President Vladimir Putin has been lauded as a saviour by Russia’s political and media establishments for invading Ukraine.
The question is whether the rest of the country believes it.
While Western nations raised the alarm and Europe was thrust into one of its gravest security crises since World War II, some Russian intellectuals and political observers lauded Putin’s choice to “keep peace” in Ukraine, where his forces commenced ground attacks and air strikes Thursday.
Others have echoed his accusation that Russian speakers were being subjected to “genocide” within the country.
However, other elements of Russian society were sceptical, and about 1,000 protesters gathered Thursday evening in the middle of Moscow, screaming “No to war!” while passing automobiles honked their horns, according to The Associated Press.
Protesters also took to the streets in many other cities, including St. Petersburg, disregarding a warning from the Investigative Committee, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, that they would face criminal charges and maybe jail time if they did not comply.
By 9:30 p.m. local time (1:30 p.m. ET), police had detained 1,667 individuals at rallies in 53 locations across Russia, according to the Associated Press. According to Reuters, police in Moscow stated they had apprehended 600 people.
Numerous prominent singers, television stars, and comedians have posted anti-war messages on social media. Numerous journalists and social media influencers have also expressed their opposition, albeit few have publicly denounced Putin and his government.
“Since early morning, I’ve been on the phone with my relatives in Ukraine,” comedian and television host Maxim Galkin posted on Instagram. “I am at a loss for words to convey how I am feeling right now. How is all of this possible! There is no need to wage war! “Avoid war!”
On Instagram, singer Valery Meladze stated that “history will judge and put everything in its proper position.” However, I implore you today to halt military action and engage in dialogue.”
Alexander Gudkov, another television host and comedian, shared an Instagram photo of a black square. “I am ashamed to have been born on this day #notowar,” he wrote underneath it.
Within hours, a petition initiated by a prominent human rights campaigner, Lev Ponomavyov, received over 150,000 signatures.
Over a hundred Russian journalists have signed a unified statement criticising the invasion, which they have shared on Telegram. The majority of them represented independent press groups and sources that were critical of Putin. “War has never been and will never be an acceptable manner of resolving dispute, and there are no justifications for it,” the statement read.
Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian daily Novaya Gazeta and the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was one person who spoke out directly against Putin.
“Our country began a war with Ukraine on President Putin’s direction,” he claimed in a televised message. “And because there is no one who can put an end to the conflict, we feel guilt with our anguish.”
Other Russian individuals showed their dissatisfaction as well, with lines of people waiting to withdraw rubles, euros, and other foreign currencies at ATMs in Moscow and other Russian cities.
Nikita Borisov, 28, told NBC News by phone Thursday that he believes any invasion is “not a good idea, regardless of the country.”
Borisov, a marketing executive from Moscow, stated that while the invasion and subsequent economic penalties have not yet affected him personally, obtaining visas to enter other countries has become more difficult for Russians, and exchange rates with foreign currencies have deteriorated.
Niki Proshin used TikTok to livestream from a protest in St. Petersburg, where he has over 700,000 followers.
Proshin stated that he faced a fine or a brief jail sentence for attending the demonstration, which appeared to be attended by no more than a couple hundred individuals. He characterised the demonstration as quiet, with occasional chants of “no war.”
However, earlier this week, following Putin’s deployment of soldiers to separatist areas in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have been fighting Kyiv’s forces since 2014, many expressed support for their leader.
“It should have been done years ago,” Irina Nareyko, a Moscow resident, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “These impoverished people who identify as Russian, who are predominantly Orthodox, who cannot wait any longer and live in fear of being killed.”
Denis Volkov, director of Russia’s leading independent pollster, also told the AP Wednesday that his polling data indicated that more than half of Russians were willing to support Putin’s initiatives.
“The issue, as the majority understands it, is that the West is forcing Ukraine” to attack rebel-held territories, “and Russia needs to assist in some way,” Volkov said. “This concept of assisting in exceptional circumstances translates into support” for the recognition of separatist regions.