FOCUS on Ukraine: Inside Russia
Christopher Benítez Cuartas
Russian President Vladimir Putin is invading Ukraine. As illogical as the move seems from the perspective of internal politics, the Kremlin’s foreign policy is an attempt at bringing back the olden days of Soviet nationalist sentiment.
The invasion of Ukraine follows a trend by Putin of declaring wars to boost popularity. During the Chechen Wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Putin gained popularity due to a combination of a wartime leader popularity boost and the fact that the Chechen independence movement had a history of terrorism in Russia. In 2008, the Russo-Georgian War managed to further raise Putin’s approval rate to 88 percent despite a bleak background in finances and military.
The world in 2022 is very different, however. Just a year before, Russians protested the jailing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the sanctions previously put on Russia have not gone anywhere, and two decades of rule by the same man has started getting under the skin of a new generation of Russians eager for change.
Analysts in the West consider the man in the Kremlin as eager to reconstruct the glory of the Soviet Union, says The New York Times. However, many Russians, including young people, have protested what is being called imperialist moves by the Kremlin. Today, they instead watch on television as their president—the only leader their country has ever known in their lifetime—declare the “denazification” of neighboring Ukraine as they turn on social media and see the devastating images war brings about until they can no longer due to censorship.
Massive protests mobilized in the wake of the invasion. The first of these happened at Pushkin Square in Moscow on February 24, leading to 1,702 arrests, reports The Guardian. As the war in Ukraine raged on, the protesters received much praise from foreigners on social media, as well as foreign dignitaries. Zelensky, who had called them into the streets in the first place, publicly thanked them, stating that “we see you. It means that you heard us,” says CBS News.
The flip side to all of this is the fall of the Russian economy’s access to the outside world. The ruble’s devaluation caused long lines outside banks to form, reminding some in the older generation of the drama in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, according to CNBC. Al Jazeera reports that the situation has become so unbearable for some Russians that they are leaving the country altogether, risking the prejudice of the people in their destinations—the Baltic states, Georgia, and Turkey.
Russian authorities have dished out censorship in the traditional manner, with one prominent first victim being the opposition-lined Echo of Moscow radio station. The station went off the air on March 3, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, Russian public media has been the opposite, though much noticeable in its propagandistic aims. The subtext became text in this scenario as Channel One editor Marina Ovsyannikova broke onto the screen and held a sign while unexpectedly proclaiming “They’re lying to you,” says an additional report from the Guardian.
Made-for-export state media RT has been blocked on YouTube as of March 11. The impact the conflict has had on social media mostly revolves around Meta (formerly Facebook) and its presence in Russia as well as its users worldwide who give opinions on the topic. Gizmodo reports that Instagram was officially banned after Meta allowed for the glorification of violence in the context of the conflict, and particularly the slogan “death to the Russian invaders” used by Ukrainian nationalists.