The Russian president declared war on his western neighbour last week, calling for all Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms – while alleging that Ukraine is response for all “possible bloodshed” and that Russia invaded by “necessity”.
Putin claims that Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent country, and that its sovereignty is unsustainable while warning the West and Nato that crossing Russia would mean facing “consequences greater than any you have faced in history”.
But, not only has the Russian president overestimated the amount of support for him in Ukraine, he appears he has not gauged the mood in his own country either.
Why some Russian civilians do not support the war
Russian civilians are experiencing the effects of the West’s sanctions first-hand, as the value of the ruble has plummeted forcing people to empty ATMs in the search for cash. The West has cut Russia off from SWIFT international payment system too, triggering inflation which is hitting locals hard.
Ukraine is seen to many as a fraternal nation to Russia, not one to target and attack. Many Russians have friends, relatives and work colleagues living there who will be directly affected by the invasion.
Others are conscious that Russia is becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage with this new aggressive action, and are pleading with the Kremlin for it to stop.
However, Kremlin has tried to downplay the protests, insisting that the majority of the country support the attack on Ukraine.
How many people are protesting?
Anti-war protests broke out in major cities across Russia on the day the Kremlin took troops into Ukraine, prompting a wave of security to quash the demonstrators across St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Moscow.
Approximately 6,500 anti-war demonstrators have reportedly been arrested since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 as there is a total ban on protests. And the list of demonstrators is only growing, according to independent human rights project Ovd Info.
Police appeared to arrest anyone participating, with 1,745 arrested in 54 cities last Thursday alone.
Police in full riot gear outnumber the number of protesters and have been pictured grabbing people at random and shoving them into vans, even when the demonstrations are peaceful. Some have been seen being thrown on the ground first, before being dragging away.
Even so people have continued to march, chanting “no to war” in the days since, although Associated Press claim the protests are getting smaller and more scattered as the days go on.
Human rights activist Marina Litvinovich called for action on Facebook last Thursday in a video statement, saying: “We, the Russian people, are against the war Putin has unleashed. We don’t support this war, it is being waged not on our behalf.
She was detained by police soon after she left her Moscow apartment.
Those who participate in the so-called “unsanctioned protests” risk jail time and heavy fines. Even The Telegraph’s Russia correspondent Nataliya Vasilyeva said protesters were taken away “indiscriminately”.
Nikita Golubev told The Guardian in Moscow: “I am embarrassed for my country. To be honest with you, I am speechless. War is always scary. We don’t want this. Why are we doing this?”
Dmitry Maltsev also told The Associated Press from St Petersburg: “I have two sons and I don’t want to give them to that bloody monster. War is a tragedy for all of us.”
People are rallying online too
Away from physical protests, people have been grouping together online and pleading for the Kremlin to change direction.
Russian celebrities – such as TV host Ivan Urgant, comedian Maxim Galkin, popstars Sventlana Loboda and Valery Meladze, figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva, have spoken out against the invasion through social media – although notably none have mentioned Putin by name.
More than 5,000 Russian scientists also signed a petition against the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, both from within Russia and from around the world.
The petition calls for a “strong protests against the hostilities” launched by Russia, adding: “The responsibility for unleashing a new war in Europe lies entirely with Russia.”
It points out, “there is no rational justification for this war,” and “it is clear that Ukraine does not pose a threat to the security of our country.”
It adds that the war against its neighbour is “unfair and frankly senseless”, with many Ukrainians having friends and relatives living there. The petition adds that the two countries fought Nazism together, and that to wage war against it would make Russia “a pariah country”.
According to the FT’s Moscow bureau chief Max Seddon, just speaking out against state action can “get you banned from state TV for life”.
Where are the protests happening?
The Economist’s senior data journalist, Sondre Ulvund Solstad, tracked the hashtag #nowar used across Russia on social media. He traced opposition in all 11 time zones of the country.