‘It is not possible to remain silent’: First victim of Putin’s ‘fake news’ law speaks out | Russia

One of the first three people to face a criminal case under Russia’s ‘fake news’ law said the charges mean she has been ‘officially declared a decent person’.

“Finding out that I was the first to be charged was both funny and shocking. I joked that I was officially declared a decent person,” said Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a food entrepreneur and blogger with nearly ‘one million Instagram followers.’ She was one of three Russians charged under the new law which carries up to 15 years in prison, marking an escalation in the Russian crackdown on the anti-war dissent.

The Investigative Committee said the case was opened against Belotserkovskaya for posts on her Instagram page that “knowingly contained false information about the use of Russian armed forces”. Belotserkovskaya, who has been highly critical of Russia’s action in Ukraine, said the specific charges against her could land her in prison for 10 years.

“I’m exactly the type of person Putin had in mind when he launched his speech last night. He wants to call people like me traitors, the fifth column,” she said from her home in the south of France, where she settled during the pandemic and where she now runs a high-end cooking school. “I live well, I post pretty pictures online about food. They now want to portray me as the face of the “decadent west”.

Belotserkovskaya was referring to the Russian president’s speech on Wednesday in which he called for a “necessary self-purification of society”, aimed at Western-minded Russians who were not “mentally” with the nation.

Putin said: “The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and just spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, our cohesion and our ability to respond to all challenges. He added that some Russians “cannot live without oysters and without gender freedom.”

Vladimir Putin gave a speech on Wednesday calling for the “self-purification” of Russian society. Photo: Russian Presidential Press Office/AFP

Belotserkovskaya said she was “a sensible person. I certainly don’t plan on going back to Russia while those charges are there.”

She says it was telling that authorities did not charge a journalist or politician under the new law, but a food and lifestyle blogger. “They aim to punish a much wider part of society,” she said.

In the aftermath of Putin’s speech, analysts expressed similar concerns that the Russian leader was setting the stage for a new, even fiercer repression at home.

“The Kremlin has de facto brought back the Soviet term ‘enemy of the state’ by calling the Russian people ‘national traitors’,” said Carnegie Endowment senior fellow Andrei Kolesnikov. “We are entering a new phase in a process that has been going on for some time. The goal is to discredit anyone who voices opposition to Putin.

Belotserkovskaya, 51, born in Odessa, is a well-known figure in Moscow’s high society, counting many socialites among her friends, including Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin’s political mentor Anatoly Sobchak.

She had been a vocal opponent of the war ever since Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine, accusing the Russian leader of turning “Russian boys between the ages of 18 and 20 into the mincemeat of his imperial ambitions”.

“I am not a political person, I speak as a mother of three sons. Ukrainian children are dying, it is not possible to be silent,” Belotserkovskaya said, saying she felt safe speaking out from abroad. “A lot of my friends in Russia agree with me but are afraid to say anything. I completely understand that.

The accusation against Belotserkovskaya underscores the Kremlin’s willingness to go after Russian social, business and cultural elites who express the slightest opposition to Putin’s war efforts.

A wealthy Russian businessman, who lived in London but traveled frequently to Moscow, said: “I don’t really feel safe going back to Russia after the speech. The signals were as clear as possible.

But it’s not just wealthy, Western-minded Russians who could face a new wave of repression. Unlike the high-profile Belotserkovskaya, the other two Russians charged on Wednesday under the new law resided in the Siberian region of Tomsk.

One, Marina Novikova, a 63-year-old retiree from a small industrial town outside Tomsk, has been accused of “disinformation” against the military for criticizing Russia’s actions in Ukraine. His messages were published on his personal Telegram channel which then had only 170 subscribers. The third person has not been named.

Kolesnikov said the seemingly random application of the new law served a very specific purpose: to create an atmosphere of fear in society. “The Kremlin’s message is simple: ‘Be afraid, anyone can be next,'” he said. “We will soon see more of these accusations. They are just getting started. »