Journalist Spy, Subversive 13-Year-Old: Law And Order In Totalitarian Russia
Even beyond the bloodshed of its war in Ukraine, lesser acts of aggression by the state are a clear expression of the intentions of Vladimir Putin's Russia.
They are "minor” incidents compared to the bloody frontline near Bakhmut, or the missiles raining down on Ukrainian cities. But these same incidents say a lot about what is going on in Russian society, behind the relatively normal facade that has been preserved for a year.
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Two arrests occurred Thursday, one of a Russian citizen whose story is one of aberrant cruelty; the other of an American journalist turned hostage in the proxy confrontation between Moscow and Washington.
Aleksei Moskalyov is a single father of a 13-year-old girl, Maria, a status which is in itself considered abnormal in Russian society. But above all, Maria was taken away from her father and placed in an orphanage for having drawn an anti-war picture at school. Her own teacher reported her to the authorities.
The father was sentenced to two years in prison for having criticized the Russian army. He fled, but was arrested in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, probably betrayed by the activation of his cell phone. He risks an even harsher sentence, and likely will not see his daughter again for years.
Yes, another scene from daily life in a totalitarian country.
Wall Street Journal warning
The Wall Street Journal journalist, Evan Gershkovich, was arrested in Ekaterinburg, a large industrial city in Russia. With a dozen years of experience in Russia, Gershkovich is accused of espionage while on a reporting trip.
Washington immediately protested the arrest, which Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, likened to a "hostage situation". The United States is also asking its citizens to leave Russia immediately.
It is a lever on the United States.
Yes, spies do exist, and some of them — the Russians know something about this — can pass themselves off as journalists. But either Moscow will quickly present tangible and credible elements, or this arrest will only be considered as an attempt to intimidate all foreign journalists still present in Russia. They can suffer the same fate at any time.
It is also a lever on the United States, as was the case with basketball player Brittney Griner, who was exchanged in December for a Russian prisoner, the arms dealer Viktor Bout.
WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich being arrested in Moscow on March 30
Each in its own way, these two events show us a society in tumult, where a climate of mistrust and a relentless hunt generated by the war generates signals of distress. If a child's drawing can be subversive, and a journalist is necessarily a spy, we see the toll that one year of war has taken on a nation.
This is a sign of a conflict that is set to last.
Add to this Vladimir Putin's pessimistic statements about the Russian economy, and the admission that Western sanctions may have a negative effect in the medium term. These words, in a televised speech, contrast with the image of a implacable Russia, where the sanctions would not have hurt one bit.
Is Putin readying the population for a tougher war economy, with sacrifices imposed by the sanctions? In any case, this is a sign of a conflict that is set to last, not a climate conducive to negotiation; it is also a sign of a president who is ready to challenge threats to his rule on any front.
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