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Ukraine crisis: Russia’s quiet anti-war movement intensifies | Ukraine-Russia crisis

St. Petersburg, Russia – In Russia, where protests are strictly limited, a small anti-war movement is growing as the Ukraine crisis rumbles.

On Sunday, more than 100 prominent Russian activists, authors and scholars signed an open letter denouncing the “war party in the Russian leadership” and state media.

The authors of the letter, published on the website of Echo of Moscow, an independent radio station, said they were alarmed by Russian military activity near the Ukrainian border, as well as the stockpiling of weapons by Ukraine.

“Russian citizens are de facto becoming prisoners of criminal adventurism,” the letter read.

Without naming or blaming anyone in particular in the Russian establishment for pushing for all-out war, the letter accuses state media of normalizing a bellicose view in which “war is presented as an acceptable and inevitable course of events “. .”

“Russia does not need a war with Ukraine or the West,” the letter concludes. “No one threatens us and no one will attack us. The policy based on advancing the idea of ​​such a war is amoral, irresponsible and criminal, and cannot be carried out in the name of the Russian people.

Months have passed since the Russian troop build-up was first reported, and with neither side backing down, fears are growing that the East-West standoff could turn into a deadly conflict.

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, while Washington pledged on Wednesday to send more forces to Eastern Europe.

Russia has denied it was planning an attack, but is increasingly frustrated by the US and NATO’s refusal to heed its security demands, including the promise that the military alliance will not will ever allow Ukraine to join.

Moscow says Ukraine should be a buffer state, but Western powers fear Russia will want Kiev in its sphere of influence.

“War is completely unacceptable, there is no just war,” Lev Levinson, a human rights lawyer among those who signed the letter, told Al Jazeera.

“I have worked on cases concerning conscription in the army, so it is a very close subject for me. Any move towards all-out conflict must be repelled, by all possible means. But I have hope, and even a little confidence, that the forces of peace will prevail.

Other signatories include Lev Schlossberg, politician and member of the liberal Yabloko party.

“There is no political counterweight to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and his politics in the Russian state power system today,” Schlossberg told Al Jazeera.

“All five parties in the State Duma… support his aggressive policy against Ukraine.

“The statement by Russian politicians, cultural figures and human rights activists against preparing for war in Ukraine responded to a real public need.

“I signed [the letter] without fear. Public leaders should say these basic things when the authorities of the country are going crazy and endangering people’s lives. »

Svetlana Gannushkina, mathematician and prominent member of Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights NGO which has come under intense scrutiny from authorities and been accused of acting as a “foreign agent,” said she signed the letter “because I feel that what is happening is something monstrous.”

She told Al Jazeera: “This war, if started, will become an indelible stain on Russian history. It will not be forgotten or forgiven for centuries.

“Our authorities say that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. In fact, almost all of us have relatives and friends in Ukraine. But Russia and Ukraine must respect each other’s sovereignty.

“Russia has already violated this principle by annexing Crimea and intervening in Donbass. We, the citizens of Russia, are responsible for this.

“We must finally learn at least one commandment and stop killing our own.”

The signatories are not the only ones to express themselves.

On Friday, screenwriter and TV presenter Denis Kataev took advantage of the Golden Eagle Awards, the Russian equivalent of the Oscars, to read an excerpt from Le Déserteur, a French anti-war song performed for the first time on the day of the decisive French defeat in Indochina. . in 1954.

As previously reported by Al Jazeera, although pro-state media and figures have repeatedly assured their audiences that Moscow does not want war, voices in independent media are warning that the border confrontation could become uncontrollable.

During the Euromaidan revolution and the eruption of the war in Donbass in 2013-2014, there was a lot of anger over what was seen as Russian interference in Ukraine.

Two large anti-war rallies, held in Moscow in March and September 2014, were among the largest protests held in Russia this decade.

However, not all members of the Russian opposition were united, and some, including left-wing radical Sergei Udaltsov, supported the annexation of Crimea and separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to outrage from some public figures, there have been a handful of individual pickets.

So far there have been no large-scale protests against the current crisis – but activists have told Al Jazeera they will take to the streets again if war breaks out.

According to independent Russian pollster Levada, half of Russians believe the current crisis lies with NATO and the United States, 16% blame Ukraine and only 7% believe separatist rebels or Russia are responsible.

At the same time, most Russians fear the outbreak of a new “world war”.