Why Russian Antiwar Protests Won’t Change Putin’s Mind
But what impact, if any, might this have on Putin’s decision-making? Does he feel any pressure from his own people? These questions came up in a Twitter Spaces discussion on Monday, featuring Bloomberg Opinion columnists Clara Ferreira Marques and Leonid Bershidsky, hosted by Bobby Ghosh. This is an edited transcript.
Ghosh: It’s been more than a week since serious sanctions were imposed, and they’re beginning to have a direct effect on the lives of ordinary Russians. Where are they inflicting the greatest pain?
Ferreira Marques: Well, there are a number of levels. First, it’s important to understand that many Russians believed sanctions wouldn’t affect ordinary people. Opinion polls — to the extent that opinion polls are reliable in Russia — suggested people thought sanctions were an issue for the elite, perhaps an issue for the government, but something that ordinary people wouldn’t have to deal with.
Instead, what we’ve seen is that the sanctions have very, very quickly affected every single person. There’s been an impact on their savings, on their jobs. There’s a general sense of being completely cut off from the world. A lot of people are trying to leave Russia, and increasingly that’s becoming hard, especially for young men. That’s obviously extremely worrying.
There have been lots of comparisons with 1998. Well, I was in Russia in the summer of ’98, when the ruble crisis happened. That was obviously a moment of extreme desperation, but it felt like there was some hope, and there was certainly some openness. What we’re seeing now is all this economic pain coming at the time of extreme repression.
Yes, there are lots of Russians who may support Putin’s war as a result of state propaganda. But there are also a lot of people feeling the pressure.
Bershidsky: Most of my friends have, thankfully, been able to evacuate. But the thing is, this group of people is not particularly numerous. And these are Westernized people — the ones who bought Western brands, traveled to the West, and attached a certain importance to Russia’s openness to the world. This is not a majority of Russians.
Ferreira Marques: The mood in Russia is very hard for us to gauge, but obviously people are extremely distressed. We know that from the protests that have broken out. But it’s important to realize that this is not necessarily representative of the overall population.
Majority opinion is influenced by state propaganda, especially on TV, which for the majority of Russians is still the main source of news. And as a result, there are situations where Ukrainians are trying to explain to their situation to relatives in Russia — and being met with absolute denial. It’s astounding.
In the West, we see pictures of protesting Russians, and Russians commenting on Twitter, but that’s a liberal minority. It’s important to realize that perhaps there’s less resistance than we think.
Bershidsky: Twitter has a 3% penetration rate in Russia. The people who have run for the door, who have taken the last available flights to places like Yerevan or Istanbul or Baku, or have driven to the borders with the Baltic states — that looks like a lot of people, but it’s probably in the tens of thousands.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Bobby Ghosh is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering foreign affairs. A former editor in chief of the Hindustan Times, he was managing editor of Quartz and Time magazine’s international editor.
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