Ukraine war: Where are Russia’s opposition leaders now?

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in Moscow, 15 March 2023

Russian critics and opponents of President Putin are often punished – or worse

President Vladimir Putin now rules Russia virtually unchallenged. Many of the critical voices that once spoke out have since been forced into exile, while other opponents have been jailed – or in some cases killed.

By the time he launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, more than two decades of stamping out dissent had all but annihilated opposition in Russia.

At the very start of President Putin’s rule, he brought to heel Russia’s powerful oligarchs – immensely rich people with political ambitions.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, was arrested in 2003 and spent 10 years in prison for tax evasion and theft after funding opposition parties. Upon his release, he left Russia.

Boris Berezovsky, another oligarch who even helped bring Putin to power – fell out with him later and died in exile in the UK in 2013, reportedly by suicide.

All key media in Russia gradually fell under the control of the state or toed the official Kremlin line.

Alexei Navalny

By far the most prominent opposition figure in Russia is now Alexei Navalny, who has accused Putin from jail of aiming to smear hundreds of thousands of people in his “criminal, aggressive” war.

In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, while on a trip to Siberia. The attack nearly killed him, and he had to be flown to Germany for treatment.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is seen on screen during his legal appeal against his nine-year prison sentence, in Moscow, 24 May 2022
In May 2022, Alexei Navalny unsuccessfully appealed against a nine-year prison sentence

His return to Russia in January 2021 briefly galvanised opposition protesters, but he was immediately arrested for fraud and contempt of court. He is now serving nine years in prison, and was the focus of an Oscar-winning documentary.

In the 2010s Navalny was actively involved in mass anti-government rallies and the many exposes by Navalny’s main political vehicle, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), have attracted millions of views online. In 2021 the foundation was outlawed as extremist and Navalny has repeatedly dismissed allegations of corruption as politically motivated.

Many of his associates have come under pressure from security services, and some have fled abroad, including former FBK head Ivan Zhdanov, former top FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol and most, if not all, of the heads of the extended network of Navalny’s offices across Russia.

Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov left Russia when a money laundering case was launched against him in 2019.

Opposition to the war

Another key Putin critic behind Russian bars is Ilya Yashin, who has been sharply critical of Russia’s war. In a live stream on YouTube in April 2022, he urged an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Russian forces and called President Putin “the worst butcher in this war”.

That live stream led to eight-and-a-half years in jail for violating a law against spreading “deliberately false information” about the Russian army. The law was rushed through parliament shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

Russian opposition figure and Moscow city councillor Ilya Yashin, at the Meshansky district court in Moscow, 9 December 2022

Ilya Yashin was arrested in June 2022 after he condemned suspected Russian war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha

Fighting for democracy

Kara-Murza was deputy chairman of Open Russia, a leading pro-democracy group set up by fugitive ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It was officially designated as “undesirable” in Russia and finally closed in 2021. Open Russia’s head, Andrei Pivovarov, is serving a four-year jail sentence imposed for his involvement in an “undesirable organisation”.

Kara-Murza may be facing a long prison sentence but at least he is alive, unlike close friend and key Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Mourners gather to place tributes at the site where Russian opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was killed on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge, 28 February 2015
Image caption,Boris Nemtsov was shadowed by an agent linked to a political assassination team for almost a year before he was shot dead

Before the Putin era, Nemtsov served as governor of Nizhny Novgorod region, energy minister and then deputy prime minister, and he was also elected to Russia’s parliament. Then he became increasingly vocal in his opposition to the Kremlin, and published a number of reports critical of Vladimir Putin and led numerous marches opposing him.

On 27 February 2015, Nemtsov was shot four times as he crossed a bridge outside the Kremlin, hours after appealing for support for a march against Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Five men of Chechen origin were convicted of Nemtsov’s murder, but there is still no clarity as to who ordered it or why. Seven years after his death, an investigation revealed evidence that in the months running up to the killing, Nemtsov was being followed across Russia by a government agent linked to a secret assassination squad.

These leading opposition figures are just a few of the Russians targeted for showing dissent.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, independent media in Russia has seen further restrictions or threats. News channel TV Rain has had to move abroad, joining news site Meduza which had already left Russia. Novaya Gazeta remains in Moscow but has stopped publishing its newspaper. Others like talk radio station Echo of Moscow were closed by authorities.

Countless commentators have gone into exile, like veteran journalist Alexander Nevzorov, branded a “foreign agent” in Russia and sentenced to eight years in jail in absentia for spreading “fakes” against the Russian army.

But you do not have to have an audience of millions to be targeted. In March 2023, Dmitry Ivanov, a mathematics student who ran an anti-war Telegram channel, received an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence – also for spreading “fakes” about the army.

Meanwhile, single parent Alexei Moskalev was given a two year jail term for dissent on social media following an investigation sparked by an anti-war picture sketched by his 13-year-old daughter at school.

It took Vladimir Putin more than two decades to ensure no formidable opponents were free to challenge his power. If that was his plan, it’s worked.


“Great Satan” defeats Iran at World Cup

The Great Satan is a demonizing epithet for the United States of America in Iranian foreign policy statements. Occasionally, these words have also been used toward the government of the United Kingdom.

The term was used by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in his speech on November 5, 1979 to describe the United States, which he accused of imperialism and the sponsoring of corruption throughout the world. The speech occurred one day after the onset of the Iran hostage crisis.

Ayatollah Khomeini also occasionally used the term “Iblis” (the primary devil in Islam) to refer to the United States and other Western countries.

But the ‘Great Satan” prevailed today.

The United States men’s soccer team will be in Qatar for a little longer after defeating Iran in their final group-stage match of the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday.

 The United States scored the opening goal when Christian Pulisic slotted the ball home in the 38th minute. But in doing so he suffered an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the game.

With the win, the United States finished second in Group B, which pits them against the Netherlands (winners of Group A) in the knockout round of the tournament. That game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 3, at 10 a.m. EST.

Supporters cheer prior to the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

North Korea is a Constant Major Pain in the Butt

North Korea fires 23 missiles, one landing off South Korean coast for first time

SEOUL, Nov 2 (Reuters) – North Korea fired at least 23 missiles into the sea on Wednesday, including one that landed less than 60 km (40 miles) off South Korea’s coast, which South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol described as “territorial encroachment” and Washington denounced as “reckless”.

It was the first time a ballistic missile had landed near the South’s waters since the peninsula was divided in 1945, and the most missiles fired by the North in a single day. South Korea issued rare air raid warnings and launched its own missiles in response.

In a perfect world:

Ukraine war: Could Russia use tactical nuclear weapons?

russian soldier with Iskander missile

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said he’s ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, raising the fear he might use a small, or “tactical” nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden has warned him that doing so would be the most serious military escalation since World War II.

What are tactical nuclear weapons?

Tactical nuclear weapons are small nuclear warheads and delivery systems intended for use on the battlefield, or for a limited strike.

They are designed to destroy enemy targets in a specific area without causing widespread radioactive fallout.

The smallest tactical nuclear weapons can be one kiloton or less (producing the equivalent to a thousand tonnes of the explosive TNT). The largest ones can be as big as 100 kilotons.

Strategic nuclear weapons are larger (up to 1,000 kilotons) and are launched from longer range.

By comparison, the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was 15 kilotons.

What tactical nuclear weapons does Russia have?

According to US intelligence, Russia has about about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons.

Its tactical nuclear warheads can be placed on various types of missiles which are normally used to deliver conventional explosives, such as cruise missiles and artillery shells.

Tactical nuclear weapons can also be fired from aircraft and ships – as anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and depth charges.

The US says Russia has recently been investing heavily in these weapons to improve their range and accuracy.

Have tactical nuclear weapons ever been used before?

Tactical nuclear weapons have never been used in conflict.

Nuclear powers such as the US and Russia have found it equally effective to destroy targets on the battlefield by using modern conventional munitions.

In addition, no nuclear-armed country has so far been willing to risk unleashing all-out nuclear war by employing tactical nuclear weapons.

However, Russia might be more willing to use smaller tactical weapons than larger strategic missiles.

“They might not see it as crossing this big nuclear threshold,” says Dr Patricia Lewis, head of the international security programme at the Chatham House think tank.

“They could see it as part of their conventional forces.”

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 15, 2020: The first upgraded 203 mm 2S7M Malka self-propelled artillery vehicle delivered by Uraltransmash (a subsidiary of Uralvagonzavod, part of the Rostec State Corporation) to the Russian Defence Ministry. The modernised model shows better performance thanks to a new running gear and improved electronics. Rostec Press Office/TASS (Photo by Rostec Press Office\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian forces can fire small nuclear warheads using conventional artillery, such as the “Malka” self-propelled gun

Are Putin’s nuclear threats a real cause to worry?

In February 2022, shortly before invading Ukraine, President Putin placed Russia’s nuclear forces at “special combat readiness” and held high-profile nuclear drills.

More recently, he said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without a doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

Russia is planning to annex the regions of southern and eastern Ukraine it has occupied after holding self-styled referendums. President Putin says he is ready to defend the “territorial integrity” of the regions “by all means.”

US intelligence see this as a threat to the West not to help Ukraine try and retake these territories, rather than as a sign that he is planning a nuclear war.

But others worry that Russia, if it suffers further setbacks, might be tempted to use a smaller tactical weapon in Ukraine as a “game changer”, to break a stalemate or avoid defeat.

James Acton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Pace in Washington DC, says: “I am legitimately worried that in that circumstance, Putin might use a nuclear weapon – most likely on the ground in Ukraine to terrify everyone and get his way. We are not at that point yet.”

How has the US responded?

US President Joe Biden has warned Russia not to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

Speaking during an interview with CBS News, Mr Biden said such action would “change the face of war unlike anything since World War Two,” adding: “It’ll be consequential.”

How the US and Nato would respond to any nuclear use is hard to predict. They may not want to escalate the situation further and risk all-out nuclear war but they also might want to draw a line.

However, Russia might also be deterred from using tactical nuclear weapons by another power – China.

“Russia is heavily dependent on Chinese support,” says Dr Heather Williams, nuclear expert at Kings College London.

“But China has a ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine. So if Putin did use them, it would be incredibly difficult for China to stand by him.

“If he used them, he would probably lose China.”


Afghanistan’s female TV presenters must cover their faces, say Taliban

File photo: In this photograph taken on January 30, 2013 a female Afghan news presenter reads the news at a studio in Kabul.
Image caption,Female presenters – faces uncovered – have become common on screen in recent years

The Taliban have ordered female Afghan TV presenters and other women on screen to cover their faces while on air.

Media outlets were told of the decree on Wednesday, a religious police spokesman told BBC Pashto.

The ruling comes two weeks after all women were ordered to wear a face veil in public, or risk punishment.

Restrictions are being tightened on women – they are banned from travelling without a male guardian and secondary schools are shut for girls.

One female Afghan journalist working for a local TV station in Kabul, who did not want to be named, said she’d been shocked to hear the latest news.

“They are putting indirect pressure on us to stop us presenting on TV,” she told the BBC.

“How can I read the news with my mouth covered? I don’t know what to do now – I must work, I am the breadwinner of my family.”The new decree will take effect from 21 May, Reuters news agency reported, quoting a spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.

(From August 2021) Female presenters return on Afghanistan’s Tolo News, with one interviewing the Taliban

The spokesman referred to the ruling as “advice” – it is not clear what will happen to anyone who fails to comply.

“Based on information received by Tolo news, the order has been issued to all media outlets in Afghanistan,” the news channel reported.

The decision is being widely criticised on Twitter, with many calling it another step by the Taliban to promote extremism.

“The world deploys masks to protect people from Covid. The Taliban deploys masks to protect people from seeing the faces of women journalists. For the Taliban, women are a disease,” one activist tweeted.

The private Shamshad news channel posted a photo of its news presenter wearing a mask, and other similar images are being shared on social media.

During their first stint in power in the 1990s the Taliban forced women to wear the all-encompassing burka in public.

The hardline Islamist movement was driven from power by US-led troops in 2001, after which many restrictions eased. Women appearing on television showing their faces became a common sight.

After retaking power last August, following the withdrawal of foreign forces, the Taliban had held off issuing new laws on what women should wear.

This raised hopes they would govern Afghanistan, a deeply conservative and patriarchal country, more flexibly this time.

A burka-clad woman and a girl on a street in Kandahar on 5 March 2022
Image caption,The burka was enforced by the Taliban in the 1990s and still worn by many women

Many women still wore the burka, but in bigger cities it was also common to see women continuing to wear headscarves.

However in early May the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue announced that all women would have to cover their face in public, and indicated that a burka would be the ideal garment to achieve this.

Anyone refusing to comply with the ruling risks an escalating series of punishments.

Infographic showing different types of Muslim head coverings for women

Most Muslims around the world do not consider women covering their face mandatory, or oppose them working.

Women are still employed in some jobs in Afghanistan, such as healthcare and education, but many others have been told not to return to work now the Taliban are back in power.

The country has been plunged into economic crisis and famine under Taliban rule.

Western diplomats have indicated that resuming development funding and unlocking frozen cash depends on better treatment of women.

But early hopes the Taliban might relax their approach have been eroded amid signs influential hardliners in the group have the upper hand.

The journalist in Kabul who spoke to the BBC wanted the international community to put pressure on the Taliban.

“They should tell them you have 10 days to change otherwise we are going to cut off relations and aid.”

She said she believed the Taliban planned to stop women doing all kinds of work outside their homes. “They want women to live like prisoners at home. Every day they issued decrees against us – I don’t think we can survive.”

The Taliban are pretending that they are living in the 15th century.

‘Freudian slip’: Bush decries ‘invasion of Iraq’ – not Ukraine

Former US President George W Bush appears to admit the 2003 invasion of Iraq was ‘wholly unjustified, brutal’ in a speech about the Russian war on Ukraine.

Former US President George W Bush delivers a speech to crew on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln following the US invasion of Iraq [File: Larry Downing/Reuters]

Former United States President George W Bush has decried the “wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq” in a gaffe during a speech in the US state of Texas.

The former president, who launched the 2003 invasion of Iraq under the false pretence that the country was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), meant to decry the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the speech in Dallas on Wednesday.

Instead, while criticising Russia’s political system, he said: “The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.

“I mean, of Ukraine,” he said quickly.

He then said “Iraq too” to laughter from the crowd.

Several investigations have detailed how the Bush administration relied on faulty intelligence while misleading the public in the lead up to the war, with advocates calling for years for Bush and other officials to be held accountable for what has been called an illegal invasion.

Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of Human Rights Watch, called the stumble the “Freudian slip of the century”.

Wrote Pouya Alimagham, a modern Middle East historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Wow – the one time Bush told the truth about the invasion of #Iraq.”

Added writer Maris Kabas in a tweet: “If I could tell my 17-year-old self one thing it’s that George W Bush will admit to unjustly invading Iraq in 17 years.”

The US invasion of Iraq, which was officially completed in 2011, has been directly attributed to widespread instability in the country that led to the rise of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.

The UK-based Iraq Body Count Project has recorded as many as 209,422 violent civilian deaths in Iraq since the March 2003 US invasion.

When the initial invasion began, the International Commission on Jurists in Geneva said it represented a “war of aggression” that constituted a crime under international law.

In 2010, a Dutch inquiry, the first-ever independent legal assessment of the war, determined the invasion had “no basis in international law”.

A year later, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission found Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair guilty of crimes against humanity for the war. The verdict was not enforceable.

Video of Bush’s comment had been viewed about 10 million times on Twitter early Thursday, with some observers saying the slipup indicated more than just a guilty conscience.

“No but seriously, George W Bush whisperingly affirms his own self-description as launching a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq,” tweeted Will Greaves, an assistant professor of international relations at the University of Victoria.

“He knows it, and he also knows that he’ll never face consequences even as they’re called for Putin,” he said. “So it’s not funny, it’s impunity.”

‘Russian Rhapsody’ Crazy Merrie Melodies Anti-Hitler Propaganda Cartoon  

Depictions of Russia in American propaganda had some wild vacillation before the Cold War. The first Red Scare followed the Russian Revolution, and anti-communist sentiment really found purchase around 1919. Leftists in the US (many of them immigrants) became a force to be reckoned with, and bitter labor conflicts (plus some radical terrorism) seemed to suggest a Bolshevik revolution was imminent in the Americas. There’s the period however, during World War II, before Truman decided to wave his nuclear dick at Stalin, when Russians were still our Nazi-fighting Allies, and 1944’s Merrie Melodies production “Russian Rhapsody” is a fascinating artifact of that ambivalence America had towards the Soviets.


Of course, the cartoon doesn’t quite portray Russians as “dignified.” Rather than some cartoon-friendly version of Red Army soldiers fighting Nazis in the snow, they’re literal “gremlins”—tiny things that are only really capable of sabotaging a plane. (The title was originally “Gremlins from the Kremlin,” but Disney was developing an animated version of Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins at the time and Roy Disney pressured Warner Brothers to change the name.) Regardless, the gremlins are clearly the good guys, whipping out a mask of Stalin to frighten Der Führer.


In addition to being a really beautiful (and profoundly weird) piece of animation, “Russian Rhapsody” has some great dog whistles. The cartoon starts out with Hitler delivering a speech that’s a direct reference to a scene from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. As an inside joke, some of the gibberish German Hitler spouts is actually the names of animators and studio staff. The gremlin faces are actually based on caricatures of Warner Brothers legends like Chuck Jones, Robert Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Leon Schlesinger. The berserk musical score was provided by the great cartoon composer Carl Stalling.