Russia has started a full-scale war in Ukraine. However, Moscow does not publicly acknowledge this, promoting the thesis of a “special military operation” among its citizens. The Kremlin wanted to defeat Ukraine in 2–3 days, but the blitzkrieg failed. The war has been going on for almost two weeks, and Russia has not yet won a single significant victory. Instead, the aggressor suffers significant losses in manpower and military equipment. According to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, as of March 7, the occupiers lost more than 11,000 soldiers killed and 2,000 units of military equipment. The Ukrainian army is putting up serious armed resistance. Western countries have imposed destructive sanctions on Russia’s economy. World rating agencies predict Russia’s default. However, the Russian government is most afraid of the protest potential of the critically thinking part of society and is forced to tighten the screws. The Kremlin is trying to prevent anti-war protests and finally destroy the media, which provided balanced coverage of the war. To achieve this, the State Duma has passed a so-called “fake news law”, which increases responsibility for discrediting Russia’s military action, spreading “false information about the use of Russian troops” and calls to impose sanctions.

Now let’s discuss everything in more detail.

“Special Operation”, not War. A Blow to the Media and the First Protests

On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation began an invasion of the territory of Ukraine without declaring war. Russia has launched missile strikes on Ukraine’s military and civilian infrastructure and has launched a ground offensive in several directions. However, in Russia itself, it is forbidden to call aggression against Ukraine a war. They coined the term “special military operation” for this. It is obvious that the Kremlin was counting on a blitzkrieg, but it did not go as planned.

Against the backdrop of these events, the first anti-war protests in Russia begin. On February 24 alone, according to the non-governmental organization “OVD-Info”, more than 1,800 people were detained not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in more than 50 other cities. More than a thousand Russian teachers, cultural and educational Yeltsin center, Russian oppositionists, and some musicians have condemned the war against Ukraine. In turn, local authorities banned any protests (did not issue permission for any of the requests).

In parallel with the fighting, Russia launched a propaganda war aimed primarily at its citizens. As early as February 24, Roskomnadzor reminded the Russian media that only official Russian sources were allowed to use materials on the warfare in Ukraine. Moreover, the government agency stressed that only they disseminate truthful and up-to-date information. The Echo of Moscow, Novaya Gazeta, Dozhd TV channel, Mediazona, and others fell into disfavor with the authorities. Some of them have ceased their activities.

Criminal Prosecution for “Fake News”

As the Russians continue to protest, the Kremlin continues to tighten the screws. And to make sure that life isn’t a bowl of cherries, the authorities imposed harsh sanctions on their own citizens. Thus, on March 4, State Duma deputies unanimously passed a law amending the Criminal Code. According to these changes, now all the information that contradicts the official position of the state in Russia is automatically recognized as a fake. One can be imprisoned for a term of 3 to 15 years or fined 700 thousand to 1.5 million rubles for spreading such information.

Against the background of these legislative changes, a number of foreign news agencies and TV channels (Canadian CBC, British BBC, American Bloomberg, CNN, ABC News, and CBS News) left the Russian information space.

Fine for “Discrediting” Russian Troops

In order to prevent the Russians from publicly criticizing the feasibility of the warfare, the authorities introduced responsibility for discrediting the use of the Armed Forces and calling for unauthorized protests. A new article (280.3) has appeared specifically for this purpose in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. According to this article, citizens can be fined up to 50 thousand rubles, officials — up to 200 thousand, legal entities — up to 500 thousand. And if criticism of the warfare is accompanied by a call to take action, the fines are even more significant.

Punishment for Calling for Sanctions

Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States, the EU, and the G7, as well as a number of other countries, have imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia. In addition, more than 100 international companies have announced their withdrawal from the Russian market or temporary cessation of operations. International rating agencies Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P have made disappointing forecasts for Russia’s economic development, noting that Russia’s economy is on the verge of default.

Against the backdrop of Western sanctions, the Kremlin has imposed criminal responsibility for calls for sanctions against Russia. Article 284.2 was added to the Criminal Code, according to which such appeals will be punishable by a fine of up to 500,000 rubles. Restrictions of liberty, forced labor, arrest or imprisonment are also possible.

But even after the “fake news” law, protests in Russia continue. During the anti-war actions on March 6 alone, 5,020 people were detained in 69 cities (according to OVD-Info).

Ban on Facebook and Twitter

In order to reduce access to objective information about the war in Ukraine, the scale of losses of Russian troops and the number of war crimes committed by the occupying forces, on March 4 Roskomnadzor blocked the operation of Facebook and Twitter social networks in Russia.

On March 6, TikTok also announced that it was ceasing its operation due to the “fake news” law. According to the statement published on the social network, the restriction of work will continue until the company thoroughly examines the consequences of the law for user safety.

Instead of Conclusions and Forecasts

Despite the rough tightening of the screws, the Russians are still protesting en masse. They are beaten by law enforcement officers and put into prisoner transport vehicles. The exact number of protesters is unknown. However, according to OVD-Info, from February 24 to March 6, law enforcement officers detained a total of more than 13,000 protesters across Russia.

However, given the domestic political situation in Russia, the question arises: perhaps we demand too much from Russian society? However, at least 20 years of living under authoritarianism and a police state, a de facto lack of freedom of speech, severe repression of protests, and violations of all possible human rights and freedoms have left their mark. Therefore, public calls against war, even if there are thousands of them, and not hundreds of thousands, as we would like, already indicate the presence of a conscious grain in Russian society that can show its potential in the future.