Exiled Russian politician pleads with countrymen to wake up

Russia: Vladimir Putin addresses rally in Moscow

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Ilya Ponomarev, former deputy of Russia’s State Duma (the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia), has gone against the grain, against Putinism in Russia for years: he was the only MP to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But this led to his being kicked out of his own country while still being a serving member of parliament. Now, he believes it is time for the West and those outside Russia to wake the public from their stupor.

Since he was impeached by the Duma in 2016 due to his anti-Kremlin activities, the 47-year-old has been fighting the Putin regime from the outside.

From Kyiv, where he is living in exile, Mr Ponomarev founded a Russian-language TV channel called February Morning, aimed at an audience living in Russia. It’s aim? Toppling Putin.

Mr Ponomarev spoke to Express.co.uk from Warsaw, Poland, where he was attending the second meeting of the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia, the new “Parallel Parliament” of oppositionists and former deputies of different levels and convocations from Russia.

The Congress, he believes, is the only “viable” alternative to Putin. But the issue, he believes, is that the majority of the Russia people have been told not to concern themselves with politics, to remain apathetic for years.

He said: “Discussions about what Russians would say about a regime change are absolutely useless because I think that right now it’s very clear that the majority of the society would praise whatever leader comes to power. If it were our Congress, they would praise our Congress.

“It really doesn’t matter because that’s what they have been taught throughout the recent 20 years: ‘just keep aside, politics is not yours et cetera’. We need to actually wake them up.”

Others who have emerged from Russia, from Putin’s regime, have told a similar tale.

Boris Bondarev, a former Russian diplomat of 20 years who resigned in protest over the Ukraine invasion, said that the public have been told for the past two decades to focus on their lives and leave the politics to Putin.

The 42-year-old told Euroactiv this week: “In Moscow shops are open and restaurants are full. People are entertained. There is nothing to show that there is a war.

“Nobody cares about what is happening in some remote and poorer parts of Russia, where more soldiers are recruited. And it doesn’t get any publicity.

“Putin has been teaching people for 20 years that they should only take care of their own lives and leave all state affairs to him.”

The majority of Russians — according to sociological surveys — have no opinion on the war in Ukraine and simply follow their leader, as they have been made to do for decades, Ponomarev explained.

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It is argued that the fact that the majority of the Russian people remain subservient is because it was ingrained during the Soviet Union with now only a minority ever raising their heads above the parapet.

Yet, Putin’s approval rating appears to be high. Last month, more than 80 percent of Russians approved of the Russian President’s activities, an increase from September’s 77 percent following the announcement of partial mobilisation. His approval rating has remained high throughout the invasion, according to Statista.

However, somewhere between 500,000 and one million Russians have left Putin and his regime since the war began, according to the Washington Post.

It is for those who remain in Russia to bring down Putin and end the conflict, Mr Ponomarev believes, as he may be taken out by either a “grassroots revolution or his inner circle”. But if the latter eliminates him, he will be replaced with a carbon copy who will no doubt “preserve the system”, he warned.

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