Russian’s new tsar, Vlad the shirtless, is not a man to entertain opposition. People who cross him have been known to be poisoned, shot, imprisoned or, in the case of the Chechens, bombed back to the Stone Age.

Draconian measures have been signed into law to silence critics of his invasion of Ukraine, making even use of the word “war” a crime. The measures have prompted some Russians to flee the country while others, in an echo of the Communist years, turn in their neighbours.

Putin has regressed the country well back into the dark days of the Soviet Union. But not all the way, not yet anyway. Unlike the old days some opposition is not only possible but courageously active.

For example, some of the country’s academic researchers are working to prevent colleagues who have supported the invasion from being elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences. Apparently joining the academy is a very big deal for Russia’s scientists, a prized credential that also confers prestige on their institutions. The researchers are circulating a list of candidates who have publicly supported the invasion and who they recommend voting against.

The academy itself has come close to condemning the war. In March, it released a statement that didn’t explicitly criticize the war, but did express concerns about how it would affect Russian science.

Ina addition to all this, an open letter opposing the war has apparently been signed by over 8,000 scientists and science journalists.

From quite a different direction, Russian rock legend Yury Shevchuk made a no holds barred anti-war speech at a concert of 8,000 fans where he made the now famous statement “The motherland, my friends, is not the president’s ass that has to be slobbered and kissed all the time. The motherland is an impoverished babushka at the train station selling potatoes.” He referred to the war as “some kind of Napoleonic plans of our latest Caesar.”

He has been treated relatively lightly by the authorities—simply charged with “discrediting” the Russian military. If found guilty, he faces a fine of up to 50,000 rubles ($800). Rock and roll counts for something, even in Putin’s Russia.

Prominent journalist Dmitri Muratov, editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has also gotten into the act. He is selling his Nobel medal and donating the proceeds to UNICEF for Ukrainian refugees. He said the sale is “an act of solidarity” with the millions of Ukrainians displaced by the invasion. About the war, he said, “We basically have World War III. This has been a mistake, and we need to end it.”

Muratov suspended publication of his paper in March, saying Russia’s draconian press laws made it impossible to truthfully cover the war. Six of Novaya Gazeta’s journalists have been murdered this century, including Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of the Chechen war. Muratov himself has been attacked when a man threw paint laced with acetone into his face, burning his eyes.

So, yes, there are opposition voices in Russia, including some influential ones. And, with impressive courage, they are making a noise. As cursed as this country has been and continues to be with its leadership, people like these give it a chance at least that Putin won’t regress it all the way back into Stalinist repression.

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