Russia Has Criminalized the Word “War”

Not only is there mounting evidence that Russians didn’t think Putin would actually invade Russia, but that Putin is actively trying to censor obvious words used to criticize his failures.

Since March 4, 2022, censorship has been introduced in Russia : for anti-war statements, you can get up to 15 years in prison. It is also forbidden to call a war a war.

On March 10-13, we conducted a nationwide telephone survey, in which 1811 respondents took part (full data is available in the public domain). What did we see?

Respondents increasingly refuse to answer direct questions and give their place of residence, explaining that they do not want to go to prison.

This means that opinion polls no longer reflect real opinions. But thanks to them, you can find out the degree of intimidation of the respondents.

A country was called not a country and now it has become even more impossible to discuss Ukraine publicly in Russia because it now is a crime to call a war a war.

Much of the analysis I have seen so far about this misses the three points that (1) the Russians didn’t think Putin was so stupid he would go to war with Russia (given Putin claimed forever that Ukraine wasn’t a thing), (2) that Putin is necessarily surrounded by sycophants and incompetence (due to corruption and fraud inextricable from dictatorships that centralize power), and (3) that Russians aren’t happy about it, especially as their country looks more and more like Venezuela, but have limited methods or means for opposition.

More to the point perhaps is that Russian military intelligence has clumsily been trying to position a war they started as something right out of a white supremacist meme.

They want people to believe that Russia is a victim and its invasion of a neighboring state was “forced” upon them. This is similar to “pre-emptive” thinking of Nazi Germany, which allowed Hitler to advocate invasion of neighboring countries to stop a future attack that was completely fictionalized.

Also they want people believe that Russia is on a mission to destroy the “world-order” that is conspiring against them. This is similar to the racist thinking of Nazi Germany, which emboldened Hitler to perpetrate war crimes and genocide.

These two memes are variations of the theme that Russia is ready to go to extreme measures and ignore boundaries because it is “preserving” something and so fearful it must act out of desperation.

A counter-message narrative that comes from inside Russia thus has to be exceptionally careful to acknowledge the closed minds, closed borders of an insecure and fearful state.

Not only can broad swaths of messages be criminalized by Russia, as if it’s 1830s America trying to stop abolition of slavery, it might also have a problem of friendly-fire.
Recently I wrote about “protestware” so incredibly stupid that it blindly targeted Russian systems based on IP address alone and destroyed their files. In doing so, such un-intelligent acts of malice are likely to destroy systems necessary to help Russians trying to speak out against Russian abuses of power.

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