An anti-war movement is possible only as an anti-Putin movement. That’s because the “special operation” is his initiative, his life's work, which is perceived as an ideological mission – the restoration of the unrestorable, of empire. Recall that in 2020, Khabarovsk underwent a very rapid evolution from a local and anti-Moscow protest to an anti-Putin one. The fact that power no longer changes hands at the federal and now regional levels is a core problem that the most ordinary people – not just supporters of Alexei Navalny and civic and human rights activists – are gradually beginning to understand. This is an important precedent as we consider the potential trajectories for dissatisfaction with the regime.
And that is why the phenomenon of the Committee of Wives and Mothers is still very important. The main allies of the Putin regime are mass political ignorance and mass indifference. The Committee is a rejection of indifference and a manifestation of, albeit minimal, reflection. This is what can gradually undermine the very foundations of Putin’s system, the preexisting obedience of the majority, combined with its boundless adaptability and indifference to state adventurism and violence, which in recent months has begun to be outsourced to very dubious personalities, such as Yevgeny Prigozhin
The emergence of the Committee of Wives and Mothers can be seen as a women’s protest. Yet Putin's "special operation" became possible, among other things, because in recent years the older generations – many of whom are filled with resentment and imperial feelings – decided how the younger generations should live. Now they, seventy-year-old political leaders and voters, are deciding where, how and most importantly for what the younger and even the middle generations should die.
On the first day of the mobilization, very young people took to the streets
of Moscow and St Petersburg. They didn’t look like members of the Committee of Wives and Mothers, but rather like brothers and sisters, and they perfectly understood the political nature of what was happening. It was an anti-war protest, and it was generational, not gender-based, in nature. In the 1960s, student activism in the US
began with the slogan “don’t trust anybody over 30" (Berkeley, 1964) before gaining a pronounced anti-war flavor after 1965.
Women’s and generational protests are something that from time to time appear in Russia but haven’t yet been seriously formalized – due to the harshness of potential repression – or spread to the masses – due to indifference and adaptability of the majority of the population. However, perhaps such manifestations of opposition views are more important than potential socio-economic discontent (over a worsening economy and labor market), which generally is not visible at this stage. Moreover, it is not only duped supporters of Putin and advocates of the submission of Ukraine who will come back from the trenches of the "special operation,” but also offended, frustrated, disappointed people who even at the present time are daring to rebel
because they don’t want to become cannon fodder.
For now, the Kremlin is preparing for the war against its own citizens drawing on the the same tools it used before: repression (on December 8 several members of the Committee of Mothers and Wives were detained and threatened with prosecution
), labeling disloyal citizens "foreign agents" and "national traitors," and bitter pro-war propaganda that threatens nuclear war. However, new centers of discontent and resistance definitely won’t emerge where officials, deputies and church bishops – motivated by supposed foreign interference, liberal intrigues and a phantom LGBT threat – expect them. We are witnessing a fundamentally new social stratification based on dissatisfaction with the authorities and the formation of a repertoire of potential opposition that is not very understood by the Kremlin. It is still in its formative stages, but the Kremlin and the FSB, obsessed with conspiracy theories, risk overlooking something important: the underground fires seem to be gathering momentum in society. These fires might surface in unexpected places at unexpected times.