While Russia is, in theory, a democratic state, President Putin has an exceptionally tight grip on the country, leading it to be widely regarded as a dictatorship after more than 20 years of his rule.
And, as recounted by the UK’s ministry of defence, an opposition politician just went even further and called for a new president to be elected during the country’s presidential election next year – while appearing as a guest on Russian state TV, the NTV channel on May 27.
The MoD claimed: “Nadezhdin has been a vocal critic of the war since the invasion, but this is highly likely the first call for Putin to be replaced on Russian state-approved TV since it began.”
Nadezhdin is a Moscow municipal deputy, and was an ally of the murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He has been a regular on Russian state TV, and said only in January that the war was a “senseless situation”.
While criticism of the war itself has been ramping up in recent months, most have steered clear of attacking the president, instead blaming the army or the Russian defence ministry.
But clips of the Nadezhdin’s appearance on NTV have been shared on Twitter, showing how he called for a new government to rebuild a relationship with Europe.
According to translations online and shared by Newsweek, he said: “We need to choose somebody else, and not Putin. Everything will be good then.”
The clip was also shared by the Ukrainian internal affairs adviser Anton Gerashchenko, who said: “For the first time on Russian TV, propagandists said that Putin and the country’s leadership must resign and others need to be elected.”
Explaining the significance of the politician’s public outburst, British intelligence also alleged: “In the last 15 months, Russia has introduced limitations on freedom of speech which haven’t been seen since Soviet times.”
Since invading Ukraine, Russia has criminalised independent war reporting and protesting the war, including making it illegal to spread “fake news” about the armed forces.
But, the MoD speculated: “There is a realistic possibility that recent vitriolic rhetoric by nationalist figures such as Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin is emboldening opposition figures to challenge taboo topics.”
Prigozhin has been speaking out against the Russian army to such an extent there has been speculation he is positioning himself as an alternative leader to Putin, although he has never blamed the president for the war’s flaws.
Russia’s capital city of Moscow also came face-to-face with the realities of war for the first time at the end of May when it was targeted in an attempted drone attack.
While Russia claimed it shot down all of the drones and there were no casualties, a few buildings were damaged.
Up until now, the war has far removed from the lives of ordinary Russian civilians not serving in the armed forces.
But, as pro-war Russian blogger, Rybar, reportedly commented on the social media app Telegram: “If the goal of the assault was to stress out the population, then the fact of Ukrainian drones appearing in the skies over Moscow has done enough of that already.”
It’s worth noting Ukraine has denied any involvement with this attack.