Russia ‘Has Already Lost’ the War, Putin Critic Says From Jail


Russia has already lost the war in Ukraine, Moscow municipal councillor and Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Gorinov said in a letter to Newsweek from prison, where he is serving a nearly seven-year sentence for “spreading false information” about the Russian military and the full-scale invasion.

Gorinov, a 61-year-old Russian opposition politician, a member of the municipal council of the Krasnoselsky district in Moscow, and a lawyer was sentenced on July 8, 2022, by a court in Russia’s capital to seven years in a penal colony for criticizing what Putin calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. His sentence was later cut by one month, and he was also banned from holding public office for four years after his release.

He became the first elected official to receive a prison sentence for speaking out against the war in Ukraine under Russia’s law on “spreading false information” passed in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. That came after he publicly opposed his council’s plans in April 2022 to hold a children’s art competition and a dancing festival in the local area amid the war in Ukraine, where he said: “Children were dying.” He said that during the war such an initiative would look like “a feast in time of plague” and proposed a minute of silence to honor the dead.

Moscow city deputy Alexei Gorinov, accused of spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army fighting in Ukraine, stands with a poster reading, “Do you still need this war?” inside a glass cell during the verdict hearing in his trial at a courthouse in Moscow on July 8, 2022. Gorinov sent a letter to Newsweek from prison, where he is serving a nearly seven-year sentence.

The Kremlin’s legislation is aimed at cracking down on dissent and rhetoric that diverges from Putin’s narrative on the conflict.

In a letter to Newsweek from the FKU IK-2 Pokrov prison camp in Russia’s Vladimir region, Gorinov spoke about his worsening health and about Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine more than 15 months ago.

“Russia cannot win this war because it has already lost by starting it,” wrote Gorinov. “Look what happened: international isolation, a sharp drop in the standard of living of Russians, a huge budget deficit, tens of thousands of dead and wounded, total destruction in a neighboring country that requires restoration at our expense.”

The official called on fellow Russians who support the full-scale invasion launched by Putin to consider the devastation that it has caused and will cause the country’s next generation.

“To my warlike compatriots, I would say the following. Turn on your mind! It’s what distinguishes us, humans, from animals. War is killing some people by others who do not even know each other, with the permission of the belligerent states and their governments. It’s one of the most vile occupations of a person, which instantly dehumanizes him,” Gorinov wrote.

“Think about what country and with what problems you will leave the next generation of Russians, about children without fathers, about widows of the dead, about parents left without sons, about disabled people who require lifelong care. What have we forgotten in the neighboring country [Ukraine]? Wouldn’t it be better to start arranging life in our vast Russia?”

He added: “We are all responsible for what happened to our country. You can not be an accomplice in a crime, but calmly watch how it is committed.”

Gorinov, who has previously spoken about his deteriorating health under imprisonment, said he is currently suffering from long-lasting bronchitis. His lawyer, Denis Shedov, told Newsweek his condition is “weak but stable.”

“There is nothing to treat it here. In general, in the location of our detachment of prisoners from time to time everyone gets sick in a circle… because all of us, 50-60 people, live in one camp in one room,” Gorinov wrote, adding that he feels his life is in “constant danger” while in the grip of Putin’s regime.

The hardest part about imprisonment, Gorinov said, is the “lack of freedom, the understanding that I will no longer see my dog, the complete lack of personal space, and the need to comply with idiotic regime requirements, realizing that I did not deserve it.”

The city official said he no longer thinks about his future, “because it is invisible to me, vague.”

Shedov told Newsweek the prison camp in which his client is being held has one of the worst reputations in Russia, infamous for the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners.

“In previous years, activist Konstantin Kotov and prominent opposition politician Alexey Navalny were held in this camp,” the lawyer said.

Shedov said prisoner camp authorities have placed Gorinov on a “list” of people who could potentially try to escape.

“Practically, they are checking him every two hours even during the night. Because of it, Alexei cannot sleep properly. There is no reason for that, it [seems] as a kind of torture,” he said.

In February 2023, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an opinion on Gorinov’s case—its first in the case of the suppression of anti-war expression in Russia—in which it called for the official’s immediate release. According to Gorinov’s legal team, Russian internal law states that WGAD opinions can be a reason for cases to be reconsidered.

“Russian authorities still do nothing about the UN Working Group’s opinion,” Shedov said, noting that he and his colleagues are continuing to appeal Gorinov’s imprisonment.

According to the independent human rights project OVD-Info, as of 13 February 2023, at least 440 people in 77 Russian regions have been accused of “spreading false information” about the Russian military under the Kremlin’s new stringent laws, with 92 people already sentenced.

Gorinov said Putin is “frightened of a dispute of the war in society, an unpleasant open and honest dialogue about this topic between himself, his beloved and the community.”

“To avoid this, it is better to nip everything in the bud, intimidate. Since there is a war, what discussions and other opinions can there be? And whoever does not remain silent is a traitor to the Motherland, an enemy of his people,” he said.

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