Inside Russia, Putin’s war in Ukraine is drawing battle lines

Alexei Safonov, 47, was appalled at the news that Russia had launched the attack last week. He then started working as a chief engineer at an ice rink and was disgusted to see his colleagues partying.

“We felt it was high time to show these ‘Nazis’ what we can do, so it’s high time to launch this operation,” he said, referring to Putin’s claim that he would protect Ukraine and “denazify” their leadership. “It really got me down and depressed. The people around me are excited about it. When I look at her, I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

That night, he wrote a concerned social media post lamenting the “horror and shame” of a war that “will be catastrophic.” It initially received 19 comments, most attacking him. A friend, a local police officer, warned him to put it out, but he refused.

The next day, the general director of the complex burst in at work and berated and abused Safonov.

“He said, ‘Either you remove this post or we don’t need people like you here.’ He told me to sign a resignation letter, but I just packed up and left,” Safonov said.

Later, three police officers armed with machine guns came to his home, arrested him and accused him of disrespect towards society and the Russian Federation. He faces court on Friday and fears authorities could invent a more serious charge.

The seismic effects of the war are just beginning to dawn on many Russians, deepening these rifts in society. State TV hosts tell viewers the sanctions prove the West hates Russians.

Europe’s airspace has been closed and Russia’s now toxic brand has been shunned in sports, chess, ice hockey, soccer, motorsports and by art galleries, Harley Davidson, Disney, the film “The Batman”, the Eurovision Song Contest, luxury car companies, the Maersk shipping company, the International Olympic Committee, big oil companies, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund and many more.

The cascading effect was fast. Google blocked YouTube channels linked to state media outlets RT and Sputnik. Even Europe’s far-right leaders and strongmen in Central and Eastern Europe balked. The ruble plummeted and the central bank halted trading for two days as Putin banned Russians from depositing or sending foreign currency into accounts.

When Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got up on Tuesday to speak at the Geneva Disarmament Conference, almost all the delegates got up and left the room. When senior official Vyacheslav Volodin flew home from a business trip over the weekend, his plane was turned away from airspace in Sweden and Norway.

To be fair, outside of liberal circles, public criticism is still a relative trickle in a country where dissent is not tolerated. However, it has absorbed some powerful oligarchs, although they have little to no leverage over Putin.

Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire industrialist, called for peace “as soon as possible” on the messaging app Telegram. Ukrainian-born mogul Mikhail Fridman wrote a letter to LetterOne staff, first reported by the Financial Times, saying war could never be the answer.

State TV presenter Ivan Urgant posted a black square on his Instagram feed on the day of the invasion, along with the words “Fear and Pain. No to the war.” His show the next day was canceled and it’s not clear it will ever air again.

Even the daughter of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov posted a black banner on social media that read “No to war,” but she quickly deleted it.

anissa NauaiCEO of Maffick, a company with RT connections and one of Putin’s staunchest defenders for years, announced on Tuesday that she would “sever all ties with RT,” posting a black banner on Twitter that read “Russia without Putin.” .

Apolitical people felt the need to make their opposition clear. Peter Svidler, a Russian chess grandmaster, usually tweets about chess, worlds and dogs. But last week he wrote that it was impossible to remain silent. “No to war,” he posted.

“Let’s at least get some things live on the air. I do not agree with the war my country is waging in Ukraine. I do not believe that Ukraine or the Ukrainian people are my enemies or anyone’s enemies,” he said on Tuesday chess 24 Current.

According to human rights group OVD-Info, nearly 6,500 protesters have been arrested in dozens of cities since the invasion. Psychiatrists, doctors, architects, journalists, actors, historians, computer programmers, directors, orthodox priests and others signed open letters protesting the war.

If Putin did not change course, Russia would “take its place as an aggressor and a rogue state, a state that will bear responsibility for its crimes for generations to come,” said Ivan Zhdanov, director of the anti-corruption foundation run by the jailed man Dissident Alexei is headed to Navalny. Zhdanov spoke in a video calling for a national campaign against disinformation.

But when the Russian economy came under severe pressure from the sanctions, Russian officials stepped up their game and sharpened their rhetoric.

In a tweet from Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova questioned whether “the process of denazification in Germany after the end of World War II was really complete” and commented on Germany’s decision to send arms to Ukraine.

Lawmaker Andrei Klimov called for treason charges against those who “collaborated with foreign anti-Russian centers and blatantly damaged our national security.”

The older generation of Russians who rip off state television fear the West and admire Putin for the stability he brought after the chaotic post-Soviet 1990s. But the predictability is gone.

Rink engineer Safonov said ordinary, low-income Russians would be hurt the most, but wealthy elites “will manage as usual,” adding, “Maybe they will be a little shaken, but not much, I’m sure.” .

“For Russia, that means we’re going back into the caves,” he said. “I think it’s like the end for Russia.”

Natasha Abbakumova contributed to this report.

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