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How are local voices and activists in Russia and post-Soviet States responding to the war?

As Putin declared war on Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February to protect “the Russian people”, anti-war protesters took to streets in over 50 cities spanning all of Russia and neighbouring countries. Images on social media showed anti-war solo pickets led by activists and journalists, which unlike public protests do not require prior permission by authorities, and mass mobilisations with protesters chanting “No to war!”.

Protesters also took to streets across the region such as in Tbilisi, Bishkek, and outside the Russian Consulate in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where earlier this year massive protests had already broken out but eventually cracked down on by so-called peacekeeping troops of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation – the military alliance of certain post-Soviet states.

It is reported that over 1800 protesters have been arrested in Russia, although the real number is likely higher. Many activists, like human rights advocate Marina Litvinovich, were detained right after leaving their apartments. Petitions opposing the war have been signed by journalists, civil society and scientists. The culture sector has also reacted as Elena Kovalskaya, the director of Moscow’s Vsevolod Meyerhold State Theatre and Cultural Centre, resigned from her post. In a public Facebook post, she announced that it is “impossible to work for a murderer and collect a salary from him”.

Meanwhile, Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested in January 2021 after returning from Germany where he recovered from a nerve-agent poisoning, has spoken up against the invasion during his trial in a maximum-security prison which began on 16 February.

Given the continuous crackdown on protests, opposition movements and NGOs in Russia and Central Asian countries, these protests are remarkable. Networks of alternative political voices still exist, but it remains to be seen whether this will translate into any meaningful political changes. Yet what remains clear  is that this war, waged in the name of the Russian people and for its protection, is Putin’s war.

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