Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine at the end of February 2022 was a shock not only to the world, but also to many Russians, despite the best efforts of state television and propaganda channels to stir up sentiment. anti-Ukrainian over the previous months and years.
The Kremlin was quick to suppress any anti-war rhetoric among the population, swiftly passing a number of laws that would introduce heavy fines and prison terms for “discrediting” the Russian military – a generic term which has been applied to everything from citing Ukrainian sources to simply declaring opposition to war.
But while these measures were effective in silencing critics of Putin’s “special military operation” initially, they did not entirely destroy the resistance.
As it became clear that the “operation” was not going to be a “three-day affair”, as Putin had planned, but was instead becoming an increasingly costly and protracted conflict with devastating sanctions for the he Russian economy, pockets of resistance have begun to emerge around the country.
Initially, what was a trickle of disparate reports of fires, explosions or forced evacuations across the country quickly turned into a flood. In May, Russian military bases, conscription centers, transportation centers and factories (especially those helping the war effort) were reported to be on fire or exploding almost daily.
Amid these developments, an underground resistance to the war began to emerge, with several groups leading the movement taking credit for individual incidents of sabotage.
Largest and most vocal among these appeared to be the National Republican Army, an anti-war and anti-Kremlin group that vowed to “overthrow” and “destroy” Putin in its manifesto.
Although this has not been confirmed by the group itself, sources in Russia have suggested that the group was behind the death of a prominent Russian state television journalist and daughter of the one of Putin’s closest allies, Darya Dugina. The daughter of Alexander Dugin, one of the masterminds behind the Kremlin’s “Russian world” narrative, was killed by what was reported to be a car bomb.
Although the official investigation very quickly blamed “Ukrainian agents”, unconfirmed reports said that Russian “partisans” – an underground group of guerrilla insurgents – were behind the attack.
The NRA, in its messages, mainly via Telegram channels, also said it was ready to attack military installations in Russia and called on the Russian security forces and military to lay down their arms and refuse to execute criminal orders.
It was one of many resistance cells to emerge in the aftermath of Putin’s invasion. Rospartisan was another, as were “Stop The Trains”, a group sabotaging the transport of military vehicles and personnel through the country’s rail networks, and “BOAK” – a self-proclaimed anarcho-communist combat organization.
“Our political position is stated in the name of the organization – we are anarcho-communists,” said a BOAK representative. Newsweek in an email. The representative, who also runs the group’s Telegram channel, spoke with Newsweek on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
While members of the organization have come a long way in evolving their views, he said they “found common ground in anarcho-communist ideals”.
“The question of whether or not to oppose war has never been in question for us. When Russia launched this fratricidal war, with the aim of strengthening the very dictatorship against which we stand, it only fueled our resistance to the regime and to this war,” the representative said.
The BOAK member said that while the group formed several years ago, it was mobilized and consolidated by Putin’s invasion in the neighboring country.
He said the change came amid the “creeping awareness among people, who really want to change something in society, that there is no longer any path left for peaceful social transformation and the liberation of the country.” .
The representative added: “This is impossible without a radical collapse of the current order – a revolution, to put it bluntly. And, since the field of political opposition has been entirely cleansed by the state, the transition to guerrilla activity was a natural change, for no government would allow revolution to be fomented in broad daylight.”
The movement draws inspiration from many similar organizations, past and present, and not necessarily just those “ideologically compatible” with its own mission.
“In terms of historical and ideological reference points, I would cite the Communist Movement of Aragon, the Free Territory of Huliaipole and the Rojava Project of the Kurds. But we also draw inspiration from organizations and groups such as the German Red Army Faction , the French Direct Action, Prima Linea and the Italian Red Brigades, and the Kurdish insurgency,” he said.
Seeking to set Russia on the path to “grassroots direct democracy”, BOAK is willing to adopt a wide variety of strategies and methods to achieve its goals. These range from publishing recipes for “dry powder explosives” and instructions on how to hide car license plates, to collecting donations for BOAK members accused by the authorities or supporting other insurgent groups.
Despite a clear ideological position, BOAK is also not averse to joining efforts and collaborating with other resistance cells, the representative said, even if the nature of their actions requires a high degree of secrecy and decentralization.
The BOAK member said: “In our activities, we try to combine effective organizational coordination (ensuring that the activities of the groups are sufficiently interconnected for maximum impact) while leaving a lot of room for individual initiative and local.
“There is no centralization as such: we make decisions collectively, but only within the cell directly concerned or impacted by the decision. In this way, we also ensure that each group is protected from persecution. and state repressions.”
Years of repression and persecution have left Russia’s opposition movement in tatters, as most of its leaders have been imprisoned, killed or fled the country. But the Kremlin’s scorched-earth policy against dissidents, while initially effective, is beginning to show cracks, especially amid deteriorating economic prospects.
Without any centralized and coordinating body in which opposing voices can anchor themselves, grassroots unrest simmers closer and closer to the surface. From the mothers of soldiers forcibly conscripted and taken to Ukraine’s front lines, to local politicians ordering ‘Putin to be arrested for treason’, to businessmen and oligarchs complaining about the costs of ‘Putin’s war – a still weak but vocal opposition is emerging.
Although there are occasional reports of activists being arrested and detained by the authorities, the BOAK member says the state’s efforts to suppress guerrilla insurgents are undermined by his own incompetence.
“There is a general sense of decay and decay in the system, precipitated by decades of utter corruption and nepotism, and this rot seems to have spread to the Investigative Committee, as well as other parts of the establishment of security.
“Their main objective today is to extract confessions from those they can get their hands on. This is of course no reason for the insurgents to become complacent – stupid mistakes can land you a stupid enemy.”
BOAK admits that for now isolated dissenting voices are still rare, but as people’s anger and frustration grows, it could become the basis for a broader revolutionary movement.
The representative said: “Over the past few months, we have received many offers from citizens who wish to join our organization. Although, for security reasons, the selection process is very rigorous and there is a bar of High entry, we are always open to engaging new and potential members and groups who share our ideals.
“So, in a broad sense, anyone who shares our views can become a member of BOAK – just get involved, even through individual initiatives. And in such cases, we would help with advice, promotion and even, if possible, funding.” support – we have a fund called Revolutionary Anarchy Foundation, designed to support resistance groups.”
Drawing a parallel with the 1917 revolution, he notes that the very fact that “the anarchist idea is once again making waves in public discourse” is in itself a major achievement for the movement.
“It is largely thanks to the successful operations carried out by the resistance – undermining war mobilization efforts, slowing down the military machine of the Russian state and showing the people that these methods are available to them even in these countries. dark times.”
Looking ahead, the BOAK representative is wary of predictions – it’s hard to make predictions for the next few months, let alone years, he admits.
“Yet we generally expect this degradation of the political system to escalate. The stalemate in Ukraine and elsewhere, with no visible ways out, will sooner or later lead to a regime error that will trigger an escalating avalanche of protests.”
This, he argues, could stem from the announcement of full mobilization or the launch of a violent crackdown on socio-economic protests which are “increasingly likely”.
“You can already spot the signs that these developments are inevitable and could happen in the very near future. This will trigger a wave of mass protests, which will allow us and similar organizations to emerge from underground – it will be nothing less than a full-fledged revolt.”
If – or when – such a revolution begins, he says, its direction and outcome will largely be determined by the forces that have formed and consolidated in anticipation of these events.
“Modern Russia has already been through a lot, from the pains of ‘savage capitalism’ in the 90s to the authoritarian swings of the Soviet and modern eras. We are convinced that the anarchist path can offer the third way forward.”