Muscovites live as if this war did not exist, this is how Dmitry Glukhovsky describes the last six months. It’s end. The mobilization is a shock to the Russians, because everyone knows someone who has to go to the front now. What is missing for protests to grow: anger and courage, says the author, who has been warning in his books about the road to totalitarianism for years. He has been on the wanted list since June.
ntv.de: Were you surprised by the mobilization?
Dmitry Glukhovsky: I was not surprised, but scared. When Putin declared war, in Russia they call it special operations, many Russians feared general mobilization. Because of this fear, the first wave of departures came, and many of my friends from Moscow were also there. But then it was not mobilized.
What happened instead?
In the first six months, many Russians had this slightly schizophrenic feeling that this war was going on far away, but nothing was changing in their lives at all. Cafes in Moscow were full. Yes, you saw a little more police on the streets, you saw ads for Operation Ukraine on the tram, but otherwise everyone still thought Moscow was the best city in the world.
Reality finally broke into this life on Wednesday, since then this war has affected every person in Russia. Even for the residents of Moscow, it’s not just on TV anymore, they feel it in their own lives. I have friends and acquaintances who have already received notice. They already called you weeks ago.
So the decision to partially mobilize was not so short-term after all?
Convocations have been going on for some time, but the law was passed very quickly. It stipulates up to 15 years in prison if you refuse to be drafted, and anyone who surrenders as a prisoner of Ukraine is severely punished – just like under Stalin. In the Duma, Russia’s parliament, the law was passed unanimously on Tuesday in an emergency procedure. The next day, Putin announced a general mobilization. Russia turned into a military dictatorship overnight.
What do young men do with their draft notices?
Queues are now forming at the border. Flights to Kazakhstan or Belarus are sold out for weeks at any price. The Buryats live on the border with Mongolia, are considered fearless fighters, and their homeland is very poor. The army was therefore always a good option for young people in the region to earn money, and up to 3,000 euros per month were offered for this mission. But then the corpses returned, there were many secret burials, people began to speak and understand. Even among the Buryats, there were not enough volunteers when they were still looking for them.
… Buryats are trying to escape across the border into Mongolia. This also shows that the war has almost no support among the population.
But there was almost no resistance either.
There is fear in Russia and people are very passive. It’s learned helplessness if you don’t believe you can make a difference in your country. Families still have memories of a grandmother or grandfather who was arrested under Stalin. A mother warns her children not to fight back. “You can’t change anything,” he says, “but you will be punished.” 1,500 people were arrested on Wednesday alone. These people are also convinced that nothing will change. They only take risks out of remorse.
That sounds very depressing.
Ukrainians accuse the Russians of being too cowardly to defend themselves while Ukrainians fight for their freedom. But you also have to see: Ukrainians have experienced two successful revolutions. You have a very different sense of self, a very different sense of what is possible. Vladimir Putin never once changed the plan, never gave up anything. Losing a war that he personally started is unacceptable for Putin. So now they have to up the ante again. To not show his weakness.
But that’s exactly how it shows a major weakness.
In the eyes of the West, yes, but not in Russia. Putin’s magic is not based on truth. It is built on a lie, it is absolutely impossible to oppose it with the truth. He radiates strength, and that attracts the weak. When you lie but still come across as strong and powerful, people don’t care if what you say is true. They are not looking for the truth, they want to be close to the source of power and feel the magic. But once Putin’s military showed weakness in Ukraine, that charm began to fade. He can’t risk that.
But again: it must also be made clear in Russia that mobilization is only carried out when necessary – because things are not going smoothly at the moment.
There is no strategy in the Kremlin, only tactics. We will take care of the problem we have now. What follows from this in the coming months will be of interest to us in the coming months.
Do you think the protests will spread?
For this you must see the following: There is absolutely no organized resistance in Russia. Opposition leaders are either in prison or abroad. For example, I myself have already been searched just for my critical posts on Instagram and I am being searched.
That’s why the publisher didn’t send me the place of our meeting by email, but via secure messenger?
We follow certain precautions. They may be unnecessary, but you don’t have to risk it. I can no longer live in Russia. Just this week, the state has again shown how repressive it is. Already fParticipating in street protests can lead to up to 15 years in prison camps. Large-scale protests lack anger and courage.
How do critical voices and messages spread?
On Youtube and via Telegram. The Kremlin does not dare to ban YouTube, and members of the opposition and journalists from abroad report there. Telegram channels critical of the regime sometimes have 1.5 million subscribers or more. Information is available to those who want it. But resistance is dangerous.
How big is the risk of being pulled out by the police during a protest march?
You don’t even have to be pulled out. The big cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, monitor public spaces with cameras. At least 160,000 are in use, linked to facial recognition software – like China’s, only stricter. The Moscow Metro is cashless. Everyone is recognized, the fare is automatically deducted from the account. If the system eventually recognizes you among the protesters, it will call you later. And now, this is the latest, the protestors will get the recruitment notification later.
From a military point of view, however, even a brigade composed mainly of anti-war protesters is not a real asset.
In the front line, you have few opportunities to resist. And you’re always good as cannon fodder. I can describe all this in my books, talk about it, but it doesn’t change anything. Even with the millions of copies sold of my “Stories from Home”, which ironically, metaphorically discuss the situation in Russia today – with censorship, oppression, corruption – this is nothing compared to the audience of a talk show. Apparently every generation has to make its own mistakes. She will only know the value of freedom when she experiences this loss herself.
Frauke Niemeyer spoke with Dmitry Glukhovsky