Russians snitch on Russians who oppose war with Soviet-style denunciations
It’s a hostile, no-nonsense atmosphere of Russians at war with Ukraine and with each other. As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government cracks down on war critics and other political dissidents, citizens are policing each other in an echo of the darkest years of Joseph Stalin’s repression, with investigations, criminal charges, Lawsuits and layoffs are starting.
Private conversations in restaurants and on railroad cars are fair game for these hideouts, who call the police to arrest “traitors” and “enemies.” Social media posts, and messages – even in private chat groups – become incriminating evidence that can knock on the door of agents of the Federal Security Service of the FSB.
Its influence is cooling, with state-encouraged denunciations and news of arrests and prosecutions by propaganda commentators on federal television stations and Telegram channels. In March last year, Putin called on the nation to purge itself by spitting out traitors “like mosquitoes”. He has since issued repeated dark warnings about internal enemies, and claims that Russia is fighting for its survival.
Since the offensive began, at least 19,718 people have been arrested for opposing the war, according to the legal rights group OVD-Info, criminal cases have been opened against 584 people, and administrative cases filed against 6,839. happened Many others faced threats or harassment from authorities, lost jobs, or had relatives targeted, the organization said. According to the rights group Memorial, there are currently 558 political prisoners in Russia.
“This wave of condemnation is one of the hallmarks of totalitarianism, when people understand what’s good—from the president’s point of view—and what’s bad, so ‘what’s against us should be prosecuted.’ ,'” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a Moscow-based political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who, like many Russians, has been designated a “foreign agent” by authorities.
Kolsenkov described Putin’s regime as increasingly authoritarian “but with elements of totalitarianism” and predicted difficult years ahead. “I’m sure he won’t be back to normal,” he said, referring to Putin. “He’s not medically insane, but he’s politically insane, just like a dictator.”
The flood of condemnations has made public spaces dangerous. Classrooms are most at risk, especially during the state-sanctioned Monday morning class, “Talking About Things That Matter,” when teachers ask students about the war against Ukraine, Russia’s history, and more. Lectures on military perspectives, and other topics assigned by the state.
When I had lunch with friends at a restaurant in Moscow this month, one friend nervously asked a waiter if the restaurant had cameras. he did.
In an office with no one else in the room, another friend whispered his anti-war opinion almost inaudibly, eyes narrowed.
When a former class of language students gathered recently for an annual reunion with their retired teacher, all were tense, delicately probing each other’s ideas, before slowly Realize that everyone hates war, so they can talk freely, said a Muscovite related to the teacher. .
Police are busy following up on reports in Moscow’s sprawling subway system, aided by the system’s powerful facial recognition system.
Kamila Murashova, a nurse at a children’s hospice, was arrested on May 14 in the subway after someone photographed and reported a badge with the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag on her bag. Marashuva was accused of defaming the army.
Yuriy Samoilov, a 40-year-old sales manager, was riding the subway on March 17 when a fellow passenger noticed the background on his phone screen, a symbol of the Ukrainian military unit Azov, and reported him. According to court documents, Samoilov was convicted of exhibiting extremist material “to an unlimited circle of people.”
In Soviet times, there was a cool word for criticizing fellow citizens: stuchat, which means to knock, conjures up thoughts of a vigilant citizen who reports to a police officer knocking on a door. The shorthand gesture was “be careful, walls have ears”, a silent tapping motion.
In contemporary Russia, most reports are made by “patriots” who see themselves as defenders of their motherland, according to Alexandra Arkipova, a social anthropologist who compiled a study of the topic last year. After condemning himself, he was made available on the Netherlands-based independent Russian television channel Dozhd for the comments.
Arkhipova and research colleagues have identified more than 5,500 instances of condemnation.
For example, a St. Petersburg mother, identified in police documents as EP Kalacheva, thought she was protecting her child from “moral harm” when she put up posters near a playground. reported that showed Ukrainian apartments destroyed by Russian forces with the words, “And the children?” As a result, the third-year university student was accused of defaming the army.
Arkhipova said she and several colleagues at the university were tipped off by an email address identified as Anna Vasilievna Korobkova – so she emailed the address. The person, who identified herself as Korobkova, claimed to be the granddaughter of a Soviet-era KGB informant, who spent much of her time writing denunciations. She said she is following in his footsteps.
Korobkova did not provide any proof of identity when contacted at a Washington Post email address, making it impossible to verify her story.
The email writer claimed to be a single woman, aged 37, living in a large Russian city who had begun writing mass condemnations of Russian opposition figures last year. He claimed to have sent 1,046 reports to the FSB about opposition figures who had commented on independent media blocked in Russia since the start of the war until May 23 – about a day. Two condemnations.
“In every interview I look for signs of criminal offenses – voluntary surrender and the distribution of false information about the activities of the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” she said. For example, if a POW says he surrendered voluntarily, I write two denunciations on him—to the FSB and the military prosecutor’s office. He boasted that his condemnation led to the dissolution of Russia’s oldest human rights group, the Moscow Helsinki Group, in January.
“Usually, the targets of my condemnation were scientists, teachers, doctors, human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and ordinary people,” the email writer said. “I feel great moral satisfaction when a person is persecuted because of my condemnation: fired from work, subjected to administrative fines, etc.”
Putting someone in jail “would make me very happy,” she wrote, adding: “I also consider it a success when someone leaves Russia after my condemnation.”
Arkhipova said Korobkova took pains to write multiple answers to her questions, and she saw her goal as preventing analysts from talking to independent media about the war. “You can find that kind of person anywhere,” Arkhipova said. “They feel like they’re in charge of moral boundaries. They feel like they’re doing the right thing. They’re helping Putin, they’re helping their government.
Tatiana Chervenko, a teacher in the Moscow region with two children, was condemned by Korobkova last summer when she opposed the war in an interview with German news agency Deutsche Welle.
“Mazmat said I was involved in classroom propaganda. She made up facts. She doesn’t know me. She made up the whole report,” Chervenko said.
Initially, the school management rejected the report. But Korobkova wrote the second report to Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Levova Belova, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court alongside Putin for kidnapping Ukrainian children.
After that, the school leadership sent teachers and administrators to monitor his classes, especially “discussions about important things.” They called the police to the school. Parents close to the school administration wrote complaints to dismiss him. Chervenko said he was only relieved when he was fired in December. He did not even try to find another job.
He did not contact Kurobkova. “I don’t want to feed those demons. I can tell he was very proud that I got fired. That was his goal,” he said. But what got me was the reaction of the authorities. After all, who is he? No one knows who he is. And yet he filed a report condemning me and they responded by firing me.
As in the Soviet era, some condemnations appear to hide grudges or a material motive. Prominent Russian political scientist Ekaterina Shulman, who has more than a million YouTube followers and now lives in Berlin, was condemned by neighbors in a report to Moscow’s mayor after she left the country in April last year. was declared “foreigner”. Agent.”
He described Schulman and his family as long-standing “subversive” elements, “working in the interests of their Western handlers, who aim to divide our society.” But the heart of the complaint was really a 15-year-old property dispute.
“This is not a political condemnation, but an old economic conflict that people are trying to capitalize on as they see the moment, without success so far,” Shulman said.
Daniel Cain, head of the Alliance of Teachers, said there are dozens of reports in schools – teachers reporting children, children reporting, principals reporting children or teachers – harming academic performance and school staff rooms. I create fear and mistrust. A small independent teachers’ association, which left Russia because of the war.
“Staying together is very difficult because, like members of any group, everyone at school knows what everyone else thinks,” Kane said.
Arkhipova said the state’s use of extortion and many random arrests served as powerful tools of social control.
“You can be arrested at any moment, but you never know if you will be arrested. They target several teachers in several places, just to tell each teacher to ‘shut up.’ ,’ he said. “And the point is to make everybody feel fear.”
Natalia Abakumova in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.
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