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Popular Russian blogger calls for armed resistance and sabotage to overthrow Putin

“Everyone is hoping for some kind of conspiracy at the top – that one of Vladimir Putin’s close associates or oligarchs kills him,” said popular Russian blogger and longtime Kremlin critic Dmitry Chernyshev. “But it seems to me that this will not be a solution,” he adds.

Instead, Chernyshev, a 55-year-old writer and lecturer, is calling on Russians to join a nationwide resistance movement he is building and encouraging wide-ranging civil disobedience that goes well beyond street protests. He says armed resistance and sabotage will be needed to topple the Russian leader.

This sets him apart from other Kremlin critics and opposition figures as they struggle to chart a way forward to continue challenging Putin.

This week, a group of Russian human rights veterans and political activists agreed to create an anti-war council and focus their efforts on opposing the invasion of Ukraine. They are preparing an open letter calling on Russia to end its war against Ukraine, in which they will declare that it is “our common duty” to “stop the war [and] protect the lives, rights and freedoms of all, Ukrainians and Russians. »

FILE – Memorial board member Oleg Orlov speaks to the media outside the Moscow City Court building during a hearing to consider the closure of the Memorial’s human rights center in Moscow, on December 29, 2021.

The soon-to-be-published manifesto will be signed by a dozen opposition luminaries, including Lev Ponomaryov, Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina. Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, who was sentenced to an additional nine years in prison last week, also called on Russians to participate in anti-war protests.

But speaking to VOA, Chernyshev, who fled to Israel after his family was threatened by authorities and is trying to establish a movement from Tel Aviv to oust the Russian leader, says more is needed and that its strategy is broader. He says it won’t help Russia if there is “just a transfer of power from one hand to the other”.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Commander-in-Chief of Interior Ministry troops Viktor Zolotov attend a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 5, 2016.

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Commander-in-Chief of Interior Ministry troops Viktor Zolotov attend a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 5, 2016.

Russia will also be badly off if Putin is replaced by someone like Viktor Zolotov, the head of the Russian National Guard, or Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, he said. “It seems to me that the security forces have committed so many crimes that they will not relinquish power by peaceful means,” he warns.

Exodus from the opposition

Russian dissidents and human rights activists say they are currently going through their darkest period since the end of communism. Tens of thousands of Russians have fled the country since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, fearing that they would end up in prison if they did not.

Their departure will further weaken opposition to Putin and make mass revolt even more unlikely, some activists fear, and has been compared by some to the flight of the White Army from Crimea in November 1920, when some 165,000 people fled Russia in three days. Estimates of the current exodus range as high as 200,000.

The White Army and its supporters fled because of the defeat of the Bolsheviks on the battlefield and although there were no more clashes in Russia, there was also a general feeling of defeat. “The opposition has been crushed, driven into exile or underground,” according to Ben Noble, professor of Russian politics at University College London.

FILE - People take part in a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, after President Vladimir Putin authorized a massive military operation, in Saint Petersburg, Russia February 27, 2022.

FILE – People take part in a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, after President Vladimir Putin authorized a massive military operation, in Saint Petersburg, Russia February 27, 2022.

The screw has been tightened on anti-war activists and Kremlin critics, who face growing repression, including beatings by police, intimidation, dismissals and other threats. Around 150 journalists have fled Russia and one of the country’s last influential independent media outlets, Novaya Gazetaannounced this week that it would cease operations until the end of the war in Ukraine after receiving a second warning from state censorship.

Political activists expect the search for internal enemies to blame for the country’s descent into sanctions-induced economic hardship to only get worse for them. Putin called on the country to cleanse itself of fifth chroniclers and traitors.

Fomenting insurrection

Under these circumstances, Chernyshev says there is little choice but to foment an uprising. In a recent Facebook post, he published a manifesto for national resistance, in which he called for rebellion. “The Resistance Movement announces preparations to overthrow Putin’s criminal regime,” the manifesto began.

“We will use all methods, including the right of peoples to rise up. It is the inalienable right of citizens to protect their rights and freedom against usurpers by all means, including armed struggle. We have exhausted all peaceful means: we have organized rallies, they have been dispersed. Published honest reports in the media – they were banned. Wage an open political struggle – opponents were killed, imprisoned, exiled from the country and were judged poisoned,” the manifesto continues.

One of Chernyshev’s role models is Charles de Gaulle, France’s wartime leader. “I am very inspired by the example of de Gaulle, who had nothing, no army, no soldiers. He called on the French to resist,” Chernyshev says. “When France was defeated by Germany in 1940, de Gaulle commanded an army that did not exist. But gradually these armies appeared when it seemed that all had already been lost. Gradually, a movement of resistance began to form,” he adds.

He wants to target judges and security officials who support the Putin regime with the aim of demoralizing them and making them vulnerable. “It’s one thing when they’re sure they’re in hiding and nobody knows anything about them, and it’s another when their names and addresses are made public.” He does not detail what he hopes will happen to these officials, but he does mention “sabotage”.

Chernyshev has been an active critic of the Kremlin for years. He has had a series of jobs since leaving the Russian army after serving as a conscript. He worked as a security guard, driver and guide for hunters before studying design and graphic art, eventually becoming creative director for an advertising agency. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, his blog became one of the most read in the country.

“Before the 2014 elections, I declared a personal vendetta against Putin,” he says. He attended pro-Navalny rallies and was detained once for 15 days. “When the invasion started, I wrote tough anti-war messages,” he says. He was arrested and taken to Lubyanka, the headquarters of the FSB’s national intelligence agency, where “they interrogated me very harshly for three hours”, he said.

“They wanted me to sign a document swearing allegiance to Putin and other nonsense. Of course, I did not sign the document, but to have time to get my children out of Russia, I promised to stop my internet activities. I have four children and the threats were serious. They promised to send me on a freight train to Donetsk and tie me to a pole as a looter, so that people take care of me,” he explains. “If it weren’t for the threats of [my] children, I would have stayed in Russia,” he says. He sold everything he could and flew on March 15 with his family to Israel.

Other political activists believe the circumstances are not conducive to the kind of national resistance that Chernyshev hopes to foment. They say Putin prepared for years to see any “color revolution” that would emerge. Others point to polls suggesting the Russian leader backs his invasion of Ukraine.

Chernyshev rejects the criticism. “Anyone who has conducted surveys knows that 9 out of 10 people questioned on the street refuse to answer. People are getting calls on their home phones asking if they support government activities. People are afraid to answer honestly and, of course, say they say they support. I’m sure Putin’s rating is at an extremely low level. I urge you not to believe the poll results,” he said.

And he thinks the food riots will start to emerge when the economic hardship caused by Western sanctions worsens. “I may be wrong, but to do nothing in such a situation seems like a betrayal to me,” he says.