‘Another world war is possible’: Russians fearful over consequences of Putin’s Ukraine invasion

Mapat believes there is only one way this conflict ends for Russia.

Not in bloodshed – as it will for those caught in the crossfire, left to die in the streets and fields of Ukraine – but in economic hardship and uncertainty.

“I do not see the prospect of life in Russia anymore,” he says. Already, Mapat, who lives in Moscow, has made plans to leave his homeland for the US and, in doing so, cross a line that has long separated the west from its Slavic neighbour.

“I’m not afraid for my own safety,” insists Mapat. “It’s about the standard of living. It’s going down and going down.” He does not necessarily fear the immediate impact of the economic sanctions imposed by the West, which, he says, “Putin has been preparing for since 2014.”

Instead, it is the longer-term fallout of the invasion that worries Mapat. Cut adrift, both politically and economically, there is nothing but isolation, stagnation and condemnation that awaits Russia and its people once the dust has settled on the battlegrounds of Ukraine. “I, like many others, are preparing to leave.”

The “overall” reaction among his friends and community to the invasion of Ukraine, has been one that is “severely negative”, Mapat says. This anger manifested itself on the streets of Moscow on Thursday evening, when thousands of people gathered near Pushkin Square to protest against the invasion.

Despite the threat of arrest and detention hanging over their heads – it takes a brave person to oppose the authoritarian Russian government – the protesters were clear in the messages they delivered to Vladimir Putin, a man known to fear and despise civil unrest.

“No to war.” The slogan was written on signs and even spray-painted on the front gate of the Russian parliament’s lower house. The blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag brought colour to the masses, as they chanted and shouted in opposition of the conflict.

Veronika Miller, one of the protesters near Pushkin Square, says that “no-one expected that an invasion could happen – it was like a bolt from the blue. We don’t war and do not agree with Putin.”

The response was swift and predictable, with 900 arrests made. OVD-Info, which tracks disorder at opposition rallies, said nearly 1,700 people were detained in 53 Russian cities following spontaneous protests, including Putin’s home town of St Petersburg. As one man was arrested there, he shouted out: “Who are you fighting with? Arrest Putin.”

Yet, for the first time, these protestations have filtered through the foot soldiers of Russian dissidence and spread to the upper echelons of society.

Celebrities, pop stars, late-night television hosts, film directors, scientists and academics have all gone public in their opposition of Putin’s actions, enabled by social media platforms that never existed during the turbulence of the Soviet Union’s disintegration.

Prominent Russian rapper Oxxxymiron cancelled six of his sold-out concerts in Moscow and St Petersburg in protest against the invasion, saying: “I can’t perform while Russian missiles fall on Ukraine.”

More than 50 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and hundreds of other experts, have meanwhile signed an open letter against the “unfair and frankly meaningless” Russian military action.

“By unleashing the war, Russia has condemned itself to international isolation and the position of a rogue state,” said the letter, published on the TrV-Nauka scientific news website.

Russian forces’ movements since the invasion began

The Russian newspaper editor who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year published an edition of his Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Ukranian as a show of solidarity against Putin’s invasion.

Dmitry Muratov, who was recognised last year for fighting for freedom of expression, said he felt “grief” and “shame” after Russian troops attacked on Thursday.

Such vocal opposition is “very significant in itself,” says Professor Christopher Read, an expert in Russian history at the University of Warwick.

“They have immediately stuck their heads over the parapet to say no, stop the war.” This type of high-profile opposition “is something which has been pretty much missing from any Russian war”.

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Moscow

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