Local politicians unite to challenge Vladimir Putin

(CNN) — Russia’s military failures in its war with Ukraine are fueling the rise of a new opposition against President Vladimir Putin, according to two local politicians who oppose him.

The lack of a quick victory, the inability to take Kyiv and Ukraine’s successful counteroffensives — while Russia loses troops and equipment — have generated anger and discontent that Putin’s opponents are trying to exploit.

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

Dmitry Palyuga, a member of the Smolninskoye municipal council, appears in court in Saint Petersburg after being accused of discrediting the Russian authorities.

While liberals like him had opposed the Ukraine invasion on humanitarian and legal grounds, Palyuga told CNN he now saw an opportunity to rally more support.

“We wanted to target some people who supported Putin before and now feel betrayed,” he said.

“The Russian army is being destroyed right now. So, we lose people, we lose weapons, and we lose our ability to defend ourselves… Even Russian propaganda cannot hide that [el] Russian army is being defeated in Ukraine.

I can’t get a bike lane, but I can speak out against Putin

Criticizing the Kremlin can be a difficult task in Putin’s Russia.

His most vocal critic, the leader of the opposition alexey navalny, he was first poisoned and then imprisoned. Another political opponent, Boris Nemtsov, was shot in the back by gunmen who have not revealed who sent them. Writer and politician Vladimir Kara-Murza sits in prison after speaking out against the invasion of Ukraine, a victim of the Kremlin further tightening its grip on free speech after launching what Russia calls a “military operation”. special” and not a war.

Palyuga said Putin’s most recent critics are being very careful to stay within the law.

Ksenia Thorstrom, a city deputy or local councilor also in St. Petersburg, accepted that approach.

“One of the things that [un] municipal deputy can do is make this public statement,” he told CNN. “We really don’t have authority or power to do anything, even at the local level, the ‘Yedinaya Rossiya’ [el partido Rusia Unida de Putin] is very opposed to us. Even simple initiatives like bike lanes, for example, oppose us.

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

Local politicians unite to challenge Vladimir Putin

Ksenia Thorstrom is now in Finland. She said that she would be more afraid if she was still in Russia.

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

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

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

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

Some reactions were a surprise

Thorstrom knows from personal experience that Putin still has strong support. He said his own mother believes in Kremlin propaganda and lives in “a parallel reality where Putin is making Russia great again.”

“She believes in the Nazis in the Ukraine,” he said of his mother. “She thinks [occidente] wants to harm Russia because [occidente] need Russian resources, [que] The West does not want Russia to be strong.”

Local politicians unite to challenge Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, participating in a naval parade in St. Petersburg in July, said that Russia is “in no hurry” to achieve its goals in Ukraine.

Thorstrom said he felt Putin was irrational but still hoped he might agree or be persuaded 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 currently safely in Finland, which along with Sweden completed talks to join NATO after the invasion of Ukraine.

Palyuga has not left Russia and acknowledges that he is taking some risk by speaking out. He has already been charged with discrediting the authorities under a law passed in March, but the court’s decision to fine him just $700 actually made him feel better.

“Maybe we are just very, very small politicians in the realm of Russia. So maybe that’s why we’re not so worried about getting poisoned or something,” he said.

Still, the lack of a serious reaction even to allegations from low-level public servants is unusual, although the Kremlin has warned that the line between acceptable debate and illegal criticism is “very thin.”

While Palyuga has no expectation that domestic politicians within the Duma, the Putin-controlled Russian parliament, will take up his cause, he already claims some success.

“We wanted to show people that they are not alone, that there are other people and even 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 calling on parliament to impeach Putin, Palyuga said he has received many messages of support from people promising money to pay fines and even offering to hide it if necessary.

But what it doesn’t have is the expected torrent of hate.

“I only got two messages where people were accusing me of some bad things,” he said, though news of his action has gone mainstream.

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

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