The World Today for January 31, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Silent Gestures

RUSSIA

Muscovites recently have been laying wreaths of flowers, stuffed animals, photographs and other mementos at the feet of a statue dedicated to the early 20th century Ukrainian writer, Lesya Ukrainka. The makeshift memorial, appearing after a Russian missile hit a residential building in Dnipro in Ukraine just over a week ago, killing 46 people and injuring 80 others, is a subtle sign of discontent over Russia’s bloody, humiliating standstill war in Ukraine, the New York Times wrote.

“In contemporary Russia, under these conditions, it is a battle – a silent battle,” a Russian chemist who contributed to the memorial told the newspaper, alluding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal crackdown on free expression and dissent over the military’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine.

With the help of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leaders have prospered personally under Putin’s watch, as the Australian Broadcasting Company reported, Putin still maintains a solid grip on the media and other institutions that claim to reflect public sentiment and civil society.

Prominent opposition activist Aleksei Navalny has been imprisoned for the past two years, Amnesty International wrote. Russian authorities routinely shut down organizations that promote anti-war sentiments or refuse to bow to government censors, Human Rights Watch said. Putin has especially cracked down on other spaces of resistance to his conservative vision for Russian society, like the LGBTQ community, added the BBC.

Still, the Russian army’s failures in Ukraine have clearly undermined Putin’s power, Military.com countered. The Kremlin’s current regime is creaking under the stress, it said. Army generals are at odds with the Wagner Group, the Russian military contracting force that has fielded some of the toughest fighters against the Ukrainian army, for example, indicating that members of Putin’s team are pointing fingers at each other.

The increasingly outlandish statements of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are another sign of the chaos in Putin’s camp. At his recent annual press conference, Lavrov, who has served in his position at the pinnacle of the Russian political elite since 2004, said the US and Europe were pursuing a “final solution” to the “Russian question,” comparing Russia’s current diplomatic and economic isolation to the Holocaust.

“Just as Napoleon mobilized practically all of Europe against the Russian Empire, just as Hitler mobilized and captured … the majority of European countries and sent them against the Soviet Union, now the United States has organized a coalition,” Lavrov said, according to the Times of Israel.

And while Putin still seemingly has the loyalty of the elite and voters, cracks have appeared. Polls showed his popularity dipping, especially after imposing a partial draft last year. Meanwhile, he appeared to take swipes at elites who are less than supportive of the war effort, Newsweek reported.

One source close to businessmen from Putin’s “inner circle” told Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet that operates from the Baltics that, “It’s started to dawn on people: We’ve lost the real war.”

More notably, supporters are openly speaking about how the “special operation” has achieved little, noted Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

Unfortunately, countries become more, not less, unpredictable and dangerous as they near their breaking point.

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