The website of the hitherto completely unknown ‘Committee for the Defense of National Interests’ uses different categories of Russians that would be no good.
First, there are the ‘traitors’. The famous poet Dmitri Bykov is one – at least according to the ‘committee’ – critical TV maker Yuri Doed is a ‘traitor’, just like journalist Yulia Latynina. Then there are ‘enemies’, such as the well-known (liberal) economist Sergei Guriev. And the ‘cowards and deserters’. If you click on the orange block on the site, you will find a list of more than six hundred Russian citizens who have left the country since the start of the war in Ukraine.
The committee’s blacklists appeared online after Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out on Wednesday at a “fifth column” of Russian “national traitors” who were said to be unwilling tools in the Western plot to destroy Russia.
Putin’s chilling speech (actually mainly an introduction to a meeting with the governors of the regions) paints a picture of spoiled rich Russians who are addicted to ‘foie gras’, ‘oysters’ and ‘gender freedoms’, and who are no longer loyal to the Russian people, but seek affiliation with an international liberal beau monde† “People like that would still sell their own mothers,” Putin said. According to the Russian president, it is time for a “self-cleansing” of Russian society.
Putin’s speech evoked associations with the 1930s. Adolf Hitler used the term Nationalverräter in Mein Kampf† Some Russians had to think of the kulaks, small farmers with their own land, who were expropriated, deported and murdered by Stalin from 1929 onwards. Who was Putin actually talking about? Was the Russian president only referring to the super-rich Russian oligarchs? Or was he targeting the entire liberal intelligentsia in his thunder speech?
Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia seems to be sliding rapidly into a totalitarian dictatorship. A few days later, the Russian parliament passed a law that faces up to 15 years in prison for civilians who spread ‘fake information’ about the actions of the Russian armed forces. The use of the word ‘war’ is sufficient cause for a criminal case: the official term is ‘special military operation’.
This week it became clear that the Duma is working on a further tightening of the law: spreading ‘fakes’ about the work of other government bodies abroad (such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) will probably also become a criminal offence.
‘Z’ as a symbol of the ‘denazification’
With the Russian advance in Ukraine stalling and thousands of Russian soldiers already killed, the Kremlin seems desperate for new methods of mobilizing the population. The ‘Z’, the identifying mark on Russian military vehicles, has been discovered by Russian propaganda as a new symbol for the Russian ‘denazification’ of Ukraine. At the same time, the Putin regime appears to be looking for scapegoats who can be held responsible for the defeats on the battlefield. In addition, there are already victims in Putins inner circle† This week, the Russian newspaper reported Kommersant that the second man of the Russian National Guard, General Roman Gavrilov, has resigned. Earlier there were reports that General Sergei Beseda, director of the FSB’s fifth branch, was placed under house arrest.
Even outside the circle of the so-called siloviki are looking for culprits. In the night from Thursday to Friday, unknown persons defaced the doors of peace activists with the letter ‘Z’. “Do not betray the fatherland,” read on the door of student leader Dmitri Ivanov. A protest march against the war of the opposition party Jabloko was banned because of corona.
On Friday, the Kremlin gathered a crowd at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. An immense podium had been built especially for Putin, but before he even spoke, the first Russian officials went home, holding the stamped tickets – with which they could prove their presence.
Neutrality is getting harder by the day
In his speech, President Putin tried to forge unity with worn-out war metaphors. “We see our boys fighting heroically at war,” Putin said, forgetting for a moment that the word ‘war’ is currently banned. “Shoulder to shoulder,” Putin said, “when necessary, comrades on the battlefield protect each other from the bullets with their bodies.”
There was obligatory cheering, but Putin also seemed to be whistled. The direction quickly switched to the cadet choir.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 19 March 2022
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of March 19, 2022
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