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Despair in Russia as Putin Spirals Out of Control

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President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman informed Russians this week that the “special military operation” that Putin launched in Ukraine in February 2022 was set to go on much longer because it is now “a war against the collective West.”

That’s right: a war.

It was remarkable to hear that word from Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Journalists were explicitly banned from using it as the invasion began and thousands of Russians have been detained, fined and imprisoned for telling the truth about a war which has now been raging for almost two years.

“Moscow deputy Aleksey Gorinov was sentenced to seven years in prison for saying ‘war,’” Sergey Davidis, head of the Political Prisoners Support group, told The Daily Beast. He said over 20,000 Russians have now been detained and punished for protesting against the war. “That includes 131 Russians who have been sentenced to long prison terms in punishment for peaceful or for more radical anti-war actions,” he said. “I don’t think punishments against the war will now be milder after the Kremlin openly says ‘war.’ Putin will be next to declare it.”

Alexei Navalny Sacrificed Himself to Show Russia That Putin Is a Monster

The rhetorical escalation came in the same week that Alexei Navalny, Putin’s biggest domestic challenger, died in a Russian penal colony in mysterious circumstances. Weeks before the presidential election, the autocrat is flexing his muscles.

Alexei Navalny

It’s not every Wednesday that Moscow says it is at war with Washington.

By “collective West” the Kremlin traditionally means 31 NATO countries and the 28 nations of the European Union. “This is a war when the countries of the collective West, led by the United States are directly involved in the conflict,” Peskov said.

Russia’s leading journalists, analysts and human rights defenders both outside and inside the country are frantically debating the thought-process behind declaring this to be a war now. “The Kremlin is deeply disappointed in Washington being unwilling to negotiate a deal for Ukraine without Ukraine’s participation. Nobody wants to sit down with Putin for the dream negotiations; Yalta-2,” Insider’s editor-in-chief Timur Olevsky told The Daily Beast that Putin was obsessed with the idea of revisiting the height of Soviet influence at the 1945, post WWII peace talks. “Somebody flicked him on the nose, it looks like, so the Kremlin finally marks the failure of all their efforts to negotiate with the West.”

The Kremlin’s big declaration of war took place on the day when Ukrainian intelligence said they had destroyed a large and expensive Russian landing ship. “By the resources spent on the war Russia has caught up with what the West has been spending on aid for Ukraine,” Olevsky said, adding that the poorest regions suffer most within the faltering Russian economy, which is smaller than that of California.

Russians have been increasingly growing impoverished, according to analyses published Novye Izvestia this week, the average monthly income has fallen to parity with figures from 2013. Even before Putin invaded Ukraine, more than 16 million Russians lived on less than $200 a month. Any professional reporter, if they were in Tucker Carlson’s position earlier this month, would have asked Putin: “With all of Russia’s natural resources, why is your population so poor? Can you really afford this war?”

In 2021, Putin claimed poverty and problems in the healthcare system were “the main enemies” of Russia. But instead of solving them, the Kremlin has been reportedly spending one third of its income on the war in Ukraine. “Nobody in power seems to care about the aftermath but they struggle to explain to the population how come the army has been stuck in the battle for Avdiivka for two years, so they now create a bigger conflict, claim that pretty much the entire world is their enemy,” a well-known Russia observer Ilya Barabanov told The Daily Beast.

The Kremlin’s claim that Russia is now at war with the West has sent Russian morale plunging even lower.

Natalia Strelkova, 54, a corporate lawyer from Nizhny Novgorod, told The Daily Beast that the declaration had left her “utterly depressed.”

The demand for psychological help is already like a tsunami in Russia, especially among citizens with alcohol dependency: which has increased by 85 percent this year, Moscow’s Kommersant newspaper reported this week.

That is a real indicator of the atmosphere Putin has created. People no longer believe his claims that “everything is going according to the plan.” The population is stressed. The paranoia epidemic will grow even worse now that Navalny has been killed off and the Kremlin has officially declared that Russia is at war with the United States, a country with an economy more than five times its size.

When all her friends were running away from Russia at the beginning of the war, Strelkova felt “as if her world is falling apart, the best people are leaving us in this mess.” But she stayed to take care of her elderly mother who could barely walk.

Russian army progoganda

Residents walk past a military propaganda poster advertising contract service for the Russian army, installed on the side of a building August 13, 2023 in Uglovka, Russia.

Contributor/Getty

“Every time we hit the bottom harder and fall through it and now we are at war with the entire world, it seems. What else could be worse? Next will be nuclear, nobody doubts. What depresses me most is the helpless situation we have: the majority will still vote for Putin simply because they feel lost without him, despite tiny salaries, awful medical service, men dying on the front, despite the growing feeling of instability.”

Intel Warns Putin Is Prepping for a Military Clash with NATO

Analyzing data and Russian social media, a researcher at the USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy told the Daily Beast that there were huge signs of social stress. “Our research shows that Russians are feeling increasing anxiety,” Vasily Gatov said. “After the news of mobilization last year, the amount of vodka purchased by Russians increased by four times.”

Pavel Kanygin, an investigative journalist at Novaya Gazeta, offered his theory that the declaration of war had a lot to do with the Russian army contracts: “They are trying to keep those who have already signed the contracts in order not to conduct a new mobilization.”

People protest in Russia

Activist participate in an unsanctioned protest at Arbat Street September 21, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.

Contributor/Getty

Vasily Polonsky, an analyst in Moscow, thought it was more about domestic politics. He said it was “an attempt to explain why it still goes on, because of the upcoming elections.”

Russia will hold the presidential election next month, on March 15. There are three candidates besides Putin, who all support the war in Ukraine, so Russians who do not support the invasion have no candidate to back.

Putin picked up the theme of fighting the “collective West” on Friday—although he did not use the word war. He harked back to the Soviet-era leader Leonid Brezhnev and condemned the neocolonialism of the West. “Its aggressive manifestations are visible today in the attempts of the collective West to maintain its dominance and domination by any means, to economically subjugate other countries, deprive them of sovereignty, and impose alien values and cultural traditions. Such a policy has become a barrier to the development of all humanity.”

While Russia’s missiles continue to rain down on Ukraine and his forces launch attack after attack on the Ukrainian defensive lines, it is worth remembering how ludicrous it sounds to hear Putin attacking the aggression of the West.

“We have lost the ability to live like humans because of Putin’s aggression. We cannot go to school, they bomb us every single day,” Artur, 15, told The Daily Beast. The Kherson schoolboy lost an arm in Russia’s bombing of his town in November 2022. Two years later, the Kremlin is looking to escalate tensions not seek peace. There is no sign that the bombs will stop.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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