Local politicians unite to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin




CNN

Russia’s military defeats in its war with Ukraine are fueling renewed opposition to President Vladimir Putin, according to two local politicians who are taking a stand against him.

The lack of a quick victory, the inability to take Kyiv and now the successful counter-offensive by Ukraine while Russia has lost so many troops and equipment has created anger and frustration that Putin’s opponents are trying to capitalize on.

“There is a point where liberal groups of people and pro-war groups can have the same goal. The goal may be for Putin to resign,” said Dmitry Palyuga, a local politician in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, who called for the president’s removal from office.

While liberals like him opposed the invasion of Ukraine on humanitarian and legal grounds, Palyuga told CNN he now saw an opening for more support.

“They used to support Putin and now they feel betrayed,” he said.

“The Russian army is being destroyed right now. So we lose people, we lose weapons and we will lose the ability to defend ourselves. … Not even Russian propaganda can hide that [the] The Russian army is being defeated in Ukraine.”

Criticizing the Kremlin can be tough questioning in Putin’s Russia.

His loudest critic, the leader of the opposition Alexey Navalny was first poisoned and then imprisoned. Another politician the opponent, Boris Nemtsov, was shot in the back by the sigils, who have not clarified who sent them. Writer and politician Vladimir Kara-Murza has been jailed after speaking out against the invasion of Ukraine, a victim of the Kremlin’s crackdown on freedom of expression after Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation” rather than a war.

Palyuga said Putin’s newest critics are being careful to stay within the letter of the law.

Ksenia Thorstrom, a deputy or city councilor of St. Petersburg, also accepted this approach.

“One of the things about it [a] The municipal deputy can make this public statement,” he told CNN. “We don’t have the authority or the power to do anything; even at the local level, we are against “Yedinaya Rossiya”. [Putin’s United Russia party]. Even simple initiatives like bike paths, for example, are working against us.

“None of my initiatives have ever been approved. But I can make public statements and that’s what I did.”

Ksenia Thorstrom is now in Finland.  He said he would still be more afraid in Russia.

Thorstrom circulated his own version of Palyuga’s petition to lawmakers and now has dozens of signatures, he said.

The problems were not only with the military in Ukraine, he said, but also had an impact inside Russia.

“The Russians have become poor, they are not welcome anywhere. Then there are fewer facilities and supplies,” he said.

“Now people would be poorer and more unhappy. And I don’t know what the future might be for the isolated country.”

Thorstrom knows from personal experience that Putin still has a lot of support. He said his mother believes Kremlin propaganda and she does “Living in a parallel reality where Putin is making Russia great again.”

“She believes in Ukrainian Nazis,” he said of his mother. “He thinks so [the] The West wants to harm Russia [the] The West needs Russian resources, [that the] The West does not want Russia to be strong.’

Russian President Vladimir Putin, here participating in the St. Petersburg naval parade in July, said Russia is there

Thorstrom said he felt Putin was being irrational, but still hoped he would agree or convince him to step down.

He said he was happy to take a public role against Putin staying in power, in part because he had already left Russia. Thorstrom is safe in Finland, which ended talks with Sweden to join NATO after the invasion of Ukraine.

Palyuga has not left Russia and admits that there is some danger in speaking. He has already been accused of defaming the authorities under a law passed in March, but the judge’s decision made him feel better about the fine of only about $700.

“Perhaps, we are very, very small politicians in the sphere of Russia. So maybe that’s why we’re not so worried about being poisoned or things like that,” he said.

However, the absence of a serious reaction to allegations by public officials is also unusual, although the Kremlin has warned that the line between acceptable debate and illegal criticism is “very thin”.

While Palyuga has little hope that national politicians inside the Duma, Russia’s parliament controlled by Putin, will take up his cause, he is already claiming some success.

Putin's United Russia party holds power in the State Duma, the country's lower house of parliament.

“We wanted to show people that they are not alone, that there are other people and councilors who are against this military operation and against Putin and we want to unite people and give them some hope,” he said.

Since first asking parliament to impeach Putin, Palyuga said he has received numerous messages of support, promising money to pay fines and offering to hide if needed.

But what he didn’t get was the expected flood of hate.

“I only received two messages where people were accusing me of some bad things,” he said, although news of his action has spread.

“Two hate messages is a small amount and I have a lot of support. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to happen like this.’