The district council’s statement took the form of a request to the Russian parliament, the State Duma, and claimed that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on February 24 resulted in massive loss of life, turned countless Russian men into disabled veterans, hampered the national economy, and accelerated NATO’s eastward expansion.
A second city council for Lomonosovsky district in Moscow followed suit and vote a similar motion asking Putin to step down. Outspoken criticism of Putin is rare, and while both motions were little more than token statements, they represented a remarkable public rebuke. They also served as evidence that public support for the war in Ukraine is not universal and could be eroding, as a recent survey of Russian public opinion revealed.
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“We call on you,” the lawmakers wrote, “to bring a charge of treason against the President of the Russian Federation to remove him from office.”
Putin grew up in the Smolninsky district and began his career in St. Petersburg, where he served as deputy mayor. Many of the Russian president‘s closest friends still live in St. Petersburg, where some of them have enriched themselves fabulously during Putin’s 22 years as the country’s supreme leader.
The State Duma is controlled by Putin’s United Russia party and is effectively its automatic buffer, sometimes adopting its policies unanimously.
The authors of the resolution conceded that they had little hope that their request would be granted, but that they believed they had achieved their largely symbolic goal: to let other anti-war Russians know that they were not alone in their sentiment, which is often drowned out by the militaristic rhetoric of the state. , picked up by propagandists from state-controlled television.
The Kremlin banned criticism of the war and launched a new crackdown on dissent, including by journalists.
“We understand that Putin will not shed a tear or stop the operation,” Nikita Yuferev, one of the seven advisers who drafted the document, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “These demands are written for people who are still in Russia and for whom the propaganda is trying to ensure that they are in the minority, that there is no one who opposes them.”
The Lomonosovsky district statement criticized Putin’s rhetoric and urged him to step down.
“The rhetoric you and your subordinates use is full of intolerance and aggression,” the statement said. “People fear and hate Russia again as we threaten the whole world with nuclear weapons.” Lomonosovsky District added: “Therefore, we ask you to be relieved of your duties because your views and your model of governance are hopelessly outdated.”
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Yuferev said that after their request went viral on Russian social media, the advisers received a “flurry” of letters of support from people offering legal aid donations to cover the fines that will likely be imposed on the politicians.
In March, Smolninsky’s advisers also wrote a letter to Putin urging him to stop the war because “the fate of thousands of Russian servicemen and millions of Ukrainians hangs in the balance.”
Shortly after Russian troops crossed the border, the Kremlin increased the level of repression against its opponents, banning the use of the word “war” when discussing the invasion and threatening those who publicly criticize the Russian military. fines and jail time. terms. Thousands have fled the country and hundreds have been fined or detained for anti-war protests.
Although Putin is unlikely to face charges, lawmakers are already under pressure and risk at least a fine.
Just a day after the document was made public, Yuferev received a text message from a local police station ordering him to come and testify in the lawsuit against him and other council members “due to actions aimed at discredit the current Russian government“.
“We are sure that we did not violate anything because we acted strictly in accordance with the legal procedure enshrined in the Constitution,” Yuferev said. “Of course, we live in a country where even if everything is done legally, but there is a will to punish us, it will be done… but we can manage a fine of 50,000 rubles.” (At the current exchange rate, the fine is approximately $850.)