Faced with fierce resistance in Ukraine and crippling economic sanctions at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin uses language reminiscent of the rhetoric of the 1930s show trials of Josef Stalin.

Putin’s ominous speech on Wednesday compared opponents to “mosquitoes” trying to weaken the country at the behest of the West — crude remarks that set the stage for sweeping repression against those who dare to speak out against the war in Ukraine.

His rant seemed to reflect his frustration at the slow pace of the Russian offensive, which stalled on the outskirts of Kiev and around other cities in northeastern Ukraine. Russian forces have made relatively greater gains in the south, but they have failed to capture the strategic port of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov, and their advance along the Black Sea coast has also stalled.

Meanwhile, Russia has been ravaged by devastating Western sanctions that have cut off the government’s access to an estimated half of the country’s hard currency reserves and dealt crippling blows to many sectors of the economy.

With his hopes of an explosion in Ukraine shattered and the economic costs rapidly mounting, Putin unleashed a poisonous diatribe against those who oppose his course.

“The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a mosquito that accidentally flew into their mouths — spitting them out on the sidewalk,” Putin said during a meeting with top officials on Wednesday. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and willingness to respond to any challenge.”

The coarse language had ominous parallels for those familiar with Soviet history. During the show trials of Stalin’s Great Terror, authorities disdained the declared “enemies of the people” as “reptiles” or “mad dogs”.

In a strained voice with anger, Putin accused that Russians opposed to the war in Ukraine were a “fifth column” submissively serving Western interests and ready to “sell their own mother”.

“I don’t condemn those who have villas in Miami or the French Riviera, those who can’t live without foie gras, oysters or so-called gender freedoms,” Putin said. “It’s not a problem. The problem is that a lot of those people are mentally there (in the West) and not here with our people, at Russia. They don’t remember or just don’t understand that they’re just … consumables that are used to inflict as much damage as possible on our people.”

As he spoke, the Russian state commission of inquiry announced the opening of criminal investigations against several people accused of spreading “false information” about the military action in Ukraine.

The first person chosen by the country’s top research agency was Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a popular blogger and socialite who has written books on French and Italian cuisine, dividing her time between Russia and the south of France. She seemed to be a target that fit Putin’s scathing description of cosmopolitan Russians who love fancy food and seem to be at odds with the masses.

The commission of inquiry said it would issue an international arrest warrant for Belotserkovskaya because her Instagram posts “discredited” state authorities and the military.

Belotserkovskaya responded by writing, “I am officially declared a decent person!”

She is under investigation under new legislation accelerated by the Kremlin-controlled parliament on March 4, a week after Putin launched the invasion. It provides for prison terms of up to 15 years for posting “fake” information about the military that deviates from the official story.

Putin and his lieutenants describe the war in Ukraine as a “special military operation” designed to eliminate alleged “neo-Nazi nationalists” and eliminate a potential military threat against Russia — targets that most of the world see as fake. has rejected.

Russian officials have attributed the slow pace of the offensive to their desire to spare civilians, even as the military pelted Mariupol, Kiev, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities with indiscriminate barrages and air strikes, killing untold numbers of civilians.

With the action in Ukraine in stark contrast to official statements, authorities acted quickly to bring the message under control, shutting down access to foreign media websites, along with Facebook and Instagram, and banning their parent company Meta as an “extremist” organization. .

The tight lids on information have helped the Kremlin gain support from broad sections of the population who rely on state-controlled television as their main source of news. State television programs broadcast an increasingly aggressive message against those who opposed the war.

Asked about incidents where war critics’ apartment doors were sprayed with the letter “Z” – a sign used to mark Russian military vehicles in Ukraine that is heavily promoted by the state – Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described it as an “emotional” one. move by Putin’s supporters.

The campaign in support of the war saw Russian cities inundated with “Z” posters and vehicles decorated with them. School children were shown in groups in the shape of the letter or dressed in clothes marked with a “Z”.

However, despite the draconian new laws, tight controls on information and increasingly aggressive propaganda, thousands of Russians showed up to anti-war protests across the country to be immediately arrested.

A powerful symbol of resistance, a state television employee interrupted a live news program with a handmade sign protesting the war. Marina Ovsyannikova was fined the equivalent of $270 but is still facing a criminal investigation that could land her in jail.

A loud voice of dissension was that of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest political enemy who is serving 2 1/2 years in prison and now facing a trial that could see him face a 13-year prison sentence.

In a speech at his trial Tuesday, Navalny warned that the war will lead to the disintegration of Russia, saying that “it is now the duty of everyone to oppose the war.”

This post Ukraine war: Putin compares opponents to “mosquitoes”, pointing to new repression

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