At least three Russians critical of President Vladimir Putin and his war on Ukraine have been charged for disseminating “false information” under a new law and could face 15-years in prison.
The latest crackdown on free speech in Russia is a clear sign to Russians that the Kremlin won’t take criticism against its decision to go to war from its people, according to one expert.
“This is nothing else but war censorship,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, a researcher with Amnesty International’s Russia team.
Russian officials have now charged two Russians in Tomsk, a city in Siberia, under the law and most notably an influencer and chef named Veronika Belotserkovskaya who has taken to Instagram to post anti-war sentiments. According to Priulutskaya, the influencer’s posts aren’t critical of Russia or Putin but call for an end to the war – which are now being seen by the Kremlin as an attack on its leadership.
“In the current circumstances, to be against the war means being against Putin,” Priulutskaya said.
On Wednesday, Putin took to television to blast Russians who did not support his decision to go to war.
Russians “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” he said. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”
He claimed Western countries were using insiders to attack Russia and create civil unrest.
“And there is only one goal, I have already spoken about it — the destruction of Russia,” he said.
To Prilutskaya, the Kremlin has been very careful in its framing of the invasion and war against Ukraine by calling it a special military operation. As the war entered its third week, it was going to become even harder for Russians to step out of line against the Kremlin, she said.
Putin’s comments came after Marina Ovsyannikova, an employee of Russian state television, interrupted a live news program to protest against the war. Ovsyannikova shouted anti-war slogans and held up posters to the camera during her protest.
“Russia is the aggressor country and one person, Vladimir Putin, solely bears responsibility for that aggression,” she said in the prerecorded video.
Prilutskaya noted that any Russians who are speaking out against Putin and the war are doing so knowing there will likely be repercussions, which makes it even more significant.
“It’s a great sign of courage, and it will be good if the world can see that courage and could support these courageous people,” she said.
For Prilutskaya Russia’s crackdown on anti-war dissidents is a good reminder that there are many Russian who oppose the war. She added that this is a war by the Russian regime, not necessarily supported by its people.
“Most Russians, most people don’t want war. What we’re seeing with the protests and demonstrations and with this new law is that Russians are not always believing the propaganda pushed on them,” she said.
with files from Reuters and the Associated Press