Open Telegram and keep up with the news.
Rate this year in terms of its nineteenthirtysevenness.
Take a look at it, at its wooden hands,
At its iron cheeks, splotched with new partings.
This is a theater being demolished, a theater in which there is neither audience nor actors.
This is a theater being demolished, a theater in which there are only fishes and corpses.
Take a look at it and set aside your New Year's fun.
Rate the extent of this city's Stalingraditude.
Wave to the harlequins, dragons, and princesses,
And look at it, monitor the process without blinking.
Hang on to it: it will be both lamentation and reward.
Preserve its shadow if you like.
On second thought, forget it.
Many have nearly forgotten the criminal case against the theater director Kirill Serebrennikov and his colleagues, who were tried several years ago. That affair was dubbed the Theater Case. Apparently, there will be another Theater Case in Russia: director Zhenya Berkovich (a former student of Serebrennikov’s, by the way) and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk have been detained in Moscow.
The criminal investigation is centered on the theatrical production Finist the Brave Falcon, which premiered in 2020. The play was staged as part of the theater project SOSO Daughters, which is run by Berkovich. It is based on the criminal trials of [Russian] women who married radical Islamists. They came to know the men online and, having never met them in person, went to live with them in Syria.
The Investigative Committee claims that the production “publicly justified terrorism,” which is a criminal offense per Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code and punishable by up to seven years in prison. The details of the case are still unknown. Berkovich and Petriichuk spent the entire day undergoing interrogation as witnesses in the case, and it had seemed that they might be released, but as of evening both were still in police custody.
Last year, Finist the Brave Falcon won two Golden Mask Awards—for best playwright and for best costumes. Costume designer Ksenia Sorokina handed over her award to Petersburg artist Sasha Skochilenko, who has been in jail since April 2022, charged with disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army. (Skochilenko is alleged to have replace price tags in a grocery store with information about the war.)
Zhenya Berkovich has also not made a secret of her anti-war views, including in her poetry. A collection of her poems was published in Israel earlier this month.
“Open Telegram and keep up with the news. / Rate this year in terms of its nineteen-thirty-seven-ness,” one of them begins.
According to Berkovich, her grandmother, the 88-year-old writer Nina Katerli, was worried about her granddaughter, even going so far as to tell her, “Zhenya, be quiet for a while.” Actually, the director explained that she had decided to stay in Russia, no matter what, because she had to take care of her sick grandmother.
“It is to a large extent a necessity, due to all sorts of family obligations,” Berkovich said in December. “If it were now a question of going to prison or taking care of my grandmother, then of course I would leave, because I wouldn’t be able to take care of my grandmother from prison. But right now this is not the choice I’m facing.”
This morning, the security forces searched Berkovich’s grandmother’s apartment. Berkovich and Petriichuk will spend the night at a temporary detention facility, and tomorrow a court will decide whether to remand them in custody or subject them to other restrictions.
Victory Day is a memorable holiday for every citizen of St. Petersburg! During the celebration of the Great Victory, each of us remembers the heroic deeds of our grandfathers. In keeping with a long-established tradition, many musicians dedicate their concerts to this important date.
On May 15, the Lensovet Palace of Culture will host “Echo of Victory,” a soulful solo musical performance by Dmitry Pevtsov and the Pevtsov Orchestra.
“Echo of Victory” is a new themed concert in which poems and songs of the war years and the best songs of Soviet and modern composers will be performed. The program will feature such songs as “Airplanes First of All,” “From Dawn to Dawn,” and, of course, everyone’s favorite song, which has become a symbol of the celebration of May 9—”Victory Day”!
We invite everyone to the “Echo of Victory” concert on May 15 at the Lensovet Palace of Culture. Let’s remember the great songs of that heroic time and once again feel proud of our great nation!
Directed by Denis Isakov
Duration 1 hour 40 minutes (without intermission)
Source: Bileter.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Russian authorities and Russian propagandists have been competing with each other to recreate something outwardly similar to the Soviet system in our country. The message to Russian society is simple: we are different, we have a different path, don’t look anywhere else, this is our destiny — to be unlike everyone in the world. And yet there are more and more traits of our country’s yesterday in its tomorrow.
For some reason, the speakers at the Knowledge educational forum, starting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, called directly for Russia’s self-isolation. Mishustin demanded that we achieve independence from foreign designs in the information sphere. The word “independence” has been increasingly used to mean isolation and breaking ties.
Deputies in the State Duma have proposed re-establishing the mandatory three-year “repayment through job placement” for university graduates, and prohibiting those who have not served in the army from working in the civil service.
With Ella Pamfilova, head of the Russian Central Elections Commission, on hand as a friendly observer, Uzbekistan held a referendum on April 30 to decide whether to adopt a new constitution that would grant the current president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the right to de facto lifelong rule by lengthening presidential terms from five to seven years and nullifying Mirziyoyev’s previous terms. The ballot, which involved digital technologies, produced a turnout of 84.54%, and according to preliminary data, 90.21% of voters said yes to the amendments, which would change two-thirds of the Constitution, while 9.35% of voters voted no, and 0.49% of the ballots were disqualified. Although democratic procedures were seemingly followed, Uzbekistan is moving away from democracy.
Something makes us see Pamfilova’s visit to Uzbekistan not only as a trip “to strengthen friendship and cooperation,” but also as a completely practical exchange of know-how in organizing such referendums. Only by adopting a new constitution can the first and second chapters of the current Russian Constitution be amended, and it is the second chapter that enshrines civil rights and freedoms, we should recall.
Alexander Bastrykin, the prominent human rights activist and chair of the Russian Investigative Committee, has proposed adopting a new Russian constitution that would enshrine a state ideology, completely eliminate international law’s precendence over domestic law, and re-envision human rights as an institution alien and hostile to Russia, as something encroaching on its sovereignty. Uzbekistan’s know-how in voting on a new constitution will come in handy for the Russian Central Election Commission.
At seven o’clock this evening live on Citizen TV, we will talk about why, exactly, the Russian authorities are so enthusiastic about Soviet political practice and the Soviet style, and where such intentions can lead our country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed with the need [for Russia] to develop its own communication protocols instead of foreign TCP/IP to ensure the country’s technological sovereignty and independence.
On Thursday, the head of state held an event at the Rudnevo Industrial Park during which the specifics of the development of domestic unmanned aerial systems were discussed. In this context, Alexander Selyutin, board chair of the Technojet group, spoke about the “Internet from Russia” project.
After listening to the proposals, Putin turned to his aide Maxim Oreshkin.
“Maxim Stanislavovich, talk to your colleagues, then report back to me separately, we need to help. This is obligatory, because if you have advanced proposals, your own, of course, we need to do everything to support them. It means technological sovereignty, and better competitiveness, and independence. […] We will definitely help,” the president said.
Those wishing to take part in a virtual LDPR rally at the monument to Vladimir Zhirinovsky created in Minecraft have overloaded the server. The number of applications exceeded twelve thousand, LDPR’s press service informed us.
As Andrei Svintsov, a member of the LDPR faction [in the State Duma], noted, this is only the first such event. The Liberal Democrats plan to continue using [Minecraft] and other gaming platforms to communicate with voters and attract new supporters, becoming in fact “Russia’s first digital party.”
The MP also recalled that experts continue to work on the “Cyber Zhirinovsky” political algorithm, which was previously announced by the party’s current leader Leonid Slutsky.
In late April, Judge Yevgenia Nikolayeva closed a court hearing at which it was decided how much time to give Alexei Navalny to examine the 196 volumes of the latest criminal case against him. According to the police investigator, this was necessary in order to protect investigatory privilege.
Over the past five years, judges in Russia have increasingly closed court hearings to observers, journalists, and even relatives of defendants. Because of this, defense lawyers cannot inform the public about what happens in these proceedings. Mediazona reviewed the judicial statistics and discovered that, in 2022, judges ruled 25,587 times to hear cases in closed chambers. This was almost twice as often as in 2018, when judges decided 13,172 times to hear cases without outsiders present.
The Constitution actually guarantees that your case should be heard in open court, but there are exceptions. The principal exceptions are cases involving state secrets (which is why all treason and espionage trials are closed), cases against defendants under sixteen years of age, and cases involving sexual offenses. The statistics for all such cases have not changed much in recent years.
But there is one more exception — a trial can be closed to “ensure the safety” of the people involved in the proceedings and their loved ones. This extremely vague wording allows judges to close any court hearing. Judges make vigorous use of it, especially when hearing high-profile cases.
Here’s another example. In September, the Moscow City Court closed the hearing of an appeal against the verdict in the “fake news” trial of municipal district council deputy Alexei Gorinov, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison for an argument over a children’s drawing contest in which he had said that children were dying in the war in Ukraine The judge alleged that the court had received threats, and said that the hearing would have to be closed for the safety of the parties to the proceedings.
Russian judges may be following the lead of their Belarusian colleagues, who have learned how to conduct political trials without outside scrutiny. They cite covid regulations, or fill the gallery with persons unknown, or don’t let anyone except the relatives of the defendants in the courtroom. Russian courts have begun to use many of these methods. And the Belarusian courts can declare a hearing closed without explaining the reasons at all.
The authorities do not want people to know about political trials, to monitor these trials, or to support the accused. That is why, on the contrary, it is important for society today to talk about political prisoners and help them.
A Russian version of the song by the French left-wing chansonnier Georges Moustaki. Translation: Kirill Medvedev. Guitar: Oleg Zhuravlev. Video: Nikolay Oleynikov
Don’t ask what her name is, she’s Beloved and tender, but fickle Very spunky, she’ll wake up and go forward To a new life that shines and sings
Bullied and branded Tortured and executed Well, how much can she suffer! And she rises up and strikes, And spends many, many years in prison, Yes, we betrayed her But we only love her more and more And so we want to follow her Right to the end
What her name is, don’t ask, my friend, She’s just a mayflower and a wild fruit She sprouts anywhere, like grass Her path will take her wherever she wishes
Don’t ask what her name is, she’s Sometimes beloved, sometimes persecuted, but faithful This girl that everyone is waiting for Permanent revolution is her name
My husband telephoned, saying that he had been working in Pushkin today (which never happened, but okay), and couldn’t come home. I asked why he couldn’t—it was just past six in the evening, according to the clock.
“Just you take a look at the sky,” he replied. “It’s as black as pitch. It’s impossible to travel, you can’t see a thing. It’s probably a shitstorm—a big one, the final one.”
I looked at the sky, and it actually was black. Incredibly low fluffy white clouds floated past, lit up from within by something. Right under these clouds a building was being built; it was already six floors tall. Little devils rode on the clouds, grimacing and pulling up people who were clinging to the edges. The entire scene seemed quite tiny to me.
I told my husband what I saw.
“What is that huge thing they’re building?” I asked. “And who are those people clinging to the clouds?”
My husband was quite surprised.
“They’re building a fence around our beautiful motherland, the tallest fence in the world. Those are people who didn’t leave in time. The little devils are having fun with them by picking them up, but no one knows where they’ll throw them off. They just hope it’s on the other side of the fence.”
In pre-revolutionary Russia, the raznochintsy were people whose social status did not strictly conform to the notions of “hereditary nobleman” or “eminent merchant.” Minor clerks, retired soldiers, servants of various stripes, laborers and, of course, students and other intellectual workers lived in neighborhoods remote from Nevsky Prospect.
The museum traces its roots back to 1924.
Cossack Lane has been home to a memorial address since 1924. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) lived here from February 12, 1894 to April 25, 1895, and after his death, residents of the neighboring buildings established “Ilyich’s Corner” on the street.
In 1938, Ilyich’s Corner was turned into the V.I. Ulyanov Apartment Museum, part of the Leningrad branch of the Central Museum of Lenin. In 1992, the mayor of St. Petersburg ordered that the museum be preserved as as a historical landmark. It was granted the status of a state museum under the jurisdiction of the Lenin District (later, the Admiralty District) of St. Petersburg and became known as the Museum of the History of the Revolutionary Democratic Movement of the 1880s and 1890s.
In September 2003, by order of St. Petersburg city hall, the museum was transferred to the jurisdiction of the St. Petersburg Culture Committee. In 2006, in connection with the opening of a new permanent exposition, Around the Semyonovsky Regimental Parade Ground, the museum was given its current name — the Raznochintsy Petersburg Memorial Museum
A draft regulation for the authorization of street performances was published on the website of the Government of St. Petersburg on April 11. The new rules should take effect from May.
Musicians will be obliged to notify the district council of their desire to perform ten business days before the concert. If they are going to play without percussion instruments and amplification, the deadline is three business days before the concert.
They can apply by using the Public Services in St. Petersburg app or via the websites of the district councils. To fill out the application, they will have to enter their passport details or information about a letter of proxy authorizing someone else to act on their behalf if the musicians are not seeking permission for the performance independently. In addition, they will have to provide a layout of stage and technical equipment and a list of sound amplifying equipment.
Legal entities will have to attach a copy of their charter, signed and stamped by its management, as well as a document confirming its representative’s authority to act on its behalf.
An approval already issue can be invalidated if necessary. It is planned to notify musicians about the decision of officials via SMS, e-mail, the Public Services portal, or social networks. The notification method will be chosen by the applicants themselves.
The project is undergoing an anti-corruption assessment. Earlier, the Petersburg district administrations presented lists of places where it was planned to allow street performances.
Yesterday, a man who was well over sixty was seated opposite me in a trolleybus going down Nevsky. He clutched a one-hundred-ruble bill.
“Has it been a long time since conductors stopped selling tickets?” he asked. “How do I pay the fare? I haven’t been on Nevsky for over forty years. And I haven’t been on public transport. I have a vintage Lada. That’s what I drive.”
“But your pension is probably transferred directly to your bank card,” I said. “Press it against that doodad to pay your fare.”
The man got up and pressed his Mir card to the validator. His eyes lit up with surprise and delight, as if he’d seen a magician pull a rabbit from a hat. I was сonsumed with envy toward him.
We continued our journey. Seated next to me was a fairly young woman, in her early forties, I think.
Looking disapprovingly at the man, she asked, “How is it that you haven’t been on Nevsky for forty years? What about the Immortal Regiment?”
“I don’t go,” the man said guiltily. “I came to Leningrad in 1979 and rented room on 1st Soviet Street. That’s where my wife was murdered. I moved to Vasilyevsky Island, and came to hate Nevsky. I haven’t shown my nose here since.”
The woman chuckled angrily.
“That’s no defense.”
We rode on in silence. I wanted to ask the man what had brought him to Nevsky today. But then I looked at him — in his striped sailor’s shirt, his face quite patriotic — and decided against it.
After two decades spent in Russian politics, after all that I have seen and experienced, I was sure that nothing can surprise me any more. I must admit that I was wrong.
I’ve been surprised by how far my trial, in its secrecy and contempt for legal norms, has surpassed even the “trials” of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. And that’s not even to mention the harsh sentence requested by the prosecution or the talk of “enemies of the state”. In this respect, we’ve gone beyond the 1970s – all the way back to the 1930s.
As a historian, for me this is an occasion for reflection.
At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances [in my case] was “remorse for what [the accused] has done”. And although there is little that’s funny about my current situation, I couldn’t help but smile: A criminal, of course, must repent of his deeds. I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.
Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it. I am proud that [assassinated opposition politician] Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I support every word that I have spoken and every word of which I have been accused by this court. I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in the democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and for the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price – the price of war.
In their last statements to the court, defendants usually ask for an acquittal. For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict. But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rear view mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today.
But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will evaporate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when it will be officially recognised that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who fostered and unleashed this war will be recognised as criminals, rather than those who tried to stop it.
This day will come as spring comes after even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf. Through this realisation, through this reflection, the long, difficult but vital path toward Russia’s recovery and restoration begins, its return to the community of civilised countries.
Even today, even in the darkness surrounding us, even sitting in this cage, I love my country and believe in our people. I believe that we can walk this path.
A Russian court sentenced opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on charges of treason and “fake news” Monday, capping a high-profile trial of one of the country’s most defiant anti-war voices.
Moscow City Court found Kara-Murza, 41, guilty of treason, “false information about the Russian army,” and affiliation with an “undesirable organization,” Interfax reported.
“Russia will be free, tell everyone,” Kara-Murza said after the verdict, according to the independent news site Avtozak.info.
Russia has witnessed a widespread wartime crackdown on dissent, but the severity of Kara-Murza’s sentence marks a new record as the Kremlin seeks to muzzle any criticism of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The Western-educated politician was detained in April 2022 on charges of “spreading false information about the Russian army” in an address to U.S. state legislators a month earlier.
Kara-Murza was later accused of being affiliated with an “undesirable organization” for participating in a conference in support of political prisoners. His treason charges came in October over anti-war comments made at three public events abroad.
Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of 25 years — the maximum possible jail term — for Kara-Murza.
“My self-esteem even went up [on the prosecutors’ request]. I realized I was doing everything right,” Kara-Murza’s lawyer Maria Eismont recounted her client as saying.
“Twenty-five years is the highest score I could get for what I did, what I believe in as a citizen, as a patriot, as a politician,” Eismont quoted him as saying, adding that he greeted the verdict “with a smile.”
His trial was held behind closed doors.
Monday’s hearing was attended by several Kara-Murza supporters and foreign diplomats including a U.S. embassy official named David Bernstein, according to the Mediazona news site.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Kara-Murza’s prison sentence, which his supporters and Western governments slammed as politically motivated.
U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy called Russia’s criminal prosecution of Kremlin critics “a symbol of weakness, not strength,” while Canadian Ambassador Alison LeClaire said Kara-Murza’s sentence marked a “dark turn” in Russia’s post-Soviet history.
The British Ambassador in Moscow Deborah Bronnert denounced the court ruling and called for the “immediate” release of Kara-Murza, a dual British-Russian citizen.
“The British government expresses solidarity with Vladimir Kara-Murza and his family,” Bronnert told journalists from the steps of the courthouse.
A Russian citizen by birth, Kara-Murza received British citizenship after moving to the United Kingdom with his mother when he was 15.
Russia’s Ambassador in London Andrei Kelin was summoned by the U.K. Foreign Office, which condemned Kara-Murza’s sentence as a violation of his right to a fair trial under international law.
The European Union denounced Kara-Murza’s sentence as “outrageously harsh” and called on Russia to provide access to health care for the ailing Kremlin critic.
The opposition activist suffers from a nerve condition called polyneuropathy which his lawyers say was due to poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017.
The condition has worsened in prison, and he was too unwell to attend some of his hearings, his lawyers said.
Kara-Murza says he was poisoned twice because of his political activities, but he continued to spend long periods of time in Russia.
Kara-Murza has said he stands by all of his political statements, including those opposing the Ukraine offensive.
“I subscribe to every word that I have said, that I am incriminated for today,” Kara-Murza said in his final address to court last week, highlighting his fight against the Ukraine offensive and President Vladimir Putin.
“Not only do I not repent for any of it — I am proud of it,” he said.
Germany condemned the “shocking level repression” in Russia on Monday, and Latvia announced it had banned 10 Russian nationals from traveling to the Baltic country in retaliation to the court ruling.
Today, coming out of the front door of my building, I saw the following tableau. A neighbor from the third floor, who is somewhere between thirty-five and forty, was, on the contrary, coming in the front door. Judging by the bag he was carrying, he had just been grocery shopping. He doffed his baseball cap, clamped it under his arm, and crossed himself three times as he looked at the mailboxes. Then he peered into his own mailbox and let out a sigh of relief. His draft notice had not yet arrived, apparently. To be honest, it took a while for the meaning of his maneuvers to dawn on me. Of course, I pretended that I hadn’t noticed any of it.
On Wednesday, April 12, Samara journalist Sergei Podsytnik posted on the website Change.org a petition calling for the repeal of amendments paving the way for the introduction of electronic military draft notices, as passed the previous day by the State Duma and the Federation Council.
“These amendments violate our rights. A citizen cannot be stripped of their rights without a trial, but now this right has been given to the staff of military enlistment offices,” the petition says. Podsytnik draws attention to the fact that the public services portal Gosuslugi, through which it is planned to serve draft notices to Russians, has a number of vulnerabilities. In addition, not all residents of the country have access to their accounts on the portal, and almost thirty percent of Russians over thirty are not active internet users.
According to the amendments as adopted, if a conscript did not receive a paper summons and did not log into his Gosuslugi account, the summons will still be considered delivered within seven days after it was entered into the register of draft notices. He will then be banned from leaving the country. After twenty days, new bans will come into effect: those who failed to report to a military enlistment office will not be able to work as individual entrepreneurs, manage real estate, drive a car, or take out loans.
“To deprive people of the ability to sell real estate, drive a car, or travel abroad at the request of a person with no specialized legal education is an outrage against our rights and freedoms,” the petition says. At the time this story went to press, the petition had been signed by more than thirty thousand people, and their number was growing rapidly. For the amendments to go into effect, they must be signed by Vladimir Putin and published.
The legislative changes mean that once a Russian citizen has received a military summons online, they will be automatically forbidden from leaving the country, and therefore avoiding the call-up.
If they fail to appear at a draft office within 20 days, they will face a range of restrictions, including a ban on using their own vehicle, selling property or receiving a loan. They also face a fine of between 500 and 3,000 rubles (£5 to £29).
The head of Russia’s parliamentary committee on defence claimed that these measures will only come into force during the next conscription campaign.
The new system also anticipates a unified database where personal data about Russian reserve personnel can be collated by a range of government institutions, such as the tax service, law enforcement, the pension fund and medical facilities.
Such a database will make it “practically impossible” for reservists to avoid being called up, anti-conscription lawyer Alexey Tabalov told independent Russian media outlet Verstka, because military registration offices will have more detailed information about an individual’s home and work address.
This changes the advice he has been giving people who want to avoid mobilisation, Tabalov says.
Whereas he previously recommended that people avoid receiving the physical summons document, that “recommendation has lost all meaning” now, he said. “If you don’t want to serve, don’t go to the military registration office, but you’ll still face restrictive measures,” Tabalov said.
Andrei Kartopolov, head of the State Duma defense committee, spelled out tough penalties for those who do not respond to electronic summonses, including potential bans on driving, registering a company, working as a self-employed individual, obtaining credit or loans, selling apartments, buying property or securing social benefits. These penalties could apply to the thousands of men who are already outside the country.
The electronic summons will be issued via a government services portal, Gosuslugi, used for all manner of state payments and services including taxes, passports, housing services, social benefits, transport documents, medical appointments, employee insurance and countless other matters.
Under the law, personal data of conscripts including identity documents, personal tax numbers, driver’s license details, phone numbers and other information will be transferred by Gosuslugi to military enlistment offices. Universities, business employers, hospitals and clinics, government ministries, law enforcement agencies, the electoral commission and the tax authority are also required to transmit data to the military.
All the swindlers are fleeing Russia:
They have property in the West.
The bandits and sodomites are fleeing
And all those killed by their conscience.
The Judases are running, all going there,
Where there is no love, where there is no Christ.
Where there are gay parades and Nazis,
Liberals and globalists.
God is cleansing Holy Russia,
He protects it himself like his own daughter!
He will not let the evil ones torment us,
May God grant that we keep our faith.
Only an ignoramus doesn't understand
Russia as the last hope.
Let the enemy shout that Putin is bad
And under him all in Russia is bad.
If the whole herd of fleas is mad,
Evidently our Putin has done everything right!
First, if you know someone who might like this newsletter, please forward it to them.
Next, the story. I know many people this week are focused on the killing of Russian blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in St Petersburg. We are working on that (stay tuned).
But I want to talk about the long-term impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the social crisis it has caused in my country.
In this case, it’s about Ukraine’s teachers, who are facing serious salary cuts against a backdrop of high inflation, prices, rents and costs of basic services.
It’s a story about who is paying the price of Russia’s war, which has caused hundreds of billions of dollars of direct and indirect damage to Ukraine.
To do it, I spoke to teachers, local officials and trade union activists to find out how the Ukrainian government is being forced to pursue austerity – and what that means for hard-working people across the country.
I found that some local authorities are managing to pick up the shortfall in central grants – while others just can’t do it, as tax income has dropped off following the invasion.
Either way, local officials know it’s political suicide to fire people en masse, and have to scramble and scrape to get through the funding shortfall.
But it feels like a crisis postponed – rather than solved.
It’s not the prices that are rising — it’s the ruble that is falling. The “special operation” is a war. You can’t force Ukraine to like you. We haven’t surrendered to NATO. The neighbors have no more Nazis than we do. Soldiers should be alive, healthy, and at home. The president has gone mad, and everyone is afraid to contradict him. Your children love you and want to live like human beings.
That’s it, thank you. So that’s how it is. Yeah, it’s time to end it. Wow. Thanks, I feel relieved. Oh, would that they would explain it that way on TV.
The war has made us take a look around. In whose midst do we live? Do our fellow citizens think the same way we do? Public Sociology Lab (PS Lab) is a research team that studies politics and society in Russia. In 2022, it launched a project to study the attitudes of Russians to the war.
How do people explain the conflict’s causes to themselves? How does their attitude to politics affect their personal interactions and self-perception? Do they have a political position at all? We talked about this with researchers at PS Lab. Svetlana Erpyleva works at the Center for Eastern European Studies at the University of Bremen, while Maxim Alyukov, a political sociologist, works at the Institute for Russian Studies at King’s College London.
How is your research on the attitude of Russians to the war with Ukraine set up?
Svetlana Erpyleva: Qualitative methods are the main difference between our team and the other teams doing systematic research on perceptions of the war. We have long conversations with our informants and try to find out not only their attitude to the war directly, but also many other things related to it — what sources of information they trust, how they interact with loved ones, their fears and hopes, and so on.
We searched for respondents using social networks, ads, and the “snowball” method (that is, when an informant helps us set up a conversation with their ow friends). It was a big help in contacting people who do not often reflect on politics.
Some people responded enthusiastically to the ads we placed about finding informants — they wanted to talk to us themselves. Moreover, these are not only people who have a clear stance for or against the war and are willing to share it, but also those who feel that their opinion is not represented in public discussion. Such people do not see other people who think like them on social networks or in the media and want to put themselves on the map.
For example, during the the second stage of our research, in the autumn of 2022, we realized that dividing people into “supporters of the war,” “opponents,” and “doubters” (as we had done in the spring) was no longer warranted. Our sources support some decisions by the authorities, but not others. They regard the war as necessary in some ways, but some things about it terrify them, while other things cause them to doubt. Our interviews, which last about an hour (sometimes longer), have in fact enabled us to understand the peculiarities of how the war is regarded by Russians, with all their contradictions and complications.
Our other goal is to study the dynamics of how the war is regarded. We conducted the first series of interviews in the spring of 2022. We did the second series between October and December 2022. It is important to note here that in the autumn we spoke only with “non-opponents of the war,” that is, with those whom in the spring we had provisionally labeled “supporters” and “doubters.”
Maxim Alyukov: I would also make another important clarification. When people talk about studying perceptions of the war, they often have in mind representative surveys. Using them, we can indeed more or less accurately describe the range of opinions around the country. But polls cannot show how opinions about the war are shaped, or what emotions people experience. We are going deep rather than wide. Yes, we cannot draw large-scale conclusions about public opinion in general, but, unlike the polling projects, it is easier for us to talk about specific mechanisms — what emotions tend to shape certain positions, how different types of media consumption affect perceptions of the war, and so on.
What is the difference between how people regarded the war in the spring and the autumn?
SE: On the one hand, we see from the autumn interviews that perceptions of the war had not changed radically. Almost none of the people with whom we had repeat conversations had changed their attitude to the war from “plus” to “minus” and vice versa. Of course, there have been small shifts in this regard. For example, some of the springtime convinced supporters remained “optimists,” while others had become “pessimists.” The former believe that the “special operation” is going in the right direction, despite all the shortcomings, while the latter criticize the chaos in the army, the chaos during the mobilization, retreats by Russian troops, and so on.
But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves: the pessimists have not stopped supporting the war. Rather, they want Russia to act tougher and more effectively, and ultimately win.
In the first series of interviews in the spring, we identified a group of so-called doubters. But it is clear that even back then different informants in this group were closer to one or the other pole of opinion. Some doubted, but were inclined to support the war, while others were against it. In the autumn, there were fewer informants who were completely unsure of their position. Those who had been closer to the supporters of the war had often begun to support the war a little more. The same thing happened to those who had been more against the war than not: many of them had become a little more strongly opposed to the war (without turning into unambiguous opponents).
On the other hand, the ways people have for justifying the war have changed. Some of the old methods are losing popularity, while others are emerging.
For example, one of the new justifications for war involves imagining it as a natural disaster. We feel sorry, of course, for those who perish in a flood. We cannot regard this other than negatively. But it is impossible for us to oppose it. The same thing has happened with the war.
From the viewpoint of the informants who have resorted to this excuse, the war just happened. It is a terrible reality that we can only accept.
Another new way of rationalizing the war involves turning its consequences into its alleged causes, as when our informants say, “Ukraine has been bombing our border cities, so we need to continue the war,” or, “The war has shown that we are fighting not with Ukraine, but with the collective West. We are fighting not with a fraternal people, but with our perennial enemy, so it is right that we started this war.” The second statement had also come up in the spring, but it has become much more popular. The rationale behind such justifications involves arguing that events that happened after the war started seemingly reveal the enemy’s true identity.
MA: Attitudes towards sources of information have also changed. There are two trends: polarization and stabilization. At the war’s outset, people tried to seek out information, including information from the “opposite camp.” For example, those who supported the war sometimes read opposition and Ukrainian media, because they understood that the Russian state media are propagandistic. Now, on the contrary, many people are so weary that they have not only reduced their consumption of information in general, but also have stopped following sources that reflect the opposite opinion.
At the beginning of the war, the following idea was often discussed: information about the destruction, civilian casualties, and losses among Russian soldiers would gradually undermine the effect of propaganda. Now we see that, over time, the simultaneous consumption of information from pro-government and opposition sources, which paint radically different pictures of the world, has had the opposite effect. It causes discomfort, which leads to the fact that people who are less involved try to shield themselves from information about the war in general, while more involved people consume propaganda and stop paying attention to alternative sources. This is a conscious choice: they realize that they are consuming propaganda. I remember the words of one informant: “There are different points of view, but the brain tends to stick to one theory. I’m inclined to choose the theory of my country, of the state media, so that my brain follows it.”
It transpires that the person understands perfectly well that they are consuming propaganda, and they consciously choose it amidst conflicting explanations that cause discomfort.
Do these changes produce any practical actions? Maybe people stop talking to certain people or get involved in charity?
SE: There are only a few volunteers among our informants.
People can have a positive view of charity, and worry about their country, but most of them do not take any action themselves.
And yet, volunteering that involves assistance to the mobilized is certainly seen positively by our informants (that is, by “non-opponents” with very different views of the war). Such volunteering is regarded not as involvement in the war, but as support for “our boys,” for “our country.” This is not surprising: there are always significantly fewer “activists” and volunteers than there are sympathizers. Only a few people are involved in protests, too.
Changes have also been taking place in the way people talk about the war with their loved ones. For example, many of our informants described the summer as a carefree time when the war had completely disappeared from their lives: they stopped discussing it. The mobilization was the “new February 24” for those informants (who were most often people remote from politics). The topic of war had returned to everyday conversations again. The informants were discussing the events even with strangers. For example, one of our sources told us that even at work meetings with her clients she had occasion to discuss the mobilization.
Do attitudes to specific events affect everyday practices? For example, the mobilization began and people decided to check whether their foreign travel passports were still valid.
SE: Unfortunately, we didn’t talk much about everyday practices in our interviews. Probably the most common reaction to the mobilization’s announcement was anxiety and, simultaneously, the absence of concrete action: “Whatever will be will be, but I hope that nothing bad happens.” Some of our informants who did not want to be sent to the front changed their places of work and residence, but we didn’t often encounter such people in our interviews. (It is important to understand that we were talking to “non-opponents” of the war.)
MA: It’s also worth recalling that a minority of Russians have the possibility of leaving the country. According to our research on social networks (this is another project that my colleagues and I are doing), the most common reaction to the mobilization has been evasion.
Is it possible, then, to talk about a desire for inneremigration among those who have remained in Russia? For example, a person says, “Actually, I have a lot more important and valuable things in my life [than the war], and I want to pursue them.”
SE: It was the presence of this desire among people in the spring of 2022 that made us single out the doubters as a separate group. All of them were typified by the notion that the “distant war” was secondary compared to more important values — work, loved ones, and family. But in the autumn, we saw that fewer and fewer of our informants were able to take a neutral stance, to completely distance themselves from assessing the war. Our informants talked about pressure: they seemed to feel that society demanded that they voice their opinion. In this sense, as Maxim has said, the polarization of views has been increasing.
But our informants assess [this polarization] in different ways. Many supporters of the war say that it is awesome because people are becoming more united, more interested in what is happening around them. The “anti-patriots” will leave the country, but patriotic Russians will remain. Others complain that it is hard for them to cope with the pressure. They would like to take a neutral position, but they cannot manage it. One of my sources described it this way (I’m quoting from memory, of course, but nearly verbatim): “I would like not to take a side, but my smart friends say that the war should be continued. And I understand that they are right, that one should support one’s country in such circumstances. I’m unable to take a back seat.” But a little later she said: “I’m afraid that time will pass and [people] will come and ask me, ‘Have you been reading Meduza? Have you been watching Channel One? Whose side are you on?’ And I won’t have any answer.” This situation even makes her think about emigrating. That is, on the one hand, she chooses to side with supporters of the war; on the other hand, she is afraid to make this choice.
MA: I would add that the desire for neutrality remains. One respondent put it this way: “There is war all round, but I try to maintain peace on my VKontakte page.” He moderates disputes there and shares links to articles about the importance of neutrality. For him, this is a way of creating a space for himself in which there is the possibility of remaining neutral, since he doesn’t have this possibility in other contexts. It is another matter that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for such neutrality.
You say that your respondents feel pressure. Where do they feel this pressure? In interactions with loved ones and colleagues, or somewhere else?
SE: It is often the pressure of their immediate environment. Many opponents of the war have left the country, and the doubters thus have fewer contacts with their viewpoint. They are surrounded, as a rule, more by supporters of the “special operation.” But the cause of such pressure may be an inner conflict. For example, our sources tell us that they were taught at school that when the country is in difficult straits, the worst stance is neutrality. But now they have found themselves in exactly this position. It is really difficult for them: they see the propaganda on both sides, but do not feel strong enough to resist it. This can be illustrated as follows: “Maybe Russia was right to attack, or maybe it was wrong to do so. Maybe Ukraine is the enemy, or maybe it isn’t the enemy. I don’t understand what’s going on at all. But how can I fail to take a stance?”
In such circumstances, people turn to what seems certain to them — for example, to their Russian identity. You may not know who is right, but you have a native country and it must be supported.
MA: This feeling of pressure consists of two parts. The first is personal interaction, about which we have said our piece. The second is the influence of the media, in which you can constantly see appeals and reminders of the war. This background encourages a person to clearly articulate their position.
Is the official newspeak (“special operation”, “line of contact,” etc.) incorporated into the explanations given by the “non-opponents” of the war? Is the state discourse generally used to justify it?
MA: Yes and no. It does happen that our sources literally quote propaganda narratives. For example, they start saying on TV that there are fakes everywhere, and a person repeats this idea. But at the same time, an absolute minority of our sources trust state broadcasts, although there are such people among them. They have doubts and come up with their own hypotheses. But it is important to take into account that our informants live in large cities, so it is likely that, for example, in smaller cities far from the capitals, the ratio is different, that there are fewer people there who are like the majority of our respondents, and more people who trust propaganda.
SE: You also have to understand that there are different types of support for the war, and therefore different explanations for it. There are people who accept the explanations given by the state media. Most often these people are elderly: they regularly watch TV, and then rehash the rhetoric of the propagandists. But there are other kinds of people — for example, those whom we call “committed supporters.” Their attitude to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was shaped back in 2014, or even in 2004. They can be quite critical of propaganda narratives and are fond of saying, “We have bad propaganda. It is incapable of explaining anything.” Such people are able to explain the war’s causes on their own. And there are, for example, people who are remote from politics, who might watch TV sometimes, but it doesn’t convince them. They can even rehash propaganda cliches, but they do not adopt them, they do not present them as their own words. For example, they say, “We were told that…” or “We are told that…”
Is it possible then to say that, despite propaganda, polarization, and state pressure, even those who are not against the war are in a gray area? In other words, there are no views that could unite people, and accordingly, that is why they cannot unite and make demands.
SE: Yes, that’s right. Unless “convinced supporters” could try to create some kind of association. But I’m sure they’re a minority. Most people are busy with their daily affairs: they are not interested in political positions and movements. We are currently preparing a second analytical report on the results of the autumn stage of our study, and there we even try to avoid the word “position.”
Most of our informants have no “position.” Their attitude to the war is a bundle of fears, doubts, hopes, and other feelings. Such people may want Russia to win, but sincerely worry about the victims of the shelling in Ukraine.
One of our informants said, “If I had been subject to the mobilization I would have been out of Russia in three minutes.” And yet she, for example, wants Russia to win.
MA: Especially since propaganda does not just attempt to impose a certain point of view. It also generates a multitude of contradictory narratives that simply confuse people. This is a paradox of authoritarian propaganda: the state needs this vital demobilizing effect to maintain control, but it also prevents it from generating broad support for the war.
You mentioned sympathy for the victims of the shelling. In your spring report, some of your sources say that they would tolerate a decline in the material standard of living, because for them what matters are spiritual values. Since they are so clearly aware of losses, can we say that Russians perceive themselves as victims?
SE: We rarely see people regarding themselves as victims directly. They say, “The situation has become worse in Russia as a whole, but everything is fine with me. Yes, people are being mobilized, and that’s scary, but my loved ones aren’t being mobilized. Prices have gone up, but we’re coping.” Our sources often regard Russia as a whole as a victim. They are offended on Russia’s behalf: it was forced into the conflict, and it is humiliated everywhere and considered an aggressor. That is, they don’t think “[international] brands have abandoned me,” but those brands have abandoned “poor Russia.”
MA: Ukrainians are also regarded as victims. “The poor residents of Ukraine are being used by NATO. Would that it were over as soon as possible.” In many ways, this is part of the propaganda narrative that Ukraine has become a firing range on which NATO and Russia are fighting using Ukrainians as proxies. But this is, rather, a propaganda cliche that people simply repeat without thinking through their own position on this issue.
It follows that “non-opponents” of the war do not regard it as part of their personal lives?
SE: This is a generalization, of course, but I would say that it is basically true. For the opponents of the war, on the contrary, the war has become an existential challenge. Sometimes they even make themselves experience it as such: “I cannot live an ordinary life. I must remember that there is a war going on.”
But isn’t there a contradiction here? The “non-opponents” of the war do not regard it as a personal matter, but we are saying that they feel pressure from their loved ones, are trying to find their own identity, and are grasping for rationalizations.
SE: This is a difficult question, but let’s try thinking about it. Compared to opponents, supporters and doubters are more likely to try to rid themselves of negative thoughts, to distance themselves from the war. And yet it regularly makes its presence felt. The latter is a new trend, and many of [our respondents] do not like it: they would prefer to live their lives without being reminded about the war. But it has become more difficult to do this.
MA: In our research on how the war is seen by Russians, we have been observing what I had observed in my pre-war research. People, if they are not politicized, rarely hold consistent positions at all. I will give an example from my research on Russian perceptions of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine prior to February 24. A person has a smorgasbord of different political ideas. He supports all the decisions made by the authorities, including the annexation of Crimea and military backing for the so-called DPR and LPR. And yet half an hour later he says, “Basically, it would be a good idea to withdraw the troops and leave Ukraine alone. It’s bad for us.” It’s just that he hadn’t needed to make connections between his disparate views on this issue before. This necessity emerged during our conversation.
We have been observing the same thing now. People are trying to push the war out of their lives. They need arguments in favor of the war — not because it is their political position, but because it is safer to live that way. For many of our respondents, the interview was like an exam in which they were forced for the first time to think about logical chains and formulate at least some kind of a clear opinion about the war, which they had not tried to formulate before.
What goes on in your mind?
I think that I am falling down.
What goes on in your mind?
I think that I am upside down.
Lady, be good, and do what you should,
you know it'll work alright.
Lady, be good, do what you should,
you know it'll be alright.
I'm goin' up, and I'm goin' down.
I'm gonna fly from side to side.
See the bells, up in the sky,
Somebody's cut the string in two.
Lady, be good, and do what you should,
you know it'll work alright.
Lady, be good, do what you should,
you know it'll be alright.
One minute one, one minute two.
One minute up and one minute down.
What goes on here in your mind?
I think that I am falling down.
Lady, be good, and do what you should,
you know it'll work alright.
Lady, be good, do what you should,
you know it'll be alright.
Throughout Putin’s war on Ukraine, the attitudes of the Russian public toward the regime and the conflict have been the subject of much scrutiny. This talk addresses this question by analyzing data released by the Presidential Administration that summarizes monthly correspondence received from the public from January 2021 through December 2022. While the identity of these correspondents is not known, their decision to send non-anonymous appeals to the President suggests that they support or tolerate the Putin regime. The data demonstrate that after an initial period of uncertainty about the war’s economic impact, these concerns abated until the announcement of mobilization in September. Since then, the appeals depict a Russian public that is increasingly concerned about conditions of military service and the war’s impact on service members and their families. At the same time, the data indicate that the Kremlin’s strategy to shift the blame for mobilization from the President to regional authorities appears successful.
Pollsters argue over how many Russians support the Ukraine war
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sociologists have grappled with the question of how many Russians support the Russian army in Ukraine. Both independent and state-run pollsters claim they are the majority, and these studies are frequently referenced in Western media. However, at the same time, a group of independent sociologists have pointed out that these polls may not be representative — many Russians are reluctant to speak freely about their thoughts on the conflict due to draconian wartime censorship laws.
Independent researchers from the Khroniki project recently presented the findings from their latest survey, which suggest using a percentage of how many Russians support the war may not be a very meaningful statistic. In their view, this figure comprises a misleadingly wide spectrum of people: from those who volunteered to fight in Ukraine to those afraid of repression. Moreover, at least half of those who are opposed to the war are afraid to speak out, the Khroniki sociologists said.
To identify the core pro- and anti-war groups in Russia, the pollsters devised a series of questions. The results of their survey suggests that the core support group represents 22% of the population, while the core opposition is 20.1%.
Separately, researchers stress that “the fridge counters the effects of the TV,” and this effect is felt more and more with each passing month. The level of support for the war among TV viewers who are encountering economic pressures is falling. Among TV viewers who have encountered at least one economic problem, support for the war was down 11 percentage points in February.
Other polls, however, show that a vast majority of Russians support the war. For example, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM, 68% of Russian residents welcomed the invasion of Ukraine and just 20% are opposed to it. And leading independent polling agency Levada Center published results in January that suggested 75% of Russians support the war — to varying degrees.
Why the world should care:
It’s not easy to work out exactly what proportion of the Russian population supports the war, but Khroniki is certain that the pro-war lobby is far smaller than polls from leading agencies would suggest. If that is true, it casts doubt on the widely-held belief in the west that the war in Ukraine is supported by most Russians who remain inside the country.
On 1 September 2022, I returned to Russia after almost a year away. The war that began six months ago had been present in my life daily: in the news, in conversations with friends and colleagues, and in the Ukrainian flags on the streets of the European city where I lived. But there was no trace of the war in the town near Moscow where I grew up, and where my parents still live. I did not see pro-war or anti-war graffiti or slogans; war was not mentioned in the streets or by my friends and acquaintances. As I sank into the familiar rhythm of my childhood town, I caught myself thinking that perhaps I was beginning to forget about it too. That all changed on September 21, the day ‘partial mobilisation’ was announced. Suddenly, the war was being mentioned all around me, or rather whispered about, in the cafe where I listened to Putin’s address, in the local library, in the street, on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The war seemed to have reappeared in Russian society instantaneously, with the snap of a finger.
I had observed something similar before, not around me, but as a researcher: in the data my colleagues and I collected. Our Public Sociology Lab began conducting a qualitative study on Russians’ perceptions of the war on February 27, 2022, just three days after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. During the first months of the war, we conducted (link in Russian) over 200 interviews with supporters of the war, its opponents and doubters. At that moment, many of our informants, including those who were far from being exclusively anti-war, also said that they had been shocked by the news of the start of the ‘special military operation’ and had tried to make sense of events in their conversations with friends and relatives. But after a few weeks, the emotions of shock and confusion began to fade. The war became routine and faded into background noise.
So we knew that the ‘return of war to society’ following the announcement of mobilisation would also likely be temporary. We waited a few weeks and, on October 11th, conducted our first interview as part of the second stage of our research into Russians’ perceptions of war. Between October and December 2022, we conducted 88 interviews with ‘non-opponents’ of the war, deciding this time to focus the study on support for and disengagement from the war, rather than resistance to it. Forty of these interviews were repeated conversations with supporters of the war as well as its doubters doubters, with whom we had already spoken in the spring.
We were driven by the desire to understand how perceptions of, and predominantly support for, the war were evolving. From the interviews conducted in the spring of 2022, we roughly divided all ‘non-opponents’ of the war into supporters and doubters. Despite the fact that among supporters of the war, there were interviewees who were convinced to a greater or lesser extent, all of them found some means to justify the ‘special military operation’. Some were staunch supporters of ‘the Russian world’ and believed that the war would push the geopolitical threat away from Russia’s borders and strengthen the country’s position; some were worried about loved ones in Donbas and rejoiced at the prospect of an imminent resolution to the longstanding conflict; some, viewers of Russian TV channels, spoke of ‘combating fascism’ and ‘protecting the Russian-speaking population of Donbas’; many expressed confidence or, at the very least, hope: ‘if our government started the war, then it must have been necessary’. Although these people were worried about the casualties caused by the war and looked with apprehension at a future defined by isolation and sanctions, they remained supporters of the ‘special operation’.
It seemed to us, as it did to many others, that the announcement of mobilisation might fundamentally change something in the way Russians viewed the war. However, in addition to mobilisation, the war was marked by a series of other events, each of which could have left an impression on Russian society: the seizure of new territories and their subsequent annexation to Russia, the retreat of Russian troops, the bombing of the Crimean bridge, news of the bombing of Russian border regions. All this occurred against a backdrop of increasing Western sanctions, muddled explanations from the authorities as to why the country was at war, repression of dissenters, and increasing polarisation of views on the war in society. In such a state of affairs, we assumed that the views of the war held by ordinary Russians could not be sustained. In some ways, our assumptions were right, and in other ways, we were wrong.
It was not without reason that we waited a few weeks after the announcement of mobilisation and the swift ‘return of the war to society’ before we began the second stage of our research. The October interviews showed that the emotions associated with the announcement of mobilisation were as strong as they were fleeting. After a few weeks, they began to subside, and ‘partial mobilisation’ became normalised as a part of the new everyday reality. But, most interestingly, despite the negative attitudes towards mobilisation expressed by many of our informants who were not opposed to the war, their dissatisfaction with mobilisation rarely translated into dissatisfaction with the ‘special military operation’.