The shadow of Russia’s imperial history casts a long shadow over Moscow. The massive walls and turrets of the Kremlin make visitors to Red Square appear to be insignificant specks.
When I go to Victory Park, which is around five miles away, I get the same sense. It is a huge complex that was erected to celebrate the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. Within its walls are a number of museums and memorials. The centerpiece is a large square with an obelisk that is 141.8 meters (465 feet) high. It has a height of 10 centimeters for each day that the Soviet Union participated in the Great Patriotic War, which is what they referred to their involvement in World War Two after the Nazi invasion.
The National Day of the Russian Flag will be celebrated during my trip there. On the central plaza, a giant tricolor flag, which is claimed to be the largest in the nation, is currently being unfurled.
The Russian flag is being unrolled while a military band plays music of the country’s national anthem in the background of the ceremony. The director of the museum delivers a speech, focusing on the idea that events like these “unite our people.”
Since Russia began its comprehensive invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has taken a more proactive role in fostering patriotic gatherings such as these.
I discovered an exhibit devoted to the “heroes” of the “special military operation” when I went inside the Victory Museum itself. The Russian soldiers currently fighting in Ukraine are compared on information boards to the Soviet forces who fought in World War 2.
I will be meeting with Andrei Afanasiev, who blogs in support of the Kremlin and teaches at a university. He tells me that patriotism is more vital during times of conflict, and that what he refers to as “the West’s war on Russia” has made Russians realize that they are on their own and that they must rely on themselves.
“There is no one else you can rely on save yourself, your nation, and your military. Unquestionably, patriotism is at a much greater level than it was in the past. “War brings us together and galvanizes us,” he continues.
I inquire of Andrei whether he thinks things are going poorly for Russia in the conflict. “I wouldn’t say [so],” is the response he gives you. “I have faith in Russia’s ability to achieve its goals. We are prepared to take the win.”
Even on Russian official television, they brag about “successes” and “progress,” even if the reality is very different.
The Russian military is well aware that they are in a difficult situation. They have suffered territorial losses… According to a Russian military analyst who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity out of concern for the potential for negative repercussions, morale is “not very high at all.”
They are not equipped to deal with the challenges of modern combat. There are a lot of losses.”
My question is whether or not the president has been honest about the actual reality on the battlefield. He laughs and adds, “Of course not.” “The lying goes on across the entirety of the chain of command. As more and more people have access to knowledge, it becomes progressively distorted.
According to the analyst’s report, Russian officers stationed in Ukraine are “nervous” because “they’re just hanging on” in the face of the counteroffensive launched by Kyiv.
Concern is widespread, and not just among members of the Russian military. When I’m in Moscow, I can’t help but feel as though I’m in a constant state of heightened anxiety. And there are many reasons to be concerned about this.
Yevgeny Prigozhin led a revolt and an army march into the capital in the month of June. Following this, it was stated that the leader of the Wagner mercenary group was murdered in a mystery plane crash, which led to claims of participation on the part of the Kremlin.
The value of the rouble experienced a sharp decline earlier in this month. On top of that, drone assaults on Moscow have grown so commonplace that they are almost daily occurrences.
Even while Russians don’t appear to be overly concerned about any of these specific incidents, a large number of them do acknowledge that they are concerned about the current situation and frightened of the future.
The atmosphere in Gorky Park, which is Moscow’s equivalent of Hyde Park in London, is picturesque, with families rollerblading and taking leisurely strolls along the embankment. However, directly across the street is the formidable grey edifice of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which features an anti-aircraft defense system on its roof.
A surface-to-air missile system is located right next to a picture-perfect park, which creates a stark contrast between the two.
Svyatoslav claims, “The air-defence system does not bother me in the least.” Allow them to install a nuclear missile there if that will make them feel better about what they are doing. I support what is taking place and believe that we ought to annex [the entirety of Ukraine].”
Irina, a local resident, shared with me that she, like many others, does not find the presence of missiles in the heart of the Russian city particularly unsettling. My mental state has already adjusted, thus my mood has not changed. The worst of my anxiety is finally behind me. On the other hand, I have faith that everything will be settled amicably.”
Pavel and his wife Olga are currently enjoying a stroll outside. Olga favors the Kremlin and feels that Ukraine is to blame for the war in Ukraine, whilst her husband believes that Russia is to blame for the conflict.
Pavel acknowledges his concern, saying, “I worry about the drones falling on Moscow.” However, we came to the conclusion that we would not discuss politics in order to avoid starting fights and provoking one another.
It seems as though a lot of people don’t want to think about what’s going on in the cities and towns of Ukraine, which are less than a day’s drive away.
Despite what Andrei Afanasiev claims, there is scant evidence that residents of Moscow are suffering from “war fever.” Very few people may be seen walking about town wearing apparel with the letter Z or other symbols associated with Russia’s conflict. The majority of people either show indifference, resignation, or a timid acceptance of the situation.
According to a person close to the Kremlin who spoke to me on the condition of maintaining their anonymity, this disposition can also be seen among a significant number of individuals who hold positions of authority.
“Officials working in the Presidential Administration are either subjected to repression or suffer from depression. They have spent so many years working there that they are clueless about anything else. They have a negative outlook on the future, but they don’t let that affect how they live their lives. According to the insider, there is just no other option.
He claims that individuals are too terrified to speak up, and that as a result, “There is no opposition to Putin in the Kremlin.”
At this time, there is widespread fear in Moscow. A gathering of activists affiliated with the opposition is taking place right now in a secluded space tucked away on the upper level of a shopping center. They have prepared a table with biscuits, beverages, and snacks to be served.
Yulia Galyamina, a local politician, is in charge of the gathering. She is one of a very small number of opposition members who have not been imprisoned or forced to escape Russia. Galyamina is leading the conference.
She sighs and says, “Every week, there is yet another arrest.” I am always prepared to answer the door when someone knocks. I have a sense of isolation, yet I believe I am acting responsibly. My people require politicians in order for their country to function properly.
There are some members of the activist group who are hesitant to reveal their real names.
One individual, who also goes by the name Yulia, was quoted as saying, “I’m an anti-war activist who is just lucky to not be in prison yet.”
After hearing multiple professors at her university voice support for the Kremlin’s military campaign, she decided to withdraw from school. I ask her what she would say to those in the West who have the misconception that all Russians are in favor of the war.
“I want to say that there are many individuals and activists opposed to the war who are present here… The human race will prevail in any case. We are engaged in combat here, and we shall give it our all.