Russia’s crackdown on dissent has been decidedly extraordinary. Leaders at the United Nations and saner elements within the comity of nations must be shaking their heads in disbelief that five children, aged between seven and eleven, were detained with their mothers for protesting against the Ukraine war and putting up anti-war slogans at the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow.
They were said to have been shoved into the rear of a police van and transported to a police station. Phones were taken away from parents who were threatened that the “kids could be put into care homes right now, and these mothers would lose their parental rights”.
The children were terrified as they were held for several hours before being released. Few will buy the Russian education ministry’s argument that it was organizing lessons to teach children about “the danger Nato poses in our country and help them to distinguish truth from lies”. In the wake of intensified protests, the Kremlin has stepped up efforts to persuade ordinary Russians that the invasion is necessary to protect them against any attack by Nato.
“The Russian army is on an honourable mission to eliminate a genuine threat to Russia,” was the rather contrived reasoning proffered by Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman of the defence ministry in Moscow. The children and their mothers must be bewildered by so hideous a prognosis of geopolitics. The nub of the matter must be that innocents are suffering as a result of the confrontation, including the medical student from Karnataka, Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudur (20), who died as a result of shelling on the embattled city of Kharkiv in Ukraine.
Not wholly unrelated to Thursday’s crackdown by the Kremlin on child protesters must be fears that Russia could introduce martial law, an initiative that was tentatively decided at an “extraordinary meeting” of the Upper House of Parliament.
According to Moscow’s official version, no fewer than 498 soldiers have died thus far during the conflict in Ukraine, although this figure is far short of Ukrainian claims. This is the first time the Russian government has provided figures about its losses. In the reckoning of analysts, the Kremlin could be preparing the ground for the introduction of martial law. The slightest indication of a rally by anti-war protestors has been blocked by the Russian police in St Petersburg.
Small wonder that Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, has referred to the invasion as the attack of “another virus”. Mr Zelenskyi has warned that Kiev will demand that Moscow pays reparations for all it has destroyed in its invasion, and the damage has clearly been considerable. Ukraine is paying out pensions and offering handouts to those unable to work because of the war.
The former Soviet satellite, he said, was holding out resolutely against the Russian attacks. And each day of resistance by the Ukrainians seems to be bringing home to Russians the futility of a war their leader has thrust upon them.