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One Year Into War, Putin Is Crafting the Russia He Craves - The New York Times - 19.02.23

In Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion has met setback after setback. But its effect at home has been very different say Anton Troianovski and Valerie Hopkins.

The grievances, paranoia and imperialist mind-set that drove President Vladimir V. Putin to invade Ukraine have seeped deep into Russian life after a year of war — a broad, if uneven, societal upheaval that has left the Russian leader more dominant than ever at home.

Schoolchildren collect empty cans to make candles for soldiers in the trenches, while learning in a new weekly class that the Russian military has always liberated humanity from “aggressors who seek world domination.”

Museums and theaters, which remained islands of artistic freedom during previous crackdowns, have seen that special status evaporate, their antiwar performers and artists expunged. New exhibits put on by the state have titles like “NATOzism” — a play on “Nazism” that seeks to cast the Western military alliance as posing a threat as existential as the Nazis of World War II.

Many of the activist groups and rights organizations that have sprung up in the first 30 years of post-Soviet Russia have met an abrupt end, while nationalist groups once seen as fringe have taken center stage.

As Friday’s first anniversary of the invasion approaches, Russia’s military has suffered setback after setback, falling far short of its goal of taking control of Ukraine. But at home, facing little resistance, Mr. Putin’s year of war has allowed him to go further than many thought possible in reshaping Russia in his image.

“Liberalism in Russia is dead forever, thank God,” Konstantin Malofeyev, an ultraconservative business tycoon, bragged in a phone interview on Saturday. “The longer this war lasts, the more Russian society is cleansing itself from liberalism and the Western poison.”

That the invasion has dragged on for a year has made Russia’s transformation go far deeper, he said, than it would have had Mr. Putin’s hopes for a swift victory been realized.

“If the Blitzkrieg had succeeded, nothing would have changed,” he said.

The Kremlin for years sought to keep Mr. Malofeyev at arm’s length, even as he funded pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and called for Russia to be reformed into an empire of “traditional values,” free of Western influence.

But that changed after the invasion, as Mr. Putin turned “traditional values” into a rallying cry — signing a new anti-gay law, for instance — while styling himself as another Peter the Great retaking lost Russian lands.

The State of the War

  • Western Support: Nearly one year into the war, American and European leaders pledged to remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine amid worries about how long their resolve will last.

  • Harris’s Comments: Vice President Kamala Harris declared that the United States had formally concluded that Russia had committed “crimes against humanity” in its invasion of Ukraine.

  • A Russian Mole in Germany?: A director at Germany’s spy service was arrested on suspicion of passing intelligence to Russia. German officials and allies worry just how deep the problem goes.

  • Rebuilding Ukraine: As Ukraine’s leaders lay postwar plans, businesses around the world are positioning themselves for what could be a multibillion-dollar effort.

Most important, Mr. Malofeyev said, Russia’s liberals have either been silenced or have fled the country, while Western companies have left voluntarily.

That change was evident last Wednesday at a gathering off the traffic-jammed Garden Ring road in Moscow, where some of the most prominent rights activists who have remained in Russia came together for the latest of many recent farewells: The Sakharov Center, a human rights archive that was a liberal hub for decades, was opening its last exhibit before being forced to shut under a new law.

The center’s chairman, Vyacheslav Bakhmin, once a Soviet dissident, told the assembled crowd that “what we just couldn’t have imagined two years ago or even a year ago is happening today.”

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One Year Into War, Putin Is Crafting the Russia He Craves - Article for The New York Times
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Photographs by Nanna Heitmann

Anton Troianovski reported this article from Berlin, and Valerie Hopkins from Moscow.

Anton Troianovski is the Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times. He was previously Moscow bureau chief of The Washington Post and spent nine years with The Wall Street Journal in Berlin and New York. @antontroian

Valerie Hopkins is an international correspondent for The Times, covering the war in Ukraine, as well as Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. @VALERIEinNYT

A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 20, 2023, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Year Into War, Putin’s Nation Is Self-Portrait. Order Reprints |

A patriotic mural in Moscow dedicated to victory in World War II. The Kremlin is tapping into Russian pride in the nation’s victory over the Nazis to demonize Ukraine.

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