March 17, 2022
(Reuters) – Graffiti warnings daubed on the doors of activists in Moscow. A food blogger threatened with up to 15 years in jail for “discrediting” Russia’s army. A call to sack a senior former official for “treachery” for opposing the war in Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin issued a venomous warning to “traitors” on Wednesday, saying the West would try to use them as a fifth column to destroy Russia, but that Russians would be quickly able to tell the “patriots from the scum”.
Within hours of Putin’s speech, Dmitry Ivanov, a Moscow-based activist, said his mother found a graffiti message on the door to their apartment landing: “Don’t betray the motherland Dima”.
The graffiti bore several of the “Z” signs used to drum up support for what Moscow calls its “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. The motif is from markings on Russia’s armoured vehicles and tanks.
Ivanov, who has protested against the war, said he had no idea who was behind the graffiti, but that he knew of at least three other people, including activists and a journalist, whose doors had been defaced in the same way on Wednesday evening.
“I don’t know their aims: to frighten, not to frighten, or just to spoil your mood. It’s hard to scare us with such actions: we’re used to this kind of attention,” the 22-year-old told Reuters.
“It’s possible this action was to complement Putin’s speech, I think that’s possible. Especially considering how shoddily, and cheaply these markings were done. It was done in a hurry,” he said.
Thousands of people have been detained across Russia since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Putin, in his comments to government ministers on Wednesday, said Russians would spit out traitors “like gnats”, and society would be the better for it.
“I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to meet any challenge,” he said.
Asked about the remarks on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said many people were showing themselves to be traitors.
“They are vanishing from our lives themselves. Some people are leaving their posts, some are leaving their active work life, some leave the country and move to other countries. That is how this cleansing happens,” he said.
After Putin spoke, the Investigative Committee, a law enforcement body, announced the name of the first person, a food blogger, under investigation for spreading “false information” about Russia’s army on her blog.
That crime is now punishable by up to 15 years in jail after Russia adopted a law on March 4 following a ripple of protest activity against the invasion.
In an interview with Reuters, Veronika Belotserkovskaya who lives in southern France said that despite being apolitical she was not surprised she had been singled out as she likely fitted the image of a person whom the average Russian might loathe.
“You know, there’s this fat spoilt woman living on the Cote D’Azur, in Provence, or in Italy, who makes foie gras and eats lobsters, who also dares to blather on from over there… I have all of these qualities that the average person would see as disgusting,” she said.
After Putin spoke on Wednesday, a senior member of the ruling United Russia party called for the immediate sacking of former deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich from his position as head of a foundation that promotes economic innovation.
Dvorkovich, who now heads the International Chess Federation, condemned the war in comments to Western media.
“He has made his choice,” said the parliamentarian, Andrei Turchak. “This is nothing but the very national betrayal, the behaviour of the fifth column, which the president spoke about today.”
(Reporting by Reuters, editing by Mark Trevelyan and Gareth Jones)