Eastern Express 22.09

Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilisation in the country. About 300,000 Russians are to be sent to the war in Ukraine, in light of mounting problems on the ground where Ukrainian forces have been pushing the invaders out of occupied territories over the last few weeks. What Putin did not expect, or did expect perhaps but chose to ignore, was that this message would cause panic not in the West, but among his own citizens. Will Russia ride out the resulting wave of discontent, or has Putin herein expedited his own political demise?

Despite Russia’s well-known stance on public protests, thousands took to the streets all across the country. Police reacted rapidly. According to reports, hundreds of people ended up in detention centres as a result, with the demonstrations themselves being largely non-violent, at least when it came to protesters themselves, since Russian police’s brutality was once again on display. One of the main slogans of the wave of protests was “no mobilisation”.

Some of the foreign media referred to the situation as “anti-war protests”. This is not entirely accurate.

Russia’s anti-war sentiment remained dormant throughout much of the invasion, with the current protests being triggered not by moral outrage, but rather self-preservation. Putin’s call for mobilisation caused panic among Russian men eligible for military service. Social media reports indicate that Russian citizens are now desperately trying to flee their country. The flight ticket prices to Yerevan and Istanbul skyrocketed shortly after the announcement was made. Traffic jams emerged at the borders with Finland and Mongolia as Russians made a last-ditch attempt to dodge the draft.

But as already stated, it was not the brutal attack against Ukraine that caused alarm or revulsion among ordinary Russians. On social media, there has been an outbreak of anti-Ukrainian frenzy, with Russians cheering for war criminals and urging the army to wreak havoc across Ukrainian cities. Yet when push came to shove, many of those so eagerly brandishing the infamous “Z” symbol took a sharp turn for the exit, afraid that the so-called “special military operation” would finally come knocking at their door.

After all, dodging bullets in the trenches of Ukraine would feel like an entirely different proposition than vilifying Ukrainians on Vkontakte or Telegram. Ordinary Russians may share Putin’s delusional dreams of conquest but are much less inclined to put their lives on the line for it.

Eastern Express’ guest

Jan Piekło, Poland’s former ambassador to Ukraine, was TVP World’s guest invited to shed more light on the issue.