putin: Stung by sanctions over Ukraine, Russians rally behind Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW: Like many members of Russia’s wealthy middle class, the advertising producer Rita Guerman protested long ago Kremlin strong man Vladimir Putin.
But Western sanctions following President Putin’s decision to send troops to Ukraine at the end of February changed her view of the Russian leader.
“My eyes have been opened wide,” said the 42-year-old brunette, praising the Russian president for defending the country “against NATO“.
The West has caused Russia to face unprecedented sanctions to punish Putin for his military campaign in pro-Western Ukraine that has left thousands of people including civilians dead and more than 11 million displaced. .
Western powers hoped the sanctions would help weaken public support for the Kremlin, but observers say the weakening sanctions have had the opposite effect in several ways.
After the initial shock and skepticism, many members of the pro-Western middle class, like Geurman, feel that they have been treated unfairly by the West and are now rallying behind. Putin.
The latest sanctions have hit the Russians indiscriminately, depriving them of contracts with foreign companies, vacations in Europe, Passport and Mastercard branded credit cards, and the right to use Western drugs.
When Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, Guerman was completing an advertisement for a Ukrainian company. At first, she wanted to contribute to the Ukrainian army. She then spent two weeks pondering and listening to “geopolitical historians and experts” and emerged as a supporter of Putin.
“An ordinary person cannot accept war. It is tearing me to pieces, but we are talking about Russian sovereignty,” Guerman told AFP.
“All bets are off, Putin has no choice but to enter Ukraine to protect us from the Anglo-Saxons.”
As a result of the sanctions, she says she has lost all of her foreign clients and working with domestic clients has also dried up.
“We’re under siege,” she said, adding that she had reconsidered her values. “There’s Coca-Cola and the iPhone. And there are values ​​that exist.”
According to a recent study by independent polling company Levada, in March, 83% of respondents said they approved of Putin’s work, up from 65% last December.
But many sociologists say the polls do not provide an objective picture in a military conflict, with criticism of the authorities essentially outlawing.
After starting the military operation in Ukraine, Russian authorities imposed a prison sentence of up to 15 years for spreading “fake news” about the Russian military.
Opposition media have been banned or forced to suspend operations, while TV channels have ramped up production of anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western propaganda.
Natalia Tikhonova, head of research at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said many members of the middle class do not understand why they should be jointly responsible for Putin’s actions in Ukraine when they never voted for Putin.
Tikhonova told AFP: “The fact that the Russians have become a country in Europe haunted by demons is driving them to protest around the flag.
More than 15,000 people were detained during protests in Russia after the start of the conflict, but those protests quickly ended. Tens of thousands of Russians, most of them well-educated professionals, have left the country in protest.
Those who remain are adjusting to a harsh new reality and many agree with the Kremlin’s narrative that the West is waging an “all-out war” against the Russians.
“Regardless of whether they are opposed to the activism in Ukraine or not, the middle class has campaigned for Putin and against the West, pointing out that about 60 percent of these people once considered themselves “friendly,” said Tikhonova. with Europeans”.
Alexander Nikonov, 37 years old Muscovitesaid that “anti-Russian hysteria” was now raging in the world, and added that the Russians should close their ranks.
“This is not the time for controversy,” he told AFP.
“Even my colleagues who used to be openly critical of the authorities have now become less vocal,” says Nikonov in a bookstore in central Moscow, where he bought a book. Russian fairy tales collection.
“They are more sublime and sarcastic than people in Europe,” he said.
Some members of Russian society, who normally prefer to stay away from politics, have also taken sides.
Actress Marina Ermoshkina called on influencers in Russia to cut their Chanel handbags to protest the luxury brand’s decision to cut sales to Russia.
Ermoshkina, who has more than 300,000 followers on Instagram, posted a photo of herself cutting a Chanel bag with garden shears to protest the “fear disease”.
Political observer Maxim Shevchenko argues that by destroying the livelihoods of pro-Western Russians, the West is strengthening Putin’s regime.
“The new Russian bourgeoisie, the freest part of society, are the only ones who can oppose Putin,” Shevchenko said.
Another political analyst, Georgy Bovt, makes a similar note.
“The economic war the West declares against the Russians regardless of their political beliefs has intrigued them more than all the Kremlin propaganda in recent years,” he told AFP.
“By refusing to separate the nation from its leader, the West will see a new state emerge near its borders that are anti-Western.”

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