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The New Face of Russia’s Opposition Movement
The militaristic instincts of the current Russian ruling regime, which eventually resulted in the bloody invasion of Ukraine, have produced tectonic shifts in the ideology of the Russian people – first and foremost among the Russian middle class.
Before February 24, 2022, most Russians, who had sufficient funds to demand a higher quality of life increasingly, tried not to risk what they had achieved. They were extremely reluctant to come into conflict with the Putin regime.
However, after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, the Russian middle class faced real threats to its interests from Western sanctions and the Kremlin itself. Among these are a sharp decline in income, isolation from the entire civilized world, and the danger of being mobilized and sent to the front lines.
In this new reality, the middle class has expressed its displeasure with what’s happening by leaving Russia en masse. Meanwhile, those who have remained have become increasingly integrated into various anti-government democratic movements, the largest of which is headed by Alexei Navalny, who currently languishes in prison on allegedly spurious, politically motivated charges.
And most notably, the Russian opposition is becoming not only more radical but also younger every day. Back in 2021, the liberal part of the Russian democratic movement consisted mainly of grey-haired dissidents, entrepreneurs, representatives of the LGBTQ community, and the most marginal elements of Russian society. At the core of the opposition movement were those born in the Soviet era who had experienced first-hand the oppression of the KGB and police.
Now they are being replaced by young people, born into well-off families and ready to protect, at all costs, the way of life to which they’ve become accustomed. And the members of this young, modern opposition movement are proving to be far bold, more agile, and more creative than their predecessors.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with one of these young Russian opposition members during her most recent trip to Europe in April 2023. This charming girl from Moscow, just 19 years old, kindly agreed to sit down and answer some questions for us in English about her experiences fighting on behalf of the opposition in the current political climate.
We can’t reveal her real name for obvious reasons, so we’re calling her Natasha.
Q: Natasha, can you start by telling us, please, why did you join the ranks of the Russian opposition?
A: Before Russia invaded Ukraine, my family and I had a great life. We traveled to Europe frequently from the city I grew up in. I worked as a fashion model in many countries. I had just recently moved to Moscow and begun to enjoy being independent and of legal age when everything suddenly changed. Russia’s attack on Ukraine turned out to be a direct attack by the Putin regime on my family and on me. Because of the actions of the Russian dictator, my family lost a number of sources of our income. It became clear that the living conditions being forced on me by the Russian authorities were not acceptable to me and that there could be no future there. I’ve always considered myself not just a citizen of Russia but truly a citizen of the world. Now so many of the countries I’ve visited and love are considered enemies by Russia. Forced to choose between Russia and the civilized world, I’ve chosen the latter. Just like Ukraine, and all my Ukrainian friends who’ve chosen the West, so too have I. I’ll recognize Russia as my homeland only when my friends and I manage to overthrow Putin’s regime and succeed in creating the conditions necessary for Russia to re-join the community of civilized nations.
Q: Are there many supporters of this political movement in Russia?
A: Personally, I’m a member of a small youth group, but it’s part of a very extensive democratic resistance front, with supporters all throughout Russia, even in the farthest reaches like Chukotka and the Kuril Islands. Social networks enable us to coordinate and carry out our protests and other opposition activities.
Q: And whom do you and your friends consider your political leader?
A: Our universally recognized leader is Alexei Navalny, of course. But he’s not the only one. There are new leaders of our struggle who have a bright future, for example, Daria Trepova.
Q: Describe, please, the kinds of opposition activities you’re engaged in.
A: I’d say mainly active propaganda on social networks, countering the mobilization, collecting information about important people who support Putin’s criminal regime, and targeting Putin’s corrupt cronies who are living the high life in Russia and abroad.
Q: How do you counteract the mobilization in Russia?
A: We convince young people to evade the draft and help them to hide or flee the country to places like Georgia and Turkey, and Kazakhstan. Our group alone has helped over 100 young men evade the draft and relocate outside Russia.
Q: And what kind of information do you collect about these important people who support Putin’s criminal regime?
A: This is mostly personal information about high-ranking government and military officials. For example, about corruption, marital infidelity, or homosexuality (editor’s note: the Putin regime considers members of the LGBTQ community to be the enemies of Russia) – basically, anything that might be embarrassing to the regime or place its cronies in a compromising position.
Q: What do you do with this information?
A: We transmit it to the organizers of our movement.
Q: And how are your opposition activities financed? There’ve been a lot of conflicting claims about where the funding comes from. Can you shed any light on who supports your movement financially and materially?
A: As far as I know, a lot of the money comes from Russian businessmen who fled the terror of the authorities and left Russia.
Q: Is that even possible anymore? After all, international money transfers to Russia from almost all countries are blocked now, right?
A: Of course. It’s almost impossible to transfer money into Russia now, especially without a sophisticated banking network, especially if you want to stay below the radar of the Russian authorities. For this reason, I and the other girls were given a novel mission. Instead of risking being caught bringing back piles of cash*, we instead bring back expensive jewelry from each trip abroad and pass it off as our own. Anything from the really high-end European luxury brands works best. These are desirable in Russia, all the more so since you can no longer buy these brands’ products in Russia since the war started. With a little creativity, I manage to bring tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry back to Moscow on each trip. The jewelry is then sold, and the money goes to support our opposition.
*Individuals are only allowed to bring the equivalent of $10,000 in foreign currency into Russia.
Q: Amazing! But don’t you run into trouble with Russian customs when you bring such precious items in?
A: Not really. Sometimes they ask a few standard questions, but if you know what you’re doing, they don’t cause problems. Charm goes a long way. It also helps if you’re wearing everything on your person when you go through customs! I wear it during the whole flight, just in case. I have one example with me right now. Here look, I’ll put it on. Doesn’t this look beautiful on me? Wouldn’t you think it was mine?! Honestly, none of the girls have been caught by customs. Most of us who’ve been recruited for this are models or former models like me, so between the way we look and the way we dress, it seems perfectly normal when we fly into Moscow wearing jewelry like this!
Q: Yes, it definitely suits you! So you don’t feel in danger when returning to Russia?
A: Honestly, no.
Q: You’re not afraid of the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service)?
A: We’re not interested in the FSB now. As Alexey Navalny says, the FSB is mostly interested in lining their own pockets. Only if we take to the streets and demonstrate openly can we run into any problems with them. In the social networks, we feel safe.
Q: I see. And does your opposition movement work directly with representatives of Ukraine?
A: Yes, but they are quite wary of anyone from Russia, and it takes a long time to gain their trust. I myself have met with Ukrainian representatives mainly when they’ve given me valuables to bring back to Russia to help fund our activities.
Q: How do people relate to your struggle outside of Russia?
A: Very positively, of course. Almost everyone I’ve encountered is completely against this war and Putin. They too can imagine a different kind of Russia someday, and they wholeheartedly support what we’re doing, especially in Europe and Turkey. Well, that’s where I’ve spent the most time since the war began. I’ve spent about half of the past year going back and forth from Russia to Europe and Istanbul. Again, I think it also helps to be charming! In my experience, when people meet me for the first time – including some quite prominent businesspeople – I challenge their stereotypes about young Russian girls, and they tend to become even more generous in terms of the help they give me for our cause.
Q: And which country have you found to be the most friendly to the youth democratic movement in Russia?
A: Definitely France! The French people are wonderful! And they really understand our struggle – maybe because of their own rich revolutionary history.
Q: Would you like to stay in France permanently then?
A: Of course! With pleasure! I mean, Russia is my home, but France is my dream! But I’ll have to earn the right to live in this country. Hopefully, what I’m doing to bring about democracy in Russia and to end this horrible war will pay off in the end.
Q: Natasha, do you ever regret that you became a member of the opposition movement in Russia?
A: No. There’s no future for me in Russia until things change. What we’re fighting for – it’s worth any sacrifices we may make. I have girlfriends – I mean girls who come from quite successful families that have been hit hard financially by the actions of Putin’s bloody regime. Some of these girls have resorted to working as escorts in Russia and abroad, so they can earn enough money to support the lifestyle they had before. And yet they also donate some of their earnings to support our movement! We all do what we can. There’s no place for regrets.
Q: And how do you feel about the veterans of the democratic movement in Russia – those who were part of this movement before you?
A: Honestly, I think the older generation are cowards and hypocrites. They fled Russia at the first sign of danger. It’s embarrassing and infuriating. But we’re sort of over it now. They can spend their remaining days in a nursing home. We, the liberal democratic youth, are the real future of Russia!!
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.