TOP STORIES Internal opposition to Putin invites to jail, which divides...

Internal opposition to Putin invites to jail, which divides activists about the advisability of continuing the struggle.


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Shortly after Russia shocked the world with its February 24 attack on Ukraine, Ilya V. Yashin, a member of the local city council and a prominent opposition figure, decided it was time to see a dentist.

The Kremlin was in the process of criminalizing criticism of the war, and Mr. Yashin, a very vocal critic, decided to stay in his country and continue to oppose President Vladimir Putin. After all, he reasoned, it was likely that he would go to jail.

“To be honest, I’m afraid of dentists,” Mr. Yashin said. in a recent interview on YouTube, “but I pulled myself together and did it because I realized that if I ended up in prison, there would be no dentists.”

Two weeks after the publication of the interview, 39-year-old Yashin was indeed arrested. He is now in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow on charges of “spreading false information” about the war. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years.

Mr. Yashin’s arrest highlights the rapidly narrowing scope for dissent within Russia as Mr. Putin cracks down on any discrepancy with the official version of the invasion. In addition, there has been renewed debate among the Russian opposition about how leading figures such as Mr. Yashin can best serve to undermine Mr. Putin: outside the country they want to reform, or in a penal colony?

Mr. Yashin remains convinced that he made the right choice. “What crime have I committed?” he asked rhetorically in a handwritten letter from prison to The New York Times. “On my YouTube channel, I criticized the special operation in Ukraine and openly called what was happening a war.”

But some oppositionists disagree, arguing that staying and fighting may seem like a bold move, but that prison is an ineffective platform to push for reform.

“Yashin is fearless – he is a fighter, he is brave,” said Dmitry Gudkov, a Russian opposition leader who left Russia last year. “I’m sure he won’t back down,” he continued. “But I’m just sad that he will waste his life. It’s not clear.”

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