The Kremlin hasn’t made much headway in its invasion of Ukraine, says The Economist. “But in its simultaneous imposition of near-totalitarian control in Russia, it has been far more successful.” Since the start of the war, Vladimir Putin’s regime has been “vigorously suppressing dissent and demoralising opponents, turning a relatively open country into a complete dictatorship”. Gregory Asmolov, an expert on Russian information warfare, says this is the Kremlin’s biggest achievement in the conflict: “You couldn’t even imagine this straightjacketed political reality a few months ago.”
State propaganda claims 81% of Russians back the war. The true figure is lower, but it’s impossible to know by how much: up to 90% of the population “refuses to participate in political polling”. And for most Russians, toeing the government’s line is the easiest – and safest – option. Getting a manicure in the blue-and-yellow of Ukraine’s flag “can get you arrested”; spreading “fake news” is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. And even among close friends, there is a fear of donosy, or denunciations, as there was in Stalin’s era. One entrepreneur in his 30s says friends warily eye each other up around the dinner table, “trying to guess where loyalties lie”. At home, he keeps his own plans to leave Russia quiet, “lest the state TV presenter in the apartment upstairs” overhears him. It’s all part of Russia’s “new reality of fear and anxiety”.