We look at how the Russian war in Ukraine is impacting the Russian people, with many Russian dissidents who oppose the invasion choosing to flee abroad after facing violent crackdowns at home. Ilya Budraitskis is a Russian historian and political writer who left his home in Moscow after the war in Ukraine began, and recently launched the media outlet Posle. Meanwhile, Putin’s Russia looks like an extremely “conformist” society, where “some 200 kilometers from your home you have a full-scale war with the army of your country that started this war, and you pretend not to follow the news, not to disturb your normal way of life with this terrifying information,” says Budraitskis.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
As we continue to look at the war in Ukraine, now in its sixth month, we’re joined now by Ilya Budraitskis. He is a Russian historian, political writer, author of the award-winning book Dissidents Among Dissidents: Ideology, Politics and the Left in Post-Soviet Russia. We first spoke to Ilya from Moscow in February, three weeks prior to the invasion. He’s since left Russia amidst President Vladmir Putin’s crackdown on Russian civil society.
Ilya Budraitskis, if you can talk about why you left? And what do you think will end this war? And specifically, as we talked to Oksana about Ukrainian and Russian society response, your understanding of what Russians are feeling now?
ILYA BUDRAITSKIS: So, hello. Thank you for having me here.
I left Russia in the week after the start of the war. And, in fact, this week was — it was a terrible week. It was the moment when in the biggest cities, the small or not so big, not so important antiwar demonstrations were brutally smashed by the police. It was the week when all the independent media, which still existed in the country for that moment, were banned. And it was the moment of the high — of the lack of any predictability. Yes, so, there were expectations that some general mobilization for the army will be possible, that the borders will close, and so on.
So, in fact, during two months after the war, the government implemented the huge wave of repressions with the aim to destroy any possible resistance, any possible antiwar public statements and sentiments in the Russian society. So, for now, the situation is quite strange, because most of the people in Russia, they were scared. They understand that any expression of their disagreement with the war and the regime will put them at risk. And in the same time, they pretend that the situation somehow come back to normal, because there was not such a huge decrease of the Russian economy, as it was predicted in the beginning — in the beginning of the war, and also because it is just very kind of conformist way of life that is very general for the modern societies, but taken extreme forms in Putin’s Russia, where, you know, in some few hundred kilometers from your home you have a full-scale war with the army of your country that started this war, and you pretend not to follow the news, not to disturb your normal way of life with this terrifying information.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ilya, could you explain — I mean, you’ve said in a recent interview that, effectively, now there is no possibility of an opposition in Russia, because its structures have been destroyed. So, if you could elaborate on that, and then the question of sanctions, the impact that sanctions have had on Russia? You’ve just said that the economy has not been as weakened as anticipated.
ILYA BUDRAITSKIS: Yeah. So, to the first question, in fact, the recent two years were used by Putin to prepare the society for this situation of silence, of conformism, of depoliticization, of a lack of any resistance, because, if you remember, in the beginning of 2020, the amendments to the Russian Constitution were implemented, and according to these amendments, Putin got a right to stay in power for some — you know, for some decade or even more. And, in fact, that was important, decisive moment that was kind of the hidden coup d’état, which in fact was realized from the top of the Russian state. And then, in 2021, the main structure of nonparliamentary opposition, the movement of Alexei Navalny, was totally destroyed. Alexei Navalny personally was jailed. Many of his followers were arrested or forced to leave the country. So, in this way, you can see that to the beginning of the war, the main elements of the dictatorship were already there.
As for the sanctions, well, in the recent report by IMF, International Monetary Fund, the expectation of the fall of the Russian economy to the beginning — to the end of this year would be some 6%, which is less than it was predicted in the beginning of the war. So, in fact, Russian economy, of course, will lose a lot. A lot of workplaces will disappear. A lot of people will lose their incomes because of the inflation and so on. But, in fact, the main elements of the stability of the Russian economy, they are still in the place. That’s the export of gas and oil. And we know that the gas prices now are — you know, jumped, and they’re as high as never before in the recent decades. So, in this sense, Russia probably will not be shaken politically only because of the impact of the sanctions.
I will say that probably the human cost, the cost of human lives, the cost of the huge losses among the Russian soldiers during this war, could be even more important reason for some protest feelings in Russian society.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ilya, finally, now we see Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been in Africa meeting heads of state, trying to establish that Russia has not been entirely globally isolated. Now, you’ve drawn a distinction between the Soviet Union of the Cold War period and Russia today, saying, quote, “During the Cold War it could at least be said that the Soviet bloc, for all its obvious faults, was a bearer of ideas of social liberation and anti-colonial struggle. Today we see the choice between the reactionary NATO bloc and the even more reactionary potential Russia-China bloc.” So, could you talk about that specifically with respect to this visit of Lavrov in which he is invoking this old Soviet tendency or reputation for supporting anti-colonial struggles in the countries where he is now, where he’s been visiting?
ILYA BUDRAITSKIS: Yeah, you’re very true that — you’re very right that Putin, Lavrov and the Russian regime, in general, are trying to promote this kind of anti-colonial rhetorics for now. So, even before Putin made the speech where he said that you have a so-called golden billion which rule the Earth and which provide some kind of unjust, unequal relations between the developing countries and the West, and the aim of Russian military operation in Ukraine is to change this domination of the West. So, you have totally the same message behind Lavrov’s visit to the African states.
But the main problem is what kind of alternative Russia is trying to propose by all this — all these relations. So, definitely, Russia itself not looks as the kind of role model, some alternative model to the Western — to the Western domination. And the way in which Russia is trying to gain some African countries, for example, for its side is very cynical, is a pure commercial and neoliberal. So, they are just proposing some — I don’t know — discounts for oil or some discounts for the weapons coming from Russia and things like this. There is nothing about the economic development. There is nothing about any real social and political alternative to the current order of things.
AMY GOODMAN: Ilya Budraitskis, we want to thank you for being with us, Russian historian and political writer, author of Dissidents Among Dissidents: Ideology, Politics and the Left in Post-Soviet Russia. We’re not saying where he is. He left Russia after Putin invaded Ukraine.