A move to have Vladimir Putin sacked as president is part of a bid to show that not all Russians support the war in Ukraine.
That’s according to Nikita Yuferev, part of a group of St Petersburg politicians behind the unusual attempt.
They want Russia’s parliament to strip Putin of his powers and charge him with treason.
Yuferev, who faces a fine for his actions and the dissolution of his district council, said it was about highlighting that some opposed Russia’s invasion, which Putin and authorities in Russia insist on referring to as a “special military operation”.
“It is important to address the general public,” Yuferev told Euronews in an interview. “We are not so much appealing to Putin and the deputies of the State Duma, it is clear that they will not shed a tear and will not finish what is happening in Ukraine, since the political field in the State Duma has been ‘cleansed’.
“We appeal primarily to those people who are in Russia, who are surrounded by this bubble of propaganda, which says that all of Russia is for Putin and supports a special military operation. We show that this is not the case. We show that they are not alone, that there are people in Russia who do not agree with Putin, do not agree with the special military operation, who are against it.”
While posing no current threat to Putin’s grip on power, the moves mark rare expressions of dissent by elected representatives at a time when Russians risk heavy prison sentences for “discrediting” the armed forces or spreading “deliberately false information” about them.
Yuferev said he had received lots of support for his actions from constituents.
“People stop [to say thank you] on the street in our district, at the dacha. One of the neighbours, a man whom I did not suspect of anti-Putin sentiments at all, came up to me and shook my hand.
“I receive a huge number of letters […] with words of support. And not only me, all the other deputies too. We share such motivational messages as they come to us.
“And these are not just words, many offer money to pay for a lawyer, money to pay fines. One person even offered to pay for tickets to Mexico for me, my family and my cats so that we could feel safe. Of course, we did not agree to this proposal, because we remain in Russia. But this just shows the level of support our solution has.”
Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said the greater risk to the Kremlin lay not in the councillors’ protest itself but in the danger of responding too harshly to it.
“The reaction, or overreaction, may cause more political damage to the regime than this petition. But I have no doubts that all those who signed the petition will (come) under political pressure,” said Stanovaya, founder of the independent analysis project R.Politik.
Thousands of legal cases have been launched against people accused of discrediting the army, usually leading to fines for first-time offences, but a Moscow district councillor was jailed for seven years in July after being convicted of spreading false information. Several other journalists and opposition figures have been charged and face potential prison terms.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that critical points of view were tolerated, within the limits of the law. “As long as they remain within the law, this is pluralism, but the line is very, very thin, one must be very careful here,” he said.