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Putin is selling victory and many Russians are buying it

These days, the word “victory” appears everywhere in Moscow.

It is projected from giant LED screens along major intersections and highways and written on red flags waving in the wind. It featured prominently at an exhibition of Western weapons destroyed on the battlefields of Ukraine and brought back to Moscow as trophies to be displayed in – where else? – Victory Park.

Victory was precisely the message that President Vladimir V. Putin, 71, sought to express as he was greeted with pomp and pageantry after another electoral success, while his army to scan through Ukrainian villages in a dramatic new offensive in the northeast.

“Together, we will win!” Mr. Putin said so during his inauguration ceremony last week after securing his fifth presidential term. Two days later, the country celebrates Victory Day, Russia’s most important holiday, commemorating the Soviet Union’s contribution to defeating Nazi Germany in World War II.

During the first year of the invasion, many Russians were shocked and embarrassed by the war; hundreds of thousands Leave the country. In the second year, they were concerned about a possible second wave of mobilization.

But with the war now entering its third year, many Russians appear to have learned to accept it, judging by interviews last week and recent opinion polls. And “victory” is an easy sell in Putin’s Russia.

Western sanctions have caused little economic hardship. Military news from Ukraine is increasingly positive. Yes, the soldiers are still returning in coffins, but mainly families in remote areas, is not among the Moscow elite. And for many, the deaths have only reinforced the idea, promoted by state media and relentlessly driven home by Mr. Putin, that Russia faces an existential threat from the West.

“We could feel victory approaching,” Andrei, 43, said. He said he traveled to Moscow for the May 9 celebrations from the Chita region, nearly 3,000 miles from the capital.

Like others interviewed for this story, he declined to give his last name, clearly showing suspicion of Western media.

He was among those who braved the cold and even snow to visit the newly acquired collection of Western military equipment. (Ukraine also displayed destroyed Russian tanks in central Kiev). But the chaotic exhibition in Moscow, with flags on the devices indicating which country gave them to Ukraine, fits Russia’s narrative that it is fighting against the entire developed world – and are winning.

“When you see all this and all these flags, it is clear that the whole world is supplying weapons and you know that a world war is going on,” Andrei said. “It’s Russia against the world, as usual.”

Ivan, another visitor to Victory Park, waited his turn to pose in front of the rusted and charred hull of a German Leopard tank, flashing a smile and giving a thumbs up as his friend took photos. Older brother. People jostled for a spot next to a similarly destroyed American-made M1 Abrams tank.

“There has been a lot of talk about these Abrams, about these Leopards, and what has been the result?” Ivan, 26 years old said.

“They’re all standing here, we’re looking at them, we know what condition they’re in. This is great!” He smiled.

The courage shown by Russians like Andrei and Ivan this month reflects Mr. Putin’s confident posture as he steers Russia through economic challenges and gains greater advantage on the battlefield in Ukraine. .

His inauguration included a church ceremony in which he was blessed by the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, who expressed hope that the president would continue in power until “end of the century”.

According to the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, about 75% of Russians statement of support because of their military’s actions in Ukraine. (About a quarter of the population opposes the war, polls, and other research programs, but protests are practically banned, and suppression So intense that many people are afraid admit or share opposition to war or anti-government content online).

Thousands of people who fled Russia have returned. Their lives have adapted to the new normal and reality has changed less than the West expected.

“What is the 13th sanctions package they are implementing?” Ivan said and laughed. “So far, we don’t feel anything.”

The robot is made by Yandex, Russia’s homegrown version of Google, can be seen passing by Sidewalks in Moscow are making deliveries. Inflation is under control, at least for now. According to a report last month by Forbes, The number of billionaires in Moscow – measured in US dollars – has grown so much that the city jumped four places in the global rankings, behind only New York City.

“Most of the brands that were supposed to have left Russia are not going anywhere,” Andrei said, adding that he and his daughter planned to have lunch at a restaurant. change brand name KFC What has changed, he said, is “the unification of society that has taken place” based on the rationale for the war, as well as the conservative social values ​​that Mr. Putin is promoting.

Mr. Putin and others trumpeted that apparent bond when official results of his predetermined election victory in March were announced, with a record 88% of the vote going to the incumbent. responsibility, a figure that Western democracies consider artificial.

“Russia is a complex, multi-ethnic country, so to understand and govern it, you need more than one term,” said Oleg V. Panchurin, 32, a veteran of the war in Ukraine. .

“If it was President Putin, I would be happy if he served 10 terms,” said Mr. Panchurin, who said he was recently injured near Zaporizhzhia by a Ukrainian drone.

Some civilians interviewed said they were pleased that the president had taken a tough conservative stance in promoting traditional family values.

Zhenya, 36, and his girlfriend Masha expressed gratitude that the government “finally solved the LGBTQ issue” – by prohibition what people call the “LGBTQ movement”. The couple were attending a 1940s-themed Victory Day celebration at a park in central Moscow, where participants trotted and waltzed as a military band performed live.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Moscow-based Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said that with no one who can credibly replace him, the prospect of Mr. him being alive is becoming increasingly possible for ordinary Russians.

“Everyone understands that this has been going on for a long time,” he said. “The longer he stays in power, the more concerns there are about who will be next, who will be worse.”

“We are getting closer to a scenario where we can see the impact of Stalin, when after his death everyone cried because people did not know how to live,” Mr. Kolesnikov added.

Russian opponents of the government say they increasingly fear they will have to wait for Putin to die to change anything.

“I feel extremely hopeless,” said Yulia, 48, a teacher visiting the grave of Aleksei A. Navalny, an opposition politician, in southeast Moscow. Mr. Navalny, who died in prison at an Arctic detention camp in February, was long considered the only opponent who could challenge Mr. Putin. Yulia declined to use her last name for fear of possible consequences.

“I don’t see any way out of this,” she said.

Yulia’s son, Pavel, said, “We are sure that everything depends on the death of one person in a certain place.” His mother was silent as she noticed the uniformed Russian National Guard. stand nearby; Even in death, Mr. Navalny is still closely monitored by the government. However, the number of visitors to the grave remains stable.

Across Moscow, mourners still came to pay their respects up to 145 victims about the March 22 terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall, one of the deadliest in Europe in the past decade. Wreaths, plush toys and photos of the victims were placed near the destroyed concert hall.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack and American officials have blame the Islamic State’s Khorasan province, or ISIS-K, a branch of the group. Even so, the Kremlin still tries to blame Ukraine and the West.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said she was certain the West was behind the incident – despite the fact that it was America warned Moscow’s one impending attack. According to the Levada Center, half of those polled believe Ukraine was behind the attack, with nearly 40% saying Western intelligence agencies were involved.

Vladimir, 26, who visited the impromptu memorial for the first time, said he did not blame the Kremlin for not heeding warnings.

“I want the terrorists to be destroyed,” said Vladimir, a supermarket employee. But he said, the president is doing very well. “He works very hard.”

May God keep him alive and healthy,” he said. “If, God forbid, Putin dies, what will happen to our country?”

Anastasia Kharchenko contributed reporting from Moscow and Alina Lobzina from London.


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