems virtually unthinkable that sanctions will be eased while Russia occupies Ukrainian territory and Putin remains in power. »
It seems unlikely that the former KGB officer and head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) will be ousted from power anytime soon by an internal coup at the hands of his security agencies, despite signs of unrest in the power structures in Moscow – with senior Federal Security Service officer Sergei Beseda allegedly thrown into notorious Lefortovo prison after feeding Putin’s bad intelligence this led to major miscalculations of how the invasion would proceed.
In a real and symbolic blow that seemed to underscore just how badly the war appears to have gone badly for Russia, the country’s Defense Ministry said late April 14 that the guided-missile cruiser Moskva – the name means Moscow – sunk in the Black Sea during a storm after a fire on board, ammunition exploded and damaged the hull. The admission came hours after Ukraine said it hit the vessel with anti-ship missiles.
“We are a long way from such potential parricide,” author and analyst Mark Galeotti wrote in an April 13 article in The Spectator, comparing Putin to the mythical titan Cronos, who “believed that by devouring his children he would be safe” but “actually drove the last, Zeus, to kill him”.
Meanwhile, Putin’s government has tightened the screws even tighter since the start of the invasion, seeking to silence any opposition to the war – in part by deletion of information on the conflict, which, according to Ukrainian and American officials, has in less than two months killed as many Russian soldiers as the number of Soviet soldiers killed in the nearly decade-long war to occupy Moscow in Afghanistan years, if not more.
The Kremlin is relentless propaganda campaign about the war, to its the most venomous on state television divided societybites students versus teachers and family members against each other.
At what price?
To anyone watching the escalation of repression unfold, it may seem that there will be no one left in Russia to protest the war. Navalny is in prison and his network of offices across the country has been banned by the state. Some of his associates were also imprisoned and some fled the country, as did tens of thousands of Russians. who left in the aftermath of the war, driven by disgust with the government, concern for making a living in an isolated country by Western sanctions, fears for the future, or all three and more.
In fact, however, there are still people protesting.
One of them is Aleksandra Skochilenko, an artist from St. Petersburg. She and other activists across Russia have found a creative way to protest the war and expose information the government is trying to hide.
In stores and supermarkets, they replaced price tags with statements about war or repercussions in Russia.
One such tag stated that Russian forces had bombed an art school in Mariupol, Ukraine, where hundreds of people had taken refuge; another blamed rising inflation in Russia on the assault on Ukraine and said, “Stop the war.”
With a small group of supporters clap and clap as she was led handcuffed to the courtroom for a hearing on April 13, Skochilenko was jailed pending further investigation and trial.
She could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.