Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to disguise his attempt to conquer Ukraine and its people as a war to defend “Mother Russia” from threats by Washington and NATO. In fact his goal is to reestablish the Russian Empire, denying Ukraine is a nation with a right to exist.
Putin announced he would seek reelection Dec. 8 in a sham presidential vote set for March 17. His main rival, Alexei Navalny, incarcerated in a maximum-security prison on a 30-year sentence, has disappeared from contact with supporters since.
Voting will take place across Russia and in territory seized by Moscow’s forces in eastern Ukraine that Putin claims is now part of Russia. He is allowing loyal opposition forces to run to try to give the election a veneer of legitimacy.
Since Putin became president in 2000, his opponents have ended up in exile, or prison, or died under suspicious circumstances. He had constitutional amendments passed in 2020 that lengthened the time he could remain in office.
His regime and its wars are increasingly unpopular across Russia. Although anti-war demonstrations are banned, a protest took place in Moscow Nov. 7 demanding troops currently stationed in Ukraine be rotated home. It was called by The Way Home, a group of soldiers’ mothers and wives. It was held at the edge of a larger legal rally of several hundred on a different issue called by the Communist Party.
Relatives of some 20 soldiers joined the action. They held placards that read, “The mobilized are not robots. They need replacement,” and “Give the children back their fathers.”
Police led them away but didn’t detain them.
The Communist Party rally marked the anniversary of the Bolshevik-led 1917 Russian Revolution. But the party today has no connection to V.I. Lenin or the Bolshevik Revolution. It’s a pale remnant of the counterrevolutionary regime of Joseph Stalin.
At the protest, Nadezhda, a soldier’s wife, told the Novaya Gazeta, “The Ministry of Defense had said the priority for 2023 was to recruit 522,000 people into the army, so at the end of last year we thought our men would be given leave at the New Year and we calmed down.” But since this September officials have been saying, “They would be there until the end of the special military operation.” There is no end in sight.
“Putin should announce,” she said, that he “is starting the planned replacement of conscripts.”
Kremlin moves to intimidate protesters
Regional governors have been instructed by the Kremlin to prevent actions by The Way Home from spreading in the run-up to the March presidential election. Maria Andreyava, a member of the group, told the press that army officers had threatened their husbands with worse conditions on the front lines if these demonstrations continue.
The Way Home issued an appeal Nov. 27 inviting others to sign an online petition to show support for its aims. The appeal was addressed to the “Multinational people of Russia!” Pointing at the Putin regime, it says the Russian people are being “betrayed and exterminated by our own.”
The appeal points out that reservists mobilized in the last call-up are made to stay at the front indefinitely, compared to convicted criminals who are promised freedom if they sign up and fight for six months.
The group says it expresses no political view about the Russian rulers’ invasion of Ukraine, but “will support whoever brings us our husbands back. Servicemen and their families — unite and fight for your rights. Together we are strong!”
Moscow City Duma Deputy Yevgeny Stupin backs their appeals. He was expelled from the Communist Party for criticizing the Putin regime, which later declared him a “foreign agent.”
The government will not send soldiers home because “the front could collapse,” Stupin said. Troop rotation would require a second, even more unpopular mobilization. The call-up of reservists last year triggered protests by thousands.
“Protests are put down harshly. Not everyone is ready to come out onto the streets. Conscripts’ relatives are no exception,” Stupin said. “But the movement will grow.”
The Way Home is planning more protests across Russia and a demonstration in Moscow Dec. 16.